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A new spring with the immortal bard

As the festival of spring is celebrated across North India, APS MALHOTRA recalls his fascination with Mirza Ghalib, who caused a thousand palash flowers to bloom in his heart.



Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan `Ghalib'. 1797-1869.

Baagh-e shuguftah teraa bisaat-e nishaat-e dil
Abr-e bahaarxum-kadah kis ke dimagh kaa

The garden in bloom is the spread of joy of the heart. The spring rain cloud is the wine house of whose mind?

THUS SANG the immortal bard of Delhi, whose verses come back to me as Delhi begins to bloom after a harsh winter. I was mesmerised by Mirza Ghalib, the high priest of poetry, after watching the television series of the same name made brilliantly by the peerless Gulzar. Before that, my only source of information about the bard of Urdu and Persian had been through old Hindi films. In one of them the title role was played by Bharat Bhushan, and in an earlier avatar, K.L. Saigal.

Gulzar's serial had Naseeruddin Shah in the role of the main protagonist, and music composed by Jagjit Singh. I was inexorably hooked to it. After my initial excitement stabilised, the depth of the artwork overtook me. The myriad flavours of history influenced me a great deal. After the entire series was over I mulled over the man. It seized me, working slowly at first and then rapidly, till I was completely in love with the poet and I made all efforts to understand the man and his work comprehensively.

Ghalib's concerns seemed very contemporary and relevant to me. He was an iconoclast par excellence and had the guts to oppose those conforming blindly to social and religious straitjackets. He saw through the hollowness of the edifice and felt claustrophobic in the environment of the day, expressing a persistent yearning to break free from the shackles of a rigid system. He wanted freedom, from obligations, from relationships, from responsibilities, to indulge in his passions, be it writing or spending time at the neighbourhood publisher's shop, or relishing mangoes in the merciless Delhi summer in the company of peers. An underlying aversion to restrictions, the quintessential restlessness of a creative mind, possessed him. He was a man with impeccable secular credentials. He spoke of a brotherhood bereft of all barriers, of caste, language and creed. A heretic who defied the mores specified by his own religion, as if to prove a point, often at the risk of invoking the opprobrium of the narrow minded, one-dimensional, self-styled custodians of the order. A man constantly in conflict with the commonly accepted idea of God. An archetypal agnostic, perpetually challenging the concept of a superior guiding force.

A deep understanding of the human psychology was his hallmark. He could be metaphorical, as he described the gentle pain, which gives pleasure, as the arrow from the beloved's pierces the heart and then instead of passing through, gets stuck in it.

Despite repeated personal tragedies and perfidies inflicted on him, he had an enduring zest for life, a romance that manifested in kaleidoscopic hues. An incurable optimist, he talked of a thousand desires, each desire being worth dying for. A gambler at heart, he had a flair for the finer things of life, and when denied the surreal comfort of alcohol in the brutal Delhi winters, something he was used to, due to physical infirmities and extraneous circumstances, pleads with the world to let the wine and women be kept in front of him, as the eyes retained the taste and the vigour to savour them, so what if the hands had lost the sensitivity to relish them. Bestowed with a crackling wit and an equally acerbic tongue, he had a mercurial, often self-deprecating sense of humour.His uncanny foresight is depicted in a scene, where he shows anxiety at the intentions of the British, particularly after the First War of Independence, and suspects them to do some irreparable damage to the country before leaving its shores. The concern expressed by him proved true, almost 100 years later, when the sub-continent was brutally partitioned.

He loved Delhi, which was what he called home, and where he settled after coming from Lucknow. Although he was a universal at heart, he was extremely proud of his lineage and being Indian, first and foremost. If Delhi ever needed a brand ambassador for itself, there can be only one choice, `Chacha Ghalib'.

Though not known as a nature poet, his verses extolling nature's beauty ring in the ears as spring rolls round.

Sabz-o-gul ke dekhane ke liye
Chasm-e-nargis ko dii hai binaa-ii

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