Nightingale of an Uncreated Garden: Ghalib’s intellectual concerns

ہوں گرمیٔ نشاطِ تصور سے نغمہ سنج

میں عند لیبِ گلشن نا آفریدہ ہوں

h̅un garm̅i-yi nash̅at-i tasavvur se naghmah-sanj

main ‘andal̅ib-i gulshan-i n̅a-̅afr̅idah h̅un

{I am singing under the exuberance of the pleasure of thinking, I am a nightingale of an uncreated garden.}

  • Forword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • The First Point
  • Cultural and Intellectual Discourse in Ghalib’s Delhi- A Brief Note
  • Ghalib on his Life and his God
  • Ghalib’s Religious Concerns
  • Ghalib’s Existentialism
  • The Value-system of Ghalib’s Poetic Life
  • Ghalib as a Thinker
  • Ghalib’s Expression
  • The Last Point
  • Glossary
  • Notes and References

© Anwar Moazzam, 2019



Professor Brian Spooner
Department of Anthropology
University of Pennsylvania

As can be seen from the perusal of any library catalogue or bookseller’s list, this is not the first book on Ghalib. Though he may not have been fully recognised in his lifetime, his life and his work have been relatively common subjects of research and publication since he died a century and a half ago. However, he was an unusual person, and neither his personality nor his writings fitted neatly into any of our historical research categories. For this reason until now there has been no comprehensive work either on his life or his contribution to literature and to learning. This is the first publication that takes account of the larger significance of his life and all his work in the world-historical context of its geographical location (close to the centre of the world’s land surface, where civilisation began) between the Middle East and Central and South Asia, and of its time, in early modern history, at a particular stage of globalisation, the height of the Colonial Period.

Ghalib was the literary star of the late Mughal age, not only in South Asia (the territory of the Mughal Empire), but in the surrounding Persianate intellectual world that extended from what is now Iraq to China, and not only in that Islamicate world but also in the culturally related non-Muslim world of South Asia. Born as Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan in 1797 to a family that had moved south from Turkic Central Asia to Agra in India, he spent most of his life in Delhi, where he died in 1869, in a period of accelerating social change, as the British changed their language of administration from Persian to Urdu and English, and supplanted the Mughal dynasty, but before they moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, and built New Delhi. His work in Persian and early modern Urdu made him a central figure in two of the largest literary and intellectual communities in world history at a time when they were becoming culturally integrated as a result of a combination of historical factors including the power of Persian literacy and the “Great Game” of the British and Russians as they expanded their empires and their colonial interests in the nineteenth century north and south into Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The resulting expansion of this Persianate-Islamicate ecumene was not only a significant early stage of the process that we have since come to know as globalisation, but as a result of the scientific and artistic achievements of the earlier Persian- and Sanskrit-based civilisations generated a level of philosophical awareness that was at that time unprecedented in world history. While there had certainly been great literary figures in particular civilisations before that time, there were none who like Ghalib had transcended the limits of their civilisation, and of their chosen genre. For that reason none of the past work on Ghalib has in the manner of this work provided an analytical discussion of his entire contribution irrespective of the traditional boundaries of scholarship and criticism.

Another reason this has not been done before is that since the age of Ghalib the world has changed significantly. In the second half of the nineteenth century what had been known since the Achaemenian Empire in the sixth century BCE as Persian or Iranian was subsumed into the newly identified “Middle East.” The British and Russian Empires ended their Great Game by defining the borders of modern Afghanistan as a buffer state between them. And South Asia became preoccupied with its struggle against colonialism, which ended in the middle of the twentieth century with the formal Partition between the politically Islamicate and Bharat-oriented areas of the Subcontinent, in the modern republics of Pakistan and India. But Ghalib’s work remains as a monument to the cultural and philosophical achievements before these political divisions of the modern world.

Because of the cultural and religious environment in which he worked, Ghalib’s writing defies any attempt to place him in comparative context. He worked in the languages that were in use in the society in which he lived: Persian and Urdu. He wrote in the genres that had long been customary in that society: poetry and letters. His poetry was the culmination of what had come to be known as sabk-e-hindi (Indian style) in Persian, and a landmark in the development of literary Urdu. As a result, in this world before the drawing of political borders, which began only in the second half of the nineteenth century, interest in his work percolated throughout the Persianate and Urdu-reading worlds, from Delhi into the Middle East, the Russian steppe and Turkic Central Asia, and south and east with the political control and cultural influence of the Mughal empire.

The role that Persian had played in this area, since as far back as the ninth century CE, was historically unique. For a thousand years from what is now Iraq to northern China and from what had become Turkic Central Asia into the Indian Subcontinent Persian had been the primary, if not the only, written language, not only for eulogistic and Sufistic poetry, but for administration, for long-distance communication in letters, and for historical and philosophical prose. As the only medium for long-distance communication it carried cultural concepts, and models of administrative design from community to community and spread them over vast areas, and like Latin and Greek in the West (but on a larger scale) it was the routine source for the satisfaction of any need for new vocabulary in the local languages, though unlike Latin it has continued to be a common spoken language throughout this region, and did not lose any of its most important uses, as Latin did with the change in liturgical language in much of Western Christianity after the Reformation, and unlike Greek its classical written form continued to be the foundation of the modern literary and spoken languages. The intellectual world for which written Persian constituted the cultural glue, which extended deeper into South Asian society with the adoption of Urdu, was the largest cultural-linguistic ecumene in world history. Furthermore, it guaranteed the continuing value of poetic expression. Ghalib was a beacon of the high intellectuality and religious and philosophical awareness of the Persianate world, including its South Asian extension, when it was at its peak, just before it became divided into districts of colonial administration by the competing British and Russian empires.

But Ghalib was not simply a product of his age. He was a master of language, and of eloquent, detailed philosophical and religious expression. He understood the social function of religion, and intellectualised it, without discriminating in any way between Sunni, Shi`a and Sufi. Neither was he concerned to differentiate Islam morally from Christianity, or even from unbelief. He sought to express the artistic essence of civilisation from his base in a socio-cultural centre of Islamic civilisation. He was interested in the nature of the relationship between the freedom of humanity and the unlimited power and ability of the Divinity, insofar as we can understand it from Revelation in the historical context of our efforts to interpret and rationalise–our rising social awareness in relation to predestination.

Ghalib is a poet, a philosopher, a scholar, a religious teacher, a spiritual guide. He is the Plato and Aristotle of the Persianate/South Asian Islamicate world. He lived a full life–spiritually, intellectually, religiously, philosophically, emotionally and personally. Though perhaps not fully appreciated in his own lifetime, he has become the first name in Urdu poetry. As a result of the comprehensiveness of his subject matter he can sometimes be difficult to understand. This book takes you through his intellectual as well as his spiritual development as it introduces you to his work, to its contribution to human understanding, and to the role it played in world history and the evolution of what it means to be human in the cultural milieu he represents.


Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) has, despite his carefully cultivated accessibility reserved for a select intellectual class well-versed in mystical-philosophical cultural systems and in the Persian poetic tradition, for even a one hundred and fifty years constantly held sway as a constant source of aesthetic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual joy for the common peoples of the East. His living a dual life in the popular and the intellectual levels for such a long time invites the attention of both literature and philosophy students. It becomes more interesting when we find his poetry written in simple Urdu and yet loaded with various layers of intellectual and philosophical nuances, also being enjoyed by the ordinary reader: it would be a boon for readers to have the Urdu original and its roman transliteration, as well.

نہ تھا کچھ تو خدا تھا‘ کچھ نہ ہوتا تو خدا ہوتا

ڈبو یا مجھ کو ہونے نے‘ نہ ہوتا میں تو کیا ہوتا

nah tha kuch to khud̅a th̅a, kuch nah hot̅a to khud̅a hot̅a

duboy̅a mujh ko hone ne, nah hot̅a main to ky̅a hot̅a

{When there was nothing, there was God; had there been nothing, there would have been God; my being destroyed me, had I not been, what would I have been?}

This couplet has an attraction as a puzzle replete with alternative answers. In fact, it is loaded with a world of meanings regarding concepts of existential and cognitive unity. The point is that the extensive commentary on Ghalib in South Asia has always been exclusively focussed on appreciation of various facets of his poetry but to the total neglect of the thought content.

The present work is, perhaps, the first of its kind in English (and even Urdu) … a critical analysis of this aspect of Ghalib, discussing certain select issues like being and beings and his conflicting judgements of concepts governing common social life, on the one hand, and on the other, a value system governing his poetic life, his rationalism and his refusal to follow traditional views without critical examination. It is fascinating to find him conversing with friends on the meaning of meaning, and the relationship between word and meaning.

The most daunting task was to render the meaning of his poetry in English. Urdu, like any other language, has its own literary vocabulary of symbols and metaphors, etc., quite different from those in English. It has been attempted here to convey this, especially to readers not conversant with these concepts and themes, in as comprehensible a way as possible. All couplets have been given in the Urdu original with roman transcriptions followed by their rendition, as I have understood them, in English translation.

It is hoped that you will meet the Real Ghalib.

