Biography of Mirza Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib

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Biography of Mirza Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib

Post by aloNe iN DaRk on Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:36 am


Mirza Ghalib


Dabeer-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-daulah Mirza Asad Ullah Baig Khan (Urdu/Persian: مرزا اسد اللہ بیگ خان ), pen-name Ghalib (Urdu/Persian: غالب, ġhālib means dominant) and (former pen-name) Asad (Urdu/Persian: اسد, asad means lion) (27 December 1796 15 February 1869), was an all time great classical Urdu and Persian poet of the Indian subcontinent. Most notably, he wrote several ghazals during his life, which have since been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people. He is considered to be the most popular and influential poet of the Urdu language.[/color]

Life
Mirza Asadullah Beg -- known to posterity as Ghalib, a nom de plume he adopted in the tradition of all classical Urdu poets, was born in the city of Agra, of parents with Turkish aristocratic ancestry, on December 27th, 1797. As to the precise date, Imtiyaz Ali Arshi has conjectured, on the basis of Ghalib's horoscope, that the poet might have been born a month later, in January 1798. When he was only five years old, his father, Abdullah Beg Khan died in a battle while working under Rao Raja Bakhtwar Singh of Alwar and his uncle Nasrullah Beg Khan took charge of him. But he lost his uncle also at the tender age of eight.

The death of his father and uncle during his early youth left Ghalib with no male-dominant figures. He then moved to Delhi.

Ghalib's early education has always been a matter of confusion. There are no known records of his formal education, although it was known that his circle of friends in Delhi had some of the most intelligent minds of the time.

Around 1810, he was married into a family of nobles, at the age of thirteen. He had seven children, none of whom survived (this pain has found its echo in some of Ghalib's ghazals). There are conflicting reports regarding his relationship with his wife. She was considered to be pious, conservative and God-fearing while Ghalib was carefree, unconventional, and arguably, not very religious in the strict sense of the word.

Ghalib never worked as such for a livelihood. He lived on either state patronage, credit or the generosity of his friends. His fame came to him posthumously. He had himself remarked during his lifetime that although his age had ignored his greatness, it would be recognized by later generations. History has vindicated his claim. He also is arguably the most "written about" of all Urdu poets.

He died in Delhi on February 15th, 1869.

Contemporaries and disciples
Ghalib's closest rival was poet Zauq, tutor of Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the then emperor of India with his seat in Delhi. There are some amusing anecdotes of the competition between Ghalib and Zauq and exchange of jibes between them. However, there was mutual respect for each other's talent. Both also admired and acknowledged the supremacy of Meer Taqi Meer, a towering figure of 18th century Urdu Poetry. Another poet Momin, whose ghazals had a distinctly lyrical flavour, was also a famous contemporary of Ghalib. Ghalib was not only a poet, he was also a prolific prose writer. His letters are a reflection of the political and social climate of the time. They also refer to many contemporaries like Mir Mehdi Majrooh, who himself was a good poet and Ghalib's life-long acquaintance.

Ghalib's Poetry
Although Ghalib wrote in Persian as well, he is more famous for his ghazals written in Urdu. It is believed he wrote most of his popular ghazals by age nineteen. His ghazals, unlike those of Meer Taqi Meer, contain highly Persianised Urdu, and are therefore not easily understood or appreciated by a vast majority of people without some extra effort. Numerous elucidations of Ghalib's collection of ghazals have therefore, been written by Urdu scholars. The first such elucidation or Sharh[i] was written by Ali Haider Nazm Tabatabai of Hyderabad during the rule of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. Before Ghalib, the [i]ghazal[i] was primarily an expression of anguished love; but Ghalib expressed philosophy, the travails and mysteries of life and wrote [i]ghazals on many other subjects, vastly expanding the scope of the Ghazal. This, together with his many masterpieces, will forever remain his paramount contribution to Urdu Poetry and Literature.

In keeping with the conventions of the classical Ghazal[i], in most of Ghalib's verses, the identity and the gender of the beloved is indeterminate. The beloved could be a beautiful woman, or a beautiful boy, or even God. As the renowned critic/poet/writer [i]Shamsur Rahman Faruqui explains, since the convention of having the "idea" of a lover or beloved instead of an actual lover/beloved, freed the poet-protagonist-lover from the demands of "realism", love poetry in Urdu from the last quarter of the seventeenth century onwards, consists mostly of "poems about love" and not "love poems" in the Western sense of the term. Ghalib's poetry is a fine illustration of this. Ghalib also excels in deeply introspective and philosophical verses.

The first complete English translation of Ghalib's love poems (ghazals) was written by Sarfaraz K. Niazi and published by Rupa & Co in India and Ferozsons in Pakistan. The title of this book is Love Sonnets of Ghalib and it contains complete roman transliteration, explication and an extensive lexicon.

