Once a Mexican film-maker Guillermo Del Toro said, “I am not interested in recreating reality. I am interested in recreating an emotional truth.” In the same way, I am also not a bit more interested in jotting down what was recorded in our history.
I honestly did not know what it was that truly annoyed Mirza Ghalib exactly to react by saying,“If the path to paradise goes through Allahabad, I would rather like to stay in hell.” This sharp quote was in direct reaction to his one night stay at the city of Allahabad in connection with the court case for restoring of his pension against the family estate (annexed by the British government around the year 1826 or 1827).
Enroute to Calcutta from Delhi, he completed his long journey travelling through Lucknow, Kanpur, Banda, Allahabad, Banaras and Murshidabad on February 20, 1828.
His brief stint at Allahabad was quite annoying for him, as accounts tell. He was said to have been disturbed by the brutal bite of mosquitoes in that city. It was, as the past narratives tell us, a very harrowing experience for him, which is why he preferred hell or agony rather than staying in Allahabad.
Nothing much has changed after more than a hundred and ninety years. The people in Kanpur still show similar sentiments in scoffing at the city of three rivers. If Ghalib praised Benaras more than Allahabad, then people develop a habit of calling it a sleeping city.
They have also not quit calling Kanpur a city of dhool and dhuan (dust and smoke). I think wise readers can ably comprehend its English version. So there is no need to translate for their satisfaction and comfort. I also think it is here that the Mexican filmmaker’s sentiment of recreating emotional truth about varied situations gets solid endorsement.
Last but not the least, Ghalib was disenchanted with Allahabad, but a road is named after him in the prominent city. This trait lacks in Delhi and Kolkata, where he spent his life. However, his feeling finds mention in Akbar Allahabadi’s lines, “Kuch Allahabad mein saman nahin bahbud ke, yahan dhara kya hai ba-juz Akbar aur amrud ke” (What else is there of welfare in the city of Allahabad, excepting the yield of guava and yours truly).
Allahabadi lived up to the year 1921 in that historic city. He lived much after Ghalib but his acerbic words seem to be more biting than Ghalib’s keen perceptivity. One thing is clear: Ghalib was fighting for reclaiming his pension from the East India Company while Akbar Allahabadi was exposing the British with his sharp satire.