GLOBALCULTURZ ISSN:2582-6808 Vol.II No.1 January-April 2021
Article-ID 202101228 Pages270-275 Language:Hindi Domain of Study: Humanities & Social Sciences Sub-Domain: History Title: Ghalib and His Literature: A Source of Dilli’s History
Manish Karmwar Assistant Professor, SLCe College, University of Delhi (India)
[E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org [[M:+91-9818014416]
Note in English
History of Delhi and Ghalib
I ASKED MY SOUL: WHAT IS DELHI?
SHE REPLIED: THE WORLD IS BODY AND DELHI ITS LIFE.
Abstract— Mirza Ghalib is Delhi’s true metaphor. He loved the city very much was a quintessential witness of a transition occurring in British Delhi. His life was greatly affected by this transition. Ghalib’s writings, reactions, letters and analysis; though they were for different motive but they shaped a true source of history of Delhi. This paper has tried to examine Ghalib’s life was a witness to the changes happening in 19th century in Delhi. He began writing letters in Urdu around 1847. He quit the old-fashioned way of writing letters that essentially meant long salutations and tortuous language and instead went for a very lively and frank style. This paper has discussed the contributions of Mirza Ghalib as Delhi’s metaphor and also review the Literature of Ghalib as a source of Delhi’s history Pre- and Post-1857. Ghalib lived in the city of Delhi, saw with his own eyes madness and mayhem descend upon the streets of his beloved city and witnessed the siege and slaughter of an entire way of life. This work also elaborates the contradictions of the society of Delhi reflected in the life and work of Ghalib..
Keywords— Delhi, Mirza Ghalib, British India,1857, Urdu letters.
GHALIB AND HIS EARLY DAYS
Ghalib was born in Agra on 27 December 1797. His links with Agra were however not ancestral. His grandfather, Quqan Beg Khan, Ghalib claimed had come to India from Samarqand. Khan was a military adventurer employed at different times with the Governor of Punjab, the Mughal Abdullah Beg Khan and Nasrullah Beg Khan, followed in their father’s footsteps. It was both an uncertain and a dangerous profession. We have seen, Ghalib was hardly four when his father died. After his death, Nasrullah Beg took his brother’s family in his care, consisting of Ghalib, his younger brother and sister.Two years later, in 1806, Nasrullah, who had risen to become the Commander of Agra Fort under the Marathas, and had later been rewarded by the British for surrendering the Fort to them, also died. Thus, by the time he was nine, Ghalib had lost both his father and uncle. His father had married into an affluent family of Agra. Ghalib was born in the home of his maternal grandparents, and continued to lead a relatively sheltered and comfortable life there, even after his father and uncle died. Undoubtedly, his early years did see considerable mental and emotional stress, and it is perhaps not coincidental that he began to write poetry when still very young—possibly in the same year his uncle died (1806) (Varma 2016).
Fortunately, his early education was such that it could nurture the growth of so precocious an intellect. Sheikh Muazzam, one of the most learned scholars in Agra at the time, taught him. He perhaps also attended a madrasa run by Mir Azam Ali. His grounding in the traditional sciences taught then—logic, astronomy, medicine and metaphysics—was thorough. But his real inclination was towards linguistics and literature, particularly the mastery of Persian. It was fortuitous that a noted scholar of both Persian and Arabic Abdus Samad visited Agra at this time. Ghalib became his pupil. Samad stayed at Ghalib’s house for two years (1811-12). Ghalib never acknowledged anyone as his ustad, but the glowing terms in which he has later referred to Abdus Samad comes closest to such an acknowledgement (Russel and Islam 1969).
