GHALIB: MIRZA ASADULLAH KHAN

ghalibIntroduction

Mirza Asadullah Khan (the pseudonym Ghalib means superior) was court poet to the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, and also the last great classical and the first modern poet of India. Urdu literature enjoyed a great flowering after Aurangzeb's death, but the Muslim conquest was undone by foreign invasion, religious intolerance, British imperialism, ineffective Mughal rulers and the 1857 Mutiny.

Ghalib was born in 1797 at Agra, son a high-ranking army officer and descendent of the ancient Seljuq kings. At 13 he married a daughter of a Mughal nobleman and moved to Delhi. He enjoyed titles and annuities from the Moghul court, but was never far from poverty. On personal matters, Ghalib maintained an aristocratic reserve, and his life is not well known. Though now a household name on the subcontinent, he died in Delhi in 1869, stone-deaf and with achievements largely unrecognized.

Ghalib's poetry is full of intense grief and yearning for an earlier love affair, death of an adopted son, for the disappearance of court life and a world of beauty and reflection. His period was one of political, religious and intellectual controversy, when oriental concepts were invaded by western rationalism, and the poetry is not primarily one of feeling but of sensuous expression of an uniquely perceptive, original and synthesizing mind. In this sense, Ghalib is a contemporary, and he employed many of the techniques of western modernism. In their different ways, Mir, Nazir and Ghalib are the masters of Urdu poetry, and if Ghalib's life was not a happy one, the same was largely true of other Urdu poets: Atish, Siraj, Daud, Mir, Insha, Bahadur Shah, and Zauq.

Urdu, a vernacular fusion of Persian and native Indian languages, appeared as poetry in the courts of Bijapur and Golconda in the 16th century and spread to the courts of Lucknow and Delhi in the late 18th century. Poets assigned themselves to a master, and their work was generally not written down but promulgated through musha'irahs or formal readings. The poetry is quantitative and formal, the common forms including qasida (panegyric), haju (satire) masnavi (reflective narrative) and ghazal (love, erotic or metaphysical). Ghalib was a master of the qasida and ghazal. Ghazals are written in she'rs or hemistiches, which rhyme in a simple but unvarying way. Imagery can be original but tends to the conventional, drawing from Asian history, religion and mysticism. The loved one addressed is male, and the conception is always sublime. To these difficulties facing a western reader, Ghalib adds unusual use of words, a more persianized diction, fractured syntax and lacunae of argument. Not a easy poet, therefore, and not as accomplished as Mir or Nazir, but probing and individual.

Useful books on Ghalib and Urdu poetry include A. Ali's An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (1992), the Ghazal of Ghalib entry in A. Ahad's Encyclopedia of Islam (1971), D. Matthew and C. Shackle's An Anthology of Classical Urdu Love Lyrics (1972) and M. Memon's Studies in the Urdu Ghazal and Prose Fiction (1979).

Suggestion: The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry Columbia University Press. 1973. $27.79.

Much of Urdu poetry is either contemporary or published without translation in Urdu. Here is a standard work in English, published some years ago, but solid and dependable.

Learning Urdu

Urdu can be learnt from books, tapes and CDs, available at ukindia, multilingualbooks, arthur lynn, languageresourcesonline and aramedia.

Free lessons and material are at phrasebase, learningurdu, and learningresourcescentre.

Other works, dictionaries, etc. can be ordered through abebooks and alibris.

Urdu-English-Urdu online dictionaries are at: urduword, urdupoetry, word2word and kamous.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Urdu Poetry

Indian history and culture is covered by internet indian history sourcebook and itihaas.

Urdu poetry can be found on these sites: Nazir, Atish, Mir, Insha, Bahadur Shah, and Zauq.

For Urdu anthologies try urdupoetry .

Useful books on Ghalib and Urdu poetry include A. Ali's An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (1992), the Ghazal of Ghalib entry in A. Ahad's Encyclopedia of Islam (1971), D. Matthew and C. Shackle's An Anthology of Classical Urdu Love Lyrics (1972) and M. Memon's Studies in the Urdu Ghazal and Prose Fiction (1979).

Ghalib

Examples of Ghalib's poetry can be found at mirza ghalib, archives of urdu poetry, and urdumedia.

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.