By Mohammed Wajihuddin
Denied due acknowledgement in his lifetime, maverick poet Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) had predicted that the world would acknowledge his greatness posthumously. The newest chapter in lengthening the memory of Ghalib was added on December 26 — a day ahead of his 213th birth anniversary — when his fans installed a beautiful bust of him at his restored haveli (mansion) in old Delhi's Gali Qasim Jaan. If the event warmed up the frozen December evening in the walled city — the fans, holding candles, marched to the memorial from crowded Chandni Chowk — the birth of the bust itself is no less exciting.
A year ago, when renowned poet-film director Gulzar commissioned the bust to Solapur-based sculptor Bhagwan Rampure, the latter says he had no clue the task would be so challenging. "Gulzar saheb had faith in me. I had to live up to his expectations and do justice to one of the most familiar faces in the pantheon of Indian poets," says the 48-year-old sculptor whose other famous installations include the bull at the Mumbai Stock Exchange, the Buddha series and busts of Jhansi ki rani and B R Ambedkar. But did he know Ghalib enough? "I had seen Gulzar's popular TV serial Mirza Ghalib and had grown up listening to the poet's ghazals," says Rampure. Gulzar also lent the sculptor Pavan K Varma's 1989 book Ghalib: The Man, The Times and some rare photographs.
"One of the photographs in the book had been sourced by former president Dr Zakir Hussain from Germany," says Gulzar who, having brought the poet to millions of homes through his serial in 1988, had long wanted to pay "my homage to him through a mujassama (bust)". After the Delhi government permitted Gulzar to donate a Ghalib bust to the memorial at the haveli, he says the first and only artist he thought of was Rampure. "I have known him for years and knew he would translate my feelings in marble," he says.
Rampure, on his part, read up all he could on Ghalib — his personality, his poetry, his trials and tribulations, his love for a courtesan and his famous self-respect (legend has it that the poet travelled from Delhi to Calcutta for resumption of the pension the British Raj had stopped but returned without meeting the officer because the latter didn't receive him properly). Before he began carving Ghalib in marble, Rampure did a bust in clay. "I invited Gulzar saab to Solapur to see the clay portrait and approve it. He lauded it and said it bettered his expectations," recalls Rampure whom Gulzar affectionately calls "mera bachcha (my child)".
The sculptor says the toughest part was to capture Ghalib's droopy eyes and his pleasant smile. "Ghalib had a great sense of humour. He knew how to turn a tense moment into an agreeable one. This was difficult but I captured it in the bust," says Rampure, a JJ School of Arts graduate who initially worked in Mumbai but subsequently moved to Pune, from where he shifted to his hometown Solapur in 2007.
Once the bust was ready, the problem of how to carry it all the way to Delhi arose. The airlines people could not have been trusted even if they marked the consignment "brittle". So the option of ferrying it by air was out. "The safest mode of transportation was train. We got it packed professionally, and an assistant of Rampure accompanied the bust to Delhi by train," says Gulzar, who admits that a lot more needs to be done to make Ghalib's house a famous destination like Shakespeare's house in Stratford upon Avon. Indeed, Ghalib's haveli enshrines the poet's many memories. It is here that the bard penned 1,100 couplets in Urdu and 6,600 in Persian, apart from writing numerous letters to his fans and friends which initiated an informal style of letter-writing in Urdu.
Aghast at the apathy to such a milestone in the capital's cultural history, a group of litterateurs, singers and poets founded the Ghalib Memorial Movement in 2007. Its objective is not just to preserve the house where the iconic poet penned his major works but also to turn it into a museum befitting his greatness. "We have not done enough to keep Ghalib's memory alive. Among other things, we plan a library at the memorial. But I am glad a beginning has been made," says Gulzar, who is on the Memorial Movement committee and initiated the statue under its aegis.
Gulzar's angst at the collective amnesia about the place and the area Ghalib inhabited is shared by many. Among them is Firoz Bakht Ahmed, freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's grandnephew and an activist-cultural commentator who grew up near Ghalib's haveli. Responding to his PIL in 1996, the Delhi high court ordered the Delhi government to urgently restore Ghalib's house which had fallen into utter disuse.
"Installing Ghalib's bust is laudable, but we must rescue Urdu, the language the poet used to universal adulation," says Ahmed. Poet-lyricist Nida Fazli echoes Ahmed, quoting a question that celebrated poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi had raised at the Red Fort mushaira which commemorated the centenary of Ghalib's death anniversary in 1969: "Urdu pe sitam dha kar/Ghalib pe karam kyon ho (why is Ghalib being favoured after torturing Urdu)?"
As Ghalib's language dies silently, the people who helped mount the poet's bust at his haveli must ponder over the question Sahir raised so inimitably.
Legendary poet Mirza Ghalib finally got his due when a statue of him, commissioned by Gulzar and sculpted by Bhagwan Rampure, was installed at his haveli in old Delhi
Gulzar admits that a lot more needs to be done to make Ghalib's house a famous destination like Shakespeare's house in Stratford upon Avon. Firoz Bakht Ahmed, on whose 1996 PIL the Delhi high court ordered the Delhi government to restore Ghalib's 'haveli', says, "Installing Ghalib's bust is laudable, but we must rescue Urdu, the language he used to universal adulation"
Source: The Times of India