The First Point

کفرودیں چیست؟ جر آلايش پنداروجود

پاک شو پاک کہ ہم کفر تو دین تو شود

kufr o d̅in ch̅ist juz ̅al̅a’ish-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud

p̅ak shav p̅ak keh ham kufr-i t̅u d̅in-i t̅u shaved

{What is unbelief and faith except the polluted conceit of one’s existence? Purify yourself so that your unbelief becomes your belief.}

دیر و حرم آئینہ ء تکرار تمنا

واماندگی شوق تراشے ہے پناہیں

dair o haram ̅a’̅inah-yi takr̅ar-i tamanna

v̅ama̅ndagi-yi shauq tar̅ashe hai pan̅ahen

{The mosque and the temple are mirror images reflecting recurrence of desire; these are (no more than) places of refuge manufactured by the fatigue of human yearnings.}

ہستی کے مت فریب میں آجائیواسد

عالم تمام حلقۂ دام خیال ہے

hasti ke mat fareb men ̅aj̅a’iyyo, Asad

‘̅alam tam̅am halqah-yi d̅am-i khay̅al hai

{Do not be deceived by existence, Asad! The entire universe is a circle of the net of illusion.}

اصل شہود و شاہد و مشہود ایک ہے

حیراں ہوں پھر مشاہدہ ہے کس حساب میں

asl-i shuh̅ud o sh̅ahid o mashh̅ud aik hai

hair̅an h̅un phir mush̅ahadah hai kis his̅ab men

{The essence of shuh̅ud (a stage in tasavvuf when everything existing becomes the Truth-in-itself), sh̅ahid (witness), and the mashh̅ud (spectacle being observed by all) being the same; I wonder, how to account for the mush̅ahadah (witnessing, spectacle).}

نیکی زتست از تو نخواہیم مزد کار

ور خود بدیم کار تو ایم انتقام چیست؟

nek̅i ze tust az t̅u na-khv̅ahaim muzd-i k̅ar

var khud badaim k̅ar-i t̅uaim intiq̅am ch̅ist?

{Righteous action coming as it does from You (God), I do not ask for any payment (muzd) for my deeds; and if I commit evil, that is also from you; then where is the justification for revenge?}

وفاداری بہ شرط استواری اصل ایماں ہے

مر بت خانے میں تو کعبے میں گاڑو برہمن کو

vaf̅̅ad̅ari ba-shart-i ustv̅ari asl-i ̅im̅an hai

mare butkh̅ane men to Ka‘be men g̅aro Brahman ko

{Fidelity with steadfastness is the essence of faith; (therefore) if a Brahman dies in a house of idols (temple), bury him in theKa‘ba.}

نہ تھا کچھ تو خدا تھا‘ کچھ نہ ہوتا تو خدا ہوتا

ڈبو یا مجھ کو ہونے نے‘ نہ ہوتا میں تو کیا ہوتا

nah tha kuch to khud̅a th̅a, kuch nah hot̅a to khuda hot̅a

duboy̅a mujh ko hone ne, nah hot̅a maen to khud̅a hota!

{When there was nothing, (only) God existed, had there been nothing, God would have been; my being spoiled me, had I been non-existent, what would I have been!}

In a letter, Ghalib writes: “In my whole life, had I not drunk wine, even once, call me a non-believer, had I offered prayer even once, call me a sinner.”

My object is expression of my ‘belief’ so that it is known that a person holding this ‘belief’ does not refute anything and, (on the other hand) embraces all in a (particular) state (kaif̅iyat) … of unbelief (kufr) as well as Islam,‘ain (عین), (in Sufism, the inner essence of a thing and more specifically, the universal idea of a thing eternally existing in the mind of God) as well as ghair, (غیر), the other).1 All these exist as thought (tassavur) but not as the ‘thought’ which we think, but that thought which is possessed by a special state (kaif̅iyat-i kh̅as). It is quite apt to describe this with the simile of sea and wave and sun and light.” (letter to Ghamg̅in)

I am a pure believer in one God (m̅uvahhid-i kh̅alis) and a person of perfect faith (momin). On my tongue ‘there is no god except Allah’ and, in my heart, I have understood that nothing exists except Allah, nothing impacts on existence except Allah. All messengers deserve respect and all, in their times, were to be obeyed. Messengership ended with Muhammad. He is the seal of messengerhood and mercy for the world. The end of prophethood is the beginning of im̅amat (the Sh̅i‘ah espousal of head of state as different from the Sunni subscription to khil̅afat). Im̅amat is not held by consensus or ijm̅a‘ which is what Sunnis hold to) but is transferred from Allah to ‘Ali, then to Hasan, then to Husain and so on. I dwell by these (beliefs) and will die holding them. (in a letter)

جن لوگوں کو ہے مجھ سے عداوت گہری

کہتے ہیں مجھے وہ رافضی اور دہری

دہری کیونکر ہو جو ہوے صوفی

شیعی کیونکر ہو ما ورا النہری

jin logon ko hai mujh se ‘ad̅avat gahri

kahte hain mujhe r̅afizi aur dahri

dahri kunkar ho jo keh hovay S̅ufi

Shi‘̅i kyunkar ho m̅avar̅aunnahri

{Those who hate me intensely, call me Shi ‘ah and heretic. How can a Sufi be a heretic? How can one who is of Transoxiana (a region inhabited by Sunnis) be a Shi‘ah?}

If these couplets and statements are treated as representing different views of Ghalib, then he emerges as one declaring, ‘I am a Shi‘ah, an atheist (dahri), a non-believer (k̅afir), a sinner (gunahg̅ar), monotheist (muvahhid) and a true Muslim (momin). Unbelief and Islam,‘ain (for the Sufis, it means the universal idea of a thing eternally existing in the mind of God),and ghair (the other than God) are acceptable to me. Unbelief and belief are a filth of the conceit of existence. The Ka‘bah and the temple are refuge for the fatigue of shauq (the human urge to know reality). The Creator of my good deeds is Allah; why should I ask for any reward for my meritorious actions? Allah is also the creator of evil; then why should I be punished for my evil acts? If fidelity (vaf̅ad̅ari) is steadfast, then both the Muslim priest and the Brahman are people of faith (̅im̅an). In any case, what is the big deal in engaging in discussions on virtue and vice and unfaith and faith when all these phenomena of existence are vague, absurd, and all is a net of imagination and superstition? What exists is the Absolute Reality, Allah, and He will always exist. When I was non-existent, I was Allah; just imagine what I would I have been had I not come into existence.

These feelings, like shadows, crisscross and cut into each other as if they are views of different persons, as if there is not one Ghalib but many, each struggling against the other and refusing to form any one clear picture. How many difficulties has Ghalib created for his admirers and critics! But, then, is formation of any one single picture necessary? Is it not possible for the poetry of Ghalib to survive without an organised thought-system? Some people think so. In spite of these different mental attitudes, readers of Ghalib find in him the peculiar thought and creative intellectual and emotional satisfaction not to be found in any other poet. Does it mean that creative thought and creative expression are beyond the realm of philosophical discipline and mental and logical frontiers? It appears that only creativity is the guarantee of the popularity and durability of a piece of literature or fine art. Here, creativity means the ability to satisfy readers’ emotional and intellectual thirst. A piece of literature recreates itself for its readers every moment. As long as this process maintains itself, the poetry and art form would be able to maintain its popularity and importance among its readers, listeners or viewers. If this is so, then Ghalib renders all philosophical, intellectual, and logical challenges ineffective due to his boundless creativity. Still, the question remains as to how in its inner depths such great creativity could bear so much mutually contradictory plurality? Let us try to find out how Ghalib managed to make ‘Being’ and its multiple appearances, on the one hand, and, his struggle to survive amidst the conflicts between religion and the material world, on the other, a part of his creativity in a way that all these various themes and aesthetic images and values became an indivisible part of the mind and emotional life of various generations of readers. There is no intention here of portraying Ghalib as a philosopher or a Sufi. The purpose is to discover factors responsible for the transformation of Ghalib’s intellectual concerns related to respect for basic human instincts and human values into his poetry.

Let us set out on this voyage of discovery with the remark that there is no other Urdu poet as word-conscious as Ghalib. He believes in the independence of the word. He does not use words like masters use their slaves‎— lifeless tools of communication, such as the pen. He uses every word as a live, ever-expanding and evolving universe of meanings. The word is the magic talisman enunciation of which unearths buried treasures of meaning.

By doing so, Ghalib could create in his poetry infinite space for multiple meaningful intellectual layers. Second, Ghalib knew very well that a creation after it is created becomes independent of its creator; the meaning and impact of poetry are not governed by the intent and meaning the poet had in mind. That is, poetry is not the creation exclusively of the poet. The autonomous functioning of language and word also participate in the creation of meanings and, impacting on poetry, ultimately liberate it from the poet. The importance of words and their independence remains intact irrespective of whether the poet is aware of it or not. However, Ghalib was fully aware of these two notions. In other words, both are integral to his poetic sensibilities. It should be noted here that these considerations are applicable more to the ghazal. Due to the features of brevity and bal̅aghat (multiplicity of meanings) embedded in the ghazal, dominance of words in it is far more powerful as compared to the poem (nazm) and prose. The transformation of intellectual content into aesthetic value is due to these two notions. Ghalib, as we have seen, loves the word. That is why he has ignored taking full responsibility for what he expresses; much has been left to words. This is one of various factors underlying the complexity in his poetry.

ہے کہاں تمنا کا دوسرا قدم یا رب

ہم نے دشت امکاں کو ایک نقش پا پایا

hai kah̅an tamann̅a k̅a d̅usra qadam, ya Rab,

ham ne dasht-i imk̅an ko aik naqsh-i p̅a p̅ay̅a

{Where is the next step of Desire, O God? We have found the desert of contingency/ the possible (the universe), to be a mere footprint!}

The interplay featuring desire, the step of desire, the desert of possible creation, the footprint and the interrogative tone has created and remained for the last century and a half an unresolved mystery. One may even wonder whether Ghalib himself was aware of the meanings latent in this couplet. He himself, let us recall, has admitted to the autonomy of words. It is the word itself, he said, that entered into his poetry and asked his readers to treat each word as a talisman for uncovering a buried treasure of meanings.

