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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mirza Ghalib and the veterans



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Mirza Asad-Ullah Khan Ghalib died a poor, miserable man. Like most geniuses, his work got its true approbation long after he wasn’t around to bask in the glory. But the lack of recognition was only part of the reason for his misery. He had much too high an opinion of himself to hanker for praise from lesser mortals, though admittedly it never hurt to be extoled at mushairas. The major cause of his melancholy was the indignity he had to face as a petitioner before the British government.

Ghalib’s uncle, who was also his guardian after his father’s death, was the governor of Agra under the Marathas. When the territory was annexed by the British, they appointed him an officer of 400 cavalrymen and apart from a fixed salary, gave him a grant of land near Mathura. When he died, the land was taken away and a pension fixed for his next of kin in its place. Ghalib had a small share in this being one of the heirs. The British delegated the responsibility for paying the pension to the Nawab of Firozepur Jhirka, to whom the land had been transferred. The Nawab arbitrarily reduced the pension, including Ghalib’s share, to less than one third. Now, being a poet (just like being an author and blogger) is not something one can make a living out of. So the pension mattered greatly, and not getting what was his rightful due rankled. Thus Ghalib spent a large part of his life fighting for his pension to be restored to the rightful amount.

He even undertook a long journey from Delhi to Calcutta, which was the capital then, to put his case directly before the British government, leaving Delhi in 1827 and returning in 1830. He expressed the affront at the shoddy manner in which he was treated in his inimitable manner as follows:-

Har ek baat pe kahte ho tum ki tu kya hai

tumhin kaho ke ye andaaz-e-guftagu kya hai

(On every conversation/utterance of mine, you say “what are you?” Pray let me know what form of conversing is this?)

He may not have been a man of means, and was here as a petitioner, but as an intellectual and as a member of the nobility, he expected some basic courtesies which were not extended to him. He never did get his dues, mainly because even though the British were favourably inclined, the order had to be implemented by the reticent Nawab of Firozepur Jhirka.

Almost 200 years later, with the British long gone, the Indian armed forces veterans are getting a taste of the bitter medicine administered to Ghalib. They have been fighting a frustrating battle for their rightful dues just as Ghalib did. The differences – they are up against a democratically elected government and bureaucrats of their own independent nation, not a colonial power and a whimsical Nawab. And the dues are for the blood and sweat shed by them personally, and not by a distant ancestor. These factors make the situation even more galling than it must have been for the ‘Sukhanwar’. And though they may not have Ghalib’s gift of rhetoric to express their anguish, the veterans chose other means like returning their medals and publicly burning their artificial limbs.

Delhi

Last year, in the run up to the elections, both major alliances tripped over each other to promise the implementation of this long standing demand. The National Democratic Alliance rode to power on popular aspirations, one of which was the veteran’s hope of OROP finally being implemented. One year down the line, the veterans are still waiting. Waiting, after the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have both categorically expressed their commitment towards giving them their dues. As per reports, the case is shuttling between the babus of Ministries of Defence and Finance, while the veterans wait. Hoping that the decision makers of today are more successful in ensuring the modern day Nawabs follow their writ.

 

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