It would be fair to conclude that the foundations of Ghalib’s vast erudition in Persian were laid in these early years. On 8 August 1810, a few months short of thirteen years of age, Ghalib was married to Umrao Begum, the daughter of Nawab Ilahi Baksh Khan. Shortly after the marriage he shifted his from Agra to Delhi which was to become his permanent residence. On his arrival in Delhi, Ghalib rented a haveli in the heart of the Walled City, not far from Chandni Chowk. Through his father-in-law, with whom he possibly stayed for a while on arrival, he got an entrée to the nobility and elite. His poetic debut was however far from smooth. Ghalib’s early Urdu writing was highly Persianized. The attempt to overwhelm Urdu, within the straitjacket of classical Persian was out of sync with the literary mood in which Urdu was replacing Persian as the lingua franca and rapidly gaining confidence and popularity as the new literary medium. In addition, the thought structure of his compositions was complex to the point of being obscure. Ghalib appears to have been greatly influenced by the abstract writings of Persian poets such as Bukhari, Aseer and Bedil (Faruqi 1981).
HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO HISTORY
Over the years, Ghalib’s fame as a poet had steadily grown. He had first compiled his Urdu verse in 1821. In 1825, at the request of friends, he collated the general principles of Persian letter-writing in a popular booklet called Panj Ahang. In 1828, he compiled a combined selection of his Urdu and Persian verses— Gul-i-Rana. His Urdu Diwan was first published in 1841, and sold out immediately. It was reprinted in 1847, but obviously, was grossly unable to meet popular demand. As late as 1855, Ghalib complained that he could not lay hands on a copy for himself because the publishers had committed copies, in bulk, to booksellers in advance. The collection of his Persian verses was published in 1845(Varma 2016). Ghalib was a prolific writer of letters and expended a great deal of time and effort in their composition as he considered this to be a literary pursuit. His innumerable letters read effortlessly, like flowing conversation, full of details and charming obiter dicta, with minimum stylization and transparent spontaneity. ‘I have invented a style,’ he once wrote to a friend, ‘through which correspondence has become conversation. From a distance of a thousand miles you can speak through your pen, and enjoy company despite separation.’ (Hyder and Jafri 1970).
Ghalib was given a work to write history of Mughals during Bahadur Shah Zafar’s rule. The project died a natural death. The court lost interest and Ghalib made no effort to revive it. What he had already written was finally published in 1854 under the title Mihr-i-Nimroz (The Sun at Mid-day). The only significant outcome of the whole business was that Ghalib, fatigued by the long hours of writing stylized Persian, reverted—after a lapse of over two decades—to Urdu as the medium of his letters. He wrote Dastanbuy as a personal diary or journal in Persian. It records the events from May 11, 1857 to July 31, 1858. The book not only carries chapters from Ghalib`s personal life but it also speaks of the situation of Delhi and the British troops. The upheaval of 1857 would soon overwhelm almost all the familiar contours of life he could know. In its aftermath, he would live on to witness an entire social system—which alone gave meaning and relevance to his values—being dismantled, bit by bit, before his very eyes. Neither Ghalib and Delhi nor the tehzib which bound the two so inextricably would ever be the same again.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF URDU
The development of Urdu had received a great impetus as a result of close contacts between Muslims and the people of this country. A language passes through many phases of development before it takes a definite shape. This process has been going on in northern India for a very long time and had reached a stage when a new language was bound to emerge. It is an accident that at this juncture the Muslims appeared on the scene. (it may be written as ‘the process is believed to have begun when the Muslims made their noticeable presence in the last decade of the twelfth century along with their people and language which was similar to that of the Aryan race stock. Persian had great and rich literary traditions behind it and also the advantage of being the language of the Conquerors. Quite naturally, Persian was adopted as the court language and it filtered down to the educated classes who began learning it with a view to finding favour and service with their new rulers. The formant which had for long been going on in the linguistic cauldron over many centuries boiled over during Ghalib’s period and the new language come to be known as Urdu. The new language would have emerged anyway because the process for its birth had been completed.This new language was essentially Indian in all respects - its vocabulary, phrases and grammar. All its wars were derived from Indian sources. The Muslim contribution was limited to its script with inclusion of some Persian words and Iranian concepts and idioms.
