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The journey from Agra to Delhi was slowly turning out to be the journey of my life. I wouldn’t have thought even in my wildest of the dream that I would ever get a chance to share some moments of my life with the person I admire so much. As our talks went on, the veil of hesitation eventually shied away allowing me the comfort to be candid to him in terms of my inquisitiveness and curiosity.
The bus suddenly stopped at some depot for some refreshment, with the driver intimating the passengers to free themselves for the hunger or nature’s call as that would be the last halt before the final destination and the bus won’t stop anywhere further till it reaches Delhi. Many of the passengers temporarily disembarked the bus for refreshments and break but I was reluctant to do so lest I would lose some these precious moments, so I kept seated along with my company cherishing the moments just passed and eagerly awaiting for the ones approaching. Suddenly, something in one of the shops outside the bus made me jump with the joy - the bunch of luscious mangoes. I was aware of Mirza Sahib’s fascination for the mangoes, so I excused myself and went outside to buy some, without telling him. As I paid for the mangoes, my heart was pounding hard in anticipation to see his reaction which, I was sure, would be of jubilance and ecstasy. And I wasn’t wrong, the moment I came back and handed him the mangoes to eat, he exclaimed, “Khushamdeed, mangoes!!!” and started eating them with immense satisfaction in each bite.
“Mirza Sahib you are very fond of mangoes, isn’t it? I recall reading somewhere that you have tasted more than thousands of the varieties of mangoes grown in India.”
“About four thousand varieties son, thanks to my well-wishers and friends who sent me the choicest of the mangoes from all over the country. You know what, I always maintain that there are only two necessary qualities which should be there in mangoes - they should be sweet enough to relish each bite of these” he said.
“And what’s the second quality Mirza Sahib?” I asked.
“…that they should be numerous”, he winked taking another piece from the packet.
Witnessing Mirza Sahib enjoying the mangoes was so soothing to the soul that I forgot even to take a bite from the one I had in my hand. They say that there is a child alive in everyone’s heart, no matter at which juncture of the life you are in, that child surely comes out when the happiness springs from within the heart. Looking at the person in front of me who had been dejected with life throughout, burdened with the responsibilities & financial worries and marred by the constant deaths of his near ones enjoying the fruit as if he is a small child, affirmed my thought. I could feel my eyes moist with teardrop which refused to drop down and my face ornated with the smile which refused to die away – perplexed was I at these two varied expressions simultaneously but with the same feelings.
Suddenly Mirza Sahib started laughing loud which surprised me. I asked, “What is the matter Mirza Sahib? What made you laugh so hard in between?”
“I suddenly remembered one incident which made me laugh,” he said trying to suppress the laughter. “You know, once I was sitting in the front courtyard of my house in Ballimaran in Old Delhi with my old friend Hakim Raziuddin Khan. I was rejoicing eating mangoes when a man came with his donkey on the street where some mangoes and mango peels were lying on the roadside. The donkey stopped at the site, sniffed at the mangoes, the peels, and then turned away without taking a single bite. Seeing this, Hakim Khan instantly remarked with a grin, ‘See Mirza, even donkeys don’t eat mangoes.’ I was quick to retort, ‘You are right Hakim, only donkeys don’t eat mangoes’. You should have seen his face, it was as red as the mango in my hand” and he started laughing again and this time I also joined him.
Life is surely strange for it offers the admixture of moments which, at one hand, forms the beads which disperse the fragrance we cherish throughout and on the other assumes the form of thorns that prickle the heart time and again giving out the pain which we abhor but can’t ignore. This also affirms that in the garden of life the flowers that bloom blossoms with thorns as well and you can never have only one out of them. Every rose would have its share of thorns and every thorn would have its bunch of roses.
“Mirza Sahib, I am just curious as to why did you choose the name 'Ghalib' as your takhallus (pen-name). I think in your earlier writings you have used ‘Asad’ as your pen name, then why this change?” I asked.
“Yes, you are right. I started my writing with the pen name ‘Asad’ which features in many of my earlier verses. Ever since I was a kid, I was very fond of reading. I never had books of my own and usually read the borrowed ones. One day I came across a ‘sher’ (couplet) by another poet who used the takhallus (pen name) 'Asad'. . .
'असद' उस जफ़ा पर बुतों से वफ़ा की,
मिरे शेर शाबाश रहमत खुदा की।
(Asad us jafaa par buton say wafaa ki
mire sher shabaash rahmat Khudaa ki)
(Asad worshipped idols after being betrayed.
my poems (thank you) are, the mercy of GOD)
I hated this couplet so much that I got worried that if I continued to write as Asad, all the bad couplets of this poet would be attributed to me and all good couplets of mine would be accredited to him. Henceforth I changed my pen-name to ‘Ghalib’, which means all conquering, superior, most excellent – true to my stature” he boasted.
