Poetry Books

Ghalib made easy: Review of ‘Thinking with Ghalib: Poetry for a New Generation’

While children in India and Pakistan still read Shakespeare in school, they hardly study classics of their own literature — verses by Ghalib or Mir in case of Urdu, for instance. Many Sharh-i-Dewan-i-Ghalib are available, but they are in Urdu while education has largely turned English medium. Thinking with Ghalib: Poetry for a New Generation attempts to address this gap. It explains 30 Ghalib couplets, chiefly by relating them to the world around us today.

The authors have sequenced the couplets, starting with the easier ones and then moving on to the more complicated. Each couplet is presented in Urdu, Hindi and English, and gets a title, like a chapter head. The titles are explanatory as are the notes at the end.

The hallmark of the book is the way Anjum Altaf and Amit Basole contextualise Ghalib’s poetry, placing it within the socio-political realities of India and Pakistan. An example is: Hai pare sarhad-e idraak se apna masjuud/ qible ko ahl-e nazar qiblah-numa kahte hain (The object of my worship lies beyond perception’s reach/ To those who see, the kaabah is a qiblah, nothing more). In explaining these lines, the authors refer to the rampant abuse of religious symbols in the name of politics that has resulted in the rise of right-wing parties on both sides of the border.

Most of the interpretations show Ghalib in a completely different light. For instance, the note on Bana kar faqiiron ka hum bhes Ghalib/ Tamaasha-e-Ahl-e-karam dekhte hain (Having put the guise of faqirs, Ghalib/ We observe the spectacle of generous people) starts with a Marxist take on society and goes on to talk about international NGOs and their agendas.

One drawback of the book is that in its effort to contextualise Ghalib, it often forgets to explain the literary devices like metaphors or similes that Ghalib used extensively. But this is pardonable if it suggests that the targeted audience is not just students of literature but also laymen.

The same applies to the sudden patches where the translation gets too literal.

Thinking with Ghalib: Poetry for a New Generation; Anjum Altaf, Amit Basole, Roli Books, ₹395

The reviewer is a journalist and poet based in Lahore.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 10:29:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/ghalib-made-easy-review-of-thinking-with-ghalib-poetry-for-a-new-generation/article37696599.ece

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