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GHALIB AND 1857 – by Satyapal Anand

(An extract from my forthcoming book ‘Short Notes on Urdu Literature’
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As already stated in the previous note, Ghalib took the stoppage of his pension, awards, and rewards very seriously. So much so that as soon as the mutiny began, he made it a personal rule never to say a word against the British but praise them to the skies and make a public show of his loyalty to them. The work on Dastanbu دستنبوbegan during the ‘ghadar’ غدر (mutiny), but it was completed after the riots were over. The reason for which it was written is not far to see. A copy, when published, was to be presented to the Governor-General, and a second copy, through him, was to be sent to Queen Victoria.

Sayed Moen-ul-Rahman writes: “The fact that Ghalib chose an archaic style of Persian was a clumsy trick. Ghalib hoped that the Indian readers would not understand the deep meaning and thus he would be spared of their ire on being a toady of the British.”
I read Dastanbu in Khwaja Ahmad Farooqi’s Urdu translation once again and was horror-struck to see how the greatest of Urdu poets lay prone at the feet of the British, only to be kicked and kept at a distance. The very first lines of the book are: “The people of India, having given up the apron (daman) of the lawful rulers (the British), were enslaved by beasts of prey. (the mutinous soldiers) … Indeed, the truth is that to hope for justice from any other government than the British is a foolhardy act.” Dastanbu. P.17 -English translation mine)

To establish his loyalty, he once again writes: “The readers must understand that the I, the undersigned (Raqim-ul-haroof راقم الحر وف), whose pen always bedecks a sheet of paper with true pearls (words), have eaten the bread and salt (naan-o namak نان و نمک ) of the British – and from my childhood, I have been a morsel-eater from the dining table of these victors of the world!” ( Dastanbu – Farooqi. P.19. English translation mine.)

Very low indeed was the self-esteem of the poet who had earlier chosen to write a Sikka for Bahadur Shah Zafar’s coronation!
One can only shake one’s head in sorrow when Ghalib uses such words as zalim, mufsid, namak-haram, shohdey, kameeney,ظالم، مفسد، نمک حرام، شہدے، کمینے etc. for the sepoys from Meerut who had fought valiant battles against the British. On the other hand, he reserves the choicest words of praise for the British. He writes (English translation mine) “Ah, what a tragedy! They (the British, who were killed) were the embodiment of knowledge, wisdom, justice – who taught these virtues to all, people with civil behavior (khush-ikhlaq خوش اخلاق), pious rulers! And a hundred times sorrow (sad afsoas افسوس about the fairy-faced (pari chehraپری چہرہ frail and soft ladies whose faces shone like the moon and whose bodies gave a rich tinge of raw silver, and sorrow for those children… ..” ( Dastanbu دستنبو– Farooqi. Pp.19-25) It goes on and on… . and to one of our new generation, who is not aware of Ghalib’s literary stature, “these seem to be the words of a shoe-licking slave of the British.” (Imtiaz Ali Arshi)

It is indeed a matter of sorrow that Ghalib doesn’t spare religious sanctions when he writes: “God when He gives a throne to someone, He also gives him the power and glory. Because of this, anyone who disobeys the rulers should be punished with shoe-beating (on his head)… It is, therefore, right for the people that they should bow their head before the rulers who have been given their status by God, and consider the obedience to the ruler as obedience to God.” Dastanbu دستنبو p. 73)
Having said this much, one might just sum up. Ghalib knew what he was doing. He knew that if he didn’t get his pension restored, he would be castigated by people for having kowtowed before the British. So, indeed, when nothing came out of his efforts, he became a dejected man, a broken man, indeed, a bundle of nerves. His later poetry shows it. Only three couplets would suffice.

Wehshat –o- Shaifta ab marsia kehwen shayed : Mar gaya Ghalib-I-asshufta niwa, kehtey hain.
The second couplet is rather unique in its import because in this Ghalib asks for death and through death a sort of deliverance.
Galion mein mary na’sh ko khenchey phiro kih mein : Dildadah-e-hawai-e-sar-e-rahguzar tha.
The last couplet that I have chosen is unique again.
Kahan tak rowun uskey khaimey ke peechhey, qyamat hai: Miri qismat mein, ya Rab, kiya na thi deevar patthar ki?

یہی اشعار اردو میں دیکھیں۔

وحشت و شیفتہ اب مرثیہ کہویں ، شاید  مر گیا غالبِ آشفتہ نوا، کہتے ہیں۔
گلیوں میں مری نعش کو کھینچے پھرو کہ میں  دلدادہ ِ ہوائے سر ِ رہگذار تھا۔
کہاں تک روئوں اس کے خیمے کے پیچھے، قیامت ہے  مری قسمت میں، یا رب، کیا نہ تھی دیوار پتھر کی؟

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