Indomitable Ghalib - Dr A Q Khan - Monday, April 11, 2011

Ghalib was India’s best known Urdu and Persian poet. Ghalib was a mentor of the last Mogul emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was an accomplished Urdu poet in his own right. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib suffered much during and after the War of Independence. No other poet has been read and loved as much as Ghalib by Urdu- and Persian-speaking people. No other poet reached the heights achieved by Ghalib, though he himself profusely praised Momin, Mir and Bedil. The language he used was rather difficult to understand, even by learned scholars of his day. Hakim Aish once taunted Ghalib with these words:

Agar apna kaha tum aap hi sanjhe to kia sanjhe

Maza kehney ka jab hey ik kahe aur dusra sanjhe.

Zaban-e Mir samjhe aur bayane Meerza sanjhe

Magar apna kaha yeh aap sanjhen ya Khuda sanjhe.

Ghalib, somewhat frustrated at this, complained:

Na sataish ki tamanna na siley ki perwa

Gar nahin hen merey ashaar men maani na sahi.

This was just an expression of his humble nature, otherwise his poetry was beautiful. Volumes could be written about his work, but today I would like to introduce an extremely important and not easily available work. I believe it is the first Urdu translation from Persian of Ghalib’s own preface to his Urdu Divan. This information, together with the Urdu and English translations, has been sent to me by my dear friend, Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi, son of that great Urdu scholar of the subcontinent, Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, who was royal librarian in Bhopal and who was decorated with the highest civil award of Padmabhushan by the Indian government. Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi is a biochemist and genetic engineer by profession and has written extensively on this subject.

Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi has done an invaluable service to Ghalib by the translation of his preface to his Urdu Divan. The language used in the original was so difficult that publishers refrained from printing it, but it should be introduced to Ghalib’s fans. I am privileged to be able to reproduce the English translation here, thanks to Dr Niazi and thanks to the wide circulation within the country and abroad of The News and those of you who read my columns.

Translation of Ghalib’s Preface in Persian to his Urdu Divan:

“The fragrance-appreciating palate is invited, and glad tidings are offered to the genius of the assembly-sitters that some sources have become available for dissipating fragrance by burning aloeswood in the thurible and even some Indian aloeswood has come into hand. Stone has not cut this aloeswood, nor has it been broken crudely or carved haphazardly; instead it has been cut by an axe, and properly separated into pieces by a knife and finely carved by a file. Now the desire for taste is moving so fast in the search for the Zoroastrian’s fire that it is losing its breath. The search is not for the fire that has been extinguished in the Indian furnace and having turned into a fistful of ashes, providing a proof of its extinction; neither is it dependent on satisfying hunger from the bones of the dead for its impiety; nor because of the lunacy of hanging to the wire of the extinguished lamp on the grave. This fire can neither melt the hearts nor can it brighten the assembly. One creating fire from his talent and the fire-worshipper burning in fire for his bad deeds, know it well that the seekers are impatient to get this radiant fire that has been taken out of stone to present it to (King) Hoshang and which dazzled day by day in the royal court of (King) Lahrasap; that fire which is a flare for the blaze of straw, the colour for the tulip, an eye for the fire-worshipper and a lamp for the temple of idols. This humble one is thankful to God Who makes hearts warm with speech; a spark of that brilliant fire this humble one has found in his ashes; and, so through this, the hammering of the breast has increased and began to billow over this spark with his breath. It is hoped that in a few days, it turns that the brilliance of the light of the lamp would be in the thurible and would give wings of a fast bird to the fragrance of aloeswood to quickly reach out and perfume the palates.

“This humble writer desires that after making this selection of ghazals from the Urdu Divan, he would turn his attention to his Persian Divan, and after having achieved this feat he would keep sitting having his feet broken.

“I hope that the litterateurs and also those who appreciate my work would not declare my scattered pages, which are not included in this divan, to be the result of the wetness of my quill and would not oblige the collection of my writings with praise of those verses, nor would they carve blame on me for their adaptations.

“O Lord, this is the smell of a being never heard of, and not coming to existence from non-existence; that is, the carving is bringing out the conscience of the carver that Asadullah Khan is alias Mirza Nosha and of nom de plume Ghalib, born in Akbarabad and resident of Delhi, finally let him be buried in Najaf (22 Dhi-Qa’dah, 1248 HA/11 April, 1833).”

