Ghalib & Nawab Jaan come alive on stage 

The most quoted poet—who wrote on the whole range of human experiences—found his muse in the most famous courtesan of Delhi, Nawab Jaan

NH photo
NH photo

Ashutosh Sharma

Ghalib, who didn’t conceal his resentment over the accident of his birth, was someone who fought his deep distress all alone. The philosopher poet who raised questions over life, religion and society, lived life on his own terms. Born Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan in the city of Taj Mahal, Ghalib lost his father when he was five. His uncle, who had adopted him, too died when he turned nine. A few years later, his brother faces mental health issues. Ghalib then got married at 13 and in a letter once, he described his marriage as the second imprisonment after life itself. Along with his brother, he soon moved to Delhi where all his seven children died in their infancy. And then his adopted son died at 35.

He lived submerged in his sorrows, but that didn’t change him. Even when the financial grants dried up and he fell heavily into debt, he continued his life of excess. Many, even today, acknowledge that Ghalib was an alcoholic, one who indulged in romantic reveries and a gambler who was jailed for six months in 1847.

The most quoted poet—who wrote on the whole range of human experiences—found his muse in the most famous courtesan of Delhi, Nawab Jaan. She was a devoted admirer of his poetry even before they had even met. Their world was brilliantly recreated at Jashn-e-Rekhta on Saturday in the Capital. The 75-minute-long ‘The Courtesan Project’ was interspersed with poetry and commentary by noted story-teller Neelesh Misra and Sufi Kathak performance by classical dancer, Manjari Chaturvedi. The script that embodied cadence and finesse, was written by Jamshed Qamar Siddiqui.

In the days of Ghalib, if the ghazal of a poet would be recited by a fakir on the street and a nautch girl in the city, he would be considered an accomplished poet. Ghalib was one such poet.

During his maiden visit to the double-storey mansion of Nawab Jaan, Ghalib was welcomed by his own ghazal: Ishq par zor nahin, hai yeh woh aatish Ghalib Jo lagaye na lage aur bujhaaye na bane! (One can’t control the love, it’s such a flame, O Ghalib! That can neither be ignited nor can it be extinguished on wish!) The fragrance of his poetry in Nawab’s sonorous voice was blended seamlessly with the air in the dimly lit room. On catching the first glimpse of Nawab Jaan, the poet exclaims: “After creating the moon, the God must have created her with the remaining half of the radiance.”

Striking up the conversation, Ghalib asks her: “Who has written this Ghazal?” The nautch girl tells him with indifference: “Ghalib, the great poet!, Who are you?” Poochhtey hein ke Ghalib kaun hai Koi batlao ke hum batlayen kya? (They ask me, ‘Who is Ghalib?’, Someone tell them, ‘What can I say?’) “Coincidently, my name is also Ghalib and I’ve also written the same ghazal.”

Nawab narrates to him how she prays to Allah to make Ghalib the most popular poet of the country. “If your wish comes true, I too shall visit your home and present a ‘dushaala’ (shawl) to you,” Ghalib replies. “Will you visit my residence for once?” she wonders. Eyes meet and sparks fly.

Ghalib, meanwhile, has to leave for Calcutta to plead for scholarship before British authorities when the loan amount rises to a staggering Rs 40,000. British authorities viewed Ghalib an opponent to their regime. His request is not entertained. On his return, almost one-and-half-years later, Ghalib is asked: “Mirza, what will you do now?” The defiant poet replies without a sign of worry: Raat din gardish mein hain sat aasman Ho rahega kuchh na kuchh ghabraen kya (In the seven skies, nights and days revolve Why should I worry about something such as my fate).

Soon, Nawab Jaan’s wish was fulfilled: Ghalib is appointed as poet laureate by the emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar after the death of Zauq. He gets Dabir-ulMulk and Najm-ud-Daula honorific titles. His happiness too is short-lived. He rushes to the Nawab Jaan’s mansion to share the good news, and life had other plans. Nawab’s servant, Zehra tells Ghalib that she died waiting for him and hands over to him a bundle of letters.

Ye na thi humari kismat kay visaal-e-yaar hota,

Agar aur jeete rehtay yehi intzaar hota!

(This was not our destiny that we would have met again Had we lived further on, we would still have been waiting for each other) Remembering his promise, Ghalib visits her grave to drape it with a shawl.

Qaid e hayat o band e gham asal me dono aik hain,

Mout se pehle admi gham se nijat pae kion !

(The prison of life and the bondage of grief are actually the same, Before the death, how can a person expect to be free of grief?)

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Published: 17 Dec 2017, 4:50 PM