Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mirza Ghalib and Shakespeare - Tribute to the Bards


Two great bards from two different time periods, language and civilisations, left an impression on the culture of the times and for years to come. Even today, the world continues to be in awe and admiration of them. Both of them enriched the language by their writings, so much so that the language looks incomplete without them. This post is to celebrate the greatness of these two literary masters.

Taj Mahal is not the only marvel Agra has produced. But Alas! the city has been very unkind to its other Gems, foremost amongst them being Mirza Ghalib. Dec 27, happened to be his birthday. 2014 also happened to be 450 years of Shakespeare. Fortunately he didn’t meet the same fate. History and times have been more kind to him.

Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan, known to the world as Ghalib, a non-de-plume he adopted, was born in Agra on Dec 27, 1797. With his marriage at the age of 13, he moved to Delhi. That was a defining moment for him. His initial years were very comfortable and the later was the opposite, largely in penury and on pension. He showed his poetic brilliance while he was very young. Large part of his work in Urdu was done by the time he was 19 years, within 6 years of his arrival to Delhi. He later dabbled in Persian and 30 years later, returned back to writing in Urdu, when he was a courtier. He produced pieces, both prose and poetry, which were as brilliant as his younger years. It was due to him that this language of commoners attained poetic status.
The site below has more details around his life and captures the perspectives of the times very well.
http://smriti.com/urdu/ghalib/intro.html

The toughest part for any lover of Urdu poetry is to figure which are some of best couplets. It’s impossible to pick up a few. I have picked up a few, which I loved. There are many more, which I equally love, but want to restrict for this article. I don’t claim that these are the best nor do I have the competence to say so. Just enjoy them. If you love it, go for more on the net or buy a book.
The maestro had his own ‘signature’ style…andaaz-e-bayan aur..a class apart.. 

हैं और भी दुनिया में सुख़नवर बहुत अच्छे 
कहते हैं ग़ालिब का अंदाज़-ए-बयां और ..

That he challenged the widely held concepts, to the disliking of the fundamentalists, tells me that he didn’t hold an orthodox view of religion.

हमको मालूम है जन्नत की हक़ीक़त लेकिन
दिल को ख़ुश रखने के लिए ग़ालिब ये ख्याल अच्छा है ..

Here is another one which drives the same point I made before. It becomes clear to me that he was a true liberal and disliked practioners of orthodoxy, hypocrisy and narrow-minded approach…the same very preacher was seen coming out of the pub…

कहाँ मैख़ाने का दरवाज़ा ग़ालिब और कहाँ वाइज़ ,
पर इतना जानते हैं के कल, वो जाता था और हम निकले ..

This one is my favourite…

हज़ारों ख्वाईशें ऐसी, के हर ख्वाइश पे दम निकले 
बहुत निकले मेरे अरमां , लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले  ..

Have you seen a better romance with pain ...isn’t it true in real life…when pain goes beyond tolerance...that very pain turns into the balm …

इशरत-ए-कतरा है दरिया में फ़ना हो जाना ,
दर्द का हद से गुज़रना है दवा हो जाना   ..

The final one, I present to you, sums up the philosophy of life…mantra for leading a happy life...

कुछ इस तरह मैंने ज़िंदगी को आसां कर दिया ,
किसी से माफ़ी मांग ली, तो किसी को माफ़ कर दिया  ..

His compositions represented elegance and deep philosophy. He challenged the conventional.
His birthday comes and passes by as a non-event, even in his birth-town, Agra. Thrice I have been to Agra and the trip has by and large included the Taj, Akbar’s tomb, Red Fort and the little far off Fatehpur-Sikri. Never does the hotel or nor do the guides suggest about Ghalib’s birthplace. It has been left to the citizens who enjoy his poetry to celebrate the life of this poetic genius.

Well, looked differently, irrespective of how we treat our masters, his writings make him immortal.



Let’s move to the dramatist. William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 and 2014 marked 450th anniversary of his birth. It’s impossible to study English language and literature without studying Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon captured complete range of human emotions through his histories, comedies and tragedies [and we can add Romance to it].
The Balcony Scene by a known painter
How can one not feel the churn within oneself after going through, the dark, The Tragedy of Macbeth or the depressing tone and tragic consequences of The Tragedy of King Lear. The tragic outcomes are life lessons of following an evil path or listening to flattery. Some of the tragedies are deeply ingrained and now part of popular folklore or are sort of the standard if there is a discussion on that topic. If you talk of tragic love stories, the discussion is incomplete without mention of the young, star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. His writings had powerful visualisation. You can almost imagine the whole plot unfolding around you and you become a part of it, a character, as if you were around. The moment I think about Romeo and Juliet, I can see Romeo up in the balcony kissing the Juliet. By far, in my view, this must be the most popular of all his writings. Hundreds of thousands of adaptions [many of them modified to happy endings…] are doing the rounds all over the world.

As a kid, I felt very sad when a pound of flesh was asked by Shylock in The Merchant of Venice [ it also sent a social message against predatory lending practices, which by the way, todays Investment Bankers are accused of.. and even today Newspapers pick this up as headlines to make a point]. or felt overjoyed when Portia disguised as a clerk of the lawyer, made ingenious argument, that only a pound of flesh and not even a hair’s weight extra should be extracted and that not a drop of blood should flow!
Another very interesting aspect of Shakespeare was the commanding presence of the ghosts and jesters in his plays. In fact the supernaturals - ghosts, witches, prophetic apparitions etc. have been integral to many of his plots, having acted as catalyst for many of the actions. They have helped create the atmosphere and tension in the story, augmenting and expanding many of the scenes, characters etc. I cannot imagine The Tempest and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark without them. And that would be true for jesters as well. How can As You Like it, Twelfth Night, or What you Will and The Tragedy of King Lear be complete without Touchstone, Feste and the Fool ? They were not just fooling around but very integral to the plays. The jester was only a mask and behind that was an intelligent person, who made his point with wit.

City of Verona
Locations in Shakespeare's plays played equally important part. While being an English writer, a third of his plays have been set in Italy [ Venice, Rome and Verona ] and within that three of them are set in Verona - The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet. The romantic air, the beauty of the place, the culture appears to awed Shakespeare. Or may be Britain wasn't that liberal, the machinations were too much for Britain to digest. These locations helped him layout the scenes making it inseparable with the storyline. Some of these will be on my itinerary when I get visit Italy.
In the Indian context, he is more known for his tragedies, but he has churned out comedies with equal mastery. As you like it, his pastoral comedy has philosophical tones. Live your life as you like it. Find your own meanings to situations [love]. His works are probably the most quoted ones, one of famous ones comes from this comedy ‘All the worlds a stage and all men and women are merely players.’ Therefore don’t get serious beyond a point. Have fun, your way.

The emotions are as relevant today as they were in his times. It’s this relevance that his works have seen adaptation to film, television, opera, novels, variants, poems, comics etc. and draws full audience even today, though they have been continuously played for centuries. There is no one more celebrated and adored than him.
Closer home, I am totally in love with Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaption of Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet as Maqbool, Omkara and Haider each of the tragedy-trilogy, a masterpiece. The depth of Shakespearean characters have always enamoured leading actors who consider it an honour to play lead roles.

Well as is the case with Mirza Ghalib, there are many more masterpieces which I may not have quoted. It’s impossible with these two bards.
I have learnt a lot and enjoyed them enormously. Thank you for enriching our lives with your greatness.