Naseeruddin Shah's well-dresssed, well-bearded upper body covered half the giant screen in the auditorium. In those early days, the regulations were lax enough to allow me to sit in the auditorium all by myself on a Saturday playing an entertainment CD - Gulzar's Mirza Ghailb TV serial. The gentle wind blowing on Naseeruddin Shah's face on screen had a minor equivalent for me from the AC vent.
Naseeruddin Shah's chest swelled, his face filled with a wistful glow. He sang full-lunged in Jagjit Singh's voice:
"Qaasid ke aate aate khat ek aur likh rakhoon,
Main Jaanata hoon woh joh likhenge jawaab mein"
This is the most winning sher in the ghazal, in my opinion. What is it about a good sher that so stirs the reader? Is it the beauty of construction, a feeling of serendipity, or some sudden joyous revelation that "saying it so" was also possible. How much more so it must have been for the poet! For a true reader or listener, encountering a good sher is perhaps the moment when you give a hi-fi or a strong shake, or an aadaab to the poet himself across space-time? A sharing, in small measure of course, of the poet's original epiphany?
I have said before that a good sher can hold together an entire Ghazal - you'd want to sing or listen to the whole ghazal just for that one good sher. In this ghazal though, it is difficult to find an ordinary sher. The maqta (the last sher of the Ghazal with the poet's name in it) and "mujh tak...." are priceless.
"Kab Se hain kya bataoon, jahaan e kharaab mein,
Shab haye hijr ko bhi rakhoon gar hisaab mein
Mujh tak kab unki bazm mein aata tha daur e jaam,
Saaki ne kuch mila na diya ho sharaab mein
Taa phir na intezaar mein, neend aaye umr bhar
Aane ka ahd kar gaye, aaye jo khwaab mein
"Ghalib chuti sharaab par abhi kabhi kabhi
Peeta hoon roz-e-abr-o-shab-e-mahataab mein"
Was Mirza Ghalib good looking? Most images I have seen show an ordinary, even grouchy old man - a face undeserving of the intellect, quite unmatchable to the wit in his poetry. Maybe he had a good set of teeth, a pleasant smile, and a warm charm that the artist (who made his portrait) could not translate to paper.
(To be continued ...)