Monday, January 18, 2016

Ghalib: Oblivion

Remembering Ghalib around his birthday (which passed a few weeks ago):

"My friend, the way your mind works beats me! When did I say that your poetry was not good? When did I say that you will find none in the world to understand it and appreciate its worth? 

But it is true that you are intent on poetry, while all my faculties are intent on attaining oblivion. To me the learning of Avicenna [Ibn Sina] and the poetry of Naziri are alike wasted, and pointless and illusory. To pass one's life one needs a little ease - and all the learning and power and poetry and magic are nothing. What of it if an avatar comes to the Hindus? And what of it if a prophet arises amongst the Muslims? What of it if a man wins fame in the world? And what if it if he lives out his life unknown? Let a man have something to live on, and physical health, and the rest is nothing, my dear friend. As a matter of fact, these too are nothing, but I have not yet reached the stage where I realize it. Perhaps in due course this veil too will fall from my eyes, and I shall pass beyond the stage where getting a living, and enjoying health and pleasure mean anything to me, and pass into a world where sensation ceases.

In the desolation in which I live I am lost to the whole world, indeed to both worlds. I go on giving my answers to suit the questions I am asked, and behave with every man as our relationship warrants; but it is all illusion in my sight - not a river, but a mirage; not reality, but fantasy. You and I are not bad poets. Suppose I grant we win the same fame as Saadi and Haafiz. What did their fame bring them? And what would ours bring us?"

Extract from a letter to Hargopal "Tufta", Ghalib's closest shaagird (student), written on 1st October 1859 in one of the most challenging times for Ghalib. His earnings (stipend from the Mughal court) were stopped, and most of his associates and friends were not yet allowed back into Delhi as part of the severe repression of British forces in response to the Indian revolt of 1857.
[From the translated and edited work "Ghalib: Life and Letters" by Ralph Russel and Khurshidul Islam].