In the beginning this language was used mostly for religious discourses and propaganda by Muslims saints. Early Urdu writings, both prose and poetry, were imputed with ethical and moral sentiments. As most writers were also scholars of Persian, they drew heavily on Persian ideas and thoughts. With the passing of time the language attends more popularity and borrowing from classical Persian became more broad-based. Nevertheless, it was all artificial as the poets in India who employed Persian usages and similes had never been to Iran and the knowledge was derived from classical texts only. Their poetry was a product of pure imagination and artificiality and except for a couple of poets like Ghalib and Dard. Most of the Urdu poets continued working on the same lines without originality or fresh thinking (Ram 1969).
MIRZA GHALIB AND DELHI COLLEGE
We know that Ghalib was a poet of his times. Apart from the perennial uncertainty as the intellectual/poet/teacher at the court and with his pension with the British, the other incident that brings Ghalib inseparably close to the title of the "First ad-hoc of Delhi" involves the present day Zakir Hussain Delhi College, then called Dilli College which stands as the veritable symbol of transition of the history of letters into a salaried modernity. In contrast to the world of pensions and patrons, Dilli College offered professor's jobs-based interviews. Actually, Azurda, the Principal Sadar Amin was very closely attached to the Mughal Court and was loyal to the Emperor and from mid 1830s till 1857, Azurda remained very prominent figure in decision making in Delhi College. Officials of the education department regularly used to consult Azurda about appointment and subjects to be taught, curriculum and texts. In early 1840, Azurda suggested Ghalib, Momin and Imam Baksh Sehbai when there was a proposal to have a full time Persian scholar/teacher and that of eminence having some repute. First name suggested by Azurda was Mirza Ghalib as Ghalib had published two diwans and a book of grammar in Persian.
He thought of joining the college and landed up there but felt dejected as the principal did not come to welcome him. He thus did not join though the main reason was perhaps the salary. It appears so because the second candidate Momin declined the job because he had asked for 100 rupees while the third one, Imam Baksh Sehbai, joined for a salary of 40 rupees. It was too less in comparison to the salary of a Head Munshi in Persian office of Company's establishment in Delhi who was drawing 120 rupees. Ghalib rejected the job in spite of dire need of money as the salary offered was below the stature that he had as a scholar Munshi was not a respectable position in the society during the time, working at less than half of the salary of a Munshi would have undermined his prestige. There is evidence that the salary of Sehbai was raised to Rs. 50 after some time. Incidentally, very senior teacher in Delhi College, Mamluk Ali of Arabic had requested a salary of 100 Rs. as he had been teaching for long time, eventually it was raised to Rs. 80 So, this gives us an idea why Ghalib declined to be a professor in Dilli College.
GHALIB: SOURCE OF HISTORY OR HISTORIAN
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) lived through the most turbulent periods of recent history. Two worlds - the decaying and the emergent were fused and merged. Pathos, confusion and conflicts prevailed as the Great Revolt of 1857 marked the end of an era and a new world order lay waiting to be unfurled. Ghalib lived in the city of Delhi, saw with his own eyes madness and mayhem descend upon the streets of his beloved city and witnessed the siege and slaughter of an entire way of life. Just as the Delhi of Ghalib was a metaphor for many things - change, survival, growth, modernism, a catholic worldview, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one which rises phoenix-like from the ashes of the old. Ghalib himself was man of many moods. From rhapsodizing on the charms of the beloved in the best tradition of Urdu poetry to ruing the insignificance of all human endeavor, from displaying a delightful sense of humor to wallowing in self-pity all the myriad shades of life and living are reflected in this one man's vast and varied work. Another way of "seeing" Ghalib is to view him from the perspective of a literary historian. As the last of the classical and the first of the moderns, it was Ghalib who brought Urdu poetry to the point where it was ready to take wings and soar. It was Ghalib who formed a bridge between the old masters and the revivalists who appeared on the literary scene at the turn of the century. Moreover, it was Ghalib who showed the way forward after the debacle of 1857 - and his younger contemporaries like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Nazir Ahmad, Zakaullah and Hali followed the suit (Jalil about Ghalib).
