Home » Ghalib

Sahir Ludhianvi’s poem composed on Ghalib’s centenary celebrations

 Sahir Ludhianvi laments the way Urdu was treated by Indian nation-state as it became alien overnight.


Ikees baras guzray aazadi-i-kaamil ko

Tab ja kay kahi’n hum ko Ghalib ka khayaal aaya

Turbat hai kaha’n us ki, maskan tha kaha’n uska

Ab apnay sukhan-parvar zahno’n may sawaal aaya



October 9th, 2011|Arts & Culture, India, Poetry, Urdu|3 Comments

A rare portrait of Ghalib

Ghalib the Urdu poet who  described himself as a man-bitten muse, remains  immortal by way of his Urdu and Persian poetry and his modern witty prose. His religious views were secular even by the twenty first century standards – I wrote about his eclectic  poetry and also posted […]

February 13th, 2010|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Fahmida Riaz: A neglected genius

Whilst my earlier piece on the IMF programme and the tremendous discussion it has invoked deserves a rejoinder, I want to write on a completely different subject this week. I am perturbed by the fact that thousands of jobs have been recreated for those who were rightly or wrongly dismissed in the earlier dispensations; there is silence about one luminary, a towering one at that, who lost state employment twice. Fahmida Riaz’s name is yet to appear amongst the reinstated ones.

Following the physical departure of the leading Urdu poets – Qasimi, Munir and Faraz – Fahmida Riaz is arguably the greatest living poet of Pakistan. Controversial though this statement might be, her originality and path-breaking poetry has yet to find an equal in the turbulent waters of the Pakistani cultural river. It is hardly surprising that Fahimda Riaz has been targeted all through her otherwise illustrious creative career by state and society alike. She was branded as unpatriotic when she had to run for her life in the Zia-ul-Haq days and live in exile. In India, she was termed as a Pakistani agent since she criticised the communal tensions that the Indian state had encouraged.

Fahmida Riaz reading her poems in Islamabad Fahmida Riaz reading her poems in Islamabad

Her bold poetic expression was considered indecent in a country where pornography, heroine and arms are sold on every street. And, where stage plays with “hot” mujras and explicit sexual innuendo are patronised by official cultural institutions in the name of commercial viability. Fahmida was sometimes labelled as a non-believer when she questioned the clergy; at other times a communist when she talked of social justice. Even last year, a group of Karachi-based “intellectuals” chided her for eulogising a letter by the fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali (AS) as a model for good governance. This time she was a reactionary and a “toady.”
She had to deal with a society that was unshackling itself of the colonial hangover and still continues to do so, where the mullah, the mighty arms of the state, oligarchies of vested interests flourish with ease; and all independent voices have to be silenced, co-opted or crushed. And, the hapless poets especially those outside the ambit of officialdom are the soft targets of such cultural cleansing. […]

Ode to Benaras – Ghalib’s grand vision

A Brahmin resident of Benaras


Benaras: “forever spring”

It is incredible that a Muslim poet who prided himself on his Turkic ancestry and invoked the “warrior” past in his day-to-day conversation (through his letters) could compare the divine light at Mount Sinai to the lamps at Benaras

The cancer of communalism and bigotry in South Asia continues to haunt us. These days, the Muslims are once again a subject of intense, though not always fair, scrutiny in India: their loyalties are being questioned and many are potential terrorists if not already abettors of violence. The post 9/11 world has contributed to the demonising of the Muslim identity and history to surreal heights.

The recent bomb blasts in Delhi have placed the communal discourse on the front pages. The invaders and violent Muslims have done it again. A friend called me from Delhi and narrated the profiling that takes place at marketplaces and how the gulf between different communities is widening.

