From her I hope for constancy
Who knows it not, to my dismay
Good you do and goodness reap
What else does the dervish say
The name Ghalib, always makes us reminisce. We remember him from our Urdu literature classes, to our elders often quoting him or mentioning his love for mangoes, or many artists incorporating his work into theirs. Ghalib is an immortal part of our tradition and culture. He seems to be everywhere: from truck art to our incredibly emotional romantic songs. The questions that always arise in our minds are: What is so unique about Ghalib that his poetry leaves such an impression on us all? Is he overrated? Or is his poetry actually remarkable?
Born as Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, his initial pen name was Asad (meaning Lion); however, later on he adopted the name Ghalib, which in Arabic means Victorious or Dominant. Ghalib experienced tremendous pain throughout his life which included the loss of his father at his young age and a few years later, his uncle who had been raising him. In his adolescence (most agree that he was only thirteen), he got married to Umrao Begum, the daughter of a renowned Nawab. All seven of his children passed away in infancy and he was never at good terms with his wife. Hence, his agitation with the curse of existence is reflected very boldly in his poetry.
Prison of life and sorrow’s chains in truth are just the same
Then relief from pain, ere death, why should man obtain
Ghalib wrote in Urdu as well as Persian, with a diverse range of poetic devices. Some of his poetry is constructed upon difficult phrases and terms from Urdu, Persian and Arabic, whereas some is as simple to read as a child’s play. However, his simplicity in words does not signify his simplicity in meaning, as one of the plausible traits of Ghalib is pouring out his heart into his verses by using mere common words: bringing depth to simple words. Through this method, his poetry leaves an even more awe-inspiring impact on the reader.
Even during his lifetime, he was well-appreciated by the people of the sub-continent. He was even especially adored by the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, who himself was a poet. The Emperor had asked Ghalib to write Persian poetry about the glorious history of the Mughal Empire and honored him with the titles: Dabir-ul-Mulk (Intellectual of the Country) and Najm-ud-Daulah (Star of the Nation). After Bahadur Shah Zafar II was removed from his position during the British rule and sent into exile to Myanmar (Burma), Ghalib expressed great displeasure at the conquering; harsh behaviour of the British. During the War of Independence in 1857, he again wrote poetry to display his agitation.
He always suffered from financial difficulties and relied on the Mughal court for an income. When the British took over, they recognized his immense talent and provided him with aid; however, inevitably Ghalib developed a sense of loss due to the agony his fellow citizens were going through. He recorded all the violent events in his diary, Dastambu (bouquet), and further accounts of them are found in his letters. The following is a part of a Qita he wrote in 1857 about British tyranny:
As mentioned before, Ghalib was greatly indulged in grief brought by the treachery of life. However, despite the pain he endured throughout his life, he had an inexplicable sense of humor. Perhaps it is true that the broken find relief in the smallest of things, like Ghalib felt the betrayal of his beings and developed a profound sense of wit. Similarly, in order to ease the pain brought by each mellow breath, he used to consume an immense amount of alcohol. It is even said that his wife had separated all of their utensils, as Ghalib’s always wreaked with the stench of alcohol. He has incorporated his addiction with alcohol, as a means to relieve his distressed nerves, in his poetry on many occasions and the following event narrates his desperation when it came to alcohol.
Ghalib’s work deals with a plethora of themes including grief, love, obsession, desperation, existence. His work is indeed incredible and relatable in many ways, and most of us wish that the future generations, too, read and preserve his poetry. His emotive expression enhances the true essence of why the world adores him so immensely and wholeheartedly.