GHALIB AND THE BRITISH
He was the first of the great classical poets to form intimate contacts with British officials. His main source of income in fact came from a hereditary ‘pension’ granted by the British to descendants of his uncle and guardian, who had pragmatically switched allegiance to the British at a critical moment for their greater entitlement. He himself was unsuccessful in securing these favours, but the journey brought him into contact with poets and scholars in cities along the way, and Calcutta made a big impact on him. It was a modern city which had expanded under British rule, and English influence and English material progress were more evident there than anywhere in India. Ghalib’s intelligence and exceptionally tolerant outlook made him receptive to some of the new ideas which this brought. At this stage the British in India operated as far as possible through the old Mughal forms. Persian was still the official language; the educational system, the administration of justice, and indeed the administration in general were largely along traditional lines. A number of British officials were men who were thoroughly at home in the Mughal setting. They lived in India like a new class of princes, maintaining all the medieval modes and grafting onto them some of the more modern social and political institutions that prevailed in contemporary Britain. Several of them felt a respect – a very proper respect, as Ghalib would have thought – for the traditional Muslim elite and its culture, and were proficient in Persian and Urdu. Some even wrote poetry in both these languages, and several of those in Delhi came to Ghalib to be mentored in classical poetry. So, it is not surprising that, with all his awareness of what was new in the world around him, he continued to see it from within the framework of essentially medieval ways of thought (Russell 2000).
In the political twilight of the years before 1857 it was possible to somehow harmonize obeisance to both without bringing into sharp focus the fundamental incongruence of this stance. But 1857 abruptly put an end to the shadows. It called for a dramatic choice: you were either against the British or for the king, or against the king or for the British. Ghalib wrote a book, the Dastanbuy — which is ostensibly a diary, written spontaneously as events unfolded in those traumatic months. The book is intensely pro-British and ruthlessly condemnatory of the Revolt. If we take this book literally, we have no option but to conclude that Ghalib had, on 11 May 1857 itself, made his choice unequivocally and saw the British were the only legitimate rulers of India. Those who rebelled against them were uncouth namak-harams; and victory over the rebellion was the harbinger of the return of justice and well-being. But the question is if we can take this book literally. Available evidence would caution us from doing so. The Dastanbuy is hardly a spontaneous record of 1857, or a genuine expression of Ghalib’s beliefs. It was written after the British recapture of the city, or, at least, after it had become clea towards the very end that the rebellion was a lost episode. Its limited purpose was to help establish Ghalib’s innocence in the eyes of the British (Matcalfe 1898).
At one point he was summoned before a British official who demanded to know if he was a Muslim and if so why he had not left the city. Even in this situation his sense of irony did not desert him. He said he was ‘half a Muslim’ – and added, ‘I drink wine but I don’t eat pork.’ And reflecting on this afterwards he wrote more seriously: To tell the truth – for to hide the truth is not the way of a man free in spirit – I am no more than half a Muslim, for I am free from the bonds of convention and religion, and have liberated my soul from the fear of men’s tongues. Three months later Hindu residents were allowed to return, but it was two years before Muslims were allowed to return permanently. He wrote of the support he received from many Hindu friends at this time. One used to be his pupil in poetry: He is like a son to me. He knows my stricken heart and seldom leaves me alone but serves me with all the resources at his command. His son too is one with his father, ever ready in service and unequalled in sympathy (Russell 2000).
For Ghalib the more difficult part was to justify, or gloss over the British savagery after the recapture of the city. He could not avoid some reference to ‘I have told you that when the angry lions (the British) entered the town, they killed the helpless and the weak and they burned their houses. It may be that such atrocities always occur after conquest.’ A few pages later: ‘it is widely known that although looting was common, killing was generally abjured . . . although the (British) were full of the fire of fury, they restrained themselves.’ But on the same page: ‘The hearts of the helpless inhabitants of the city . . . are filled with sorrow and they are afraid of mass slaughter.’ And again: ‘The victors killed all whom they found on the streets. Those of noble birth and position, in order to protect their honour, which was all that remained to them, stayed inside their locked houses.’ In the same vein: ‘At noon on Friday, the twenty-sixth of Muharram, which is the eighteenth of September . . . the victors captured the city and the Fort. The horror of mass arrests, assassinations, and slaughter now reached our lane and the people shook with fear . . . Beyond the (Chandni) Chowk mass slaughter was rampant and the streets were filled with horror.’ (Dastanbuy).