گنجینۂ معنی کا طلسم اس کو سمجھیے

جو لفظ کہ غالب مرے اشعار میں آوے

ganjinah-yi ma‘n̅i k̅a tilism is ko samajhiye

jo lafz kih Ghalib mere ash‘̅ar me ̅ave

{Generally, the word tilism has been understood as magic and ganj̅inah as treasure. However, this is inadequate as they stand for much more. Ganj means treasure and ganj̅inah means a buried treasure. Tilism, here, is not simple magic but is a talisman—a magic formula on recitation of which the access to entrance to the buried treasure is revealed. Here, Ghalib is suggesting that every word that appears in his poetry represents multiple meanings.}

For the appreciation of Ghalib, we have to know the Delhi (Dehli or Dilli, the original names) of his time. The British occupation of Delhi in 1857 and the displacement of the symbolic Muslim empire was the beginning of the political domination of Western culture and decline of the political, social and cultural life of Muslims in India. They found that they were no more the rulers of the country but subjects of a foreign power. Gradually, they also realised that they and the Indian people were being required to put up with the political and administrative reforms being implemented by the colonial rulers and cope with the challenges of change posed by Western knowledge, as well. Nevertheless, Mughal cultural institutions and traditions kept struggling to maintain a proud posture of continuity. Some pillars of the otherwise decaying cultural structure remained standing. Delhi was still a vibrant centre of religious discussion, and academic and literary gatherings. Several high-calibre intellectuals, scholars, writers and poets, along with Ghalib, were keeping the Mughal cultural hub alive. Among his contemporaries, Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘aziz, Sh̅ah Ism̅a̅‘̅ill, Sh̅ah Saifuddin, Sh̅ah ‘Abdulq̅adir and Syed Ahmad Barelvi (all from the school of Shah Dalilah), Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi, Maul̅an̅a Sadarudd̅in ̅Azurdah and, among the poets, Sh̅ah Nas̅ir, Momin, Sheftah, ̅Atish, N̅asikh, Sahb̅a’̅i, represented the culture of Delhi and the North-Western Province. During this time, Dehli witnessed several political and violent pogroms. It was destroyed twice during the 1857 War. The ‘ulam̅a of north India, too were politically active. Maul̅an̅a Fa­zl-i Haq ­­K­hair̅ab̅adi, a close friend and intellectual colleague of Ghalib, Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz and several other ‘ulam̅a were engaged in activities against the British government. Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq was arrested and sent to the Andaman Islands where he died in prison. Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh used to go to the grand mosque of Delhi to attend the lectures of Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz. Sh̅ah Ism̅a ‘̅il had declared India the abode of war (

d̅ar al-harb). Among the Urdu poets, Momin Kh̅an Momin is reported to have joined the Vahh̅abi Movement of Syed Ahmad Barelvi.

We do not know much about Ghalib’s childhood in Agra, but we do know that he was not a serious student and often skipped school to play in the streets. At the age of thirteen he was married. School held no interest for him but he had a natural affinity for Persian language and literature. In those times, Persian was the cultural language of Muslims in northern India and was the main source-language for literature, history and other disciplines. He says in one of his letters that he got in touch with an Iranian scholar in Agra and from him learned a great deal about Persian language and literature, Islamic mysticism and Muslim philosophy. He also had some knowledge of astrology. However, his poetic intellect found itself more comfortable with the Sufi world view which had infinite space for philosophical experimentation. He loved Persian, the main source language of intellectually rich mystic poetry, and studied all the eminent Persian poets and their mystic themes (maz̅am̅in), their mystic experiences and their poetic treatments.

The present study is an attempt to get a sense of Ghalib’s intellectual concerns and the nature of the duality of poetic beauty and the complexities of meanings. Exploration of the philosophical flights of his imagination brought to light the duality of Ghalib’s life—hay̅at-i tab̅i ‘̅i (natural life) and hay̅at-ishe ‘r̅i (poetic life). Every great poet leads a dual life. But Ghalib’s poetic life is different from the poetic lives of other poets in the sense that it is not derived from mere concepts, emotions, and imagination, but is inhabited by certain ‘values’. The difference between his poetic life and natural life is like that between ‘value’ and ‘concept’. Both are as different from each other as concepts differ from values. While concepts are amenable to change in time, value remain unchanged. Concepts have a transitory existence within a particular duration of time while values, for their owner, are universal, timeless and spaceless. These are the values that have infused universalism, timelessness and spacelessness in Ghalib’s poetry. Understanding Ghalib, the thinker, was never easy; Ghalib, the poet was always there, deflecting attention to the fascinating beauty of his poetry. So far as Ghalib himself is concerned he is proud of his being a poet of meanings.

نہ رنجم گر بصورت ازگدایاں بودہ امغالب

بدارالملک معنی می کنم فرماروایہا

nah ranjam gar ba-s̅urat az gad̅ay̅an b̅udah am, Ghalib!

ba-d̅arul mulk-i ma‘n̅i mi kunam fam̅arav̅a’iha

{It does not matter if I look like one of the beggars, I rule over the capital of meanings.}


Cultural and Intellectual Discourse in Ghalib’s Dehli -A Brief Note


The fact is that an analysis of the psychological factors is made in the context of contemporary circumstances which shaped the direction of Ghalib’s poetic thinking, all studies of his personality and concepts would remain incomplete.” (Khal̅iq Ahmad Niz̅ami). 1

According to Niz̅am̅i, though Sh̅ah Val̅i̅ullah (1703-1763), Ghalib (1797-1869) and Syed Ahmad Kh̅an (1817-1898) belonged to the period of the decline of the Mughal Empire, the high quality of its academic, ethical and intellectual temperament cannot be ignored. At the time when the Battle of Plassey was being fought in Bengal, the madrasah of Shah Val̅i̅ullah was working as a centre of agnostic knowledge. As we have often reiterated above, decline of Mughal power had paradoxically proceeded with its becoming a most vibrant centre of scientific, cultural and intellectual activities that produced great thinkers like Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz, Syed Ahmad Shah̅id, Sh̅ah Muhammad Ism̅a’̅il, Syed Ahmad Kh̅an, Maul̅an̅a Maml̅uk ‘Ali, Mufti Sadrudd̅in ̅Azurdah and Momin Khan Momin. Ghalib was groomed in this intellectual environment which was gradually emerging as a meeting place of wisdom of the East and the West. Dilli College inaugurated a new era of modern knowledge. Referring to a letter of Ghalib to M̅ir Mahdi ‘Al̅i Majr̅uh, Niz̅am̅i says2 that while the centre of the cultural life of old Delhi was Hauz Shams̅i, the centre of the Mughal period was Dehli’s grand mosque. The stairs of this mosque did not lead only to the mosque but to vibrant social, cultural and literary festivities as well. It also served as a philosophical and intellectual platform for discussion, learning and teaching. There were numerous seminaries, hospices and mosques imparting academic and spiritual knowledge and training, with libraries full of precious books and manuscripts. Almost every wealthy person had a good library at home and those who could not afford to purchase books got them on hire. The kh̅anq̅ah of Sh̅ah Ghul̅am ‘Ali was the most visited one, attracting students from Rome, Syria, Baghdad, Egypt, China and Abyssinia for mystic and spiritual training. The other popular house was that of Sh̅ah Muhammad ̅Af̅aq. A distinguished mystic and scholar, Maul̅an̅a Fazlurrahm̅̅an Ganj Mur̅ad̅ab̅adi used to say that “there were two shops of love (‘ishq) in Dilli, one of Sh̅ah Gh̅ul̅am ‘Ali and the other of Sh̅ah Muhammad ̅Af̅aq where “the commodity of ‘ishq was sold”. Among pre-1857 movements of reforms were the political and social movement of Syed Ahmad Barelv̅i (1786-1831) which rapidly spread to all regions of north India. Another reform movement was the Far̅a’̅izi movement initiated by H̅aji Shar̅i‘atullah in Bengal in the early 19th century against innovations. This was taken forward later by his son, Kar̅amat ‘Ali Jaunp̅uri (b. 1800). He opposed declaration of India as D̅ar̅ulharb (abode of war).

It was followed by the War of Independence of 1857 which rudely shook the entire subcontinent out of false dreams. Indian Muslims were urgently looking for ways to cope with the terribly destructive new administrative, educational, economic and cultural measures being taken by the British imperial dispensation. Images of all these devastating consequences attendant on British initiatives are to be found in Ghalib’s letters along with glimpses of the intellectual environment, including the theological controversies in Delhi.

By the middle of the 19th century, Indian Muslims had realised that organisation of political resistance against the British colonizers was no more possible. During his early life in Agra and within five years of shifting to Delhi (1810 to 1821), when he was about twenty four, Ghalib had written all his Urdu poetry and had switched over to writing in Persian for about the next thirty years. The government’s policy of treating Muslims as its chief opponents and stripping them of their political status as rulers had created an atmosphere of insecurity. This totally new development was gradually affecting the social and political thinking of Muslim elite of Delhi. However, due to some complex factors (not sufficiently studied so far), there was no big impact of these monumental changes on the literary and religious-scholarly temperament of Delhi of which Ghalib was an integral part. He was deeply emotionally and intellectually engaging with the gradual emergence of various pressing concerns about mundane life around him as well as his agnostic analysis of concepts like the Being and beings. There is a clear influence of ‘Abdulq̅adir Bedil (died Dec. 5, 1729) on his poetry from the beginning, and this remained with him always either in his style or in his conceptual life.3 In the early period, this is very distinctly and powerfully discernible; later, critical remarks of Ghalib’s friends of his poetry being very difficult to understand saw him coming out of Bedil’s complex multi-meaning style of thinking and expression. Besides Bedil, there were two other schools of thought in Delhi that considerably influenced his thinking—the school of Sh̅ah Val̅i̅ullah which laid great attachment to Had̅̅is (the Messenger’s Traditions) and the Khair̅ab̅ad̅i school of contemplative sciences.

