Ghalib born Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan on 27 December 1797 – died 15 February 1869), was a classical Urdu and Persian poet from the Mughal Empire during British colonial rule. He used his pen-names of Ghalib (Urdu/Persian: غالب, ġhālib means "dominant") and Asad (Urdu/Persian: اسد, Asad means "lion"). His honorific was Dabir-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-Daula. During his lifetime the Mughals were eclipsed and displaced by the British and finally deposed following the defeat of the Indian rebellion of 1857, events that he wrote of. Most notably, he wrote several ghazals during his life, which have since been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people. Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal Era, is considered to be one of the most popular and influential poets of the Urdu language. Today Ghalib remains popular not only in India and Pakistan but also amongst diaspora communities around the world
Mirza Ghalib was born in Agra into a family descended from Aibak Turks who moved to Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan) after the downfall of the Seljuk kings. His paternal grandfather, Mirza Qoqan Baig Khan, was a Saljuq Turk who had immigrated to India from Samarkand during the reign of Ahmad Shah (1748–54). He worked at Lahore, Delhi and Jaipur, was awarded the subdistrict of Pahasu (Bulandshahr, UP) and finally settled in Agra, UP, India. He had four sons and three daughters. Mirza Abdullah Baig Khan and Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan were two of his sons.
Mirza Abdullah Baig Khan (Ghalib's father) got married to Izzat-ut-Nisa Begum, and then lived at the house of his father-in-law. He was employed first by the Nawab of Lucknow and then the Nizam of Hyderabad, Deccan. He died in a battle in 1803 in Alwar and was buried at Rajgarh (Alwar, Rajasthan). Then Ghalib was a little over 5 years of age. He was raised first by his Uncle Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan. At the age of thirteen, Ghalib married Umrao Begum, daughter of Nawab Ilahi Bakhsh (brother of the Nawab of Ferozepur Jhirka). He soon moved to Delhi, along with his younger brother, Mirza Yousuf Khan, who had developed schizophrenia at a young age and later died in Delhi during the chaos of 1857.
In accordance with upper class Muslim tradition, he had an arranged marriage at the age of 13, but none of his seven children survived beyond infancy. After his marriage he settled in Delhi. In one of his letters he describes his marriage as the second imprisonment after the initial confinement that was life itself. The idea that life is one continuous painful struggle which can end only when life itself ends, is a recurring theme in his poetry. One of his couplets puts it in a nutshell:
- قید حیات و بند غم ، اصل میں دونوں ایک ہیں
- موت سے پہلے آدمی غم سے نجات پائے کیوں؟
- क़ैदे-हयात, बंदे-ग़म अस्ल में दोनों एक हैं,
- मौत से पहले आदमी ग़म से निजात पाये क्यों?
- The prison of life and the bondage of grief are one and the same
- Before the onset of death, how can man expect to be free of grief?
In 1850, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II bestowed upon Mirza Ghalib the title of "Dabir-ul-Mulk". The Emperor also added to it the additional title of "Najm-ud-daula". The conferment of these titles was symbolic of Mirza Ghalib’s incorporation into the nobility of Delhi. He also received the title of 'Mirza Nosha' from the Emperor, thus adding Mirza as his first name. He was also an important courtier of the royal court of the Emperor. As the Emperor was himself a poet, Mirza Ghalib was appointed as his poet tutor in 1854. He was also appointed as tutor of Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza, eldest son of Bahadur Shah II,(d. 10 July 1856). He was also appointed by the Emperor as the royal historian of Mughal Court.
Being a member of declining Mughal nobility and old landed aristocracy, he never worked for a livelihood, lived on either royal patronage of Mughal Emperors, credit or the generosity of his friends. His fame came to him posthumously. He had himself remarked during his lifetime that he would be recognized by later generations. After the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the British Raj, despite his many attempts, Ghalib could never get the full pension restored.
Ghalib started composing poetry at the age of 11. His first language was Urdu, but Persian and Turkish were also spoken at home. He received an education in Persian and Arabic at a young age. When Ghalib was in his early teens, a newly converted Muslim tourist from Iran (Abdus Samad, originally named Hormuzd, a Zoroastrian) came to Agra. He stayed at Ghalib's home for two years and taught him Persian, Arabic, philosophy, and logic.Although Ghalib himself was far prouder of his poetic achievements in Persian, he is today more famous for his Urdu ghazals. Numerous elucidations of Ghalib's ghazal compilations have been written by Urdu scholars. The first such elucidation or Sharh was written by Ali Haider Nazm Tabatabai of Hyderabad during the rule of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. Before Ghalib, the ghazal was primarily an expression of anguished love; but Ghalib expressed philosophy, the travails and mysteries of life and wrote ghazals on many other subjects, vastly expanding the scope of the ghazal.[original research?]
