Prelude: If there’s an award for laziness, I don’t think anyone can defeat me. I’m the best!

Months ago, I read a post by someone about Ghalib and his residence in Purani Dilli. The person had taken the trouble to go to Mirza’s residence and clicked pics. Commendable task, mind you, and certainly beyond me. Hell! Why Larry Page founded Google? The pic which you see here, of Mohalla Ballimaran is a shameless theft of someone else’s hardwork and pilfered brazenly from Google. Kaun mehnat kare waha jane ki! Anyway, moon is a thief. So, itna to banta hai, boss! This article is not a biography of Mirza Ghalib, it’s a glimpse into the persona of the rowdy, maverick, funny and my favorite romantic shayar, who revolutionized Urdu poetry. Here goes…


Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan ‘Ghalib’. A person as flamboyant as his full name. A guy, as firm and arrogant as his pen name, which means ‘Dominant’ in Persian. A poet as courageous as his christened name Asad, which means ‘Lion’ in Arabic.

Mirza lived in Mohalla Ballimaran, which is a heritage site nowadays and, as we always care a lot about our history and heritage, we have donated his ancestral Haveli, which is converted into a museum, to local hawkers. We are a great nation, who don’t shirk from spitting in Fatehpur Sikri and writing ‘Babloo loves Chinky’ on the walls of Qutub Minar. Anyway, as I’ve never been to Delhi in my life, and may not ever go, till kidnapped, let’s skip that part.

The period of Ghalib was a renaissance of Urdu poetry. His contemporaries were masters like Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’, Mirza Nawab Khan ‘Dagh’ Dehalvi, ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri, Meer Taqi ‘Meer’ ruled them through his grave, Ustad Khwaza Ahmed Abbas ‘Zauq’ and not the least, the last Mughal Emperor, Sultan Bahadurshah ‘Zafar’. Zauq was the teacher of Zafar-who was a fair shayar. Although, not to the standard of the masters, including Ghalib.

Ghalib loved his city, Dilli. He lived and died there, except a brief stint in Lucknow. He didn’t like to work much. In this, I relate to him. Even I don’t like to work and am waiting for Bill Gates to adopt me. As he was a hereditary Mirza and was descended from the Aibak line of Ghulam Dynasty, he considered work only fit for the labor class. His illustrious (?) ancestor Qutubuddin Aibak attacked India in 11th century AD and initiated the construction of Qutub Minar. A building, which couldn’t be completed during his lifetime and was continued by his son Shamshuddin Altutmish Aibak. His grandson Altamash Aibak finished the construction of the Minar after four generations. A haphazardly constructed tower with first two floors in a one style of architecture and the remaining three in entirely different one. Ghalib always cited the incompetence of his ancestors as an excuse for his unwillingness to work. Once he was too broke and went to a friend for a loan. He was planning to leave Delhi. When asked for the reason, he read this Sher:

Hai ab is ma’amura me qahat-e-gham-e-ulfat ‘Asad’!
Humne ye mana ki Dilli me rahein, khayenge kya?

(Ghalib, ab is shahar me pyar ke ghamon ka akaal pad gaya hai. Humne ye mana ki Dilli me rahein, khayenge kya?)

He left Delhi for Lucknow, as he had heard that the Land of Nawabs valued poetry, music and other fine arts. Trains had recently started then. Ghalib procured a second class ticket and was lucky enough to find a beautiful lady companion for the 12 hours journey. The lady was a shayara. Ghalib started to woo her with his beautiful couplets. The girl was suitably impressed! She asked him about the name of the shayar of such exemplary works. Ghalib always thought very highly of himself and considered himself world famous. He dramatically said, “Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’!”

The beauty asked with a small frown on her pretty forehead, “Who’s this Ghalib?”

Ghalib later recounted this tale and read with disgust:

Wo puchhte hain humse ki Ghalib kaun hai!
Koi batlao, ki hum batlaayein kya!

Although an arrogant guy, he never lost his sense of humor. Once in a market in Lucknow, he was walking on the street, lost in his thoughts and didn’t notice a horse cart. The cart rider cursed him in his inimitable Lucknawi style, “Ama, miya! Huzoor ke valid-shareef ne ye sadak goya virasat me di hai, ki qibla us par ada-e-mauz se shair farma rahe hain?” The said discourse was accompanied by choicest Lucknawi swear words. Ghalib was simply mesmerized and said:

Itne sheerin hain tere lab, ke hum-nasheen!
Gaaliyaan kha ke be-maza na hua!

(Ae dost, tere hoth itne meethe hain ki gaaliyaan kha ke bhi dil ranjeeda nahi hua!)

That was Ghalib. A megalomaniac, arrogant and moody shayar. He was a maverick character and was considered a rake by his contemporaries. A genius, but a rake nevertheless. He was proud of his reputation and wore it as a badge of honor. He used to enjoy drinking and gambling immensely. Once he decided to swear off alcohol. He was invited to a Mushaira, in which wine was freely served. Now, as it was known that Mirza was on wagon, no one offered him. This irritated Ghalib and he left the Mushaira midway. Next day he complained that he wasn’t offered any wine. When his friends pointed out that he has sworn off, Mirza retorted in disgust:

Mai, aur bazm-e-mai se tashnakaam aau?
Gar maine ki thi tauba, saki ko kya hua tha?