The Valiullahi school had a powerful impact on Muslim thought in the 19th century and continues to be a source of thought for thinkers of change. Sh̅ah Valiullah tried to reconcile the views of Ibn Arabi and Mujaddid Alf S̅ani on the theme of Vuj̅ud. According to Abdul Hamid Siddiqi4, Ibn Arabi appreciated the concept of Vujud (Being) in two ways: “it may be taken epistemologically as the cognized form or idea of existence, and, secondly, it may be taken ontologically to stand for that which exists or subsists and not for the idea of it”. Ibn Arabi says that all Being is One, an Absolute Unity and it does not mean that all individual beings—past, present or future‎—are essentially One Being. When he says all existence is one, he means all existence at source is one, that is to say, God is the one source and cause of all existence or substance. He says that “existent things have not the slightest touch of reality about them,” (Ghalib makes especial reference to this view of Ibn Arabi, see chapter, “Ghalib’s Existentialism”). Through the metaphor of the ‘mirror’ and the ‘image’, he says: “The phenomenal world is the mirror-image of the One Absolute reality…. and, the world is nothing but a pale reflection or emanation or mode of His attributes only.” 5

Mujaddid Alf S̅ani differed with him on two points; first, that the essence (z̅at) and attributes (sif̅at) of God are not identical; and second, the world is not the emanation of God’s attributes. He is independent of the existence of the created world. Sh̅̅ah Val̅iullah holds that there is no substantial difference between Vahdatul Vuj̅ud and Vahdatush Shuh̅ud and the difference, if any, is an illusion. The world is not an attribute or emanation of attributes but consists of non-emanative modes of attributes in the mirror of non-existence. He contends that in essence there is no difference between the doctrines of Ibn Arabi and of Mujaddid.

The other theological-mystical school was that of the Khair̅ab̅adi school of ma ‘q̅ul̅at (contemplative sciences), following a philosophical, rational and logical way of examining physical and metaphysical issues led, at that time, by the eminent intellectual, Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi. He was a respected intellectual friend of Ghalib. Fazl-i Haq was undoubtedly the second source, besides Bedil, of his liberal, unorthodox way of looking at realities. Sh̅ah Valiullah’s school was also connected with it but, later, Hadis, the Tradition of the Messenger, was adopted as its main point of study. It was Fazl-i Im̅am Khair̅ab̅adi, father of Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi, who revived this school which was getting less attention due to the Valiullahi preference for Had̅is. According to Shabbi̅r Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori, Syed Ahmad Kh̅an (of Aligarh) considered him master of all sciences and, virtually the founder of mantiq (logic) and hikmat (wisdom, rational thinking). To this school also belonged the eminent scholar, Sadrudd̅in Kh̅an ̅Azurdah.6

The Khair̅ab̅adi school impacted Ghalib through his close friend, Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅ad̅i. Possibly, Ghalib drew on Bedil for his free thinking. Shaikh Muhammad Ikr̅am suggests that he might have received existential concepts, first, from Bedil and, second, the absence of the traditional themes of love and beauty is another feature common to both the poets. The two theological schools of Khair̅ab̅ad and Sh̅ah Val̅iullah faced each other. The Khair̅ab̅adi school believed in Vahdatul Vuj̅ud while theVal̅iullahi school believed in the integration of both these concepts.

The academic discourse in Dehli in which Ghalib also participated included the issue of bida ‘ which was being hotly debated among the ‘ulam̅a in Dehli.7

There are two types of bida‘‎— those customs that were new but not against shari’ah (Islamic law) and were called good innovations (bida‘at-i hasanah), and the others that were new but were against the shari‘ah. New customs (rus̅um) were mostly those adopted by Indian Muslims from the cultures of different regions where they had been living for a long time. The customs during a long period of time became a part of their cultural life. Gradually, some of these became more powerful and influential than even the religious beliefs, so much so that if they were not in accordance with the shari‘ah, the ‘ulam̅a somehow tried to trace their justification in the Qur‘an and the had̅is. The ‘ulam̅a who did not agree with such justifications insisted on reforming those customs since the latter were not in line with the fundamental teachings of Islam. This is what happened to Muslim societies in India. One reason underlying these customs was that a majority of Muslims were converts from the local population who embraced Islam but, at the same time, did not abandon their customs and social traditions. The main objective of the 18th-century movement of Syed Ahmad Barelv̅i was giving up such customs, like prohibition of widow remarriage. Islam does not prohibit widow-remarriage while it was prohibited in Hindu society. Several similar customs were followed by Muslims and the ‘ulam̅a were divided on the validity of some of these customs. Shabb̅ir Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori has mentioned major issues and problems of this kind during Ghalib’s time:8

Ghalib too has also commented on them.9 Although, there is no direct evidence of Ghalib being aware of Sh̅ah Val̅iullhah’s philosophical thought, on several issues his views show the influence of the Val̅iullah̅i school, as is evident from his Masnavi Shashum. He was also deeply attached to Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi. In fact, temperamentally, Ghalib was more inclined towards the guidance of rational thinking, reason and intellect. Even as Sh̅ah Val̅iullah brought forth Had̅is in a prominent way, the influence of the contemplative sciences also increased through Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq. According to Shabb̅ir Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori, the following issues were being discussed in Delhi:10

Seeking the help of saints in material and spiritual matters:

The reformists considered this practice as against the teachings of the Qur ‘an but some other ‘ulam̅a and Sufi adherents justified it by citing certain verses of the Qur‘an. At that time, such customs were popular among Muslims.

Calling for help from any ‘other’ than God by using the word ‘Y̅a” while facing any difficulties:

The reformers objected to it and considered calling anyone other than God for help in this manner, as shirk ((شرک, associating some other with God).

Celebrating anniversaries at the mausoleums of Sufi saints:

Reformers were not in favour of such celebrations which amounted to worship.

Imtin̅a‘ un naz̅ir / امتناع النظیر:

Another controversial issue was whether God is competent to create another world and for it another last Messenger.

These were the customs and concepts which Ghalib selected for comment in his Masnavi Shashum. Shabb̅ir Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori mentioned some other controversial customs related to ways of offering prayers etc. Some were not discussed in public but at the meetings of ‘ulam̅a and in schools and featured questions like, whether logic could be included as one of the sciences in the hikmah. Another was the concept of Time. Connected to these two were issues of dahr (eternal duration) in which eternity in the past (azal) is in constant union with eternity in the future (abad) and sarmad (endless, perpetual). As some of his couplets show, Ghalib was aware of the transmutation of these four elements into each other as also complex issues like time, essences, elements, existence and existents. Ghalib is perhaps the first Urdu poet to show great interest in intricate philosophical issues of this sort. Shabb̅ir Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori is of the view that scepticism (tashk̅ik), one of the contentious issues among the Muslim philosophers, was discussed in Ghalib’s time and he was influenced by it.11 His entire poetry is, in fact, the poetry of raising questions. At the same time, though, describing existence (hast̅i) as non-existing and doubting its reality need not be taken as scepticism but a sort of expression of certainty.

The central issue dominating his poetic life was that of ‘existence’ (vuj̅ud), a concept common to both philosophy and Sufism. It has also been a dominant intellectual element in the tradition of Persian and Urdu poetry. Ghori states that during the 18th and 19th centuries this issue was a subject of discussion in the learned circles of Dehli. Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi had written a 74-page treatise on Q̅azi Mub̅arak’s Sharh-i Sullamul‘ul̅um. It shows how much importance was attached to this issue.12 He believes that both Ghalib and the Maul̅an̅a must have exchanged views on it. In any case, Ghalib remained fully involved as a poet in concepts like vuj̅ud (existence), imk̅an (probabilities), a‘y̅an-i s̅abitah (the eternal essences of things which, together, form the world of ideas or the spiritual that is intermediary between God and the material world of sensible phenomena), zuh̅ur (manifestation) and ishr̅aq (illuminism). In the following chapters some of these intellectual concerns will be analysed.13

Ghalib on His Life and His God

زندگی اپنی جب اس شکل سے گزری غالب!

ہم بھی کیا یاد کریں گے کہ خدا رکھتے تھے

zindagi apni jab is shakl se guzri, Ghalib!

ham bhi ky̅a y̅ad karenge kih Khud̅a rakhte the

{ The way I lived my life, how could I remember that I too had a God?)