During the Revolt, in spite of his reservations about the newfound swagger of the hoi polloi, he remained actively associated with the Mughal court. And in the Dastanbuy, for all its tactical praise of the British, his true feelings are, on some occasions, are thinly camouflaged. At one point he writes: Nothing more can be said of the fate of the Mughal princes than that some were shot and devoured by the dragon of death; and some were hung by their necks with ropes, and, in their twisting, their spirits left them. A few unfortunates are imprisoned, others have fled, wretched and disordered, into the wilderness; and the aged and fragile Mughal emperor is under trial by the court. The jageerdars of Jhajjar, Ballabhgarh, and Farrukhnagar were executed separately on different days. Their lives were ended in such a manner that none could say blood had been spilled.’
While General Wilson sipped champagne in the Diwan-i-Khas, Delhi was a deserted city. The majority of its inhabitants—both Muslim and Hindu, rich and poor—had fled to escape the wrath of the British troops. Many camped, throughout the winter, outside the city in makeshift shelters or in the open. Their suffering was terrible, but the British would not allow re-entry. The jails were filled to capacity and mass slaughter had disposed of those not imprisoned. An eerie silence hung over the city. A British officer has recorded: ‘There was something so strange and weird in every sound made in those silent streets which echoed to our footfalls like a city of the dead. Here and there a dog lay crouching at a body, or a vulture, completely gorged and unable to rise, flapped aside at our approach . . .’ Ghalib was among the few who had not left. He voiced his anguish in the Dastanbuy: ‘In the entire city of Delhi it is impossible to find more than one thousand Muslims; and I am one of these. Some have gone so far from the city, it seems as if they were never residents of Delhi. Many very important men are living, eyes.’
THE LETTERS OF HIS LAST DECADE
Thus, the more emphatic the pro-British sentiment of the Dastanbuy, the more it is revealed to be what it was: an ingenious cover to hide Ghalib’s real involvement in the Revolt. He was afraid to record his real views, but he gave enough indication of them in letters to friends. The extracts quoted below are from the same period of which the Dastanbuy is supposed to be a record and has Ghalib singing paeans in praise of the British:
1. December 1857 to Hakim Ghulam Najaf Khan: I got your letter . . . You say that I’ve never written to you. Be fair! What am I to write? What can I write? What news is there that can be put in writing? What did your letter amount to? And what does this letter of mine amount to? Nothing more than this, that both of us are still alive. And more than this neither you nor I can write.’
2.January 1858 to Hakim Ghulam Najaf Khan: ‘So far we are still alive—I and my wife and the children— but no one knows what may happen from one hour to the next. When I take up my pen there is a lot I should like to write. But I cannot write it. If we are fated to meet again, I will tell you all about it. And if not then— verily we are for God and verily to Him we shall return . . .’
3. February 1858, again to Tufta: ‘These are evil days my friend and I cannot see them ending well. In short, everything is finished.’
4. February 1858 to Majruh: ‘If I live, and the day comes when we can again sit you shall hear my story.’
5.February 1858 to Saqib: ‘If we survive . . . and are fated to meet again I will tell you everything. Otherwise to put it briefly, everything is finished. I am afraid to write anything, and what is there, anyway, that one would feel any pleasure in writing about? (Russell and Islam 1969).
‘I thank God for my friends’ love and human kindness,’ Ghalib wrote. But most of his closest friends were scattered far and wide. The intense feeling of loneliness never left him throughout last eleven years of life. Yet in this difficult time, his letters were full of the qualities that had always characterized his relationships – strong affection, interest in whatever was happening to his friends, vigorously expressed opinions and frankness about himself. It is striking how quick he was, despite the heavy burden of his own troubles, to encourage and sustain his friends when they were in trouble. And he never, to the very end, lost the sense of humour which was his main shield against the affliction of life. Except for letters he gave up writing. To a fellow poet who could not believe this he replied:
You ask me for recent verses. Where from? Verses on themes of love are as far from my taste as faith is from unbelief. I was the government’s hired bard. I wrote my panegyrics and got my robes in reward. But the robes stopped coming, and I stopped writing. No ghazals, no odes. Lampoon and satire is not in my line. So, tell me, what am I to write? I am like an old wrestler, who can only explain the holds.
