Ghalib that Gulzar found
Jaswant Singh

Mirza Ghalib, A Biographical Scenario 
by Gulzar. Rupa & Co, New Delhi. Pages 221. Rs 595.

Mirza Ghalib, A Biographical Scenario Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib is one of those few urdu poets on whom volumes have been written and continue to be written. He is one of those ghazal writers whose works are read and sung extensively. His poetry puts before the reader the realities of life in a subtle manner. Perhaps the poet was himself aware of this quality of his poetry and so he said about himself: "Kehte hein ke Ghalib ka hai andaze bayan aur". And it is this "andaze bayan" that lends uniqueness to his works and enchants people even in this machine age. Singers like K.L. Saigal, Begam Akhtar, Talat Mehmood, Suraya, Jagjit Singh and many others have taken Ghalib’s poetry even to those who are not familiar with the Urdu language.

Details of Ghalib’s life, time and his works have been listed by a number of biographers and researchers but this biography stands apart from the rest. This screenplay of Gulzar’s TV serial presents the life of the poet from childhood to his death in episodes. Although published years after the serial was produced, it retains the flavour of a fresh creative work. The book is a realistic presentation of Ghalib’s iconoclastic approach to life. The concluding episodes depict the atmosphere of repression and terror let loose on Delhi as an aftermath of the uprising of 1857.

Ghalib who is viewed as an ‘ustad’ of ‘ustads’ in Urdu poetry was a harsh judge of his own work. While compiling his ‘diwan’ he mercilessly discarded more than 2000 couplets which he considered sub-standard. This made the size of the anthology small but what was left touched the highest level of Urdu poetry. Yet Gulzar has shown all the problems the poet faced in finding a publisher.

Ghalib never saw affluence. He spent his life in poverty and indigence but he never compromised with his sense of self-respect. In time of extreme poverty, he accepted an offer to teach Persian in Delhi College. But he returned from the house of the British officer who had made the offer when he found no one to welcome him at the gate.

Ghalib started writing poetry when he was hardly 10 or 11. There is a tradition in Urdu poetry for every young poet to accept an ‘ustad’ to guide him in his writings. Ghalib had no ‘ustad’ but he did not desist from commenting on the works of big ‘ustads’. His differences with "Zauk", the ‘ustad’ of King Bahadur Shah Zafar, have been nicely depicted in the book.

Financial worries forced him to undertake a journey to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to plead with the Governor-General’s Council for the restoration of his pension in lieu of his family estate annexed by the British. The Calcutta visit took almost three years and he had to return disappointed. (Some researchers have maintained that ultimately the pension was restored, but Gulzar makes no mention of this) Meanwhile, Ghalib’s debts mounted and his creaditors went to court and obtained decrees against him. His habit of gambling sent him to jail for three months. King Bahadur Shah Zafar became his admirer and his help made life somewhat easier. But after the uprising of 1857 was quelled, the king was sent to prison in Rangoon and all help from the Delhi Darbar ceased. Once again life for Ghalib returned to the state of "fakamasti". By now his health had also started failing and on February 15, 1869 Asadullah Khan Ghalib left this world leaving behind a legacy extremely rich in its cultural and poetical values which will be read and sung for centuries.

Gulzar’s book is yet another effort to understand Ghalib though it is presented in a format different from the usual run of biographies. It brings alive the events of that era.