I have previously described the unique joy of art created by multiple geniuses coming together. Well, here’s another combo I can’t seem to stop watching: Mirza Ghalib’s poetry narrated by Kader Khan.

A word on these two artists.

Mirza Ghalib is renowned as one of the greatest Urdu poets of all time. Like Shakespeare, his work is evergreen and rewards deeper analysis. His life was unhappy - and it reflects in his best couplets. Even after 150 years since passing, people all over the world organize poetry readings of his work.

ये ना थी हमारी किस्मत कि विसाल-ए-यार होता
अगर और जीते रहते, यही इन्तज़ार होता

तेरे वादे पे जियें हम, तो यह जान झूठ जाना
कि ख़ुशी से मर न जाते अगर ऐतबार होता

ये कहाँ की दोस्ती है कि बने हैं दोस्त नासेह
कोई चारासाज़ होता, कोई ग़मगुज़ार होता

ग़म अगरचे जाँ-गुलिस है, पर कहाँ बचें के दिल है
ग़म-ए-इश्क़ न होता, ग़म-ए-रोज़गार होता

कहूँ किससे मैं कि क्या है, शब-ए-ग़म बुरी बला है
मुझे क्या बुरा था मरना, अगर एक बार होता

यह मसाइल-ए-तसव्वुफ़, यह तेरा बयाँ ग़ालिब
तुझे हम वली समझते जो न बादा-ख़्वार होता

Kader Khan would seem like a strange choice for a Ghalib recitation. I grew up knowing him as an actor in B-grade comedies (similar to Rob Schneider in Adam Sandler’s movies) - since that’s all he was doing later in life. It was only recently that I heard his life story. And it shook me.

  • Born the 4th child in an Afghan tribal family, whose elder brothers all passed away before reaching 8 years of age. Fearful, his parents left everything and moved to India.
  • Grew up in Bombay’s poorest slums where prostitution, gambling, drugs were all around him. So poor that the family ate nothing 3 days a week.

जब खाने का वक्त था तब रोटी नहीं मिली
और जब रोटी आई, तब भूख मर गई

When it was time to eat, life didn’t provide bread
And when the bread arrived, my hunger had died

  • As a youngster, was tempted to quit school to work as a day-laborer and ease the family’s poverty. But his mother inspired him: “This home’s sadness and hunger will not go away if you earn 3 rupees a day. Do you want to remain worth 3 rupees a day your whole life? If you really want to improve our lot in life, then study!” Went on to be a post-graduate in Civil Engineering, and became a teacher who lifted others out of the cycle of poverty.
  • Found his passion in writing and became an accomplished theater writer-director-actor. Through talent and hard work, rose quickly in the world of Bollywood screenwriting.

He [Manmohan Desai] made me work incredibly hard, taught me to write well, and rewarded me as well. Where can I find producers today who’ll teach me, challenge me, chastise me to become better. These days I can’t find people like that any more - so my heart doesn’t feel like working any more.

I ran alone in life, but came in second place.

  • Later in his career, while still working in the movies, completed an MA in Arabic Studies by night, and became an accomplished Quran scholar.

Mr. Khan embeds his readings with other little gems:

गिरते हैं शहसवार ही मैदान-ए-जँग में
वह तिफ्ल क्या गिरे जो घुटनों के बल चले

ज़ाहिद पीने दे शराब मस्जिद में बैठकर
या वह जगह बता दे जहाँ ख़ुदा न हो

मौत से किसको रुस्तगारी है
आज वो हैं कल हमारी बारी है

So again, who could be better suited? A master storyteller, scholar of Urdu, who truly understood suffering… reading the best works of another genius storyteller and master of language whose pain hides between the wit and wisdom of his poetry.