There’s a hint of patriotism burning deep in the recesses of his heart, the flame of which comes out from time to time....
by Sa’ad Nazeer
When one through Ghalib’s verse goes, one sees helpless lamentations, incurable misery, hopeless despair and a plethora of emotions, relatable and otherwise. One can easily spot him entering the wine-shop and coming out never. It seems he was so fed up with the realities of his time that he preferred the arrival of death over the arrival of his beloved, as he does mention in one of his couplets.
There is this cruel certainty about death found in most of his verse. All of this could have happened because of numerous factors, colonialism one among them. He desires, in one of his poems, he had hopes for his land that the treasures buried deep inside would one day sprout from the earth but that short-lived hope to dust turned. He remarks that he has been expelled from the streets of his own land as Adam from Eden was expelled, but the worst was his expulsion. He hoped, that his fellow country-men would beside him stand in the face of tyranny and injustice; that they would sing for him the songs of courage; that they would soothe away the heaviness he bore in his heart, but they just couldn’t resist the temptation of not being bold and therefore they let it slide.
All of them had gone astray. There’s a hint of patriotism burning deep in the recesses of his heart, the flame of which comes out from time to time as the winds of tyranny blow hard by the night and the day. He is often found contemplating on life and death; and the difference between them, if there is any difference at all. He often thinks about giving it away but then a thin streak of hope and sometimes fear of death brings him back. He regards life in the same manner, under the circumstances, as he regards death. There’s no point of this whole drama being performed in front of his eyes: the politics, the economy, the master and the slave, the inferior and the superior, and above all the people, his comrades; they’re just being driven like cattle, these things unnerve him the most. He is sick of all the slogans; the slogans of discrimination; the slogans of a better future; of burying the hatchet. He sees decay spreading around like some infernal disease - decay of morals and ethics, thanks to the colonial masters.
People who were the torch bearers have been corrupted and light has been diminished. He often falls into the pits of oblivion and numbness from where he shuts his eyes on all the wrongs done to human race and he gives up on everything, no matter what their nature is. In some of his poems he shocks his reader with wild ideas of revolution and of hope; of consequence which is very rare in his verse, consequence, because there is no consequence, it’s just plain madness. The fire eats up everything but even the fire has a code, it doesn’t burn that which is already burnt.
He often goes to the garden to sit under the oak in thoughtful contemplation, while the nightingales of the forest listen intently to the song he came to sing and when he clears his throat they take his song and call it their own.
And the time comes upon him when a difficulty is no longer a difficulty; ease not ease anymore; pain has lost it’s meaning. He no longer sees the world in black and white but in the complexity of colours; in the complexity of a maze - a labyrinth where nothing can be explained; nothing can be unravelled. He invites his reader to join him in raising a glass and himself disappears; he talks exclusively about his beloved and their abode and their street but when he gets too close everything turns into something else, something inanimate - a house of Usher.
The complexity of emotion in Ghalib’s verse is like a disturbing dream: painful and frustrating, yet beautiful; all the more misunderstood.
Bahadur Shah Zafar expresses almost the similar sentiments about the mess being created by the colonial predators. He feels overwhelmed and utterly useless against the mighty floods of colonialism. There is fear of abandonment and grave regret in his verse. Regret of assuming something and not fulfilling it by heart and soul.
There’s a sense of desolation in his verse… he reminisces about his ancestors and ponders his fate in the hands of the foreigners: what would they do to him?
Would he be resurrected in the eyes of man? Of God? Would he ever be able to sleep “perchance to dream” at night? These thoughts distress him greatly and he expresses them with much candour. Life, according to him, is way too short and he is found yearning for peace half his life and waiting for death the other half. He recognizes the force he has met with and he bows his head before it because of utter helplessness, lack of resources and the absence of writ of his government. His heart melts in the solitary confinement; he is nostalgic. He gradually comes out of denial and embraces with an open mind and heart his weaknesses and failures as an emperor by glorifying his ancestors, and compares himself with them: how they made great sacrifices for their land and how he couldn’t. In the end, like Ghalib, he too gets sick of everything; he refuses to be a part of anything bad happening around, he regrets being an emperor and thinks about other possibilities: what if he were a commoner, the burden would have been far lesser then.
He admits that he’s never been a source of light to any eye or of comfort to any heart. He considers himself not more than driftwood floating endlessly on the strangest of seas. He has given up all hope, there’s no hint of retaliation against the foreign forces, the seed of revolution has no chance of breaking the soil open, he is all lost, his land is in tatters.