His Letters
Not only Urdu poetry but the prose is also indebted to Mirza Ghalib. His letters gave foundation to easy and popular Urdu. Before Ghalib, letter writing in Urdu was highly ornamental. He made his letters "talk" by using words and sentences as if he were conversing with the reader. According to him "sau kos se ba-zaban-e-qalam baatein kiya karo aur hijr mein visaal ke maze liya karo" [ from hundred of miles talk with the tongue of the pen and enjoy the joy of meeting even when you are separated] His letters were very informal, some times he would just write the name of the person and start the letter. He himself was very humorous and also made his letter very interesting. He said "main koshish karta hoon keh koi aisi baat likhoon jo parhay khoosh ho jaaye" [ I want to write the lines that whoever reads those should enjoy it] When the third wife of one of his friends died, he wrote... "Allah allah aik woh log hain jo teen teen dafah iss qaid say chhoot chu-kain hain aur aik hum hain keh aik ag-lay pachas baras say jo phansi ka phanda ga-lay mein parha hai to nah phanda hi tut-ta hai nah dum hi nikalta hai" [Allah Allah, there are some among us who have been freed from this prison three times and I have for the past 50 years this rope around my neck; neither this rope breaks nor it takes my life] Some scholar says that Ghalib would have the same place in Urdu literature if only on the basis of his letters.They have been beautifully translated into English by Ralph Russell, The Oxford Ghalib.

His Takhallus
His original Takhallus (pen-name) was Asad, drawn from his given name, Asadullah Khan. At some point early in his poetic career he also decided to adopt the takhallus 'Ghalib' (meaning all conquering, superior, most excellent).

Popular legend has it that he changed his nom de plume(pen name) to 'Ghalib' when he came across this shair (couplet) by another poet who used the takhallus(pen name) 'Asad':

Asad us jafaa par butoN say wafaa ki
mire sher shabaash rahmat Khudaa ki

Asad worshipped idols after being betrayed.
my poems(thank you,)are, the mercy of GOD
.

The legend says that upon hearing this couplet, Ghalib ruefully exclaimed, "whoever authored this couplet does indeed deserve the Lord's rahmat (mercy) (for having composed such a deplorable specimen of Urdu poetry). If I use the takhallus Asad, then surely (people will mistake this couplet to be mine and) there will be much la'anat (curse) on me!" And, saying so, he changed his takhallus to 'Ghalib'.

However, this legend is little more than a figment of the legend-creator's imagination. Extensive research performed by commentators and scholars of Ghalib's works, notably Imtiyaz Ali Arshi and Kalidas Gupta Raza, has succeeded in identifying the chronology of Ghalib's published work (sometimes down to the exact calendar day!). Although the takhallus 'Asad' appears more infrequently in Ghalib's work than 'Ghalib', it appears that he did use both his noms de plume interchangeably throughout his career and did not seem to prefer either one over the other.

Film,TV serial and Plays based on Ghalib
Indian Cinema has paid a tribute to the legendary poet through a film (in sepia/black and white) named Mirza Ghalib (1954) in which Bharat Bhushan plays Ghalib and Suraiya plays his courtesan lover, Chaudvin. The musical score of the film was composed by Ghulam Mohammed and his compositions of Ghalib's famous ghazals are likely to remain everlasting favorites.

Pakistan Cinema has also paid tribute to the legendary poet through another film also named Mirza Ghalib. The film was directed by M.M. Billoo Mehra and produced as well by M.M. Billoo Mehra for S.K. Pictures. The music was composed by Tassaduq Hussain. The film starred Pakistan film superstar Sudhir playing Ghalib and Madam Noor Jehan playing his courtesan lover, Chaudvin. The film was released on November 24, 1961 and reached average status at the box-office, however, the music remains memorable in Pakistan to this day.

Gulzar produced a TV serial titled Mirza Ghalib. It was telecast on DD National and was quite well-accepted and liked by viewers. Naseeruddin Shah played Ghalib in the serial. The ghazals were sung by Jagjit Singh and Chitra singh.

The Pakistan government in 1969 commissioned Khaliq Ibrahim (died 2006) to make a documentary on Mirza Ghalib. The movie was completed in 1971-2, and is regarded as a masterpiece. It is said, that the movie--a docu-drama--was historically more correct than what the official Pakistan government point of view was. Thus, it was never released. Till this date, barring a few private viewing, the movie is lying with the Department of Films and Publication, Government of Pakistan. The movie was made on 16 mm format. Ghalib's role was played by actor Subhani Bayunus, who later played this role in many TV productions.

Various Theatre groups have staged various plays related to the life of Mirza Ghalib,have shown different life styles and the way he used to live his life.
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