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Nehru Centre seminar in London underlines enduring global appeal of 19th century poet Mirza Ghalib

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Keval Joshi on tabla, singer Swati Natekar, and Siddharth Singh on guitar.

Keval Joshi on tabla, singer Swati Natekar, and Siddharth Singh on guitar.

Substantial global interest in the works of the poet and philosopher Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) was reaffirmed by a three-day seminar at the Nehru Centre, London. More than 20 international scholars led the sessions, and such was the enthusiasm that the organisers had regretfully to turn away 80 people, for the normal security reasons.

Ghalib was the most acclaimed Indian Urdu and Persian-language poet during the last years of the Mughal Empire.

Under the title Ghalib Rediscovered (in the light of recent findings on his life and works) the seminar was jointly organised by Ilmi Majlis London and the Nehru Centre in collaboration with Bagri Foundation and Vatayan: Poetry on South Bank.

Seven English language sessions on recent research into Ghalib examined his life, times, art of poetry and prose in the Urdu and Persian languages, and his philosophical ideas.

Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869).

Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869).

Ghalib has been described as the most popular Urdu poet of all time. Born in Agra, he began writing poetry at the age of 11. Much of his work reflects sadness and despair but he covered every aspect of love. In Delhi he mixed with some of the most eminent intellectuals. He was married at 13 to the pious Umrao Begum, and all their seven children died in infancy. He described his marriage as a second prison, life itself being the first.

Ghalib introduced a simple style of Urdu prose which some liken to conversation. His ghazals,  a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, remain very popular.

Mrs Vibha Mehdiretta, acting director of the Nehru Centre, welcomed guests to the seminar on August 21 2015, and Dr MZA Shakeb, chairman of Ilmi Majlis London, introduced the programme. The keynote address was delivered by Dr David Mathews, renowned Urdu scholar and linguist who taught Urdu and Nepali at SOAS, University of London, for over 30 years. Divya Mathur, president of Vatayan and coordinator of Ilmi Majlis, presented this segment of the programme.

The inaugural ceremony concluded with a musical rendition,  Sham-e-Ghazal, by Swati Natekar,  world music singer- songwriter. Accompanied by Siddharth Singh on guitar and Keval Joshi on tabla, she sang four ghazals, two of which she had composed based on Indian ragas.

Saif Mehmood

Dr. Saif Mehmood

The following day, the first session on Ghalib’s Time began with Dr David Mathew’s paper,  Ghalib and Human Condition,  followed by Dr Syed Taqi Abedi (Ontario) on Ghalib and Modernity. This session was chaired by Dr Salim al-Din Quraishi (UK) and the convenor was Nazish Zaidi.

The second session, on Ghalib’s Life, included Dr Syed Azizuddin Husain (India), who spoke on Ghalib and 1857, followed by Dr Syed Khalid Quadri (India) on Ghalib: A Tragic Persona and Dr Salim al-Din Qureshi (UK) on Ghalib: his correspondence with East India Company and the Queen. This session was chaired Dr Natalia Prigarina (Russia) and the convenor was Humera Afzal.

The next session, on Ghalib’s Art of Poetry and Prose in Urdu included Dr Syed Ahsanul Zafar (India) on Yagana Changezi’s Comments on Ghalib’s Poetry: Right or Wrong,  followed by Dr Mokhammad Mirza (Russia) on Importance of Ghalib’s Verses in Contemporary Era,  and Dr Masud Anwar Alavi:Ghalib and Lucknow. This session was chaired by Dr Khalid Qadri and the convenor was Uttara Sukanya Joshi.

The fourth session on Ghalib’s Art of Poetry/Prose in Persian included Dr David Mathew on Chiraag-e-Dair: Ghalib in Benares,  followed by Dr Alain Désoulières (France) on Ghalib: Mainly his Quatrains/Rubayāt. The session was chaired by Dr Syed Taqi Abidi and the convenor was Mahamid Ahmed.

Dr Mirza Mokhamad.

Dr Mirza Mokhamad.

The second day concluded with a Mushaira, recitals of their poetry by Sohan Rahi, Mustafa Shahab, Dr Syed Taqi Abedi, Madhu Chaturvedi, Dr Hilal Fareed and Mohammad Mirza. This event was compèred by Huma Price.

Day three began with a session on Ghalib’s Philosophical Ideas/Ideological Associations. Papers were read by Dr Syed Abdul Wahab Qaiser on Sense and Perspective: Ghablib’s Poetry and Physics Dr Anwar Mozzam on Intellectual Concerns of Ghalib and Dr Natalia Prigarina on The Hiding Place of Preternity as a Source of Ghalib’s Imagery. Dr Taqi Abidi was in the chair and the convenor was Nazish Zaidi.

Chaired by Dr Natalia Prigarina and convened by Khadija Shamail Ahmed, the sixth session on Evaluation of Current Studies of Ghalib included Dr Saif Mehmood on Ghalib: the Litigious Commoner: Audacity, Belligerence and Torment,  followed by Dr Moinuddin Aqeel on Japanese interest in Ghalib and Dr Irena Maksimenko on Current Studies on Ghalib in Russia.

Dr Irena Maksimenko.

Dr Irena Maksimenko.

Chaired by Dr Masud Anwar Alavi and convened by Mahamid Ahmed, the seventh and plenary session was devoted to the outcome of the three day seminar, and a look ahead to potential future events.

The programme concluded with a vote of thanks by Nazish Zaidhi on behalf of all the organisers.

Divya Mathu

Divya Mathur

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