(Dr Niazi’s note: In 1833, Ghalib wrote a preface to his Urdu Divan and, keeping with the tradition of writing the preface in a different language, Ghalib chose Persian, just like Rumi chose Arabic for the preface to his Persian poetry. Like his poetry, the prose Ghalib wrote was difficult to understand, as he used many words that were not even in common usage; this resulted in numerous typographical mistakes in the Persian manuscript and forced the publishers to redact this significant contribution by Ghalib. I have provided an English translation as best as possible, given the inevitable difficulties of interpreting rare idioms, compound words and Ghalib’s own vocabulary.)

Prof Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi lives in Deerfield, Illinois, USA. He is actively engaged in teaching, research and consultancy. He regularly visits Pakistan and gives me the pleasure of seeing him. The two books, Love Sonnets of Ghalib and Wine of Love are a treat to read At present, Dr Niazi is translating Ghalib’s Persian poetry into English. I am sure it will be a valuable work.

As far as Ghalib’s work is concerned, it is enough to reproduce what he said about himself:

Hain aur bhi dunya men sukhanvar bahut acche

Kehte hain keh Ghalib ka hey andaz-e-bayan aur


Substandard democracy

Ahmed Quraishi

The time has come in Pakistan to end the culture of ignoring democratic failures under the pretext that imaginary ‘anti-democracy forces’ will draw benefit, or that time will correct democratic practice.

One of the biggest charades in Pakistan since the restoration of democracy in March 2008 is the idea that the worst democracy is better than anything else.

Experts and NGOs receiving aid money to assess and promote democracy will not criticise serious and disturbing trends because criticising democracy has become taboo. Pundits and commentators routinely ignore glaring faults in Pakistani democracy. There is a strange restraint. An unhealthy concept has developed in Pakistan that says if you criticise democracy and politicians then you are supporting dictatorship.

No one is ready to see the obvious; that there is no dictatorship around and the term ‘anti-democratic forces’ is ridiculous and nothing but a fig leaf. In short, no ‘anti-democratic forces’ are preparing to seize power in Pakistan and we might as well relax and begin an overdue exercise: an honest critique of Pakistani democracy.

Pakistani politicians are getting away with a lot. The media gives them disproportionate television airtime and accepts their flaws as natural weaknesses that time would heal. This is wrong.

In three years of democracy, no Pakistani political party cared to hold party meetings or release policy guidelines on education. Civic services in cities and towns are basic to a minimum. The quality of life of the Pakistani middle and lower classes is deteriorating, and at times it appears ridiculous even to talk about things that ordinary citizens in places like China, Malaysia and Dubai take for granted, like public sports and cultural facilities, shopping malls and world-class business districts.

Our politics have become too divisive, chaotic and suicidal. Forget major elections, even balloting on smaller scales, as in labour union elections, results in violence and chaos. Last month, a major artery that connects Islamabad and Rawalpindi to the only civilian-cum-military airport was blocked for a few days because of the national airline’s union elections.

Major routes in all cities are closed and life comes to a standstill whenever political parties of all sorts hold their political and religious rallies. Flags and posters of political parties distastefully ruin the look of our cities and towns and often trump the national flag (remember how the ruling party’s flag adorned the lampposts of Islamabad Highway for months before being removed in February after public grumbling).

The Pakistani nation shows remarkable unity at important junctures, but it is our politicians who divide it along regional and linguistic lines for political gain. For example, politicians who have nothing to offer voters raise the non issue of a new language-based province in southern Punjab. President Zardari’s ruling party shuts down one province, Sindh, on the death anniversary of a former prime minister to play up a linguistic card (why not a national holiday? Was the ex-premier not a national prime minister, elected by a majority of Pakistanis outside one province?)

Not to mention the biggest flaw: that Pakistani parties are no longer incubators of change and new blood and thinking, which is the original idea of parties in a democracy. Our political parties are bastions of indispensible mini-dictators who will not abandon party slots to allow new blood to rise. With the exception of one or two parties, the rest of them are all passing the mantle of leadership from fathers to sons, just like Syria, Libya and Yemen.

No other democracy in the world allows its elected representatives to maintain bank accounts and conduct local politics abroad, in Dubai and London. There are also the falling standards of personal integrity of Pakistani politicians. Our democratic warriors include thieves, looters, credit card thieves, rape suspects, and even accomplices to murder and to burying women alive in the name of honour (at least in one case). Lastly, the Pakistani political system is now structured to stifle the emergence of new faces and ideas.

We cannot rely on time to heal these major flaws in our political system. The culprits will not step forward to correct themselves and these flaws will damage the state. We are already on the path of slow suicide. The only solution is extra-constitutional intervention – by the people and the judiciary – to force change onto a dying political system. Such an intervention has enabled the Egyptian people, for example, to force changes in their constitution and political system to root out incompetence and allow for fresh faces and ideas.

The writer works for Geo television. Email:

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