His bragging talk somehow irked me, I mean, everyone knew and realized that he was a legend but why this chest thumping time and again. I couldn’t suppress my annoyance and said, “Sir, there is no denial that you were and are the greatest poet of Urdu and Persian. You work speaks for yourself but why this self-praising. I also know you were never on great terms with royal poet Ibrahim Zauq too, have read somewhere that you even taunted him by one of your couplets. I mean if you are the best, doesn’t mean that no one else can’t be good too.”
“No Son, I am afraid you are not right here. Zauq was a good poet for sure. I still recall his couplet which I liked a lot, so much so that I had myself recited it many a times. What a brilliant composition,
अब तो घबरा के ये कहते हैं कि मर जायेंगे
मर के भी चैन न पाया तो किधर जायेंगे
(Ab to ghabra ke ye kahte hai ke mar jaayenge
Mar ke bhi chain na paaya to kidhar jaayenge)
(Panicked and fatigued, I seek death as my release
But if the peace be not in death, whither then)
But I didn’t like him as a person as he never let anyone appreciated my work. Even my hardest of the effort to reach Shahenshah-e-Hindustan, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar turned futile. He held an important place in the royal court as ‘Ustaad’ (tutor) of Emperor Zafar and made it impossible for me to secure a place of my own.” He continued, “I can still recall how jubilant I was when I received the invitation for royal Mushaira (poetic seminar) from the Emperor. That mushaira (poetic seminar) was attended by several well-known poets and noted poets including Zauq himself. When my turn came, I recited:
नक्श फरियादी है, किसकी शोख़ी-ए-तहरीर का.
कागज़ी है पैरहन , हर पैकर-ए-तस्वीर का
(Naqsh faryadi hai kiski shokhi-e-tehrir ka,
kaghazi hai pairahan, her paikar-e-tasvir ka)
(Against whose playful writing are the words complainants?
Made of paper is the attire of the figure of every image)
As I completed the couplet, I glanced at everyone present there awaiting the praise, as is the custom to start the next one but no one responded and everyone was looking at others faces as if no one could understand what I said or no one bothered to reciprocate. That was so insulting that I excused myself from the mushaira and walked out. And this was not just the lone instance of denial and insult. If there was someone, who obstructed my due recognition from the emperor, he was Zauq. So Pardon me son, whatever you want to refer me as – proud, arrogant or anything else, but I have no qualms in saying that I hated him as a person.”
I could sense the pain in Mirza Sahib’s voice. Most of his work went unrecognized while he was alive, may be as his contemporaries in the royal court failed to appreciate the quality of his work and his real worth couldn’t reach to the Emperor of India. To some extent he was right, Zauq was always in look-out for criticizing Mirza for one reason or the other, perhaps he was insecure of him as from within he would have surely known the calibre of the man and his words. Perhaps his life would have been different if he would have got his place in the royal palace at right time. Ghalib’s work (especially the earlier one) was often considered as hard to comprehend, may be as he used to write mostly in Persian in the initial period. He was a master of Urdu and Persian & his selection of words and its composition was hard to understand even for the poet of highest repute. The depth of his couplets was such that people often wondered that what he was actually trying to say, something for which he was mocked too at times. During one of those poetry meetings, a poet Hakim Agha Jan Aish took a jibe at Ghalib & his poetry saying
कलामे मीर समझें और ज़बाने मीरज़ा समझें,
मगर इनका कहा यह आप समझें या खुदा समझें
(Kalam-i-Mir samjhay aur zabaan-i-Meerza samjhay
Magar in-ka kaha yeh aap samjhaiN ya Khuda samjhay)
(We understand the verse of Mir, we understand what Mirza [Sauda] worte
But Ghalib‘s verse! — Only he himself or God can understand)
Ghalib was quick to respond with the following couplet…
न सतायिश की तमन्ना न सिले की परवा
गर नहीं है मेरे अशआर में मानी न सही
(Na sataayish ki tamanna, na silay ki parwaah
Gar nahiN haiN meray asha’aar maiN ma’ny na sahi)
(I do not long for people’s praise; I do not crave for one’s reward
If they say my verses has no meaning, be it so)
Above instance clearly demonstrate and explains the level of self-esteem, the dignity Ghalib had for himself and his words. He always loved to write in Persian but (perhaps) when he found that Urdu was the preferred and commonly understood language he shifted to Urdu for his writings.
