Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ghalib Se Guftgoo – Conversation with Ghalib

Last weekend I participated in an interesting activity on a poetry group of Facebook. The entire weekend was dedicated to Ghalib, where members shared and discussed Ghalib’s poetry. One particular activity attracted me the most. It was a game where we had to respond to Ghalib’s verses in our own original verses. Sort of a conversation with Ghalib. One rule, which was not mandatory, but what made it personally most interesting was that if we chose to respond in Urdu, we had to follow the same zameen/tarah (pattern of rhyme, refrain and meter) as Ghalib’s original couplet. That made it more challenging and worthwhile.

So here goes my conversation with my favourite poet.


DISCLAIMER: The scenario painted below is simply for fun. Any shades of blasphemy or irreverence are purely coincidental.

My happiness knew no bound when Mirza Asadullah Khan invited me for an intimate meeting at his place a few days back. What more can a student ask for than a cozy tete-a-tete with his guru and mentor? A little nervous, a bit cautious, but extremely excited, I accepted his invitation and went over to his place.

After a formal exchange of pleasantries and some casual chit-chat, Ghalib decides to get down to some serious business. Maybe with the intention of testing his student’s mettle, or simply for some entertainment, he commands me to participate in a game of bait-baazi, where I have to respond to his verses in the same pattern. How could I not accept his command?

Chacha Ghalib starts off with what is one of his best known and oft-quoted verses. Maybe he wants to start on a relatively familiar territory to make me comfortable.

“हज़ारों ख़्वाहिशें ऐसी, कि हर ख़्वाहिश पे दम निकले,
बहुत निकले मेरे अरमान लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले”

(Desires in thousands – each so strong it takes my breath anew
And many longings were fulfilled – many, but even so, too fee
- Translation by Ralph Russell)

I am not perturbed. With the intention of questioning the philosophy of this verse, or rather pointing out an alternate philosophy, I compose a qat’aa (verse set). In order to impress him, I compose the second verse of this verse-set in a very Arabic/Persian influenced language.

ये अरमानों का दरिया एक उफनता सा समंदर है
हुए गिरदाब में यूँ गर्क़ बाहर फिर न हम निकले

जो देखो तो बहर ये ख़्वाहिशों का ला-तमव्वुज है
ख़यालात-ए-तलातुम ख़ल्क़-ए-क़ुव्वत-ए-वहम निकले

(गिरदाब = whirlpool; गर्क़ = to drown; बहर = sea; ला-तमव्वुज = without waves, calm; तलातुम= storm; खल्क़ = creation; कुव्वत-ए-वहम = power of imagination)

Agreed that desires are like a billowing sea where one gets drowned in the whirlpool of desires, never to come out. But how real are these desires? One way to look at it is that the sea of desires is quiet and calm in reality. The thoughts of a storm are possibly just a creation of one’s imagination. Why not let your mind rest? The more you think about it or indulge in active pursuit of your desires, the more it will keep sucking you like a whirlpool and there can be no getting out. Be satisfied with what you have and your desires will be limited and not in thousands (हज़ारों ख्वाहिशें) so as to take away your breath (दम निकले)!

I can’t make out whether Ghalib is impressed or disappointed with my effort. Stoically, he moves on to another verse from the same ghazal – a verse that is in a completely different mood from the first one. A witty verse.

“मगर लिखवाये कोई उसको ख़त तो हम से लिखवाये
हुई सुबह और घर से कान पर रख कर क़लम निकले”

(Whoever wants it written to her should let me do the writing,
Every morning I come out of my home with a pen stuck behind my ear
- Translation by Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi)

If Ghalib chooses wit here, why should my response not be in the same tone? I delve into the corner of my mind where I store some wit, to compose a taunting verse.

हैं वो अपने ख़याल अपना तो क्यूँ न हों ख़तूत अपने
हमारे ख़ामे में दम है तुम्हारी क्यूँ क़लम निकले

(ख़तूत: letters; ख़ामे - pen)

I see through your game Mr. Asad. By volunteering to write a letter to her on my behalf, you want to be privy to my feelings for her? Nice try, but if she is mine, and the thoughts are mine, why shouldn’t I write the letters myself? There’s enough ink and power in my pen. Thanks, but no thanks, I don’t need your pen.

But Ghalib knows how to corner me. Knowing very well that writing verses about the beloved is not my strong point, he throws this one at me – another witty verse where he taunts the beloved.

"भरम खुल जाए ज़ालिम तेरे क़ामत की दराज़ी का,
अगर इस तुर्रा-ए-पुर-पेच-ओ-ख़म से पेच-ओ-ख़म निकले”

(भरम = myth; क़ामत = stature, दराज़ी – length, height; तुर्रा = dangling forelock; पुर-पेच-ओ-ख़म = full of curls and twists)

(It will shatter the myth of the height of your stature, O! Cruel one
If only the curls of your dangling forelock would unfurl
- Translation by Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi)

I’m clearly cornered. Not wanting to give up so easily, I write a verse, where I extol the beauty of the beloved’s hair by emphasizing on the problems her curls pose to someone who is enamoured by their very existence.

