Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, pen name Ghalib – meaning conqueror – was a famous Urdu and Persian poet.
Tucked away on the eastern edge of densely populated Nizamuddin Basti, surrounded by delicate stone lattice work, lies Ghalib’s tomb.
Nizamuddin Basti, named after Saint Nizamuddin, is interspersed with graves of many high-ranking people, as it is considered auspicious to be buried near a saint. Ghalib did have wealthy connections, and his place here is owed to his wife being the daughter of the younger brother of the First Nawab of Loharu.
Ghalib’s Tomb was recently restored under the Urban Renewal Project, a non-profit public-private partnership between the Archaeological Survey of India and the Aga Khan Foundation amongst many others.
Beautified with marble inlays and red sandstone, it now befits the resting place of South Asia’s renowned poet Mirza Ghalib. Ghalib’s famous couplet is inscribed on a marble slab in Hindi, Urdu and English translations.
Born to Mirza Abdullah Beg in December 1797 in Agra, Ghalib’s father died when he was hardly five years old. His childhood was spent with his uncle who passed away when Ghalib was eight, and mostly his aunts. Married in 1810 at the age of 13 to Umrao Begum, Ghalib soon left his birth city Agra for Delhi, a city where he lived until his death in 1869.
There isn’t a definitive record of Ghalib’s early education, but it’s said he started writing poetry early in life, around 11. He wrote in both Persian and Urdu, but his Urdu Ghazals are more famous, though his fame came to him posthumously.
Known for his spontaneity, quick-wittedness and persistence, the anecdotes are in abundance.
Once during Ramzaan, he met Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. The Emperor asked him:
‘Mirza kitney roje rakhey’
Pat came the reply
‘Ji Huzoor, Ek na rakha’
The outcome is open to the listener’s interpretation on if he didn’t keep any.
The rivalry between Ustad Zauq, the royal poet of Bahadur Shah Zafar, and Mirza Ghalib is legendary. Once when Ustad was passing by, Ghalib mocked him with verses:
‘Bana hai shah ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata’
‘Now that he is a King’s companion, he roams around conceitedly’
Zauq heard it and complained in strong words to Zafar. The Emperor asked Ghalib to explain himself, who immediately said it was the first line of the last couplet (maqta) of his latest Ghazal.
The Emperor ordered him to recite the full couplet. Ghalib made the couplet about himself and quoted:
‘Bana hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata
Wagar na sheher mein Ghalib ki aabroo kya hai’
‘Now that he is a King’s companion, he roams around conceitedly
Otherwise, what respect does Ghalib command?’
Knowing Ghalib’s poetic capabilities, Zauq asked the Emperor to insist on hearing the entire Ghazal.
Ghalib, quick on his feet, composed a whole Ghazal, one of his most famous ones, on the spot and recited it to applause. Even Zauq was impressed.
har ek baat pe kahate ho tum ki tuu kyaa hai
tumhi kaho ke ye andaaz-e-guftaguu kyaa hai
For whatever I say, you retort, ‘Who are you?’
Tell me, what is this style of conversation?
A follower of Sufism, Ghalib wasn’t too strict about religious beliefs. Drinking and gambling were his vices, even though gambling was considered an offense during those times. One can appreciate Ghalib’s ability to laugh at himself here:
eh masail-e-tasawwuf, yeh tera bayaan Ghalib
Hum tujhay wali samajhte, jo na badakhwar hota
These words of wisdom, your words Ghalib!
We would have thought you wise, if you weren’t a drunkard.
Ghalib died in Delhi on February 15, 1869. His rented house in Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, where he took his last breath, has now been turned into the ‘Ghalib Memorial.’
Ghalib even wrote the verses of his posterity, which are true even today.
Hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya par yaad aataa hai
Woh har ek baat pe kehna ke yoon hota to kia hota.
It’s been a long time since Ghalib died, but he is still remembered
For always saying what if this or that had happened
One can visit Ghalib’s memorial in Nizamuddin Basti.
Open: Sunrise to Sunset
Entry: Free and open to all