I didn’t want to make him sad so I quickly diverted the discussion, “Hmm…that means you did mock him?” I said with a mischievous smile that connected well with Mirza Sahib for it found the nest on his face before it could vanish from mine.
“Yes. I once sneered him when he was passing beside by remarking, ‘Hua hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata (Having become the King’s companion he moves around with arrogance)’. He heard and made a strong complaint to the King of my behaviour.” Mirza Sahib was enjoying reliving that moment as was evident from his playful smile.
“What, he complained to the Emperor!! You must have been reprimanded for offending the royal poet. I am sure you wouldn’t have thought that things would take such a horrible turn. Sorry to hear that Mirza Sahib. I think you should have kept in mind his position in the royal palace before taking a jibe at him” I exclaimed.
“Son, you are underestimating your Mirza. When the King confronted me, I admitted that I had created the line but justified that it was the first line from the verses of my new ghazal. The Emperor asked me to recite the whole couplet and I instantly completely the following couplet,
हुआ है शह का मुसाहिब, फिरे है इतराता
वगर्ना शहर में "ग़ालिब" की आबरू क्या है
(Hua hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata
Wagar na sheher mein Ghalib ki aabroo kya hai)
(Having become the King’s companion he moves around with arrogance
Lest what reputation does Ghalib command in the city?)
“Wow Mirza Sahib, you are genious. Indeed amazing” I exclaimed, “What happened next? I am sure the Emperor would have believed you and let you free”
“Not really. Zauq was an intellectual. He immediately sensed that I had just come up with the second line and insisted that the whole ghazal be recited, when in actual there was none. Then I, instantly, composed one of my most often quoted and sung ghazal,
हर एक बात पे कहते हो तुम कि 'तू क्या है'
तुम्हीं कहो कि ये अंदाज़-ए-गुफ़्तगू क्या है
(Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ki ‘tu kya hai?’
Tum hi kaho ki ye andaaz-e-guftgoo kya hai)
(At every single utterance you retort “what are you?”
Pray, tell me, what is this style of conversation?)
I was bewildered, “I can’t believe that magnificent ghazal was composed by you in an instant. Incredible, I must say. Take a bow Mirza Sahib.”
“Thanks Son. And coming back to your question of being boastful and self-praise, I always had the highest regard for good poets like Meer, Momin etc. Once when I overheard one couplet of Meer being sung by a passer, I got completely immersed in it and unknowingly the following came from my mouth,
रेख्ता के तुम ही उस्ताद नहीं हो ग़ालिब,
कहते हैं अगले ज़माने में कोई मीर भी था
(Raikhtay ke tum hi ustaad nahin ho “Ghalib”
Kehte hain agle zamaane mein koii “Mir” bhii thaa)
(You are not the only the Ustaad of Rekhta (Urdu), Ghalib
They say that in an earlier time there was some Mir too)
I also had huge respect for Momin and his work. I even offered my whole deewan and compilation in lieu of just one couplet written by Momin,”
तुम मेरे पास होते हो गोया
जब कोई दूसरा नहीं होता
(Tum mere paas hotey ho goya,
Jab koi doosra nahin hota)
(You are with me as if
When nobody else is)
Mirza Sahib was truly a phenomenon in himself, the more I was learning about him the more I found myself floored by his aura. True, he had his share of ego but then the man with such an exceptional talent and finesse is bound to have some notions about him. He knew his proficiency and had highest regard for the same. To refer one instance, although Ghalib was going through a huge financial crunch, he outwardly refused the proposal of heading the Persian Department at the Delhi College in 1842 A.D. The reason was that the then British official Mr. Thomas didn't personally come and offer him the post and instead sent an informer, which didn’t go well with the Ghalib.
He lived his life in absolute financial mess but never accepted any favour from any relatives or friends. He would take credit from the money lenders and would settle the same once he received some money for his work. He had an outstanding intellect and a unique way of composing couplets and ghazals. He would stroll in pensive mood all night and utter words as they came out of his mouth. With each couplet he used to tie a knot in his hand towel which in the morning he would untie one by one while writing down the couplets composed last night.
Truly a legend...isn't it?
हैं और भी दुनिया में सुखनवर बहुत अच्छे
कहते है की ग़ालिब का है अंदाजे बयाँ और
(Hai aur bhi duniya mein sukhanwar bohut acche,
Kehte hain ki "Ghalib" ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aurr)
(We know there is more than one good poet in the world,
But the common belief is that Ghalib’s little jests are great and unique)
~*~*~ . . .Continued in Part (4) ~*~*~
~Shubh Life . . . Om Sai Ram
© 2015 Manish Purohit (Reserved)
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