In reply I wish to say that there is nothing wrong in giving awards posthumously provided they are given to the right persons, and Bharat Ratna has been often conferred posthumously in the past e.g. to Sardar Patel and Dr. Ambedkar.
Moreover, Ghalib is a modern figure, not a legendary one like Lord Rama, or an ancient one like Gautam Buddha. Many of his thoughts were, for his times, surprisingly modern. Though he was steeped in the feudal tradition, he often broke through that tradition on perceiving the advantages of modern civilization.
Thus, in one sher (couplet) Ghalib writes:
“Imaan mujhe roke hai, jo khenche he muje kufr
Kaaba merey peechey hai, kaleesa merey aage”
The word ‘kaleesa’ literally means church, but here it means modern civilization. Similarly, ‘kaaba’ literally refers to the holy place in Mecca, but here it means feudalism.
So the sher really means:
Thus, Ghalib is rejecting feudalism and approving of modern civilization. And this at the time of the Great Mutiny of 1857 when India was steeped in feudalism.
Urdu poetry is a shining gem in the treasury of Indian culture (see my article ’What is Urdu’ on the website kgfindia.com). Before 1947 Urdu was the common language of the educated class in large parts of India – whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. Regrettably, after 1947 some vested interests created a false propaganda that Urdu was a foreign language and a language of Muslims alone.
Mirza Ghalib is the foremost figure in Urdu, and in our composite culture. He no doubt died over a century back, but our culture, of which Urdu is a vital part, is still alive.
When I first appealed for award of Bharat Ratna to Ghalib in the Jashn-e-bahaar Mushaira in Delhi in April 2011 my appeal was seconded by many prominent persons in the audience e.g. Mrs. Meira Kumar, Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Mr. Salman Khurshid, Hon’ble Union Law Minister, Mr. Qureshi, Chief Election Commissioner, etc. However, soon thereafter a leading journal described my, appeal as ‘sentimentalism gone berserk’.
As regards Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, in a recent function in Kolkata I appealed for award of Bharat Ratna to him. Here was a man who in a feudal society (early 20th Century Bengal) launched a full blooded attack on the caste system, against women’s oppression, and superstitions (see Shrikant, Shesh Prashna, Charitraheen, Devdas, Brahman ki beti, Gramin Samaj, etc).
In his acceptance speech organized in Calcutta Town Hall in 1933 to honour him Sharat Chandra said:
“My literary debt is not limited to my predecessors only. I am forever indebted to the deprived, ordinary people who give this world everything they have and yet receive nothing in return, to the weak and oppressed people whose tears nobody bothers to notice. They inspired me to take up their cause and plead for them. I have witnessed endless injustices to these people, unfair, intolerable injustices. It is true that springs do come to this world for some –full of beauty and wealth —- with its sweet smelling breeze perfumed with newly bloomed flowers and spiced with cuckoo’s songs, but such good things remained well outside the sphere where my sight remained imprisoned”.
These words are strikingly relevant even today when 80% of our people are living in horrible poverty, when on an average 47 farmers have been committing suicide every day for the last 15 years, when there are massive problems of unemployment, health care, housing, education, etc.
How many people in our country have read Ghalib and Sharat Chandra? People are talking of giving Bharat Ratna to cricketers and film stars. This is the low cultural level to which we have sunk. We ignore our real heroes, and hail superficial ones. I regret to say that the present generation of Indians has been almost entirely deculturized, and all they care for is money, film stars, cricket, and superficialities.
Today our country is standing at a cross road. We need persons who can give direction to the country and
take it forward. It is such people who should be given Bharat Ratna, even if
they are dead. Giving it to people who have no social relevance like cricketers and film stars is making a mockery of the award.