Kids Corner

Images: details from painting by Arpana Caur.


This November,
I Try To Speak To Ghalib







This November I invoke not Waris Shah
but you, Amrita
And through you
I try to speak

to Asadullah Khan Ghalib
the poet laureate of Delhi:
Hain aur bhi duniya mein sukhanvar bahut achhe
Kehte hain ki Ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur

Perhaps I should address
the great (or some say ‘the greatest’) poet directly
My dialogue with nazam-ud
-daula is long overdue

Years ago I used to ‘see’ him
His words would console me, even generate a smile
Unke dekhe se jo aati hai munh par raunaq
Woh samajhte hain ki bimar ka haal achha hai

But that was before he forgot 
the river that runs through his city. Someone added poison
to countless eyelids and tongues and took Yamuna by its gullet
The waters blood-reddened just like Chenab

Someone reduced Delhi to cruel squads, a strange Diwali
Dark clouds ascend like Qutab Minars
I am trying to start a conversation with Ghalib
Gallees, mohallas, nukkads glitter, coated white with deathly phosphorous

But where are you? The one who witnesses, then enlarges the world
What happened to you ‘the dominant one’?
What happened to melodies of the original

Ghalib, are you embarrassed?
Men who wrote essays about you at Doon 
ordered this final flourish
of Indian independence

[The Ghalughara of 1984]

Those tutored inside sumptuous
Congress libraries, the rose-lapelled ones, who
quote-recite your heart-seducing verse
they personally decreed book-burnings, human-necklacings

To this day
shafts of light that fall
over Connaught Place, Rakab Ganj, Yamuna Paar
carry traces of restless particles of ash

Are you embarrassed?
Men who demand reparations
from old colonial masters
(in faux Oxbridge accents)

Their tongues fail
to wiggle
a mere word
when it comes to 1984

Dear poet, in your city
thrive Masters
of Death. Children bask in glory
of triumphant, un-mended elders

Ghalib, where are you?
Tell me elegantly (or inelegantly) how to make sense
of this smoke-filled
melancholy night?

King of nazam, why do you remain un-bothered
by  ‘un-mournable’ bodies?
about ‘cleansing’, rape, injustice?

Come on, it is not enough
to hide behind that melodious couplet
Maut se pehle admi gum se nijaat paye kyon.
Before the onset of death, how can man expect to be free of grief

You are not just a love sonnet guy,
you saw 1857, churned oceans
of ink then, capturing turbulence
also the slow-lava flow, you made reams of paper come alive

Wake up! Get rid of your soft quilt
And teach us how to stand
on the debris of 1984
Teach us how to tell this un-finished story to children?

I, too, would like to laugh again
Hope again?
Come, poet, say mouthfuls of achhe khayal, Bring radiance
joy, chardi-kala to daughters who stopped weaving

I ask you to console the bare bones
of un-consolable mothers
I ask you to discipline the wayward sons
with the whip of your unflinching words

Sons, who, unlike their perished fathers
find themselves coated
with mud, 
hashish and crystal-meth

Ghalib, the perpetrators love
this one line
Ek Brahman ne kaha hai ke yeh saal achha hai
Well, here is a Brahmin, who has decreed this year will be a good one

1984 was definitely a good year
only for incurable pigs, who spoke from Red Fort 
like failed physicists

Tortured with iron rods
stabbed in their bellies
even ghazals ceased
to name the world

But each year
that followed 84
has been a superb
year for the perpetrator

Of course time has passed. Many things
have changed. The new emperors of Hindustan
have instilled fear even
in stones, including the one that covers your remains

And you ‘Asad’, you shawled ‘lion’
to intervene? Explain!

Say something—
Your reputation is at stake
Time has chosen you
as the sayer of the unsayable

Bol, speak
Otherwise, I will 
in my way. And if I fail,
another will

And one bright-sunny day in the future
we will learn to trust poets again, and learn on our own
to stand upright on the debris
of 84. And the buried book will rise again

The buried book will rise again
And it will reveal
to little children playing in the garden
its crisp, un-scorched pages.

*   *   *   *   *



Stanza 2

Hain aur bhi duniya mein sukhanvar bahut achhe
Kehte hain ki Ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur


“So many good poets in the world, but they say Ghalib’s style is something else.” – Ghalib

Stanza 4

Unke dekhe se jo aati hai munh par raunaq
Woh samajhte hain ki bimar ka haal achha hai


“Just a glimpse brings a glow to my face, but they think that the invalid’s condition is getting better.” - Ghalib

Ghalughara: Punjabi word for the crime of genocide.

*   *   *   *   *

Jaspreet Singh is the author of Chef and Helium, both novels published internationally by Bloomsbury.

November 2, 2015


Conversation about this article

1: Paramjit Rai (Ottawa, Canada), September 28, 2015, 1:53 PM.

Thank you, Jaspreet.

2: Jasbir Kaur (New Jersey, USA), September 28, 2015, 10:49 PM.

Your cri de coeur so poignantly captures ours. Thank you, Jaspreet Singh. You are without doubt The Bard -- the Shah Muhammad, if you will -- of the 1984 Ghallughara.

3: Kaala Singh (Punjab), October 02, 2015, 3:50 AM.

What we also need to do is have real strength to prevent what happened in November 31 years ago from happening again. Was it not Ghalib who also said -- to be weak is a sin!

4: Amarjit Singh Chandan (London, United Kingdom), November 02, 2015, 9:31 AM.

Sadly, though Amrita Pritam had invoked Waris Shah for the suffering of Punjabi women during the Partition of Punjab, she took no stance on the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian army or the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984.

5: Roop Dhillon (London, United Kingdom), November 02, 2015, 2:20 PM.

Re # 4: I am getting the impression from many Punjabi writers that their views are leftist and pro-Congress; they would rather return their awards if the rest of India is hurt, but no care for 1984 as they see Sikh activism as militancy.

6: Jaswinder Singh (Brier, Washington State, USA), November 02, 2015, 8:12 PM.

Roop ji: I feel the same way about Punjabi/Indian writers. Most of them seem to have the attitude that 'Sikhs asked for it and deserved it.' They don't seem to see all the suffering that was caused by the system in 1984 and the decade that followed.

7: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), November 03, 2015, 9:54 AM.

Leave alone speaking against the state for the 1984 Genocide, Amrita Pritam considered Indira Gandhi as a sister from the past life and stayed close to her until after June 1984. The state bought the so called literary giants of Punjab by prestigious awards and memberships in the Rajya Sabha; she was one of the few of them. She died as the most decorated Punjabi Laureate in Indian eyes; on the same date as her spiritual sister (what a coincidence).

8: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), November 03, 2015, 2:19 PM.

Thank you for the poem, Jaspreet, you have a good way with words. @4: Amarjit ji - Amrita Pritam falls in with the likes of people like Gulzar, weak-kneed left-wing Indians born into Sikh families who abandoned the identity of their faith and are now inseparable from the Hindu morass.

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I Try To Speak To Ghalib"

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