Ghalib, words are not enough to describe the genius this man was, revered and renowned as one of the greatest poets in history and certainly a jewel to our Indian literature, Ghalib was man that belonged to the most exciting time of the Mughal era or perhaps I should say he brought the excitement to the Mughal times.
He was part of the time where the Mughals were at a twilight of their rule, the British were rising steadily taking part in the administration of the empire, slowly edging out the Mughal customs and to establish their own. Politically speaking Delhi was between two empires, culturally however things went on pretty much the old way. Delhi was still a glamorous, prosperous cosmopolitan city, the custom of ‘kabootar- baazi” or pigeon fighting was very much alive, the elaborate mushairas and mehfils where poets from around the country would gather to share their ghazals and couplets, take jibes at each other was also extremely popular. The basics of merry making and pleasure seeking life was very much the essence of Delhi and Ghalib was well ensconced in it. Here are a few interesting facts from his life.
1. Ghalib was perpetually short of money and most of that was owing to his never ending gambling debts which led to imprisonment at one point. Also a hopeless slave to the wine, he believed in living life in great grandeur even when he had no means to sustain it.
2. For his entire life he was bitterly involved in a pension battle with his cousin, he never saw a single rupee of his money despite pleading to the British government all this life, he even boldly wrote to Queen Victoria but to no avail. The battle came about when Ghalibs uncle Nasrullah Beg died, he had earlier taken over the care of Ghalibs family after his own father died few years ago. The British at the time had granted 2 parganas and fixed Nasrullah’s pension as Rs. 10,000 per year for his service, also linked it to the state of Firozepur Jhirka, however they took it all away after he died. The Nawab of Ferozepur Jhirka further reduced the pension to Rs. 3000 per year. Ghalib had a paltry share in this however his cousin still refused to grant what was due to him.
Ghalib pursued this all his life not just for the money or because of all the debts he owed. He was a deeply proud and egoistic Nobleman, for him to be declined of his right by the British was a huge blow to the status he belonged to and he just couldn’t let go of this. The British on the other hand never paid any attention because they were steadily wanting to drop the facade of servility to Mughals (including the noblemen) altogether. So for them this was a minor inconsequential matter.
3. He had 7 children from his marriage to Umrao Begum. Unfortunately none of them survived and this was huge cause of his pain and sorrow and reflected quite often in his works.
4. He had a torrid and a long lasting affair with a prostitute and was also an incorrigible flirt through out his life.
5. Was quite non- religious, at least not a devout Muslim (for he drank so much) however believed quite strongly in mysticism and Sufi culture.
6 Was openly inimical to Zauq who was the court poet appointed by Zafar at the time. He would forever carry this discontent in his heart for being passed over such an eminent position.
7. An 1857 revolt survivor including the aftermath of the failure of the revolt. Ghalib was never profusely supportive of British but he maintained friendly relations with them. He was still recongnized by the rebels as a mild supporter so when the revolt broke out he managed to narrowly escape by seeking refuge with the Maharaja of Patiala although he had lost all his possessions during this time.
8. The revolt changed Ghalib deeply as he was never the same man nor was his beloved Delhi.Things changed drastically as Delhi was sacked, all it’s inhabitants were thrown out, everything was looted and plundered and this time by the British. By the time order was restored Delhi had anyway lost its old charm and culture. The Muslims were not allowed to settle in Delhi for one year after the revolt and during this time the city saw an influx of Punjabis and Jats from neighboring areas. This greatly altered the future culture of the city. Ghalib moved about places, earning small sums of pension here and there, still continued to write however his fervor was hit badly.
9. Asadullah Beg Khan known to the world by his pen name Ghalib finally gave away at the age of 71 almost eleven years after the revolt died out. His Haveli still stands at Old Delhi (Gali Qasim Jaan) and is definitely worth a visit.
I shall end this post with 2 beautiful lines from his most famous Ghazal and my personal favorite. Hope the readers enjoy 🙂
“Hazaaron khwaishen aisi ki har khwaish pe dam nikle
Bahut nikle mere arman lekin phir bhi kam nikle”