The saki should have done her duty at least! Here I’m with Mirza. The saki should have forced him to drink. Anyway, Horatio Nelson has said that everyone should do their duty.

Due to his love for drinking and gambling, he was constantly in debt. Once a debter dragged him to court. The magistrate was an Indian. He asked Ghalib if he has to say anything in his defense. Pat came the reply:

Karz ki peete the mai, lekin samajhte the, ki haan…
Rang layegi, hamari faakaa-masti ek din!

Udhar ki sharab peete rahe, par itna jante the ki ye aawaragardi ek din zarur rang layegi.

The magistrate was so impressed that he cleared his debt and released Mirza. Mirza promptly embarked on another venture of accumulating further debts.

What can you call someone, who claimed that he’s the best shayar in the realm and also was humble enough to admit that he’s not the master of the art of expression and that the real master was Meer:

Rekhte ke tumhi ustad nahi ho, ‘Ghalib’.
Suna hai, agle zamane me koi Meer bhi tha!

Ghalib was known for his sharp and weird sense of humor. A die hard romantic at heart, he was used to falling in and out of love. Even after his marriage. He wrote many couplets on the futility of cupid:

Bulbul ke kaarobaar se, hai khunda ha’ye gul!
Kahte hain jise ishq, khalal hai dimag ka!

(khunda: upset, khalal: disturbance)

Haif! Us char girah kapde ki kismat, ‘Ghalib’,
Jiski kismat me ho, aashiq ka garebaan hona!

He also was witty and acerbic about religion:

Vafadari bashart-e-ustuvaari asl-e-iman hai
Mare butkhane mein to Kaabe mein gaado birahman ko.

The real faith is always constant in the face of adversity. If a Brahmin dies in a temple and is buried in Kaaba, he still remais a Brahmin.

Khuda ke waaste parda na Kaabe ka utha, Zahid,
Kahin aisa na ho! Wahan bhi wahi kafir sanam nikle!


Kahan maikhane ka darwaza ‘Ghalib’, aur kahan wa’aiz,
Bas itna jante hain, kal wo aata tha, ki hum nikle!

He simply implied that the head of masjid went in for a drink.

This was the Maqta of his famous ghazal ‘Hazaaron khwahishein aisi, ki har khwahish pe dum nikle’.

Ghalib was considered one of the best shayars of his time. However, he was a real peacock. Always loved to show off his command of Persian and his genius. He also was irritated very easily and was known to spit venom when upset. For a shayar, he had too harsh a tongue! He always used obscure terms in his Sher, which were very difficult to understand and caused people to run for dictionary. Couple of examples from his Diwan:

Bazeecha-e-atfaal hai duniya mere aage,
Hota hai shab-o-roz, tamasha mere aage.


Naqsh faryadi hai jiski shokhi-e-tahreer ka,
Kagzi hai pairahan, us paikar-e-tasveer ka.
Kaawe-kaawe sakht-jaani, ha’ye, tanhai na puchh!
Subah karna sham ka, laana hai zoo-e-sheer ka!

Once Maulana Hali, one of his contemporaries decided to make fun of Mirza in the Royal Court, before His Majesty, Sultan Zafar and other dignitaries, he read this Sher on Mirza:

Agar apna kaha khud aap hi samjhe to kya samjhe?
Maza kahne ka jab hai, ik kahe aur dusra samjhe.
Kalaam-e-Meer samjhe, aur Kalaam-e-Meerja samjhe,
Magar Ghalib ka kaha, aap samjhe, ya Khuda samjhe!

(Only Ghalib or The Almighty can understand what he said.)

Everyone guffawed to Ghalib’s chagrin. He was suitably miffed and retorted petulantly:

Na sataaish ki tamanna, na gile ki parwah.
Gar nahi hain mere ash’aar me ma’ani, na sahi.

(I don’t expect any praise, neither care for criticisms. If my Sher are meaningless, so be it.)

He had a Devil-may-care attitude, suitable to his persona. Ghalib was a Shia Muslim. In Islam, wine is prohibited, but Ghalib claimed to be a Sufi and imbibed it when and where available. Once in a Theosophical discussion in the Royal Court, Hali challenged Ghalib on his religious beliefs and pointed out that as he drinks, which is prohibited, how can he talk about Saints? Ghalib immediately quipped:

Ye masail-e-tasavvuf, tere bayaan ‘Ghalib’,
Tujhe hum wali samajhte, jo na baada-khaar hota!

(Ghalib, such beautiful religious examples and these intelligent discourses of yours! We would have considered you a saint, if only you weren’t a drunkard!)

He later compiled this Sher as Maqta in his another famous ghazal ‘Ye na thi hamari kismat, jo visaal-e-yaar hota… ‘

Ghalib’s entire life was a compilation of anecdotes. Each Sher had the stamp of a master. He died in poverty, but always cared a damn about the world, as long as he lived. It’s not for nothing that he is my all-time favorite shayar, and I’ve read most of his contemporaries and more! Not to mention the fact that he gave such a sweet name to the city of my birth: Benah-Ras. The foundation of sweetness. In Ghalib’s own words…

Hain aur is duniya me sukhanwar bahut achhe,
Kahte hain ki Ghalib ka hai andaz-e-bayan aur!