Mirza Ghalib. A century-and-a-half has passed since he passed away, yet the mention of his name is sufficient to breathe life into hazy impressions of the idyllic age in which he lived. The shabby bylanes of the Walled City suddenly become suffused with the smell of hukkah and kebab, shalwar-clad girls start selling noisy bangles in teeming streets, and gilded courtrooms begin to echo with bursts of peerless poetry.
It was an era that people of the subcontinent remain as deeply as ever in love with. This is evident in the difficulty you have in finding a dinner table at Old Delhi’s Dastarkhan-e-Karim restaurant, despite its falling standards, even today; in the popularity of the ‘sound and light’ show on Mughal history at the Red Fort; in the success that books like ‘White Mughals’ and movies like ‘Jodhaa-Akbar’ and a restored and colourised ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ enjoy across the borders of India and Pakistan.
Most tellingly, it comes through in the lingering interest in the ghazals of Ghalib. Even as Urdu twists and turns on its deathbed, with few takers for a language in which no call centre is ever expected to operate, Ghalib’s romantic verses are globetrotting with the subcontinental diaspora. ‘Ghalib nites’ are held from Delhi to Dubai to Detroit. Ghalib is studied in universities around the world. And new translations, new insights into his works continue to emerge.
The latest entrant is ‘Wine of Passion: The Urdu Ghazals of Ghalib’, a compilation of his love poems translated into English by US-based Pakistani professor Sarfaraz K. Niazi. The book seeks to open “a window to the mind and heart of Ghalib for English readers” by making him available in their language.