Gopichand Narang’s latest book on Mirza Ghalib skillfully explores how the poet defied all existing postulations

The ongoing debate on post Modernism made us realise that truth is not an absolute concept; it is what we construct through language to fulfil our cultural needs. Similarly, the world in which we live in is essentially incongruous where everything is shaped by its otherness, hence it is unreal and indicates banality and voidness. Curiously, it is something that was realised, almost more than two centuries ago, by the most in focus Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. He suspects and turns attention to hypocrisy and embarrassing contradictions in our social mores and it impels him to upturn all accepted theories and norms of social behaviour.

“For him, faith denotes an unending puzzle whether it heals or festers the poet is not sure,” points out eminent theorist Gopi Chand Narang in his finely etched and well-researched study of Ghalib titled, “Ghalib’s Thought, Dialectical Poetics and the Indian Mind”, recently released by Sahitya Akademi. Why does Ghalib tend to defy all existing postulations that draw heavily on common sense? This pertinent question is thoroughly explored by the author. Modern man, trapped in the quagmire of intolerance, bigotry, jingoism, subjugation, and unbridled consumerism, and further deafened by the booming violence, has become completely oblivious to language of unsaying and here, Ghalib breathes new life into him by exploring the possibilities of silence, cogently argues Narang. For him, Ghalib’s reticence brings together the diverse strands of our muddled life.

Divided into 12 well-documented chapters, the book meticulously attempts at collating the heterogeneous poetic traditions in which Ghalib’s poetry is firmly located. Though much ink has been expended over Ghalib, one can hardly find any attempt to place Ghalib’s widely quoted couplets and ghazals, strongly revealing state of no mind in the backdrop of the Buddhist philosophy (shoonidtya – voidness). Silence comes to one’s rescue when things turn sour. Explaining the emotional lay of Ghalib’s poetry in the perspective of Buddhist discourse, Narang skilfully highlights the contours of Shooniyata and asserts, neither it is a religious or metaphysical concept nor it is a way of meditation. It is a way of thinking that strikes at the root of every concept, ideology, belief, and social practice. It enables one to go beyond the apparent to see the otherness of it and it is what that runs through Ghalib’s entire poetry. Salvation is not something Ghalib longs for; he strives for highlighting the sufferance of people. Time and again, Ghalib through his unmatched wit, makes defiant gesture against insensitivity, power that be-and money. For him, poetry is always an act of subversion.

Mapping the complex terrain of Ghalib’s Urdu and Persian poetry, Professor Narang puts together a perceptive selection that is representative of the most frequently articulated themes of Ghalib. The book, carrying the fruits of academic vigour, dives right into the text of Ghalib and analyses his Persian and Urdu poetry, the letters and diary and biographers of Ghalib, Narang connects Ghalib with Abdul Qadir Baidil.

Narang marshals unflinching evidence to assert that Ghalib’s much-talked about poetry hardly weaves a pathos-filled sensitive narrative around overwhelming sense of loss, unreciprocated love, human frailties and despair but it creatively concentrates on human psyche that causes dreams and desires, essentially express itself in ways beyond rationalising. His verses simultaneously mirror the paradoxical shadow lines of truth and existence and reveal what ideologies conceal. The book offers a nuanced refreshing perspective on reading Ghalib and it is an invaluable gift for those who want to understand the intellectual and cultural milieu of India, not told by the colonial historians.


Remembering Mirza Ghalib in his haveli December 27, 2013