As the nation remained hooked on TV sets to watch President Asif Ali Zardari’s speech on Benazir Bhutto’s fourth death anniversary amidst utter political chaos in Pakistan, few remembered the sub-continent’s legendary poet Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib, who was born on the same day two centuries ago.
No significant literary gatherings were arranged in the city to mark his 214th birth anniversary on Tuesday. A poet who continues to inspire generations, Ghalib was born on December 27, 1797 in Agra. Hailing from a family of Aibak Turks, Urdu scholars are often confused about the history of his early education. Traces of formal education are scanty and yet Ghalib’s poetry extols his grip on philosophy, ethics, theology, literature and history.
The year 1810, when Ghalib turned 13, marked two significant events in his life. He married and moved to Delhi, the place where he acquired his poetic maturity in the company of eminent minds of his time.
Imbued by the pre-dominantly male societal backdrop of Muslim India, no one could expect Ghalib with his precocious mind to take married life seriously. And he didn’t. By 1821, his interest shifted from Urdu to Persian poetry. But after his association with the Mughal court some 26 years later, his interest in Urdu language was revived, partly due to his contender, Zauq, who was the emperor’s tutor.
His return to the native language exuded the same maturity, depth and quality, not more or less, which was exhibited in his poetry nearly three decades before. There was no love lost between Zauq and Ghalib, who acquired the status of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s adviser only after the death of his rival.
He was also appointed to write the Mughal Dynasty’s official history, a project which was titled ‘Partavistan’ to be completed in two volumes. Ghalib could only complete the first volume by the year 1857, the same year when the war of independence was fought and the Mughal rule dismantled.
As much as Ghalib longed for material security and advancement, he never owned a house, spending all his life in rented rooms or living in temporary abodes provided by his patrons. None of his children survived beyond infancy.
His life was neither happy nor sad or eventful between 1857 to 1869. He had confined himself to his house, living on a stipend from the Nawab of Rampur. He died a solitary death on February 15, 1869.
Tens of hundreds of literary volumes have been created by scholars on Ghalib’s life and work, which delve into the intricate details of the dimensions of his poetry. Ghalib, who acquired much of his fame posthumously, had once remarked that although his contemporaries did not recognise his greatness, it would be appreciated by generations to come.
A plethora of plays and critiques have been done on Mirza’s poetry and the trend continues to this day. Many great poets like Iqbal and Faiz were inspired by Ghalib’s poetic visions. For instance, Mirza talked of ‘khudi and khudbeen’ (self) at length in his poetry, and Iqbal used the same concept throughout his works. Faiz Ahmed Faiz also tried to create the same style in his Ghazals.