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Mumbai psychiatrist decodes Mirza Ghalib's poetry

This Valentine's Day, a Mulund-based psychiatrist will translate The Urdu poet’s complex verses for an English-speaking audience

We meet psychiatrist Dr Ajai Singh at his Mulund clinic on a Wednesday evening to speak about a rather unlikely subject — Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, aka Ghalib (1797–1869), one of the greatest poets of all time. The 63-year-old is, like many others, an avid admirer of the Urdu poet. But, with a difference. Singh wants to decode Ghalib and make his verse accessible to an English-speaking audience.

“Ghalib had a reputation of being a ‘mushkil pasand shayar’. In other words, he liked his poetry to be complex. He disregarded poetry that was commonplace,” says Singh, as he shifts between Urdu and English with equal ease. “Ghalib’s poetry was full of complex allusions and metaphors, and heavily laced with Persian. He wrote in a language that was pleasing to the ears, but difficult to comprehend,” he adds. Which is why, Singh will hold a two-hour concert on February 14 at Bandra’s Rang Sharda, where he will not just sing ghazals of Ghalib but also break it down for audience that isn’t able to grasp most of his words.

Dr Ajai Singh. PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE
Dr Ajai Singh. Pic/Sameer Markande

Born in 1796 in Agra, Ghalib’s ancestors were Turks, but he made Delhi his permanent residence after marriage. In fact, it was a visit to the Ghalib haveli near Chandni Chowk that inspired Singh to explore his poetry further. “In my boyhood, I had the privilege of learning Urdu from a family friend. But, last April when I visited the haveli, the presence of his soul was palpable.” So these days, when not busy at his clinic, Singh divides his time between pouring over books like the Deewan-e-Ghalib written by the poet and reading online material available on him. “I will recite not just a few she’rs but the entire ghazal. It might seem a bit much because they’re lengthy, but once you understand the meaning, it will whet your appetite,” he smiles.

Being a Hindustani classical singer and composer, Singh was inspired to weave Ghalib’s poems into his own compositions. “While Ghalib wrote a lot about the philosophy of life and mysticism, it was the pain of love and living that were the dominant themes,” he says, hinting why they chose Valentine’s Day for the event. “He was married at an early age of thirteen. Later, it was believed that he fell in love with another woman that he could never be with. So, you see, where the subject of unrequited love comes from,” says Singh as he goes on to recite a legendary verse in his sonorous voice. “Mohabbat mein nahi hai farq jeene aur marne ka, usi ko dekh kar jeete hain jis kafir pe dum nikle (In love, there is no difference between living and dying, one lives by watching the beloved on whom life is lost.)”

Singh feels Ghalib’s verses are so universal that they are bound to resonate with everyone. “The brilliance of Ghalib’s compositions is such that it transcends time. The only hitch is you need to go beyond the austerity of his language. I hope to be that medium.”

When: February 14, 7 PM
Where: Rang Sharda, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (W)
Entry: Rs 200 – Rs 1,500
Call: 26430544

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