COMMENT: Ghalib in our age of pain—Faheem Amir - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Describing universal truths with beautiful images, subtle similes, fascinating diction, wonderful imagination and novel ideas make Ghalib a universal poet — a poet of all ages and all people

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

These are the most famous lines of John Keats, which are universally acknowledged as a simple truism. Beauty is imperishable. Imperishability is the quality of nature. Nature is the manifestation of God. God is truth. Truth is goodness and goodness is beauty.

The beauty of art is also eternal and imperishable. The ruthless waves of time cannot put wrinkles on the face of beauty. That is why, the beauty of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Goethe’s Faust, Maulana Romi’s Masnavi, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Waris Shah’s Heer and Ghalib’s Urdu Dewaan is still fresh, captivating and moving.

Ghalib is essentially a poet of life. He has accepted the dross and the gold, the beauty and the ugliness. Human nature has not changed, although there have been revolutionary changes in our material aspects. The intoxication of wassal (meeting), the agony of faraq (separation), the bliss of innocence, the pangs of perfidy, the beauty of laughter and tears, the feelings of jealousy, love and hatred are the same in every age and place. Ghalib’s poetry is a record of these eternal feelings.

Ghalib also makes his verses bewitching and mesmerisng with the force of amazing ideas. He exemplifies Mathew Arnold’s dictum in his poetry: “For poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact.”

After reading Ghalib’s poetry, a reader feels as if the great poet is depicting the present situation of Pakistani society.

A darkness of hopelessness and gloom has shrouded every soul in Pakistan because of insecurity and frustration in society. Suicide bombers are blowing up places of worship, schools and bazaars. The cries of injured people, the shrieks of children, the wails of women and the human flesh scattered here and there after bomb blasts make people afraid, confused, sceptical, angry and pessimistic. The one who experiences such gory incidents wishes one was not born.

Ghalib’s following verse depicts the real feelings of a Pakistani:

Na tha kuch to Khuda tha, kuch na hota to Khuda hota

Dobaya muj ko honay nay, na hota mae to kaya hota

(When there was void, (only) God existed, had there been void, (only) God would have existed

My coming into existence degraded me, if I hadn’t existed what I’d been?)

Many people, including children and women, are becoming stoic because of suicide attacks, natural calamities like the earthquake in 2005 and floods in 2010, poverty, unemployment, utter hopelessness and frustration. They are becoming the real picture of Ghalib’s following verse:

Khushi jeenay ki kaya, mernay ka ghum kaya

Hamari zindagi kaya aur hum kaya

(What pleasure in living, what dole in dying

Of what moment our life is and of what we are.)

A child who loses his parents in floods; a wife who hears the news of her husband’s death in an accident and a sister who sees her brother crushed by incessant labour to collect dowry for her reflect another of Ghalib’s verses:

Zindagi apni jab is shakl say guzri Ghalib

Ham bee kaya yad karein gay keh Khudha rakhthay thay

(When our life passed in this wise, Ghalib!

How we would remember that we had a God as well?)

The people of Pakistan look towards their leaders for solace and to render good services to the nation. In their simplicity they forget that their leaders are downright corrupt.

Ham ko un se wafa ki hay umeed

Jo nahi jantay wafa kaya hay

(We entertain hopes of steadfastness from the one

Who is innocent of constancy holus-bolus.)

There have been many cases of suicide in Pakistan. Ghalib has described the true feelings of a person who is going to commit suicide in the following verse:

Ho marnay per munhasir jis ki umeed

Naumeedi uski dekha chahiye

(One whose sole hope (of release) lies in dying

His despondency is but an eyeful.)

Shakespeare says the world is a stage where people are playing their role in the drama of life.

Ghalib also says:

Bazeecha-e-atfaal hai dunya maray aggay

Hota hay shab-o-roz tamasha maray aggay

(The world is a children’s park to me

The game goes on, day and night, before me.)

The passions of hate and love, selfishness and self-denial, jealousy and appreciation, possession and sacrifice, pride and humility make life attractive and worth living.

This contradiction beautifies life, makes the stage of the world colourful with many different characters and species.

Death is a blessing because it adds lustre to life. It motivates man to work hard and explore new horizons in our cosmos.

Ghalib says:

Hawas ko hay nashat-e-kaar kaya kaya

Na ho marna too jeenay ka maza kaya?

(Passion (for life) has the thirst to do what not,

If there be no death what relish there be in living.)

Man cannot get rid of sorrows in his life. It is a universal truth.

Ghalib describes it as:

Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-ghum, asal mae dono aik hain

Maut se pahlay admi gham se najat paay kiyon

(The bind of life and bond of dole are in effect one and the same thing

Why (then) should a man get release from dole before death?)

Describing universal truths with beautiful images, subtle similes, fascinating diction, wonderful imagination and novel ideas make Ghalib a universal poet — a poet of all ages and all people.

(Translations by Shaukat Jamil, author of Vox Angelica, An English rendering of Ghalib’s poetry)

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at

Source :\04\13\story_13-4-2011_pg3_5

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