First News
Volume:7, Number:26
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LEISURE
THIS WEEK

A Poet Before His Time

| Mahmuda Nazneen |

The most influential poet of the Urdu language, Mira Ghalib had himself remarked during his lifetime that he would be recognized by later generations

Mirza Ghalib, born as Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan on December 27, 1797, was the preeminent Urdu and Persianlanguage poet during the last years of the Mughal Empire. He was the last great poet of the Mughal Era, and is considered to be one of the most popular and influential poets of the Urdu language. Ghalib remains popular to this day not only in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan but also among the Indian sub-continental diaspora around the world. More than 200 years after his birth, the name Mirza Ghalib still defines eloquence and cadence. He belongs to that timeless league of bards who have defied the ravages of time and have managed to rule the environs of history with their multitudinous talent. Some documented in history, and some collected from the descriptions given by his biographers, the fabled facts of his life are still remembered by millions of his ardent fan and scholars.

Mirza Ghalib was born in Kala Mahal, Agra into a family descended from Aibak Turks who moved to Samarkand 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. 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 Asadullah Baig Khan adopted Ghalib as his pen name. In Urdu, it means conqueror, victor and dominant. His original pen name was Asad which is drawn from his name. Ghalib was married at a very young age to Umrao Begum after which he moved to Delhi where he lived till his death. It is said that he had seven children with her but none of them survived. In Delhi he had his younger brother, Mirza Yousuf Khan, living with him. Mirza Yousuf had developed schizophrenia at a young age and later died in Delhi during the chaos of 1857. Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II gave Mirza Ghalib the title of "Dabir-ul-Mulk", followed by the title of "Najm-ud-daula", which incorporated him into the nobility of Delhi. 'Mirza Nosha' is another title Ghalib received from 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). He was also appointed by the emperor as the royal historian of Mughal Court. Mirza Ghalib was appointed as a poet tutor to the royal family along with being appointed as the royal historian of Mughal Court by the emperor.

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 was proud of his reputation as a rake. He was once imprisoned for gambling and subsequently relished the affair with pride. In the Mughal court circles, he even acquired a reputation as a "ladies' man" Ghalib wrote his first poem at the age of 11. When Ghalib was in his early teens, a newly converted Muslim tourist from Iran named Abdus Samad came to Agra. Samad stayed at Ghalib's home for two years and taught him Persian, Arabic, philosophy, and logic. He was well versed in languages including Urdu, Persian and Turkish. It is noted that in most of Ghalib’s verses, the gender or identity of the beloved is indeterminate.

Although Ghalib himself was far prouder of his poetic achievements in Persian, he is today more famous for his Urdu ghazals. 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. 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. Mirza Ghalib was a gifted letter writer. Not only Urdu poetry but prose is 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. Some scholars say that Ghalib would have the same place in Urdu literature on the basis of his letters only. They have been translated into English by Ralph Russell in The Oxford Ghalib.

Ghalib breathed his last in his famous haveli, Gali Qasim Jaan at Chandni Chowk, on February 15, 1869. It is also known as Ghalib ki Haveli. This 300-year old haveli has been turned into 'Ghalib Memorial'. It is said that this haveli was presented to the poet by a physician (hakim), who was a big fan of Ghalib. The poet wrote some of his finest ghazals and verses at this place.

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