There was a time, not in the ancient past, when in Delhi the greatest of Urdu poets Mirza Ghalib (1796-1869) lived in an age when Hindus and Muslims shared common saints, dargahs and even popular gods and goddesses. Written accounts of this age – the mid to late 19th century – relate how intimate co-exitence of “Mussalmans” and “Hindoos” had led to a relative amalgamation of customs among the common people. And poets like Ghalib could see the commonalities of spiritual streams:

I n the Kaaba I will play the shankh (conch shell)

In the temple I have draped the ahraam (Muslim robe)

The verse above delineates the Sufi concept of fana (or dissolution of the self in divine reality) and the unity articulated by the ancient Indian texts such as the Vedanta. Sufis were to elaborate this as the wahdat-al-wajood (Unity of Being) philosophy. […]

Ode to Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli

This excellent post brought found here back so many memories – of my two memorable visits to the famed but neglected Haveli

Gali Qaasim Jaan was wrapped in fading darkness. A few tattered curtains hung listlessly on some doors. Pigeons flew overhead and some kids fought over marbles. Somewhere a goat tethered to a threshold, bleated timidly.This was Ballimaaran in the walled city of Delhi more than 150 years ago where one of the greatest masters of Urdu Poetry, Mirza Ghalib once lived.Mirza gave a whole new dimension to the world of Urdu Poetry, and has been hailed as one of the the true Masters. My desire to visit Mirza’s Haveli was soon going to be realized. Regardless of how well one knows the streets of Delhi, it is no joke to locate Gali Qasim Jaan where Mirza’s Haveli still stands.
It is a crying shame that what once was a two-storey Haveli has been reduced to barely a neglected remnant. Years of government indifference has led to severe misuse of the place.

Finally, the Archaeological Society of India took matters into its own hands and two ushers now look after the Haveli. Visiting hours are observed for tourists who long to feel the air, which still echoes with Mirza’s recitals. […]

Delhi by the book

Writing about the textbook enemy, the ‘other’, is but a daunting task. Facing the grandiose Humayun’s tomb on a chilly January morning this year, I decided to write a book on Delhi.

It was not before I had visited the ancient city that I knew what it symbolised. In Pakistan, we were influenced by the glories of Lahore, my beloved city. Reconstructed histories had kept Delhi invisible. The seat of the Sultans, Mughals and the Raj, precursor of the modern united India and originator of the Indo-Islamic civilization was a mere phantom, best ignored.
Over several visits to Delhi, I realised that invisibility was also a shared curse. A good number of Delhi wallahs I met, had no clue where they lived or crossed the streets. Erasure, blank spaces in textbooks had rendered their own city a mythical other-world existing only in erudite books, rare cultural soirees and among the fading memories of old-Delhi.
When I looked for the house where Urdu’s legendary poet Mir Taqi Mir lived, no one knows it. Those living in Hauz Khas are unaware of what it was. There are thousands, perhaps more, who have never visited Nizamuddin Bastee let alone the dargah there. Tracing history through books resembles a two-dimensional vision. Lived histories add other dimensions to the inner kaleidoscope. But there are so few who can help me.

I am pained when I am taken to the tomb of India’s first female ruler Razia Sultana (1236 – 1240). Only centuries later another woman Indira Gandhi was to rule the Centre. Razia’s grave languishes on an abandoned, filthy cul-de-sac. Many don’t care. I wonder, should I?

As I have ventured out to write, the enormity of Delhi — the idea — haunts me. Where do I start? The layered construction of Indian, and Muslim identities in the subcontinent emanate from the ridges and Hades of Delhi. The saints buried under […]

Ghalib’s grave – treasury of meanings is under the ground

The inscription on Ghalib’s tomb-stone in Arabic and Persian followed by translation:

a hai’yii ya qaiyuum

rashk-e-‘Urfi va faKhr-e-Talib murd Asadullah Khan Ghalib murd

kal maiN Gham-o-andoh meN baa khaatir-e-maHzuuN
tha turbat-e-ustaad pe baiTha hua Ghamnaak

dekha jo mujhe fikr meN taareeKh ke, Majruuh
haatif ne kahaa *ganj-e-ma’ani hai tah-e-Khaak*

the qita (composed four verses)  is by Mir Mahdi Majruuh; the phrase contains the chronogram of 1285 AH

The Alive, The Eternal [these are two of the names of Allah]

the envy of Urfi and the pride of Talib has died, Asadullah Khan Ghalib has died

[Urfi and Talib were Persian-Indian poets]

yesterday in sadness and mourning, grief-afflicted too

I sat by the Master’s grave with sorrow profound

seeing me thinking of a tareeKh, Majruuh [taareeKh = chronogram]

a heavenly voice said, “treasury of meanings is under the ground” […]

July 11th, 2008|Personal|14 Comments