There are three ways of accessing Ghalib— his Urdu poetry, Persian poetry and his letters. He himself describes the nature of these three ways; he does not consider Urdu poetry a medium effective enough for expressing his personality; considers Persian poetry as the source of all colours of his multi-dimensional personality; and his letters as means of unfolding or conveying this manifold personality through recounting everyday experiences. By 1857, his poetic and non-poetic life had reached its final stage. The creative sufferings he had endured during 1857 destruction of the prevailing system of values and the

birthpangs of new values, had perhaps proved unmanageable to his poetic instincts and that is why he henceforth considered the prose of letters as a more effective mode of self-expression. Although it cannot be said with certainty that he made this decision deliberately, he did think that what he wanted to say in those times could be said only through letters. What is common in the poetry and the letters which makes this plausible? There is one thing—conversation. In fact, if the whole poetic narrative of Ghalib is described as poetic conversation, rather than a poetic narrative, it helps reveal several layers of his poetics. His conversations were not with one but several persons including the addresser and the addressee. He would appear always talking to someone, asking questions and, sometimes, answering questions. He questions himself, his beloved; God, the universe, the existent and the non-existent; agnostics and rationalists; religious, political, economic authorities or symbols of authorities; traditional and anti-traditional values and so on. Every time and everywhere he is found conversing. This he describes as transforming communication (mara̅sala) into conversation, dialogue (muk̅alamah, guftugu).1

Before Ghalib, only the letter-writer’s presence was noticed. From the beginning of the 19th century, the presence of the addressee became more and more visible because of the great emotional and intellectual changes in the Urdu societies of north India under the impact of British imperialism. The period between 1857 and 1869 was an epic experience of passing into a quite different era and culture‎—an experience that occurs in nations once in several centuries. This change can be felt in Ghalib’s letters. The increase in the presence of the addressee in north India was due to the phenomenal changes taking place in Muslim and non-Muslim societies and homes. Till that time, they lived in numerous cities and villages bound by specific, fixed social and cultural relationships, customs and traditions. Paradoxically, undeveloped means of transport had provided full freedom for these villages and towns to develop their own cultural identities quite independent of each other. This socio-historical factor provided environments for the development of the Urdu language, diction, proverbs and styles of prose and poetry in Lucknow and Delhi with their distinct features so much so that they acquired the status of two distinct schools of Urdu literature in the 19th and the 20th centuries. Postal communication among these cities was, also, infrequent and exchange of letters took a long time. This time- and social- distance between letter-writers made the nature of a letter one-sided; that is, there was not much need of letter-writing from the addresser to the addressee. The Urdu societies of north India were, to a large extent, independent of each other. The ‘ulam̅a, writers, poets, teachers, government officers and different institutions and newspapers had created for these societies environments for transforming themselves into independent intellectual and literary units. Visiting each other, maintaining personal contacts, various festivals, poetic symposiums, and literary gatherings, had helped these societies remain psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally intact. It is difficult to guess as to what extent the newspapers published from various cities would have brought the literary circles closer to each other. However, during the second half of the 19th century, more than the newspapers and journals, letters performed this function. The letters are an important source of the thought-currents in that period. These letters generally deal with non-literary, social, political and religious issues and figures, like the ‘ulam̅a of Dehli, Lakhnow, Patna, Allahabad, Lahore, Bhopal, Haidarabad or the letters of Syed Ahmad Kh̅an of Aligarh and Muhsin-ul-Mulk of Haidar̅ab̅ad, especially those that were published in Aligarh Institute Gazette, Tahz̅ibul-Akhl̅aq or in the Urdu newspapers of north India. Poets and other litterateurs in the main however, ignore use of letters for communications of their thoughts. In that period, Ghalib seems to have been a stand-out exception. It is interesting to note that his letters written to friends, disciples and patrons, were becoming famous and there was a clamour for their publication materialising in two collections—‘Ud -i Hindi and Urdu-yi Mu‘all̅a.

A study of letters written between 1847 and 1869 (when he was 53) show that: (i) Ghalib started writing letters when he was almost done with his poetic life and collections of his Urdu and Persian poetry were published; (ii) he had realized that his life as a poet has reached culmination and letter-writing was now to be his mode of self-expression; (iii) if, during this period, his emotional and intellectual personalities are studied closely one would find that he was a man who had passed through all stages of desires, unfulfilled wishes, failures and deprivations, had measured and identified all of his poetic and non-poetic dimensions and had, also, intellectually confirmed all poetic experiences related to religion, the world, and the afterworld. In short, he had achieved full control over looking at himself as the other and; (iv) in impelling him to take up letter-writing, the Revolution of Delhi played a major role. The ruthlessness and speed with which British imperialism had destroyed Delhi and its culture has no parallel in Indian history. Most probably, Ghalib continued to write letters in order to record the destruction of Delhi. His pen has ensured that they are now securely housed as literary classics. Before turning to his narration of atrocities visited on Dehli by British imperialism, let us see how he describes his own pathetic life during that period. The murder of Delhi relates to the style of letter-writing that Ghalib describes as ‘conversation ‘or dialogue (muk̅alamah). Heart-to-heart communication is possible only through conversation, which is a key feature of his letter-writing. If anyone else comes closer to this style, it is Syed Ahmad Kh̅an of Aligarh, with the difference that Syed Ahmad was not in need of any friend. The addressees he needed were those who could help him in his social mission. Ghalib’s case is different. He always revelled in friendship. In his letters, more than himself his addressee would be revealed moving around, laughing, talking, consoling, and so on. There is no distance visible between him and his addressee. Both would converse about each other and would not deliver sermons.

There is no doubt that Ghalib had started letter-writing without thought of publication or of being recognised as a prose stylist. He had started writing letters after he could no longer write poetry. It was, perhaps, in order to bear the agony of inability to write poetry that he took up letter-writing as a creative compulsion. Letters could recreate the world lost forever. “I am thirsty for dialogue. When two persons are at a distance, conversing is possible only through the language of pen.” 2 For about the next twenty-two years, in his letters, he kept talking, thinking and feeling, going through intense torments and praying for his death. Letters have almost replaced his poetry. The credit for elevating the status of letter-writing by creating a literary genre of it goes to him. The loving care with which he would write letters, make covers, date every letter in the Christian era, and then post them, was unique for a respected poet of those times. He also used the device of sending letters unstamped to ensure safe delivery. “There are few chances of letters being lost. I am the founder of this custom. I am sending this letter unstamped. You should also do this.”3 For him, physical, spiritual and emotional torments were a given condition and he accepted them with equanimity. In his letter to ‘Abdurrazz̅aq Sh̅akir, he says that writing letters in Persian has been discontinued and he now uses only Urdu and expresses satisfaction that collections of his Persian books, treatises and letters had already been published and reached all regions. He prays for the appreciation of these collections by the learned. “If God so wished, my name would remain till the Day of Judgment.”4 So even as the curtain has rung down on Ghalib the poet, it has risen to uncover him as a commentator on, and chronicler of, cultural, social and political events. Here, unlike his verse compositions, he is more blunt in his comments on all issues. He is neither pious nor evil, neither religious nor atheist, worldly nor spiritual, poor nor wealthy, Sufi nor reveller. Ghalib is neither in the determinist nor freewill camp. He is both rational as well as anti-rational; he claims nothing. He worships neither women nor images; he is all this and insists that his addressees and other readers of letters should treat him as possessing all these qualities. A reading of these letters is a sort of exercise in uncovering veils of suffering, of becoming familiar with them and ignoring them because all these seem to have settled into a new normal. Our intention is to learn through the letters his outlook on life.

Ghalib’s poetry, as a whole, is a world of bewilderment. This quality is present in his letters as well, with the difference that here the bewilderment is not of his imagination but of his personality. He is to be studied through his social, political, literary, mental, and emotional life during the Rebellion and beyond: days and nights, hygiene and grooming, prison, lack of money, loans, liquor, gambling, royal court, the sight of his friends hanged in the streets of Delhi; his views on disciples, nobles, rulers, British officers, Queen Victoria, publishers, private bankers and so on. Looking inward, he not only feels and sees himself, but is empowered by separating himself from himself. Ghalib has made it possible to see himself as ‘the other’ of himself. This is, in fact, a process of creation of a twin of himself. Poetry is a process of separating one’s own self from one’s material existence. But to be able to see and feel oneself as ‘the other’ from a distance and also to describe it demands extraordinary intellectual robustness and emotional detachment. Ghalib’s twin is just like one of thousands of people living in Delhi and, like them, targeted by unfamiliar revolutions, passing through the dark shadows of the agony of loneliness, insults, fear and horrible sufferings. The erstwhile poet, Ghalib, now conveys in his letters to disciples, patrons and friends all the cruelty, ruthlessness, and savagery he witnesses. Ghalib retains in his letters both the bewilderment and the enchantment of his poetry while observing the spectacle of mundane and spiritual agony. As to the atrocities of the British, one could also see the other dimension, namely, harbingers of democracy and modernism. Ghalib’s Dastanbo and his letters are the most authentic documents of the 1857 destruction of Delhi. We will analyse two themes occurring in the letters. First, the poet Ghalib’s struggle to accommodate his experiences of the hard realities of life with his own intellectual perceptions of life and, second, his experiences of the 1857 revolution.

His encounters with life:

A wife, two children, three or four other persons in the house, Kallu, Kalyan, and Ayaz from outside, the wife and children of Madari, Ghaman, etc., about twenty persons more for whom food has to be provided‎—am always concerned as to how to arrange it. I am a man and not a ghost—how could I bear so much sufferings… I am an old man, unable to go anywhere; no one visits me. I used to go to the royal court and receive robes of honour. That is not possible now. I am neither popular nor condemned, neither innocent nor accused, neither useless nor useful.” (in a letter to Yusuf Mirz̅a, Nov. 28, 1859)

You are asking for new poetry…. Love-poetry is as distant from me as unbelief is from belief—when I was a court bard, I used to write eulogies for the king or other nobles and receive robes of honour. Robes have now ceased and so has eulogy‎—neither ghazal nor eulogy, satire nor lampooning is my principle.” (in a letter to Mirz̅a H̅atim ‘Ali Mehr, July 2, 1860)

Except for the recollection of talent in writing poetry perfected over fifty or fifty-five-years, no energy now is left in me. Whenever I come across any piece of my poetry or of prose, it surprises me and I wonder how could I have written such poetry and prose!” (to Chaudhri ‘Abdulghaf̅ur, Nov. 1860)

On receiving five hundred rupees from his friend, Hargopal Taftah, he writes: “My dear, after paying for various expenses, only hundred or hundred and fifty will remain with me. The unpaid interest of the banker is about fifteen or sixteen hundred. The hundred rupees sent by B̅ab̅us̅ahab were paid to the English businessman for that thing which is prohibited in my religion and permitted in your religion!”