In keeping with the conventions of the classical ghazal, in most of Ghalib's verses, the identity and the gender of the beloved is indeterminate. The critic/poet/writer Shamsur Rahman Faruqui explains that the convention of having the "idea" of a lover or beloved instead of an actual lover/beloved freed the poet-protagonist-lover from the demands of realism. Love poetry in Urdu from the last quarter of the seventeenth century onwards consists mostly of "poems about love" and not "love poems" in the Western sense of the term. The first complete English translation of Ghalib's ghazals was Love Sonnets of Ghalib, written by Sarfaraz K. Niazi and published by Rupa & Co in India and Ferozsons in Pakistan. It contains complete Roman transliteration, explication and an extensive lexicon. 56
Mirza Ghalib was a gifted letter writer. Not only Urdu poetry but the prose is also indebted to Mirza Ghalib. His letters gave foundation to easy and popular Urdu. Before Ghalib, letter writing in Urdu was highly ornamental. He made his letters "talk" by using words and sentences as if he were conversing with the reader. According to him Sau kos se ba-zaban-e-qalam baatein kiya karo aur hijr mein visaal ke maze liya karo (from hundred of miles talk with the tongue of the pen and enjoy the joy of meeting even when you are separated). His letters were very informal, some times he would just write the name of the person and start the letter.
He was very humorous and wrote very interesting letters. In one letter he wrote "Main koshish karta hoon keh koi aesi baat likhoon jo parhay khoosh ho jaaye'" (I want to write lines such that whoever reads them would enjoy them). Some scholar says that Ghalib would have the same place in Urdu literature if only on the basis of his letters. They have been translated into English by Ralph Russell in The Oxford Ghalib. Ghalib was a chronicler of a turbulent period. One by one, Ghalib saw the bazaars – Khas Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Kharam-ka Bazaar, disappear, whole mohallas (localities) and katras (lanes) vanish. The havelis (mansions) of his friends were razed to the ground. Ghalib wrote that Delhi had become a desert. Water was scarce. Delhi was now “ a military camp”. It was the end of the feudal elite to which Ghalib had belonged. He wrote:
"An ocean of blood churns around me-
Alas! Were these all!
The future will show
What more remains for me to see."[this quote needs a citation]
Alas! Were these all!
The future will show
What more remains for me to see."[this quote needs a citation]
His original Takhallus (pen-name) was Asad, drawn from his given name, Asadullah Khan. At some point early in his poetic career he also decided to adopt the pen-name of Ghalib (meaning all conquering, superior, most excellent).
Mirza Ghalib and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
1855, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan finished his scholarly, well researched and illustrated edition of Abul Fazl’s Ai’n-e Akbari. Having finished the work to his satisfaction, and believing that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was a person who would appreciate his labours, Syed Ahmad approached the great Ghalib to write a taqriz (in the convention of the times, a laudatory foreword) for it. Ghalib obliged, but what he did produce was a short Persian poem castigating the Ai’n-e Akbari, and by implication, the imperial, sumptuous, literate and learned Mughal culture of which it was a product. The least that could be said against it was that the book had little value even as an antique document. Ghalib practically reprimanded Syed Ahmad Khan for wasting his talents and time on dead things. Worse, he praised sky-high the “sahibs of England” who at that time held all the keys to all the a’ins in this world.
