The phrase ‘pretty wrongs’ comes from the first line of William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 41’, a line that somehow rings familiar when received in the universe of Urdu literary sensibility. This is how the sonnet opens: “Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits/ When I am sometime absent from thy heart …” Intriguingly, these words of a colossus of English literature are aptly applicable to a colossus of Urdu literature — Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Yes, Ghalib’s liberty does sometimes commit wrongs, transgressing conventional rules and subverting traditional regulatory norms, but his wrongs are always ‘pretty.’ So we must recognise: Ghalib’s contraventions often enhance the meaningfulness of a verse, thus enriching its semantic range, and there are times when his law-breaking introduces new modes of sound patterns — for example, novel rhythms in verse construction. But while he subverts the pedantic rule to open a new vista in the chamber of poetry, at times he does this for sheer playfulness — not frivolity, nor rebellion without a cause let’s note, but a pulsating playfulness that throbs all around us. Ironically, Ghalib’s liberty raises its head only under unyielding aesthetic and intellectual control. Nobody in Urdu poetry made plurals of Persian infinitives […]

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