On publication of his books, he writes, “I do not have anything to eat nor wine to drink. How can I publish books? It is winter and I do not have any quilt.” (to M̅ir Mahdi Majr̅uh, Oct. 1858)

He even had to dispose of a foreign hookah and a shawl to meet expenses. (to Hargopal Taftah, July 18, 1858)

His early years;

He was five when he lost his father and his uncle when he was nine. As inheritors of the latter’s lands, he and some others, were fixed a sum of ten thousand annually. But he was given only three thousand a year. His appeals to the British government received no response. Among benefactors, the king of Dehli fixed fifty rupees per month, his successor made it Rs. 400 per year, but that was discontinued. ‘I am, also, unable to write any panegyric of anyone for some reward,’ writes Ghalib. (to Chaudhri ‘Abdulghaf̅ur, Nov. 1860)

Listen! There are two worlds‎— the world of spirit and the world of matter. The ruler of both is One, and has asked: “Whose shall be the kingdoms of his day (Judgement Day)? and has Himself given the answer: ‘That of the one God, the All-Powerful.’ Though it is the general rule that those who sin in this world of earth and water receive their punishment in the world of the spirits, it has sometimes happened that those who have sinned in the world of spirits are sent to undergo punishment in this world. Thus, I, on the 8th Rajab, 1212 A.H. was sent here to stand trial. I was kept waiting in the cells for sixteen years, and then on the 7th Rajab, 1228 A. H. I was sentenced to life-imprisonment. A chain (Ghalib’s wife) was fastened to my feet, and the city of Delhi has been designated my prison. I was confined there, and condemned to the hard labour of composing prose and verse. After some years, I escaped from prison and ran away to the east (Calcutta) where I roamed at liberty for three years. In the end, I was apprehended in Calcutta and brought back and thrown into the same jail. Seeing that I would try to escape again, they fettered my hands as well. (The two boys whom Ghalib adopted as ‘grandsons’). The fetters chafed my ankles, and the handcuffs wounded my wrists. My prescribed hard labour became a greater burden to me, and my strength departed from me, and still handcuffed, ran off, leaving my fetters in a corner of my cell. By way of Meerat and Muradabad, I made my way to Rampur. A few days short of two months had passed when I was apprehended and brought back again. Now, I have promised not to run away again. And, how can I? I no longer have the strength. I now await the order of my release. When will it come? There is just a possibility that I may be freed this very month, Zil Hij, 1277 A.H. (Ghalib had prophesied that he would die in 1277). But be that as it may, a man released from jail makes straight for home, and I too, when deliverance comes, will go to the world of spirits.’ (to Chaudhri‘Abdulghaf̅ur, Nov. 1860)

I am about seventy years. I did not get any return from poetry except rewardless fame. Received nothing except admiration from the elite.” (to Munshi Hab̅ibullah Zuk̅a, August 26, 1863)

In a letter he gives details of monetary help extended to him from different sources: ‘from aunt for bread, from Kh̅an, the ruler of Alwar; sometimes mother sends some money from Agra; sixty-two rupees from the collectorate; a hundred from Rampur; monthly interest is to the banker. Payment to watchman, wife, children, while the income is the same, Rs.160. How to meet expenses? How to manage? He cut short his daily meals and gave up drinking. (to ‘Al̅audd̅in Ahmad Kh̅an, July 27, 1862)

I am only a yak-fana (having a single art/skill) man. By my faith, I did not receive the recognition I deserved. The demands of bohemianism, free-thinking and of kindness which God has endowed me could not be realised. I am not physically able to hold a stick in hand with a cotton carpet and a mug hanging from it and start travelling to Shir̅az, Egypt or to Najaf. Nor can I afford to host the world, or if not of the whole world, at least do not want to see anyone hungry or naked. Ignore my poetry or my intellectual prowess–if there is one who could not see anyone begging and who himself is begging from one place to another place, ‎that is me!” (to Mirz̅a ‘Al̅audd̅in Ahmad Kh̅an, Feb. 13, 1865)

The letters referred to were written between 1848 and 1869. In that period Ghalib’s health continued to deteriorate. The timeline of his ailments is as follows:

1855: age 58: lost teeth, became deaf, hands trembling

1857: age 60: deterioration in eyesight, loss of memory

1859: age 62 years: attack of colic

1863; age 66: blood infection, sores, inflammation in the feet

1864: 67: conditions worsened, especially memory loss

1867: age 70: total loss of hearing, communication through writing, two men carry him from room to hall and back.

1868: age 71: loss of sight in one eye, dictating letters to others.

1869: Writes to ‘Al̅audd̅in Kh̅an a day before his passing away, “Why do you ask me about my health, find out from my neighbours in a day or two.”

The following are his narratives of and comments on his conditions, his life and experiences as a poet, etc.:

Look at me! I am neither free nor captive, neither healthy nor ill, neither happy nor sad, neither alive nor dead. Going on living. Would die when death calls. No thanksgiving, no complaints. What I said is just like a story.” (to Mirz̅a Hargopal Taftah, Dec.19, 1858)

Mentioned above was Ghalib’s tendency to see and show himself as a total ‘other’/ ghairغیر/ . In fact, this is how he himself describes it: “Currently, not to speak of the people, I have lost every hope of any response from God. Have become my own spectator. I enjoy suffering and insults. That is, I have conceptualised myself as my own ‘other’. When I suffer, I say ‘Ghalib has received another hit. Was very proud of himself, of being a great poet and a Persian scholar. There is no one like me in the world. The truth is that with the death of Ghalib died an atheist, an unbeliever. Do you have any answer to your lender? You considered yourself a Salj̅uq̅i and an Afr̅asi̅abi.What is this disrespect being shown to you? Do you have any answer? You are shameless. You go on taking liquor from the kothi, flowers from the florist, cloth from the cloth merchant, and money from the moneylender without a thought of how to pay them back!” (to Mirz̅a Qurb̅an ‘Ali Baig S̅alik)

At a young age, Ghalib had already won recognition as a distinguished poet. Sixty years later, he was passing through the agony of not being able to write any poetry. This was a period of extreme loneliness, of not having any intellectual companionship.

He did not know what to do about it:

There is no patron in Hindust̅an to join with, and break away from the existing group that lacks respect. My asset is my poetry and that has no buyer. I have wasted my whole life. I did not pay attention to singing from which I could earn my bread in that profession. Once, a friend of mine feeling sorry for me remarked that I should have been born in the times of Akbar and Sh̅ahjah̅an. I said, by God, I would have been neglected and insulted in those times too.’ (to N̅uro ‘Ali Kh̅an Bahaur, tr. Partau Rohilah)

Do you know that the climax of hopelessness demands giving up all things? My climax of hopelessness is that I am living hoping for death and freedom from any desire. Have about two or two and a half years more to live and would pass through it.” (to Ghul̅am Ghaus Kh̅an Be-Khabar)

These letters show that eight or nine years before his death, Ghalib was living without any financial support and the Delhi society was too engulfed in a state of mental, psychological, and economic chaos to care about him. The prose period of Ghalib was one of the high points of his creativeness and, at the same time, it was also a period of decline of his poetic life.

Poetic decline:

My poetic compositions were never with me. Nav̅ab Zi̅audd̅in Kh̅an and Nav̅ab Husain Mirz̅a used to copy them and preserve them. The houses of both were looted. Libraries worth thousands of rupees were destroyed. Now, I eagerly long to see my poetry. A few days before, a beggar with a melodious voice got hold of a ghazal from somewhere. He showed it to me. I cried.” (to ‘Abdurrazz̅aq Sh̅akir) It was a popular ghazal with the first couplet as follows:

درد منت کش دوا نہ ہوا

میں نہ اچھا ہوا برا نہ ہوا

dard minnat-kash-i dav̅a nah huv̅a

main nah achh̅a huv̅a bur̅a nah huv̅a

{Pain did not need favour of any medicine,
it was good that I did not recover.}

(to H̅atim‘Ali Mehr, Nov. 1858)

Writing poetry has no value:

Listen my friend: in poetry, Firdausi; in ascetic devotion, Hasan of Basrah; and in love Majn̅un—these three are the prominent leaders in these three arts. The high point of a poet’s attainment is to become Firdausi; that of an ascetic achievement is to rival Hasan of Basrah; and the ideal of a lover is to match Majn̅un.” 3

When ‘Urfi, an eminent Persian poet (1556-1591), could not get anything from the fame of his panegyric, how would publishing of my panegyrics benefit me? Everything‎—poetry, prose, or panegyric‎—is illusion and non-existent except God. Nothing exists except Allah.” (to Hargop̅al Taftah, Jan. 20, 1861)

I have now ceased to be a poet; I am reduced to being only an appreciator of poetry—when I see my past poetry, I wonder how I could have written it!” (to Hargop̅al Taftah, April 12, 1858)

Writing eulogistic poetry:

During Ghalib’s era, writers, artists, and intellectuals were patronized by the ruling class and the well-to-do. This class, proud of its wealth, considered writers and the poets as dependants and sought their praise in return for social and financial sustenance. Ghalib was a part of this culture and was compelled to seek help from this very class of people and did so all his life. His relations with the royalty and the rich were alike. Apart from panegyrics, all his correspondence with them consists of narratives of his illnesses, poverty, and difficulties. The exaggerations in his panegyrics invited allegations of flattery and opportunism from a section of his commentators. Undoubtedly, the panegyrics contain extravagant titles and expressions way beyond what was required. How this should be construed? As his poetry proper or pleas for financial help? Do they represent the inner feelings of Ghalib or merely the conventions of the imperial culture of that period?

