Delhi’s Bandaged Heart – Ghalib’s Coronavirus, Ghalib Academy
Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
What if Mirza Ghalib were alive today? How would Delhi’s great shayar (poet) have coped with the pandemic, and the consequent khud alhaidgi (self-isolation in Urdu!)? What ghazals and verses would have come out of his Qalam (pen)?
We’ll never know.
“But there are some couplets by him that we can relate to our life in these extraordinary times,” says Aqil Ahmad, the secretary of central Delhi’s Ghalib Academy. The modest, soft-spoken man has an encyclopaedic grasp of Ghalib’s oeuvre.
In the BC (before coronavirus) era, his cosy office in the academy — which is a flower’s throw from Ghalib’s tomb — would be filled with poets and critics discussing (and gossiping) about poets and critics. These days, Mr Ahmad’s office lacks the chatty spark of earlier times but he still occasionally presides over the gathering of Ghalib aficionados. This evening, he is having milky “office chai” and zeera “biskuts” with poet Mateen Amrohi (who, as always, is dressed in a black sherwani) and poet Nasim Abbasi, the one with a most courteous voice imaginable. The three men, all in mask, helped The Delhi Walla find five Ghalib couplets in Urdu (Ghalib also wrote in Persian) dealing with the themes of isolation that is driving our daily life. Mr Ahmad provided the transliteration and translation.
Rahiye ab aisi jaga, chal kar, jahan koi na ho
Ham safar koi na ho, aur ham zuban koi na ho.
Let’s go now, and live somewhere where there’ll be no one,
No one to travel with me, no one who would know my language.
Be dar o diwar sa ik ghar banaya chahiye
koi hamsaya na ho, aur pasban koi na ho.
I’ll make something like a house, with no doors or walls,
There won’t be any neighbours, and no one to guard me.
Padhiye, gar bimar, to koi na ho timardar,
Aur, agar mar jaiye, to nawakhan koi na ho.
If I fall ill, there’l be no one to look after me,
And if I die, to mourn me there’ll be no one.
Mai se gharaz nishat hai kis rusiyah ko
Ik guna bekhudi mujhe din raat chahiye.
Who, hapless, seeks happiness within the cup of wine?
A delicious senselessness, day and night, is what I taste.
Ne teer kaman men hai, na saiyad kameen men hai
Goshe men qafas ke mujhe aaram bahut hai.
The arrow is not in the bow, the hunter is out of the target,
I am comfortable in the corner of the cage.
Ghalibians on the pandemic