It was an historical encounter between two intellectual giants of the nineteenth century, Mirza Ghalib and Karl Marx. It took Abida Ripley 15 years to fish out the details of their correspondence which reflects the acute contrast of their thoughts.
"FIFTEEN YEARS ago when I visited the library of the famous India Office in London, I took out one pale jacketed book belonging to the Mughal era. A wrinkled leaf fell down to the floor. When I picked it up, I was startled. The style and expression of its content appeared to be familiar. The doubt which prevailed over my mind, vanished when I saw the seal and signature of the Urdu poet, Ghalib.
After I returned home, I flipped through Khaleeq Anjum’s two volumes of translations of Ghalib’s letter writings. But, to my amazement, I could not locate the letter anywhere in the books, which I had found. What sparked my curiousity was that the letter was addressed to the famous German philosopher, Karl Marx. It is shocking as well as ironical that not even a single biographer or translator has yet mentioned about Ghalib’s communication with Marx.
From the content, it seemed a reply to Marx’s letter. And that intensified my desire to somehow to get hold of the letter of Marx. Finally, my quest ended after painstaking 15 years as I found the letter of Marx to Ghalib. I would rather make you go through those rare pieces of writings between the two geniuses in their own rights than describing the obstacles that came in my way." - by Abida Ripley
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I am not sure if these two geniuses ever communicated to each other. I have observed some flaws in both letters. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting read!
From Ghalib to Karl Marx
"September 9, 1867
I received your letter along with the Communist Manifesto. How would I reply? First, it’s too difficult to understand what you talk. Second, I have grown too weak to write as well as speak. Today, I wrote a letter to a friend, so, I thought of writing to you too.
Your view about Farhaad (reference in Ghalib’s one poem) is mistaken. He is not any worker as you perceived him. Rather, he was a lover but his perception toward love did not impress me. He was lunatic in love and would think of committing suicide all the time for his beloved’s sake. And you talk of which inquilab (revolution)? That is a past, ended ten years ago! Now the Britishers roam broad-chested and everyone eulogises them here. The discipline of royalty and lavishness has become a thing of the past; and the tradition of guru and disciple is losing its charm.
If you don’t believe, pay a visit to Delhi and see all in flesh and blood..... And that’s not confined to Delhi only, Lucknow’s essence too is disappearing...where have those mannerisms gone...where are those gentlemen! Now, you predict of which revolution?
And in the middle of your letter I also learnt you talk of changing the mode of poetry writing. Mind you, poetry cannot be created but it comes to you naturally. And my case is distinct. When ideas flow in, they just merge into any forms, ghazal or quatrains.
I believe, Ghalib’s style is unmatched in the world of poetry, and because of that, the kings have already gone and you want me to be deprived of the nawabs and patrons who take care of me... !? What goes wrong if I say a few lines in their praise!
What is philosophy and what it has to do with life, who knows better than me? My dear, which modern thinking you talk about? If you are interested in it, you better read Vedanta and Wahdat-ul-Wajood. And stop just harping on thought after thought, if you can, do some work in this direction...you are an Englishman, do me a favour. Please convey a recommendation letter to the viceroy, requesting for reissue of my pension....
Now I am feeling very tired. So, I am putting an end to it,
Above is the translation of Ghalib's letter which was either written in Persian or Urdu.
Letter Marx wrote to Ghalib:
"Sunday, April 21, 1867
Day before yesterday I received a letter from my friend, Angels. It ended with a couplet that impressed me very much. After much effort, I learnt that it was written by some Indian poet named Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Brother, it’s wonderful! I had never envisaged that revolutionary feelings for independence from slavery would ripen so early in a country like India! Yesterday, I got some more poetic works of yours from a Lord’s personal library. The couplet is highly appreciable!:
Hum ko maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin,
Dil ko behlane ko Ghalib ye khayal achha hai. (I know paradise does exist, But, Ghalib! It’s good to console your heart.)
In your next edition of poetry do write in detail addressing workers: "Landlords, administrators, and religious leaders sap your toil’s rewards by taking you to the fanciful world of paradise. Rather, it would be nicer if you write some lines on:
"Duniya bhar ke mazdooron, muttahid ho jao (World labourers, get united.)"
I am not well aware of the Indian style and poetic treatment. You are a poet, you write something substantive being under poetic restrictions. Whatever, the sole purpose is to invigorate the masses with its message. Moreover, I would advise you to quit composing leisure writings like ghazal or quatrain and move over to free verses so that in least time you can write more and the more you write the more the wretched people would have to read and mull over.
I am dispatching the Indian version of the Communist Manifesto along with the first volume whose translation is unfortunately not available. If you like it, next time I will send you some more literature. At present, India has been converted into a den of the English imperialists. And only the collective effort of the exploited and downtrodden masses or workers can liberate them from the clutches of the perpetrators.
You should study the modern philosophies of the West than the outmoded and unworkable thoughts of Asian scholars; and do not write the fables and praises of the Mughal kings and nawabs and create the literature that takes up the revolutionary cause of the masses. Revolution is imminent. No force in this world can restrain it. That time is coming soon when the tradition of guru and disciple will fade away.
I wish India a steady path toward revolution,