Recently I grabbed a book called Yadgar-e-Ghalib, by Altaf Hussain Haali in Urdu, and read bits from it. This has rekindled my fancy for him all the more.
Mirza Ghalib the humourist , is awe inspiring. Leave aside his superb poetry , his wit with which he lived and laughed off the troubles of his tough life, reveals a person extremely fascinating to read and know. He was an open book.
No doubt he indulged in various vices which would easily label him as a reckless person. But the honesty with which he admits all his vices and even laughs at himself makes him an adorable scamp and one feels like a shrewd hypocrite in front of him.
Ghalib teaches us what is it to live with a life of stark poverty, tragedy after tragedy of losing one’s progeny seven times, living off without a source of income and still to be able to maintain sanity and humour to enjoy one’s present day. (Although being a woman I hail and salute his wife as an epitome of patience and forebearance.)
Reading through I learnt what a friend he was. He never procrastinated in replying back to the letters. And many of his friends send him letters that were ‘bearing’ i.e. without a stamp, and he postpaid twice the amount to releases those letters from the postman. His silver tongue and the golden pen, won hearts of his friends and critics alike.
He wrote that he wanted to write a language, that whoever reads his letters gets elated. (Yes Mirza you still make us elated by them.)
His letters talked.( Yes one can hear you talking through them, Mirza)
One of them said:
“sau kos se ba-zaban-e-qalam baatein kiya karo aur hijr mein visaal ke maze liya karo”
(from hundred of miles talk with the tongue of the pen and enjoy the joy of meeting even when you are separated]).
He joked openly about his being a non-conformist and a sinner. When Ghalib bought a house in Gali Qasim Jaan, he wrote,
‘Masjid ke zer saya ek ghar bana liya hai,
yeh banda kamina, humsaya khuda hai’
(I have made my house on the shadow of the mosque; this wicked fellow is now a neighbour of God).
The mosque he was referring to was the Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid.
During Ramzan somebody asked him if he fasted , and he replied : “ek na rakha.”( I did not keep one.).
On yet another hot day in Ramzan, Mirza was playing chess when a friend, Maulana Arzoo came.
Maulana remarked :“I had read in a Hadith that the devil is imprisoned in the month of Ramzan. But today I doubt the validity of the Hadith.”
Mirza retorted: “Sir, the hadith is absolutely correct. But you be aware that this is that den where the devil is imprisoned.”
Making a serious satire at the gluttony that people indulge during the month of Ramadan he said:
Iftaar-e-saum kii jise kuch dast.gaah ho
us shakhs ko zaroor hai rozaa rakha kare
(The one who has the wherewithal to break his fast
that person should indeed keep the fast)
Jis paas roza khol ke khaane ko kuch na ho
roza agar na khaaye to naachaar kya kare
(The one who has nothing to break his fast with
what else can he do but be constrained to ‘eat the fast’)
And on being questioned for not fasting he said:
Ruza mera eman hay Ghalib! Laiken
Khas Khana wa barf aab kahan say laoon?
(Fasting is part of my faith, but from where should I get khus curtains and chill water for it ?).( Correction courtesy Sohail Bhai).
On another occasion, in a letter that he wrote to a friend, in Persian:
“These days Maulana Ghalib (God’s mercy be upon him) is in clover [very happy]. A volume of the Dastaan-i-Amir Hamza has come — about 600 pages of it — and a volume of the same size of Bostan-i-Khayal. And there are seventeen bottles of good wine in the pantry. So I read all day and drink all night.
The man who wins such bliss can only wonder What more had Jamshed? What more Alexander?”
Ghalib often bragged about his reputation as a rake. He was once imprisoned for gambling and later narrated the incident with great fancy.
Once, when someone praised the poetry of the pious Sheikh Sahbai, Ghalib immediately retorted:
“How can Sahbai be a poet? He has never tasted wine, nor has he ever gambled; he has not been beaten with slippers by lovers, nor has he ever seen the inside of a jail”
When someone poked fun at him for being a drunkard and that a wine-bibbers’ prayers are never answered he said with a laugh, outwitting the person:
“My friend, if a man has wine, what else does he need to pray for?”
He did not even spare his ‘economic poverty’ from the wrath of his wit. ( But Mirza, we know you were far richer the many rich then and now)
Qarz kii piite the mai lekin samajhte the kih haan
Rang laavegii hamaarii faaqah-mastii ek din
The King, Bahadur Shah Zafar was planning to go for Hajj and Ghalib heard it. He wrote to the King :
Ghalib, gar is safar maiN mujhay saath lay chalaiN
Haj ka sawaab nazr karooN ga hazoor ki
If he will take me with him on the Pilgrimage
His Majesty may have my share of heavenly reward
He never minced words about his inclination towards practicing the faith.
Jaanataa huun savaab-e-taa’at-o-zahad
Par tabiiyat idhar nahiin aatii
(I am aware of the reward of religious deeds in the next life, but I somehow do not get inclined towards them.)
It isn’t that those who live happy, are not sensitive and pained by the troubles that come their way. Like everyman with a mind and a heart , to be hurt by the whips that life lashes at them, Ghalib too felt his share of pain.
Sozish e batin ke hain ahbab munkir warna yaan
Dil maheet e girya aur lab aashnaa e khanda hai.
(Though my friends give no credence to my inner aches
While my lips are all smile, my heart is but a tearful waste).
Indeed, his wit must have been therapeutic to his own self, but to readers like me it is very addicting.
P.S. I am extremely indebted to Sohail Hashmi bhai, who I know is an expert in Urdu poetry from very young age, has added some other incidents related to the above context:
The house next to a mosque belonged to Kale saheb, a gentleman who was into sufiism and was respected greatly by bahadur shah zafar. In fact the House was given Ghalib on the recommendation of Zafar, Ghalib has refered to the mosque and his house in two other shers
Bhaun paas aankh qibla-e-haajaat Chahiye
Maajid ke zer-e-saayaa kharaabaat chahiye
Dil Khush hua hai Masjid-e-veeraan dekh kar
Meri tarah Khuda ka bhi Khaanaa Kharaab hai
Once during the month of Ramzan, a maulana who was a friend of Ghalib and also a poet went to meet ghalib, ghalib had a a plate of kabaabs in front of him and a glass of Wine besides him.
The maulana said, “Tumhaara roza nahin hai.”
Ghalib said “Hai”
The Maulana asked “Phir yeh sab kya hai”
Ghalib response was, “Roze ko behlaane ka saamaan hai.”