How Relevant is Ghalib Today? Author Pavan Varma Answers

Author Pavan Varma remembers Mirza Ghalib.

Art and Culture
2 min read

(This story is being reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Ghalib’s death anniversary. It was originally published on 27 December 2018.)

Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan

Every year on 27 December, social media timelines get morphed into a diwan (collection of work) of a poet, about whom it is said that had he written in English, he would have been the greatest of all poets. Nonetheless, he is already one of those in Urdu.

On his death anniversary, we are talking about legendary poet Mirza Ghalib. And on this very day, former MP and author of ‘Ghalib: The Man, The Times’, Pavan Varma remembers Ghalib with an exceedingly emotional note.

“I just want everyone to read Ghalib. He would have had something to say about the religious tensions that we see these days. He would have said something so apt in his style that people would be brought to their senses. This is Ghalib’s relevance in these times.
Pavan Varma, Former MP and Author

The revolt of 1857 left a deep impact on Ghalib as he witnessed history change right before him. His contemporaries were dead, and as the last remaining prominent poet, he saw the destruction of his beloved city, Delhi.

For him to witness the end of the Mughal empire was indeed painful, as with it ended his glorious days as a poet.

“He could see that although the emperor [Bahadur Shah Zafar] sat in his diwan-e-aam or diwan-e-khaas, it was the British running the empire. The Red Fort had come under the colonial rule. This pained him and had a deep impact on him.”
Pavan Varma, Former MP and Author

Ghalib loved his city and, hence, was greatly disturbed by how the British took over the Mughal empire. Yet, one of his late works, Dastambu, is considered pro-British. Pavan Varma calls it a clarification and an indictment that the ‘helpless’ poet wrote about his time.

“Ghalib wrote the Dastambu to clarify that he was not complicit with the British. But if you read the Dastambu carefully, you will realise it’s an indictment of what changed in 1857. It’s not only about what happened in 1857, but also the consequences it unleashed.”
Pavan Varma, Former MP and Author

The Badah-khwaar (wine lover) was a true Sufi at heart. Ghalib used to mock the wise and the preachers of his time. He always questioned the religious rituals and said, "Jab ki tujh bin nahi koi maujud, toh yeh hungama e khuda kya hai" (When there is nobody around but you, then why this hue and cry?)

“He was far removed from the religious rituals. In fact, when he died, many people didn’t know if was a Shia or a Sunni.”
Pavan Varma, Former MP and Author

Pavan Varma believes that knowing Ghalib well can help us feel compassion and love in troubled times. Taking his advice, we can sure start with the verse:

‘Manzar ek bulandi par hum bana sakte arsh ke udhar hota kaash ke makaan apna’

We could have witnessed a beautiful sight from a height, if only we had a house on the other side of the sky.

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