Mirza Ghalib: A Biographical Scenario – Review

Book: Mirza Ghalib: A Biographical Scenario

Author: Gulzar

Published: December 31, 2005

When I finished reading Mirza Ghalib: A Biographical Scenario by Gulzar,  there was a lingering sadness that the book came to an end. However, there was also a fulfilling warmth inside. It was a beautiful journey. It was so calming that Time walked with me hand in hand and we were glad to have each others’ company. I wasn’t running away from Time and it wasn’t flying away from me. I lived each moment fully while I read the book, and each moment took notice of me. Life was, once again, as fresh as a dew drop on a petal at dawn. Gulzar Saab does that to you. Or like he mentioned in the Preface, Ghalib can do that to you. After reading the book, I’m not sure the book was magical because of which of these giants. Either way, a cheerful liaison it was.

The book is, essentially, a screenplay of a television serial on Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, 1797-1869 the Urdu and Persian poet. It was originally written in Urdu and then translated to English. It is only fitting that a poet as great as Gulzar would write the biography of another great poet who once lived–Mirza Ghalib. Somehow, the writing is very delicate. There is no pretense, no colossal usage of words, all of it is pertinent. And even though, it is not a complete story, but scenes, it manages to portray Ghalib’s life is sepia, and very well at that. Ghalib’s poetry is so wonderfully interspersed within the story that you could very well assume it was meant to be there. The book charts Ghalib’s course of life from his younger years until his old-age stopping between chapters only to let us revel and absorb the beauty that every chapter has. In one book, you are treated to the writing of two great poets—Gulzar and Ghalib—while Gulzar narrates the story of a poet’s life, Ghalib writes about life for you. Like this:


Dil hi to hai, na sang o kisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyun?
Royenge hum hazaar baar, koi humein sataye kyun?

A heart after all, it’s not a stone, why must it not brim with pain?
A thousand tears I shall shed, why must people hurt me?


Ab to ghabra ke ye kehte hai ke mar jayenge
mar gaye par jee na laga—to kidhar jayenge?

In fear now I say, I had better die
But if peace be not in death, wither then?


Kahun kis se main ke kya hai, shab-e-gham buri bala hai
Mujhe kya bura tha marna, agar ek baar hota.

Whom shall I confide in the pains of a night of sorrow,
Death wouldn’t have bothered me, had it been just once.


Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum, ke tu kya hai
Tumhi kaho ye andaz-e guftagu kya hai?

On the turn of every phrase, you doubt my entity
Tell me after what fashion have you chiseled this tete-a-tete

Ragon mein daurte firne ke hum nahin qael
Jab aankh se hi nahi tapka to phir lahu kya hai?

Worthy not of running in the veins,
the blood that does not trickle down the eyes.

…Jala hai jism, dil bhi jala hoga
kuredte ho raakh, justuju kya hai?

Where the body’s consumed with fire,
the heart must have burnt as well;
why do you scrape at me, what do you wish the ashes will yield?

Rahi na taqate guftar, aur agar ho bhi
To kis ummed pe kahiye ke arzoo kya hai?

The body’s sapped of the power to speak, and even
if there may be, with what hope may I say what my desire is?


Raat din gardish me hai aasmaan,
Ho rahega kuch na kuch, ghabrayen kya?

As long as the seven heavens be in firmament
something will fall to my lot, why panic?


Bas ke dushwar hai har kaam ka asaan hona
Aadmi ko bhi mayaaser nahi, insaan hona.

It is indeed difficult for all work to be easy,
It is not easy for a man to be human either.


Hazaron khahishein aisi, ki har khwahish pe dam nikle
Bohot nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle

Innumerable were the desires whose fulfillment I sought
But few seemed the numerous that did come true

Nikalna khuld se Adam ka sunte aaye hain lekin
Bahut be aabru hokar tere kuche se hum nikle

I had heard of the expulsion of Adam from Paradise
But greater seemed the dishonour at my exile from your lane

Khuda ke waste, parda na Kaaba se utha zalim
Kahin aisa na ho yaha bhi, wahi kafir sanam nikle

For God’s sake do not lift the veil from the Kaaba
What if it is unlike the face of my Pagan beloved

Kahan maikhane ka darwaza Ghalib aur kahan wa’az!
Par itna jaante hai, kal wo jaata tha ke hum nikle.

What be the relations between a preacher and an alehouse,
But I did see him cross the threshold as I entered.


Not only should this book be read because it has amazing poetry, but also for the love stories that it brings with it. The love that

Mirza Ghalib Tomb
Mirza Ghalib Tomb (Photo credit: ramesh_lalwani)

Ghalib has for his wife; unending and more passionate than his affair with his words. The love that he has for the city of Delhi which berates him, tests him and then accepts him in a way that it still hasn’t let him go. The unrequited love that a kothe wali has for Ghalib and his poetry; and how she dies longing for him to visit her house just once, finally taking with her only his poetry on her tombstone. The love that Indians show to each other when their near and dear ones are being hanged by the British “traders”. Against the backdrop of time when division was rife and India were being severed with a honey-coated knife in the name of religion, Ghalib lived—in sorrow, wisdom and unacknowledged love. Ghalib’s house-help, Wafadar (which means loyal) says in the biography that Ghalib is a poet that the future generations would be indebted to; she has no idea how right she was. The book says Ghalib died in February 1869, only that I don’t think he did. He still lives in Chandni Chowk (in the house that the government reconstructed recently)—only that he doesn’t come home often. Just as always.


P.S: I can only wish that a great poet would one day write Gulzar’s biography. We owe it to him as well.

Related Articles:

Related Images:

English: Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1858.
English: Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1858. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1863-67.
English: Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1863-67. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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