In fact, Ghalib himself hated heaping such praise on patrons. Regarding a person in whose praise he had written a panegyric, he said that the person concerned had no clue about this genre of Urdu poetry. (to Hargop̅al Taftah). Writing panegyrics to please an influential person in expectation of a favour or monetary benefit was not a real tribute but merely a convention. It also happened that a panegyric written for a particular person was modified for another person. Ghalib had also done so.4 He requested financial support to meet meagre day-to-day expenditure. Again, he considered such help not only as financial help but as a recognition of his high status as a poet. In case there was no such recognition indicated, he retracted, in a way, his panegyric. “Since the person did not care to appreciate my praise, I too have decided not to include it in my collection of poetry.” (to Tafazzulhusain Khair̅ab̅adi. tr. Partau Rohilah) Similarly, in a panegyric he replaced his addressee, the King Amjad ‘Ali Sh̅ah, (after his death), with another King, V̅ajid ‘Ali Sh̅ah. (letter to Y̅usuf Mirz̅a) In another letter, he clarifies his position saying that in spite of his low social status, he enjoyed respect in his own circle, was appreciated by the Mughal Emperor and the Governor General and also received written appreciation, among others, from Ab̅u Zafar Sir̅ajudd̅in Bah̅adur B̅adsh̅ah and James Thomson of Akbarabad. He requested that he should not be considered a flatterer. He was, in a way, ‘wealthy within his poverty’. He did not flatter kings and princes. (to Tafazzul Husain Kh̅an, tr. Partau Rohilah). In his Masnavi Abr-i Guharb̅ar, he has described how he looked at persons who were the subjects of his praise.:

بہاران و من در غم برگ و ساز

در خانہ ا زبینوائی فراز

بنا سازگاری زہمسا یگان

بسرمایہ جوئی زبیما یگان

سر از منَتِ ناکسان زیر خاک

لب از خاکبوس خسان چاک چاک

بدان عمر ناخوش کہ من داشتم

ز جان خار در پیرہن داشتم

bah̅ar̅an v man dar gham-i barg v s̅az

dar-i khanah az be-nav̅a’̅i far̅az

bin̅a s̅azg̅ari ze hams̅ayag̅an

ba-sarm̅ayah ju’̅I ze be-m̅ayeg̅an

sar az minnat-i n̅akas̅an zer-i kh̅ak

lab az kh̅akbos-i khas̅an ch̅ak ch̅ak

ba-d̅an ‘umr-I n̅a-khush kih man d̅ashtam

ze j̅an kh̅ar dar pairahan d̅ashtam

{Springtime, me suffering from want of food; sometimes a target of neighbours’ ire, sometimes forced to beg for money from mean persons, sometimes burdened with the favour of mean and dishonest people…. I have lived a distressful life as if, in me, there is not a soul but a thorn.}

1857 Rebellion:

Ghalib’s immediate reactions to the 1857 destruction of Delhi are available in his letters, in verses and in his diary, Dastanbo.

To Hargop̅al Taftah: 5

Do you understand what has happened, and what is going on? There was a former birth in which you and I were friends, and all the many things that happen between close friends happened between us. We composed our verses and compiled our diwans. In that age there was a gentleman who was our sincere friend my friend and ours. Munshi Nabi Baksh was his name, and ‘Haqir’ his takhallus. Suddenly that age came to an end, and all the friendly dealings and sincerity and love and joy ended with it. After a while we received another birth. But, although to all appearances this birth is exactly like the first one‎—I write a letter to Munshi NabiI Bakhsh S̅ahab and receive the reply, and today I get a letter from you, and your name is still Munsh̅i Hargop̅al and your takhallus Taftah, and the city I live in is still called Dehli and the muhallahو but not one of the friends of the former birth is to be found. By God, you may search for a Muslim in the city and you would not find one rich, poor, and artisans alike are gone.

But for that I should have been in Dehli now. Do not think I am exaggerating. Everyone, rich and poor alike, has left the city, and those who did not leave of their own accord have been expelled. Nobles, grant-holders, wealthy persons, artisans none are left. I am afraid to write you a detailed account. Those who were in the service of the Fort are being drastically dealt with, and are harassed with interrogations and arrestsbut that is only those who entered the service of the Court during these months and took part in the revolt. I am a poor poet, attached to the Court for the last ten to twelve years for writing chronograms and correcting verses—call it Court service if you like, or call it wage-labour. In this upheaval I have had no part in any matter of policy. I simply carried on with my verse-correcting, and considering that I was innocent of any offence, I have not left the city. The authorities know that I am here, but they have found nothing against me either in the royal papers or in the statements of informers, and accordingly I have not been summoned to appear before them. Otherwise, when high-ranking nobles have been summoned or arrested, of what account am I? In short, I sit in the house and cannot as much as step outside, much less get into the palanquin and go visiting. As for anyone coming to see me, who is there left in the city? House after house lies deserted, and the punishment of offenders goes on. Martial law was clamped down on May 11, and is still in force today Saturday 5th December 1857. No one knows how life will go on in the city. In fact, the authorities have not even turned their attention to such things. Let us see what will come of it all. No one enters or leaves the city without permit. On no account should you think of coming here. We must still wait and see whether Muslims are permitted to return to their houses in the city or not. Anyway, give my regards to Munshi Sahib and show him this letter. Your letter has just come, and I have sat down and replied to it right away and given it to the postman.

As for me, I have forgotten how to write poetry, and forgotten all the verses I ever wrote tooor rather, all except a couplet-and-a-half of my Urdu verse, that is, one final couplet of a ghazal, and one line. This is the couplet. Whenever my heart sinks within me it comes to my lips and I recite it‎—-five times, ten timesover and over again!”

زندگی اپنی جب اس شکل سے گزری غالب!

ہم بھی کیا یاد کریں گے کہ خدا رکھتے تھے

zindagi apni jab is shakl se guzri, Ghalib!

ham bhiky̅a y̅ad karenge keh Khud̅a rakhte the

{The way I lived my life, how could I remember that I too had a God?}

And when I sense the end of my life, I recite this line to myself:

O sudden death, why are you delaying?’

And I relapse into silence. Do not think that it is grief for my own misery or my own ruin that is choking me. I have a deeper sorrow, so deep that I cannot attempt to tell you, and can only hint at. Among the English whom those nefarious black scoundrels slaughtered, some were the focus of my bosom companions, and some my pupils in poetry. Among the Indians some were my kinsmen, some my friends, some my pupils and some whom I loved. And all of them are laid down in dust. How grievous it is to mourn one’s loved ones. What must his life be like who has to mourn so many? Alas! So many of my friends are dead now that if I should die there will be none to weep for me. “Verily we are from God, and verily to him we shall return.”


Ghalib’s Religious Concerns

ہم موحد ہیں‘ ہمارا کیش ہے ترکِ رسوم

ملتیں جب مٹ گئیں اجزاے ایماں ہو گئیں

ham muvahhid hain, ham̅ar̅a kaish hai tark-i rus̅um

millaten jab mit gai’̅in, ajz̅a-yi ̅im̅an hoga’̅in

{We are unitarians, our motto is renunciation of religious rituals; when ideological differences are effaced, they become parts of pure faith.}

Ghalib’s mystical tendencies have been discussed separately. Here, his thought on issues related to religion as reflected in his letters is being analysed. He has fully explained his religious and Sufi personality in his letter of 1864 to ‘Al̅a ‘udd̅in Kh̅an. He says that becoming famous by teaching some street-children or having a glance at the treatises of Im̅am Ab̅u Han̅ifah for issues dealing with women is one thing and to have an insight into the essence of Existential Unity is another. A mushrik (associator) is one who regards Being as common to Vajib (Necessary Being) and the mumkin (possible). “I am a pure Unitarian (muvahhid-i kh̅alis) and a perfect man of faith (momin-i k̅amil). On my tongue is, ‘there is no God except Allah’, while my heart believes in ‘there is no existence except Allah (l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah)’, and nothing is functional in existence except Allah (l̅a muassir fi’al-vuj̅ud ill̅a Allah). All messengers are to be respected and all in their own times were to be obeyed. Messengership came to an end with Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). He is the last of the messengers and Mercy to all worlds. The end of messengership is the beginning of Im̅amat. Im̅amat is not by consensus but it is from Allah. Ali is the Im̅am designated by Allah, then Hasan, then Husain until Im̅am Mahdi. And, (I concede) I consider the concept of all things as belonging to all (ib̅ahat) and heresy (zandaqah) as condemned and drinking as prohibited (har̅am).

The views mentioned above lead to the following points:

  1. The study of Islam is essentially the study of Unity of Being.

  2. The legal and jurisprudential interpretation of Islam does not represent Islam in its totality. Only search by seekers of Unity of Being and their experiences and impressions can perform this task.

  3. Shirk

Shirk fit-Tauh̅id: Existence resides only in the Vajib (Necessary Being) and not in the Mumkin (the Possible). Those who think that Existence resides in both the Necessary and the Possible are believers in two Beings — Allah and that which is Besides Allah, that is, the existing world.

Shirk fir-Ris̅alat : To believe in some person other than the Messenger as the Final Messenger.

