Saturday, 12 March 2011

An intoxicating affair with Mirza Ghalib (1797 - 1869)

Almost a month ago I discovered a beautiful "Qawwali" whilst aimlessly browsing Youtube.  "Koi Umeed Bar Nahin Aati" performed by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan instantly seized the core of my very being.  Ever since, I have been listening to it every morning on the Tube to work.  It was the fact that I had not listened to a Qawwali for a considerable length of time that drew me to this electrifying song.  You see, I grew up in an intensely musical home, my parents being avid fans of possibly all genres of North Indian music (ranging from Retro Bollywood and Hindustani Classical to Ghazals and Qawwalis).  It therefore comes as no surprise that I had the good fortune of growing up in an enchanting atmosphere that had infused into it the voices of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Rafi, Jagjit and Chitra Singh.  Consequentially, these voices played in my sub-conscious throughout my childhood.

So when I first encountered "Koi Umeed Bar Nahin Aati" on You Tube last month (in two parts as embedded below), I felt a profound sensation of satisfaction - the sort of satisfaction that is akin to the satiation that spreads across your nerves when you take the first sip of your ice-cool drink on a scorching day.  My sub-conscious yearning for a soulful Qawwali was now appeased.

The beauty of "Koi Umeed Bar Nahin Aati" rests in Rahat's impeccable rendition and his alluring voice - true.  But upon careful introspection I cannot resist concluding that it is the kalaam (the writing penned, or verses created, by an author or a poet) of this piece that perfects it and enhances its charisma to intoxicating heights. This rendition by Rahat is unique in that its fabric is carefully and intricately threaded together using a number of Ghazals (conversations with one's lover, often understood to be God) all penned by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797 - 1869), a genius of Persian and Urdu poetry in the era of British India.

The only surviving photograph of Mirza Ghalib (1797 - 1869)

In the first video above, Rahat opens the Qawwali's rendition poignantly with the two verses from one of Ghalib's most popular Ghazals.  The first verse reads:

"Yeh nah thii hamaarii qismat, ke visaal-e yaar hotaa,
agar aur jiite rahte yihii intezaar hotaa."

"This was not our destiny/fate, that union with the Beloved would take place,
if we had kept on living longer, there would have been this very same waiting."

My take on this verse is that it neatly encapsulates one's longing to be united with God, one's Beloved in this verse. There comes a time in everyone's life when the long wait to be reunited with God can no longer be endured, the apparently eternal orphancy becomes unbearable.  Since waiting is more painful than death,death is preferable, this saving oneself from the pain of waiting for union with the Beloved. This is pure devotion!

"Yeh masaal-e tasawuf! Yeh tera bayaan; Ghalib,
tujhe ham vali samajhte jo nah baadakhaar hotaa."

"These problems of mysticism! This discourse/exposition of yours, Ghalib,
we would consider you a saint-- if you weren't a wine-drinker."

What a beautiful verse! Here Ghalib reminds us, with unmitigated elegance, of human imperfection.  We all have role models, people we aspire to emulate, individuals upon whom we confer the highest order of reverence and admiration.  All too often, we make the mistake of viewing these role models as perfect souls.  Indeed, Ghalib's poetry invokes in the reader such intensity and intoxication that it is all too easy (and convenient!) to view him to be a personification of perfection.  Yet here he shatters all ego and all arrogance by reminding the reader of his weakness - wine.  Complimenting Ghalib on either his mystical tendencies, or his mystical tendencies and his poetic abilities both, we find his work almost enough to make him plausible as a saint.  But of course, as the verse remarks in a candid and superior tone, Ghalib's attachment to wine prevents any such illusion from developing.  The use of the downward "tu" for 'you' increases the effect of condescension and derogation.

"Koi Umeed Bar Nahin Aati" offers us a plethora of Ghalib's sparkling works.  My journey of Ghalib's works has only just begun - and I am already intoxicated by his devotion, wit and splendour!  As I attempt to better understand Ghalib, this spiritual intoxication gets ever more enjoyable!

1 comment:

  1. Nice choice. Yeh Nathi hamaari Qismat is one of my all time favs.

    This is a nice version of it. ... Enjoy..

    -A fellow Oshwal


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