Last Monday was Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib's 152nd death anniversary. While Urdu will forever bask in the glow of this giant, enriched and guided by his literary and philosophical adventures, it seems that this glow has acquired yet another new intensity. How does one describe him?

It is hard to settle on a single metaphor that is appropriate. Like the cuts of a diamond, each facet transmitting light, sparkling in a complex optical magic of its own, we see Ghalib's effulgence in his multifarious creative chambers.

What of rhythm? What of imagery? What of verbal balance, meaning clusters, craft and what of his  ''pretty wrongs''? Each of these facets is a source of sparkles that dance before the eye of the beholder.

Seeking a metaphor to describe Ghalib, we must recognise that he himself is its superb craftsman. In fact, he develops a huge robust genre of metaphorical sport, wooed by a technique of South Asia Persian and Urdu Poetry called sabk-i-Hindi [Indian formation].

What he does is fascinating : turning concrete reality into metaphor, and then, deeming metaphor as concrete reality, drawing further metaphors out of it. So reality engenders metaphor and metaphor-as-reality engenders new metaphors.

This honeycomb is one of Ghalib's highly skillful sports, and he plays it in the fullness of aesthetic can intellectual control.

He is such a champion of this sport that, under his shadow, poet-philosopher Faiz Ahmed Faiz beseechingly wished for all reality to turn into a metaphorical illusion :

''Hat haqeeqaat majaaz ho jaey''  [would that every reality becomes a metaphor!]

Then, there is an intriguing twist in the technique of this sport. Ghalib often carries out a pleasing entanglement of reality and metaphor in other words, entangling a concrete material object in a non-material or imaginary object, an intertwining of the physical with the metaphysical.

For example, in one of his ghazla that typically rises higher and higher as it moves from verse to verse, he says:

Those glances, O Lord, why do they pierce the heart?

Glances that, because of small fortune, became eyelashes.

What do we have here? Glances piecing the heart? Glances are not physical objects to pierce the heart. Note how the non-physical is being entangled in the physical, thereby creating a precious aesthetic spectacle.

And more, since the speaker is short of fortune, glances - non-physical have turned into eyelashes - the physical.

Note further: eyelashes are pointed and sharp, and things pointed and sharp are naturally capable of piercing into flash. So here we have a whole manufacturing industry of complex imagery, imagery of the concrete anchored in the imaginary, and the imaginary anchored in the concrete.

We see processes that, at once, conform to the laws of nature and bypass them. But the most important thing is that, through all of this, a unique poetic aesthetic comes to pass.

Seeking a metaphor to describe Ghalib, we must recognize that he himself is its superb craftsman.

The World Students Society thanks author Syed Nomanul Haq, Dean, School of Liberal Arts, University of Management and Technology.


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