This poem is often referred to but has never been translated to English. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi wrote an English translation. The translation is accurate if lacking the felicity of the original:
|“||Good news my friends, this ancient book’s door Is now open, because of the Syed’s grace and fortune, 1|
The eye began to see, the arm found strength That which was wrapped in ancient clothes, now put on a new dress. 2
And this idea of his, to establish its text and edit the A’in Puts to shame his exalted capability and potential, 3
He put his heart to a task and pleased himself And made himself an auspicious, free servant. 4
One who isn’t capable of admiring his quality Would no doubt praise him for this task, 5
For such a task, of which this book is the basis Only an hypocrite can offer praise. 6
I, who am the enemy of pretence And have a sense of my own truthfulness, 7
If I don’t give him praise for this task It’s proper that I find occasion to praise. 8
I have nothing to say to the perverse None know what I know of arts and letters, 9
In the whole world, this merchandise has no buyer. What profit could my Master hope from it? 10
It should be said, it’s an excellent inventory So what’s there to see that’s worth seeing? 11
And if you talk with me of Laws and Rules Open your eyes, and in this ancient halting-place 12
Look at the Sahibs of England. Look at the style and practice of these, 13
See what Laws and Rules they have made for all to see What none ever saw, they have produced. 14
|“||Science and skills grew at the hands of these skilled ones Their efforts overtook the efforts of the forebears. 15|
This is the people that owns the right to Laws and Rules None knows to rule a land better than they, 16
Justice and Wisdom they’ve made as one They have given hundreds of laws to India. 17
The fire that one brought out of stone How well these skilled ones bring out from straw! 18
What spell have they struck on water That a vapour drives the boat in water! 19
Sometimes the vapour takes the boat down the sea Sometimes the vapour brings down the sky to the plains. 20
Vapour makes the sky-wheel go round and round Vapour is now like bullocks, or horses. 21
Vapour makes the ship speed Making wind and wave redundant. 22
Their instruments make music without the bow They make words fly high like birds: 23
Oh don’t you see that these wise people Get news from thousands of miles in a couple of breaths? 24
They inject fire into air And the air glows like embers, 25
Go to London, for in that shining garden The city is bright in the night, without candles. 26
Look at the businesses of the knowledgeable ones: In every discipline, a hundred innovators! 27
Before the Laws and Rules that the times now have All others have become things of yesteryears, 28
Wise and sensitive and prudent one, does your book Have such good and elegant Laws? 29
When one sees such a treasure house of gems Why should one glean corn from that other harvest? 30
Well, if you speak of its style, it’s good No, it’s much better than all else that you seek 31
But every good always has a better too If there’s a head, there’s also a crown for it. 32
Don’t regard that Generous Source as niggardly It’s a Date-Palm which drops sweet light, like dates. 33
Worshipping the Dead is not an auspicious thing And wouldn’t you too think that it’s no more than just words? 34
The Rule of silence pleases my heart, Ghalib You spoke well doubtless, not speaking is well too. 35
Here in this world your creed is to worship all the Prophet’s children, Go past praising, your Law asks you to pray: 36
For Syed Ahmad Khan-e Arif Jang Who is made up entirely of wisdom and splendour 37
Let there be from God all that he might wish for Let an auspicious star lead all his affairs. 38
The poem was unexpected, but it came at the time when Syed Ahmad Khan’s thought and feelings themselves were inclining toward change. Ghalib seemed to be acutely aware of a European[English]-sponsored change in world polity, especially Indian polity. Syed Ahmad might well have been piqued at Ghalib’s admonitions, but he would also have realized that Ghalib’s reading of the situation, though not nuanced enough, was basically accurate. Syed Ahmad Khan may also have felt that he, being better informed about the English and the outside world, should have himself seen the change that now seemed to be just round the corner. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan never again wrote a word in praise of the Ai’n-e Akbari and in fact gave up taking active interest in history and archaeology, and became a social reformer.
Contemporaries and disciples
Ghalib's closest rival was poet Zauq, tutor of Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the then emperor of India with his seat in Delhi. There are some amusing anecdotes of the competition between Ghalib and Zauq and exchange of jibes between them. However, there was mutual respect for each other's talent. Both also admired and acknowledged the supremacy of Meer Taqi Meer, a towering figure of 18th century Urdu Poetry. Another poet Momin, whose ghazals had a distinctly lyrical flavour, was also a famous contemporary of Ghalib. Ghalib was not only a poet, he was also a prolific prose writer. His letters are a reflection of the political and social climate of the time. They also refer to many contemporaries like Mir Mehdi Majrooh, who himself was a good poet and Ghalib's lifelong acquaintance. The Poems written by Ghalib were tough to undserstand. He sometimes made the sentence syntax so complex that people had hard time in understanding that. Once Hakeem Agha Jaan Aish, a poet of Ghalib's era, read a couplet in Mushaira for Ghalib:
اگر اپنا کہا تم آپ ہی سمجھے تو کیا سمجھے
مزا کہنے کا چب ہے اک کہے اور دوسرا سمجے
(It is not praised if you are the only one to understand what you speak
interesting is the situation when you speak and the others understand):
Ghalib felt bad for this and wrote:
نہ ستائش کی تمنّا نہ صلے کی خاہش
گر نہیں ہیں مرے اشعار میں معنی نہ سہی
گر نہیں ہیں مرے اشعار میں معنی نہ سہی
(I don't need appreciation neither do i need any return
let not be if there is no meaning in my couplets)§
This style was the definition of his uniqueness
In prose Ghalib brought a revolution in Urdu literature by developing an easy, simple and beautiful way of writing. Before Ghalib Urdu was a complex language, Ghalib introdued a simple style of prose in Urdu which is like a conversation.