Ghalib: A Cultural Metaphor of His Time Follow – @navinajafa

Printed in Vistara Inflight Magazine as EXPERIENCE Ghalib’s Haveli – MAY 2018 https://www.airvistara.com/trip/inflight-magazine/monthly/now

 

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Mirza Ghalib, the legendary Urdu shayar, is one of the most discussed Urdu poets having been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. His poetic expressions have continued to rule hearts of poetry lovers for over 200 years. Here is a look at the life of the poet

Navina Jafa

In the winding labyrinth of Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran, which is in Old Delhi, stands a haveli that was once home to Mirza Ghalib. The poet, one of the most celebrated bards of his time, spent his last years in this home which has been converted into a memorial museum. The site intends to convey the life and time of the poet. Framed verses, photographs of the last Mughals, an effigy of the poet and household artifacts populate the space. The fad of Delhi Heritage Walks and the magnetic pull of Urdu poetry attract a number of visitors to this site, and occasionally there have been performances and cultural events centered on the life of the poet and poetry recitation by celebrities.

THE MUSEUM ENVIRONMENT

Neither the poet nor Ghalib ki Haveli existed or exist in isolation. They remain a part of a larger cultural geography marked by a heritage of the past and narratives of the near present reflecting socio-economic and cultural stirrings.

THE MUSEUM ENVIRONMENT Neither the poet nor Ghalib ki Haveli existed or exist in isolation. They remain a part of a larger cultural geography marked by a heritage of the past and narratives of the near present reflecting socio-economic and cultural stirrings.

“Gali Qasim Jan, where the haveli of Ghalib is located, was owned exclusively by Nawab Qasim Jan. The Gali had mansions of the elite, and its adjacent lane, Gali Gareeb, accommodated servants of these mansions. Later, plots were demarcated in the contiguous area, Sarhad Kale Sahab, and sold to elites like Nawab of Pataudi”, said Mirza Arif, poet and creative personality hailing from the family of the Mughals.

The Gali interconnects with the neighborhood of Ballimaran, where once one strolled and encountered a visual and aural interface with dozens of shops, such as the clinic of Buqaullah – popularly known as Bakka Hakim, a 19th century Yunani doctor, who, like many others, was associated with the palace, Red Fort. He was known to have great knowledge and cures related to eye ailments. Shopkeepers and their clients exchanged Urdu verses written by an assembly of noted poets who lived or were engaged in the area such as Mir, Hali, Daag, Zauqand even Hazrat Mohani whose ghazal (a lyrical poem set to music, usually on the theme of love) titled ‘Chupke Chupke’ attained great popularity when Pakistani émigré to India, singer Gulam Ali, sang this composition and made it immortal.

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Ghalib wasn’t merely an eminent man of letters but represented an entire cultural environment; one that was about lifestyles, historical events and cultural networks. Among several historical sketches that relate to Ghalib is his association with the prestigious family of Nawab Loharu whose sister, Umrao Begum, was Ghalib’s wife, and it was the Nawab who gave the house to the poet. The Loharu family, like the Mughals, came from Central Asia and besides Ghalib had an eclectic group of men of letters, Zauq and Dagh, as sons in-law.

One of the many aspects of Ghalib’s life is his well-known writings and observations of the revolt of 1857, which saw the dislocation of thousands of people in Delhi and displacement of the cultural system. However, a much less known fact remains that the State of Rampur in present Uttar Pradesh played an important role in Ghalib’s life and work. Following the horrors of the revolt of 1857 in Delhi, the Rohilla Nawabs of Rampur provided the poet laureate sanctuary and a small stipend. Ghalib served under two rulers and was the teacher of one of them. It was in Rampur where Ghalib assembled his famous ‘deewan’ or compilation of his poetry.

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The ‘deewan’ is embellished with artistic calligraphy and artwork in gold ink. Apart from this, Ghalib, through a large number of letters, expressed not only his art of poetry and language but also the comments on political and social circumstances. Despite the luxurious arrangements provided by the Nawabs, the temperamental poet chose to return to live in Delhi but maintained, even in his old and fragile age, constant connect through letters with the Rampur Nawabs wherein one he pined to attend the Benazir Ka Mela; a glamorous annual event organised by the Nawab, Kalbe Ali Khan, in honour of his favourite courtesan, for whom he had laid out a magnificent garden.

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THE THEATRE OF GHALIB

Ghalib combined a colorful, witty and mystical persona which is not only conveyed in his poems but through often-quoted anecdotes. One of them relates to his passion for mangoes.

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Ghalib’s student and biographer, Altaf Hussain Hali, describes in the biography titled Yaadgaar-eGhalib, that on one occasion, Ghalib was strolling with Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor in the lush orchards of Baagh-e-Hayaat Baksh, (the garden which bestows life) located in Delhi’s Red Fort. The fruiting trees were filled with ripe mangoes. Ghalib stopped, stared and told the Emperor that he had heard from elders that on each and every fruit one can see written a specific person’s name. That this was for that one, and that one for this one and so on, and that he could spot the name of his ancestors on these fruits. barsare har dana ba navishta avaan kaeen fulaan, ibne fulaan, ibne fulaan…..

 

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