This is not a typical biography that traces the life and time of Mirza Ghalib. But a more poetic anthology, a few defining scenes of his life that give a jest of what Ghalib was. It has 17 chapters or 17 scenes. Book describes a bit of his childhood and his marriage to Umrao Jaan, who remained his only wife all his life. His relationship with her and the faith that she had put in him. They never agreed with their views on many things, most prominent being religion and its rituals. But they still had all the love and faith for each other.
It traces the situations in Mirza Ghalib’s life that lead him to say most of his famous couplets. Without describing him, it etches out the character of Mirza Ghalib very well, who was a drunkard and a gambler all his life. And never felt apologetic about it. He lived most of his life in debt. He knew he is a poet and he would not do anything else. And he knew he deserved to be the poet laureate of Delhi. And he would not take any other position but that in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar. He is eccentric, knows this fact, he not only accepts this fact but also enjoys it.
It talks about the courtesan who falls in love with him. She is the only one who predicts that one day he would be Dilli’s poet laureate. When people say Mirza Ghalib is in debt, she says “what about the debt that the whole Dilli owes him?” Ghalib also promises to gift her a shawl if that happened and a series of events take him to her grave, where he presents her the promised shawl.
The whole book is interspersed with poetry in Urdu and translated into English. There is context setting, followed by the couplets and if you understand Urdu a bit, you can simply get lost in the romanticism of the poetry. And in his way with the words (Andaz-e-bayan), in his ability to question everyone and everything. For example, he would not say that ‘my heart is crying’, but he would say ‘why should my heart not cry?’
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Gulzar calls himself the third servant of Mirza Ghalib, two others are mentioned in the book and formed an important part of the portrayal of the poet. It is an easy to read small-book, a good reading for anyone who admires or appreciates Urdu poetry.
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