6 August 2008

Ghalib in New Delhi

Somewhere between hell and heaven, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, great Urdu poet of the nineteenth century, meets Faiz Ahmed Faiz, great Urdu poet of the twentieth century. Faiz tells Ghalib about all the awards, seminars and literary conferences that now happen in his name. Reduced to tears by this glowing account of his posthumous fame, Ghalib decides to revisit his beloved city to witness the situation for himself. In Delhi, of course, Ghalib’s conical topi and flowing green robe are greeted with half-hearted curiosity or bemusement. Most people he meets have no clue who he is, and he gets called everything from Dadabhai Naoroji to Bhishma Pitamah. Those who do recognise him have only heard his poetry as Jagjit Singh’s ghazals, or as recited by Naseeruddin Shah in an ’80s television serial.

The play’s basic premise – transplanting a poet who is the very embodiment of nineteenth century Dehlavi tehzeeb to the altogether less refined streets of modern New Delhi – is clever. And the playwright has a good ear for the linguistic oddities that make Delhi such an entertaining place to eavesdrop on conversations. But the play is riddled with hackneyed jokes, more often than not playing on Ghalib’s lack of familiarity with English and the corresponding inability of contemporary Dilliwalas to pronounce Urdu words. A paanwala’s rendition of “multiply” as “Mulaiti-plai” and Ghalib’s mishearing it as “Mulaithi Bai” is too contrived to be funny.

Even so, the play is kept afloat by convincing performances and pitch-perfect dialogue delivery from Digambar Prasad as a part-baffled, part-truculent Ghalib and Harish Chhabra as Bihari student Jai Hind, who makes Ghalib his roommate. Trisha Gupta

Time Out Delhi Vol. 1 Issue 3, May 4 - 17, 2007.

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