Poet Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan Ghalib (27 December 1797- 15 February 1869), was a prominent Urdu and Persian poet during the last years of the Mughal empire. He used his pen-names of Ghalib (Urdu: Ghalib means 'dominant') and Asad (Urdu: Asad means 'lion'). His honorific was Dabir-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-Daula. During his lifetime the Mughals were eclipsed and displaced by the British and finally deposed following the defeat of the Indian rebellion of 1857, events that he described. Most notably, he wrote several ghazals, which have since been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people. Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal era, is considered to be one of the most popular and influential poets of the Urdu language. Today Ghalib remains popular not only in India and Pakistan but also in other countries around the world.
Mirza Ghalib was born in Kala Mahal, Agra into a family descended from Aibak Turks who moved to Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan) after the downfall of the Seljuk kings. His paternal grandfather, Mirza Qoqan Baig Khan, was a Saljuq Turk who had immigrated to India from Samarkand during the reign of Ahmad Shah (1748-54). He worked at Lahore, Delhi and Jaipur, was awarded the subdistrict of Pahasu (Bulandshahr, UP) and he finally settled in Agra, UP, India. He had four sons and three daughters. Mirza Abdullah Baig Khan and Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan were two of his sons.
Mirza Abdullah Baig Khan (Ghalib's father) married Izzat-ut-Nisa Begum, an ethnic Kashmiri, and then lived at the house of his father-in-law. He was employed first by the Nawab of Lucknow and then the Nizam of Hyderabad, Deccan. He died in a battle in 1803 in Alwar and was buried at Rajgarh (Alwar, Rajasthan). Then Ghalib was a little boy over 5 years of age. He was raised first by his uncle Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan.
At the age of thirteen, Ghalib married Umrao Begum, daughter of Nawab Ilahi Bakhsh (brother of the Nawab of Ferozepur Jhirka). He soon moved to Delhi, along with his younger brother, Mirza Yousuf Khan, who had developed schizophrenia at a young age and later died in Delhi during the rebellion of 1857.
In accordance with upper class Muslim tradition, he had an arranged marriage at the age of 13. After his marriage he settled in Delhi. In one of his letters he describes his marriage as the second imprisonment after the initial confinement that was life itself. The idea that life is one continuous painful struggle which can end only when life itself ends, is a recurring theme in his poetry. One of his couplets puts it in a nutshell:
Translation in English.
The prison of life and the bondage of grief are one and the same
Before the onset of death, why should man expect to be free of grief?
Mirza Ghalib's view of world as he sees world is like a playground where everyone is busy in some mundane activity and merrymaking rather than something of greater value as he wrote:
Just like a child's play this world appears to me
Every single night and day, this spectacle I see
At the age of thirty 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.
He died in Delhi on 15 February 1869. The house where he lived in Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi known as the 'Ghalib ki Haveli' has now been turned into 'Ghalib Memorial' and houses a permanent Ghalib exhibition.
In 1850, emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II bestowed upon Mirza Ghalib the title of 'Dabir-ul-Mulk'. The emperor also added to it the additional title of 'Najm-ud-daula'.The conferment of these titles was symbolic of Mirza Ghalib's incorporation into the nobility of Delhi. He also received the title of 'Mirza Nosha' from the emperor, thus adding Mirza as his first name. He was also an important courtier of the Royal court of the emperor. As the emperor was himself a poet, Mirza Ghalib was appointed as his poet tutor in 1854. He was also appointed as tutor of Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza, eldest son of Bahadur Shah II,(d. 10 July 1856). He was also appointed by the emperor as the Royal historian of Mughal Court.
Being a member of declining Mughal nobility and old landed aristocracy, he never worked for a livelihood, lived on either royal patronage of Mughal emperors, credit or the generosity of his friends. His fame came to him posthumously. He had himself remarked during his lifetime that he would be recognized by later generations. After the decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of the British rule, despite his many attempts, Ghalib could never get the full pension restored.
Ghalib started composing poetry at the age of 11. His first language was Urdu, but Persian and Turkish were also spoken at home. He received an education in Persian and Arabic at a young age. When Ghalib was in his early teens, a newly converted Muslim tourist from Iran (Abdus Samad, originally named Hormuzd, a Zoroastrian) came to Agra. He stayed at Ghalib's home for two years and taught him Persian, Arabic, Philosophy, and Logic.
Although Ghalib himself was far prouder of his poetic achievements in Persian, he is today more famous for his Urdu ghazals. Numerous elucidations of Ghalib's ghazal compilations have been written by Urdu scholars. The first such elucidation or Sharh was written by Ali Haider Nazm Tabatabai of Hyderabad during the rule of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. Before Ghalib, the ghazal was primarily an expression of anguished love; but Ghalib expressed philosophy, the travails and mysteries of life and wrote ghazals on many other subjects, vastly expanding the scope of the ghazal.
In keeping with the conventions of the classical ghazal, in most of Ghalib's verses, the identity and the gender of the beloved is indeterminate. The critic/poet/writer Shamsur Rahman Faruqui explains that 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.
The first complete English translation of Ghalib's ghazals was Love Sonnets of Ghalib, written by Sarfaraz K. Niazi and published by Rupa & Co in India and Ferozsons in Pakistan. It contains complete Roman transliteration, explication and an extensive lexicon.
Mirza Ghalib was a gifted letter writer. Not only Urdu poetry but also prose is 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. He was very humorous and wrote very interesting letters. In one letter he wrote, "Main koshish karta hoon ke koi aisi baat likhoon jo padhe khush ho jaaye'" (I want to write lines such that whoever reads them would enjoy them). Some scholars say that Ghalib would have the same place in Urdu literature on the basis of his letters only. They have been translated into English by Ralph Russell in The Oxford Ghalib.
Ghalib was a chronicler of a turbulent period. One by one, Ghalib saw the bazaars - Khas Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Kharam-ka Bazaar, disappear, and whole mohallas (localities) and katras (lanes) vanish. The havelis (mansions) of his friends were razed to the ground. Ghalib wrote that Delhi had become a desert. Water was scarce. Delhi was 'a military camp'. It was the end of the feudal elite to which Ghalib had belonged. He wrote:
"An ocean of blood churns around me
Alas! Were this all!
The future will show
What more remains for me to see."
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 pen-name of Ghalib (meaning all conquering, superior, most excellent). At some places in his poetry Ghalib also used the pen name of Asad Ullah Khan. n -Wikepedia