Art & Culture
Rhyme or reason: Ghalib’s life
On his death anniversary, TBC explores some more about the famous Mirza Ghalib and attempts to bring you closer to him.
Ghalib ki shayari, his ghazals, his nazms are as relevant and powerful, as they were when he penned them down. His compositions are new day’s WhatsApp forwards and Instagram captions, which goes on to prove that the simplicity of his words and the complexity of its underlying thought carved its way to this century.
On his death anniversary, TBC explores some more about the poet and attempts to bring you closer to him.
(It’s important to meet to save relationships because even if you plant a sapling and forget about it, they die)
Who’s Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan?
Born in Agra in 1797, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan a.k.a Ghalib wrote his first poem when he was 11-years-old. The famous poet, initially, wrote under the penname of Asad, meaning 'lion'. Ghalib hailed from a family of Aibak Turks, who traditionally served as soldiers in the army. The poet lost his father, a soldier, to an army action in Alwar when he was 5-years-old. He was brought up by his uncle, who also passed away a few years later.
Ghalib got married at the age of 13 and moved to Delhi with his wife and younger brother Mirza Yousuf. The poet migrated to the Mughal capital when the British were strengthening their hold in north India, particularly in Delhi and Agra. This uncertain time posed a threat to the poet’s lifestyle as he belonged to nobility; however, the expanding British Raj did not care less about it. Despite repeated pleas, to increase the pension, Ghalib continued to live off the moneylenders till the very end.
Despite not receiving any formal education, the poet learned Arabic, Persian, and Philosophy from Mulla Abdussamad. After Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq’s death, who was the counsellor for the then-emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, Ghalib was appointed as his mentor.
He was, however, a fascinating person. He didn’t just write beautiful poetry in Urdu and Persian, he was also interested in playing chess and dice, and was notorious enough to violate the norms and get imprisoned as a punishment for the same. He was also known for his love for mangoes.
Ghalib ki Haveli
(If your devotion has strength, then make the Mosque tremble. Otherwise, have a couple of pints, and watch the Mosque shake)
Even though Ghalib has an expensive lifestyle, he certainly did not mind staying in rented accommodation. He, however, made sure he never moved out of Ballimaran of Chandani Chowk. Towards the end of his life, he lived in Ghalib ki Haveli. The house belonged to a hakim (a physician), who presented it to Ghalib since he was a big fan of his poetry.
Declared as a heritage site, a 300-year-old structure is now a museum under the Archeological Society of India (ASI). The museum gives a glimpse into the poet’s life and work. It also includes an ivory bust donated by Gulzar, books, couplets, letters, clothes, photographs, and a life-size replica of the poet enjoying a hookah.
Built-in the Mughal style, the last house where Ghalib lived is located in Gali Qasim Jaan at Ballimaran in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. The haveli, now surrounded by small shops, is a reminiscence of the Mughal era. Located near Chawri Bazar Metro Station and Delhi Junction Railway Station, the house is said to be occupied by many small shops until 1999, after which the government acquired and renovated it.
(I know the truth about paradise, but you will agree, Ghalib, if this fable provides cold comfort, then the thought’s not bad.)
Started composing at the age of 11, Ghalib is known to use his wit and reason in his gazals. This influenced his writing techniques and made him one of the very few gazal-composers to write the way he did. Before Ghalib, ghazals were an expression of anguished love, but he used mysteries of life, philosophy, among others as the subject of his compositions. Written by Sarfaraz K Niazi, Love Sonnets of Ghalib, was one of the first complete translation of Ghalib’s ghazal.
Ghalib in popular culture
The TV series, ‘Mirza Ghalib,’ which was aired on Doordarshan in 1988, and reportedly one of the longest-running theatre shows, ‘Ghalib in New Delhi’ are some of the most significant works of art that have been based on Ghalib.