There aren't two words about the fact that Mirza Ghalib is the most famous and popular Urdu poet of all time in the world, and it is widely believed that he took Urdu to the zenith of glory. Being a courtier of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, in Delhi, he is today remembered as the brightest beacon of Urdu literature, though his literary works in Persian are no less estimable. He began writing poetry in Persian at nine and wrote more in that language than in Urdu. Moreover, Ghalib and many of his contemporaries called it Hindi instead of Urdu, also known as Hindvi and Hindustani with Perso-Arabic script and heavily influenced by Persian. The language emerged during the 12th century in northeast India and was ultimately named Urdu. Its sister one became Hindi, which uses Devnagari script with Sankskrit influences.
Ghalib was born on December 27, 1797 in Agra, famously known as the Taj City or City of the Tajmahal, in India. On Wednesday last, his admirers across the subcontinent enthusiastically observed his 226th birth anniversary. He died on February 15, 1869 in Delhi.
Ghalib lived during the last years of the Mughal Empire and witnessed India's turbulent transition–the Mughal dynasty's fall after the British ruler ruthlessly crushed the Great Revolt of 1857. His diary, Dastanbuy, written in Persian, briefly describes the plight of the Delhiwalas at the time and the city which was known as Shahjahanabad, the walled city founded in 1648, when Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, decided to shift the Mughal capital from Agra. Today, it is the Old Delhi (Purani Dilli).
BIOGRAPHIES: Many books illustrating Ghalib's life and works have been published in the Indian subcontinent in Urdu, Hindi, English and Bengali, and some other languages, too. Former Indian diplomat Pavan K Verma wrote an excellent biography titled Ghalib: The Man, The Times. It was first published in 1989 by Penguin. It is 'an absorbing readable account of the great poet,' according to India's eminent writer and journalist Khushwant Singh. The book was translated into Bengali by Mandar Mukhopadhyay and published by Sahitya Akademi in Delhi in 2016.
It is well-recognised that Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali is the first biographer of Ghalib and was fortunate to get in touch with Ghalib for the last couple of years of the poet's life. His book Yadgare Ghalib, written in two parts, presented Ghalib's memory as well as a discussion on his ghazals. One part is written in Persian, and the other in Urdu. Puspito Mukhpadhyay prepared a Bangla version of the Urdu part of the memoir named Ghaliber Smriti (Memory of Ghalib). It was also published by Sahitya Akademi in Delhi in 2019.
Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam joined hands which resulted in Ghalib: 1797-1869: Life and Letters. The fascinating book drew resources from the memoir written by Ghalib's friend and younger contemporary Hali, his diary of the great revolt of 1857 and some of the letters he exchanged with friends and fellows. The book was first published in 1994 by Oxford University Press.
Mehr Afhsan Farooqi's Ghalib: A Wilderness at My Doorstep is a book wherein the author critically focuses on Ghalib's Persian and Urdu poetry and prose works. First published in 2021, it is a critical biography of the eminent poet.
Ghalib: A Thousand Desires is another rich addition to the list of Ghalib's biographies. Written by Reza Mir and published by Penguin in 2019, the book captures the essence of the great poet's life and works, along with the translation and interpretation of Ghalib's most enduring poems and ghazals.
Ghalib is now also recognised as one of the greatest poets of all time, and his most prominent work, Deewaan-e-Ghalib, has been translated into at least fourteen languages of the world. It contains Ghalib's best Urdu poems, ghazals to be precise. By standard definition, ghazal is a short poem consisting of rhyming couplets, which are called bayt or sher. Deewaan-e-Ghalib consists of around a thousand couplets, and these depict various aspects of love, sorrow, morality, philosophy, sufism, politics and society at that time. Though Ghalib's poetry is quite famous for romanticism, the couplets carry deeper insights with natural and humanistic approaches.
Najeeb Jung translated the whole Deewaan-e-Ghalib from Urdu into English, which was published in 2021. Jung, also a retired Indian Administrative Service officer, provides a fascinating English interpretation of Ghalib's poetic excellence. Before Jung, many translated parts or selected portions of Deewan.
GHALIB IN BANGLA: The Deewaan is also translated into Bangla, although not in full form. Moniruddin Yusuf, an eminent Bengali writer, translator and journalist, translated Deewaan-e-Ghalib from Urdu into Bengali. Having a solid command of Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages, Yusuf's work has been accolade as a pioneering and classic Bengali translation of Ghalib. It was published by Bangla Academy in Dhaka in 1965.
In the Bengali translation of Deewaan-e-Ghalib, Yusuf discusses Ghalib's life and works and presents an introduction to the formation of ghazal. He, however, only gave the translated Bengali verses and didn't transliterate Urdu verses into Bengali side by side. Yusuf also shows his brilliance by translating Ferdousi's epic Shahnama into Bengali from Persian in six volumes. The publication of the great work initially faced a lot of obstacles. Finally, it was fully published by Bangla Academy in 1991.
Abu Sayeed Ayyub's Bengali translation titled Ghaliber Ghazal Theke is also regarded as another masterpiece of translation. First published in 1976 in Kolkata, in the book he also presents a wonderful introduction to Ghalib, focusing on his thoughts and philosophy. Ayyub had also translated poems of Mir Taqi Mir from Urdu titled Mirer Ghazal Theke. He provides Urdu transliteration in Bangla besides the translation in both books.
Poet Shakti Chattopadhyay also translated Ghalib, but mostly from English, and took assistance from Ayan Rashid to decode original Urdu in some cases. No doubt translation from English changed, sometimes even distorting the tone and nuance of the original Urdu poems to a large extent.
Bangladeshi writer-translator Javed Hussen opens a beautiful window to engulfing Ghalib in Bangla through his translation and analysis. Being a lover of Urdu literature, he translated the poetries of Ghalib from Urdu and Persian. Through hard work and dedication, Javed developed his linguistic proficiency in these two languages over the decades. Though his family atmosphere initially helped him to create the foundation of Urdu, in a later period, it was his tireless effort that contributed to continuing the travel.
Javed Hussen's Bengali translation of Ghalib's poem titled Mirza Ghalieber Ghazal (Ghazals of Mirza Ghalib) was first published in 2019 by Prothoma in Dhaka and already got a number of reprinted editions thanks to ardour for Ghalib which knows no bounds in Bangladesh. The book is a collection of some 500 poems selected by the translator from Ghalib's original writings in Urdu and Persian. Javed's work brings some new waves where he tries to translate most of the couplets in poetry form, and the rest are in prose style. He also uses non-conventional words in Bengali with caution and care to demonstrate the depth of the couplets.
Eminent Indian writer and filmmaker Saadat Hasan Manto, who was based in Mumbai, had prepared a manuscript to make a film on Ghalib. Javed also translated it into Bangla, where he also discusses the turbulent times of both writers.
Besides Ghalib, the works of Javed include translations of Jalaluddin Rumi, Mir Taaqi Mir, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Karl Marx, reflecting his versatility. However, there is no doubt that Ghalib inspired Javed Hussen to dive into the treasure trove of Urdu literature and collect some of the precious gems for Bangla readers.