Poets are a stream of uncanny emotions which they can replicate into a verse with their sense of language, and maybe that is how we should describe this great poet, Mirza Ghalib who wrote, “Haathon ki lakeeron pe mat ja ee Galib, Naseeb unke bhi hote hai jin k haath nahin hote”.
Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan is the original name of this great man who changed the way India saw classical Urdu and Persian poetry in the British colonial rule era and still do. Also known by other names given by people all over including “Mirza Ghalib”, “Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib”, “Najm-ud-Daula” and “Davir-ul-Mulk”, he wrote using the pen names of Asad, Galib and even Ghaliband Asad.
Mirza Ghalib in his lifetime mostly wrote about the issues that he saw while growing up; the eclipse of the Mughal rule and their displacement by the British rule and finally their disposal following the defeat of the Mughals in the Indian rebellion in the year 1857.
While the only thing that we think of whenever we hear the word “Mirza Ghalib” being uttered anywhere around us is ghazals, ghazals were what he was well known for which he wrote during his life an which has been since interpreted and sung in various ways by people all over the world.
Considered to be one of the most prominent and influential poets of Urdu Language in the Southern Asia, Ghalib and his body of work is extremely popular not only in India but also among the other communities in the world including Pakistan.
From childhood, Mirza Ghalib did not have it easy. Born in Agra to a family who were the descendants of the Aibak Turks who relocated to India after the downfall of the Seljul Kings, his grandfather was a well- known person in India, before partition. While Ghalib got orphaned at the early age of five when his father died during the battle in Alwar in 1803, he was raised by his uncle and was also married off quite early at the age of 13 where all his 7 children died at infancy quite tragically. A little later, Mirza Ghalib relocated to Delhi with his family and a schizophrenic brother who died during the chaos of 1857.
While it was a norm to get married by the age of 13 in the upper class Muslims in that period, Ghalib described his marriage as the second imprisonment after the confinement of life that he was tied within!
In one of his couplets he wrote, “The prison of life and the bondage of grief are one and the same. Before the onset of death, how can a man expect to be free of grief?”
The greatness of Ghalib can be well understood if you take into consideration that he started off his poetic journey at an early age of 11. With a basic schooling where he learnt Persian and Arabic, his Urdu and Turkish knowledge along with Persian were a gift of his upbringing where his family spoke in all the three languages at home. The main influences who changed Ghalib’s life were a Muslim tourist from Iran who visited Ghalib’s home and stayed with them a bit over 2 years. This man was profusely educated and this is where the knowledge of Arabic, Persian and the logic and philosophy was taken up by Ghalib.
Even though Ghalib was most proud of his poetic achievements in the Persian language, he is known as a pioneer for his work in the Urdu ghazals scenario till date. Where his ghazals were far superior in language as well in the background thought, various Urdu scholars over the years have tried to elucidate the compilations from his work.
What would be most interesting to note about this genius of a man, Mirza Ghalib lies in the fact that he changed the way people looked at ghazals before him. In the earlier times ghazals were an expression of anguished love but in his ghazals works, Ghalib expressed everything from the travails and the mysteries of life, philosophy and other subjects which expanded the scope of ghazals even more.
Apart from his poetic expeditions, Mirza Ghalib was also a gifted letter writer where not only poetry but Urdu prose can also be indebted to this great writer of all times. In his Urdu letters he made the language easy and popular and not as ornamental and heavy as its precursors.
While this pioneer of Urdu literature had his share of fame from the Mughal Emperors of his times who gave him various titles such as “Dabeer-ul-Mulk”, “Najm-ud-daulah” and “Mirza Nosha” and also elected him to be the poet tutor for the royal children, in the phase while the Mughals were declining his main livelihood was either generosity of his friends or the royal patronage of the Mughal Emperors.
While he once remarked about his life saying that although his age had ignored his greatness it would be recognized by later generations, he could not have been more right. His fame only came to him posthumously.
While Ghalib started off his poetic jouney under the pen name of Asad deawing resemblance from his given name, Asadullah Khan, at certain point in his early literary career, Ghalib also thought of changing his pen-name to “Takhallus Ghalib” which meant all conquering, superior and the excellent of all.
If legends are to be believed, this great man changed his pen-name to Ghalib after he came across another poet with the same pen-name “Asad” and to avoid confusion with the former and changed his name to Mirza Ghalib.
The poet, the extraordinary letter writer, prose writer and what not, Ghalib not only changed the way we view ghazals today but his letters and proses are a reflection of the social and political climate of his times.
While we salute the creative and intelligent genius that Mirza Ghalib and his work has bestowed upon us, let us end this with a couple of haunting verses that he created in his life-
“Na tha kuchch to Khada tha, Kuchch na hota to Khuda hota,
Duboya mujhko honi ne, na hota mein to kya hota?”