One of my indulgences in the World Book Fair held in Delhi last month was to buy the critical edition of Ghalib's letters, edited with a good and exhaustive introduction by Khaliq Anjum and brought out by the Ghalib Institute in Delhi. I got the five volumes for Rs 825. The cost was Rs 1180. There was a concession of Rs 355! And it is impossible not to be moved and not enjoy the tone of Ghalib's letters, one of the fine examples of conversational, elegant and simple Urdu. We learn that Ghalib and the translators at Fort Williams College in Calcutta were all forging Urdu prose at around the same time. Delhi also saw the rise of Urdu newspapers at the same time. And the literary agenda was to create a clear prose, something that began for English in the 16th century.
The temptation to quote from Ghalib's letters is irrestistible. Here is one from the first volume. He writes to Mirza Har Gopal Tafta: "mujh ko dekho ke na azad hoon na muqaid, na ranjoor hoon na tandrust, na khush hoon na naakhush, na murda hoon na zinda, baatein kiya jaataa hoon, roti roz khaataa hoon, sharaab gaah gaah piye jaataa hoon. Jab maut aayegee mar rahunga, na shukar hain na shikaayat, jo taqreer hain ba-sabeel-e-hikaayat hain,baarey jahaan rahoon, jis tarah rahoon, har haftey mein ek baar khat likhaa karoon." (Ekshanba, 19 December 1858)
Another hilarious one is this from an earlier letter to the same person: "..aur ye jon tum ko "ffar" ke lafz mein taraddud hua aur ek sookha sehma shayr zahoori ka likha bada ta'ajjub hain. Yeh lafz mere haan " Panj Aahang" mein das hazaar jagah aaya hoga. "Ffar" aur "ffarrah" lafz faarsee hain. Maraadaf "jah" ke. "Jah" aur is ko kis ne kahaa hain ke baghair tarkeeb diye na likhein? "Ali Jah" aur "Sikandar Jah" aur "Muzaffar Ffar" aur "Faridoon Ffar" yoon bhi durust aur sirf "Jah" aur "Ffar" yoon bhi durust. Aur ek baat tum ko maaloom rahein ke is poore khitaab ko "Khitaab-e Bahaduri" kehna bahut be jaa hain. suno, khitaab ke martab mein pehle toh "Khaani" ka khitaab hain aur yeh bahut zaeef hain aur bahut kam hain. Misla ek shaqs ka naam hai: "Meer Mohammed Ali" yaa "Sheikh Mohammed Ali" yaa "Mohammed Ali Beg" aur u ko khaandaani bhi "Khaani" nahin haasil. pas jab us ko badshah-e-waqt "Mohammed Ali Khan" keh de toh goya us ko "Khaani" ka khitaab mila aur jo shaqs ke us kaa naam asli "Mohammed Ali Khan" hain yaa toh woh qaum afghaan se hain yaa "Khaani" us ki khaandaani hain. Badshah ne us ko "Mohammed Ali Khan Bahadur" kahaa. Pas yeh khitaab "bahaduri" ka hain. is ko "bahaduri" ka khitaab kehte hain. is se badhkar khitaab "Dolgi" ka hain. Yaani mislaa "Mohammed Ali Khan Bahadur". us ko "munir-ud-doula Mohammed Ali Khan Bahadur" kahaa. ab yeh khitaab "dolgi" ka hua. ise "bahaduri" ka khitaab nahin kehte. ab is khitaab par afzaaish "Jang" ki koti hain. "Munir-ud-doula Mohammed Ali Khan Bahadur Shaukat Jang". Abhi khitaab poora nahin. Poora jab hoha ke jab "Mulk" bhi ho. Pas poore khitaab ko "khitaab-e bahaduri" likhna ghalat hain. Yeh waaste tumhaare ma'aloom rehna ke likhaa gayaa hain." This was written in August 1850.
And I am sure there are umpteen examples of Ghalib's light-heartedness, sense of humour and irony spread through the volumes.