He also sent an ode to the Nizam of Hyderabad in the hope of getting his patronage: Fifty-five years of practice have given me a certain talent, but I have no strength left in me. I sometimes look at the prose and verse which I wrote in former days. I know that it is mine, but I am lost in wonderment that I could write it. Bedil 1 spoke as though with my tongue when he wrote: ‘My story echoes round the world – and I am nothing.’
In a verse from earlier years that might be read as foreseeing the loss of his poetic voice, he had spoken of himself as a ‘tongue-less lamp upon a stranger’s grave’. The image refers to the custom of keeping a lamp burning on the graves of loved ones; strangers had no one to light a lamp on their grave and keep it alive. ‘Tongueless’ means ‘without the tongue of flame’ that keeps it burning – and also, for himself as a poet, silent, wordless: My silence hides a hundred thousand longings drowned in their own blood I am a burnt-out, tongueless lamp upon a stranger’s grave.
Even though he no longer tried to express himself in poetry, he was still constantly trying to make sense of his experience. He describes his state of mind with characteristic self-awareness to his friend Tufta:
You are intent on poetry, while all my faculties are intent on attaining oblivion. To pass one’s life one needs a little ease – and all the learning and power and poetry and magic are nothing. What of it if an avatar comes to the Hindus? What of it if a prophet arises amongst the Muslims? What of it if a man wins fame in the world? Let a man have something to live on, and physical health, and the rest is nothing, my dear friend. As a matter of fact, these too are nothing, but I have not yet reached the stage where I realise it… In the desolation in which I live I am lost to the whole world, indeed to both worlds. I behave with every man as our relationship warrants, but it is all illusion in my sight – not a river, but a mirage; not reality, but fantasy. You and I are not bad poets. Suppose I grant we win the same fame as Sadi and Hafiz. What did their fame bring them?
And what would ours bring us? He comforted himself by writing letter after letter to his friends. Again, to Tufta he said: “In this solitude it is letters that keep me alive. Someone writes to me and I feel he has come to see me. By God’s favour not a day passes but three or four letters come from this side and that. I spend the day reading them and answering them, and it keeps me happy”.
PARADOX OF GHALIB
And yet, this was the paradox of Ghalib-the man that his most sublime philosophical perceptions coexisted with a continuing preoccupation with self, privilege and the normal accoutrements of a more than life-size ego. At the time when he could tell Tufta that all his faculties were intended only on obtaining oblivion, he could also confess to be consumed by incessant anxiety about whether he would get an invitation to the Governor-General’s durbar. The coexistence of two opposing mental states did not render the one false or the other hypocritical. On the contrary, together they provided the real clue to the complexity of Ghalib the man: aloof, spiritual, transcendent, detached at one level, possessive, proud, vain, egoistic, at another. Ghalib would live on for twelve years after 1857, but he would never recover from the trauma (Varma 2016).
The British terror in the aftermath of the Revolt pulverized him emotionally. An entire way of life was permanently destabilized. Many of his dearest friends were executed or exiled. Scores of Delhi citizens were hanged daily at the Chandni Chowk. His king was sent into exile in distant Burma. Much of the old feudal class was dislodged from its self-assured niche in society, and compelled to fend for itself in poverty. Large his own fate, he remained, without his old pension, a beggared, lonely and mute witness to this continuing upheaval. It was perhaps at this time that he wrote his famous lines: An ocean of blood churns around me— Alas! were this all! The future will show What more remains for me to see (Diwan-i-Ghalib). Ghalib, as initially predicted to be a source of history, he also turned to be a Historian soon. He often considered himself to be a Historian because he had not only described the events but the respective impact on him and society also. All through his life, letters, philosophy and literature, one may easily figure out that he was situating himself in historical context and we may see his most important role of as a historian, as was pointed out by Collingwood in Idea of History.
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- Diwan-i-Ghalib, trans.