छिपायें काकुल-ए-ख़ूबाँ कई असरार पेचों में
जो बाहम हों तो मुश्किल है जो खुल जायें तो दम निकले

(काकुल-ए-ख़ूबाँ = beloved’s hair; असरार = secrets; पेचों = curls; बाहम =intact)

What can one say about the curly hair of the beloved? There are many more secrets hidden in there. If she lets them be, one keeps wondering what is hidden there and that leads to an uneasy feeling. But if she releases them, disentangles them, so many secrets will come rolling down that one would be totally overwhelmed.

So what does Ghalib do now? He bowls a googly. A completely different thought which can be interpreted in many ways depending on the tone you assign to it.

“हुई जिनसे तवक़्क़ो'अ ख़स्तगी की दाद पाने की,
वो हम से भी ज़ियादा ख़स्त:-ए-तेग़-ए-सितम निकले”

(तवक़्क़ो'अ = expectation; ख़स्तगी = wounded; दाद = appreciation (sympathy); ख़स्त:-ए-तेग़-ए-सितम = wounded by the sword of tyranny)

(Those from whom I had expected appreciation of my wounds
They turned out to be me more wounded than me by the sword of tyranny
- Translation by Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi)

The way I read Ghalib’s verse, I am amazed at his naiveté. Or you could say, I conveniently choose to read it as his naiveté, and almost taking on the façade of an advisor, I choose to unravel the reality before him.

लगा कर ज़ख्म वो ख़ुद पर करें हैं फिर नुमाइश भी
कि वो मज़लूम-ओ-कुश्त: हैं ख़ुदारा ये वहम निकले

(नुमाइश = public display; मज़लूम = oppressed; कुश्त: = killed; ख़ुदारा = For God’s sake!; वहम = wrong belief)

Sir, how can you be so naïve? You are totally wrong in believing that ‘they’ too are wounded by the sword of tyranny. It is just their way of garnering sympathy. You know what? They have themselves created those wounds on their bodies and are cunningly displaying them to get your sympathy. For heaven’s sake, return to reality and realize that it is just a carefully rehearsed act! That they’re oppressed and wounded by the ‘tyrant’ is totally wrong. Get rid of this wrong belief!

Now some arrogance creeps into my mind. I start to feel that I have defeated the master at his own game. I eagerly wait for him to accept defeat by quoting this verse:

“निकलना ख़ुल्द से आदम का सुनते आये हैं लेकिन
बहुत बेआबरू हो कर तेरे कूचे से हम निकले”

(ख़ुल्द = paradise; आदम = Adam; बेआबरू = disgraced; कूचे = alley)

(We have long been hearing about Adam’s expulsion from Paradise but
With greater disgrace, however, we came out of your alley
- Translation by Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi)

But Masters are masters for a reason. They know exactly how to puncture the inflated egos of people. So, to show me my place, he changes the rules of the game. Now the conversation has to move to a different ground (zameen). A different rhyme, a different refrain, and a different meter.He picks up a meter I am not very comfortable with. Now comes the real challenge…

And this time he picks up another of his very well known ghazals. Ghalib says, in his own deceptively simple words.

“दिल ही तो है न संग-ओ-खिश्त दर्द से भर न आये क्यों?
रोयेंगे हम हज़ार बार, कोइ हमें सताए क्यों?”

(संग-ओ-खिश्त = stone and brick)

(It is, after all a heart, not a stone or brick, that would not fill with sorrow
We will cry a thousand times for why should anyone tease us
- Translation by Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi)

Now I have been surreptitiously led into a maze where I can have no hope of escaping from. I struggle for some time and then come up with a verse, again donning the cloak of an advisor, but this time probably to hide my own incompetence.

दिल ही नहीं जो क़़ाबू में ग़र्क़ी का इंतेज़ाम है
खुद पे नहीं है ऐतमाद दूजे का नाम आये क्यूँ

(क़़ाबू = control; ग़र्क़ी = drowning; इंतेज़ाम = arrangements; ऐतमाद = confidence)

Mr. Ghalib, don’t blame your lack of self-control and self-confidence on the sensitive nature of your heart or someone trying to tease you. You cry because you have no control over your feelings. What else can you expect but to drown in the ocean of your own tears? You have no confidence in yourself, and you hold others entirely responsible for this? How convenient!

By this time I know that it’s going to get tougher. The Master can throw countless verses at me for which I would have no response. So it was best for me to politely excuse myself from the conversation.

Whether the mentor was impressed by the students effort thus far, or angry and disappointed by his chickening out, I would never know. But this unique experience of conversing with him, has made me feel much more confident of myself about composing verses in situations where there is no luxury of available time. For that alone, I will always cherish this experience.