Shirk fi al-Im̅amat : To believe in someone as Im̅am other than the twelve Im̅ams up to Mahdi.

I am a pure Unitarian (muvahhid-i kh̅alis) and a perfect man of faith (momin-i k̅amil). On my tongue is, ‘there is no God except Allah’ and my heart believes in, ‘there is no existence except Allah (l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah)’ and nothing is functional in existence except Allah (la muassir fi al-vuj̅ud ill̅a Allah). Here Ghalib is making a distinction between the verbal and sincere (of heart) commitment to Tauhid. This distinction is essentially the distinction between two interpretations of Tauhid, that is, between believers and non-believers inVahdatul-Vuj̅ud. Ghalib is a believer in Vahdatul-Vuj̅ud, but here, through his declaration of l̅a il̅aha by the tongue, is fulfilling the condition of being a Muslim; in his heart, however, he claims that nothing exists except God and if any other existence is felt that also indicates God.

7. Nabi / نبی (Messenger): All Messengers are to be obeyed in their respective eras. The Messenger of Islam is the last Messenger and a ‘Mercy for the Worlds’ (Rahmat al-lil- ‘̅Alam̅in).

8.Im̅amat: First, Ghalib signifies a relationship between messengership (nubuvvat) and im̅amat similar to that between maqta‘ (the last couplet of a ghazal mentioning the nom de plume (takhallus) of the poet) and (matla‘), the first couplet of a ghazal. Ghalib is using these two not as poetic terms but in a literal sense. That is, the point where nubuvvat comes to an end is the point of emergence of im̅amat, which is to say, im̅amat is potentially present in nubuvvat. Second, Ghalib does not recognize any break between the end of nubuvvat and the beginning of im̅amat, during which the process of ijm̅a‘ (consensus among the Muslims for the election of a successor to the Messenger) and the institution of Khil̅afat started. In other words, im̅amat is not created by any human agency—it is by Allah (min al- Allah). As such, after the Messenger, Ali became the Im̅am and then, Hasan, Husain, up to Mahdi. This letter, written in 1864, clearly shows Ghalib as belonging to the Im̅am̅iyah (Shi‘ah) sect.


Ghalib concedes that drinking is prohibited in Islam (har̅am) and, at the same time, admits to his being a drunkard—not something to be proud of but as a sin for which he deserves the punishment of hell. But, here also, he creates an excuse for being rewarded by saying that he would be put in hell in order to make the fire hotter for non-believers in the Messenger’s nubuvvat and the im̅amat of Ali!

His first letter mentioning his being a Shi‘ah was written in September,1857, and addressed to his Shi‘ah friend, Mirz̅a H̅atim ‘Ali Mehr. All good actions and the appearance of hope are cited by him as enjoying the blessings of ‘Ali. (See also his letter to Nav̅ab Y̅usuf Mirz̅a mentioning his fruitful meeting with the commissioner of Dehli.) In another letter to ‘Abdul Razz̅aq, he made a similar statement.

The problem with Ghalib is that he has his own world of facts and truths; while he insists on his being a Shi‘ah, he is also averse to be being bound by commitment to any faith and sect.

Whether any one believes it or not, human beings whether Muslim or Hindu or Christian are all dear to me and I consider them as my brothers.” (letter to Har Gopal Taftah) In another letter to ‘Al̅a’udd̅in Ahmad Kh̅an, in response to his requests for sending certain compositions of his poetry, he does not mind swearing not only by the Qur‘an, but also by the Bible, the Old Testament, the Zub̅ur, the four Vedas of the Hindus and the Das̅atir. Again, he reminds Mir Mahdi Majr̅uh about praying regularly in the mosque and sometimes fasting. He refers in various letters to his being a Muslim. In his poetic life, Ghalib had been mentioning his deprivations in terms of experiences, but, in prose these sometimes turn into frustrations. He says (letter to Mirz̅a Qurb̅an ‘Ali Baig S̅alik) that by losing faith in God’s help, in utter hopelessness regarding absence of God’s help, he had become k̅afir-i mutlaq (an absolute non-believer) and, according to the belief of followers of Islam, had lost all hopes of God’s forgiveness of his sins. Along with issues of life after death and reward and punishment, the issue of paradise and hell keeps him deeply concerned. His poetic imagination places and depicts human limitations and weaknesses created by God side by side with the belief in the laws of reward and punishment. While doing so, Ghalib removes paradise and hell from the God-man relationship so that there is no temptation of any rewards for obeying God’s commands. As to the rewards in paradise, he shudders at the thought of living there in the same diamond-studded palace, the same gardens, and with the same h̅ur for ever. It would be utterly unbearable! (letter to Mirza H̅atim ‘Ali Mehr)

In letters to friends, Ghalib had been mentioning his religious beliefs. He insists, on the one hand, on his being Sh̅i‘ah, and, on the other, his being above any such distinctions. An important source of estimating the nature of his religiosity is his Masnavi Shashum.1 Commenting on the controversial nature of the religious validity of certain socio-religious customs (rus̅um, plural of rasm) prevalent among the Muslim societies of the time, he adopted what we would call today a sociological argument. Instead of looking at it from a purely religious or a Sufi point of view, he argues that the social component dominates socio-religious customs and the construction of the socio-religious customs of a community depends largely on the cultural ethos of the territory the community lives in. Opinions among the ‘ulam̅a were divided on this issue; for some, these customs were permitted by the shari‘ah while according to the followers of Muhammad Ibn “Abdul Vahh̅ab (called Vahh̅abi) they were bid‘̅at (innovations, plural of bida‘ innovation) since they were not in line with commandments of the shari‘ah). Let us see what Ghalib has to say on this matter in his Masnavi on the following issues:

Sources of Faith/ اصول دین(Us̅ul-i D̅in ):

After God’s praise and homage to the Messenger, he suggests certain sources of faith (us̅ul-i d̅in) to help intellectuals acquire an insight into such issues:

نور محض واصل ہستی ذات اوست

ہرچہ جز حق بینی ازآیات اوست

nur-i mahz v asl-i hast̅i z̅a̅t-i ̅ust

harche juz Haq b̅in̅i az ̅ay̅at-i ̅ust

{Pure light and the source of beings is the essence of the creator and whatever you observe other than God is His signs.}

تا بخلوت گاہ غیب الغیب بود

حسن را اندیشہ سردرجیب بود

ta ba-khilvat- g̅ah-i ghaib al-ghaib b̅ud

husn r̅a andishah sar dar jeb b̅ud.

{Until husn-i azali remained in the state of absence of absence (ghaib-i ghaib), it was engaged in one concern‎— how to emerge from this state.}

صورت فکر ایں کہ باری چوں کند

تا زغیب غیب سربیرون کند

s̅urat-i fikr ̅in kih b̅ari ch̅un kunad

t̅a ze ghaib-i ghaib sar bir̅un kunad

{The concern was regarding how it would come out of absence (ghaib.)}

جلوہ کرد از خویش ہم برخویشتن

داد خلوت را فروغ انجمن

jalvah kard az khv̅ish ham bar khv̅ishtan

d̅ad khilvat r̅a furogh-i anjuman

{God dawned on Himself, thus converting privacy (khilvat) into open presence (jilvat).}

نور حقست احمد و لمعان نور

ازنبی در اولیاء دارد ظہور

n̅ur-i Haq-ast Ahmad v lam‘̅an-i n̅ur

az nabi dar auliy̅a d̅arad zuh̅ur

{The illumination (n̅ur) of God is Ahmad/ Muhammad

and from the nabi it has appearance in the auli̅a (saints).}

ہر ولی پرتو پذیرست از نبی

چوں مہ از خود مستنیرست از نب

har val̅i partav paz̅ir-ast az nabi

ch̅un mah az khud mustan̅irast az nabi

{Every saint (val̅i) receives light from the nabi,

Like the moon he illuminates himself from the nabi.}

Istimd̅ad v tavvasul-i Aul̅i̅a /استمداد و توسل اولیا

Seeking the help and mediation of the aul̅i̅a (saints) is permissible (j̅a’iz).

از نبی واز ولی خواہی مدد

تانہ پنداری کہ ناجائز بود

az nabi v az vali khv̅ahi madad

t̅a nah pind̅ari kih n̅aj̅a’iz buvad

{Seeking the help of a nab̅i (messenger) and val̅i (saint) is not prohibited.}

برنیا ید کار بی فرمان شاہ

لیک آئینہا ست باخاصانِ شاہ

bar nay̅ayad k̅ar be farm̅an-i Sh̅ah

lek ̅a’̅inhast b̅a kh̅as̅an-i Sh̅ah

{Although only God is the ultimate authority, persons close to the King know the laws. And, therefore, help can be sought from a those close to the Sh̅ah.}

Nid̅a /ندا / Calling God or ‘Ali for help is permitted.

وقت حاجت ہرکہ گوید یا علی

باحقش کارست وپوزش باعلی

vaqt-i h̅ajat harkeh goyad y̅a ‘Ali

ba Haqash k̅ar-ast v pozash b̅a ‘Ali

{When, in times of necessity, one calls ‘Ali, it means that he addresses Ali but seeks help from God.}

یامحمد‘ جان فزاید گفتنش

یا علی‘ مشکل کشاید گفتنش

y̅a Muhammad jan faz̅ayad guftanash

y̅a ‘Ali mushkil kush̅ayad guftanash

{Calling ‘Y̅a Muhammad’ extends life, and calling ‘Y̅a ‘Ali’ solves all problems.}

چوں اعانت خواہی از یزدان پاک

یا معین الدین‘ اگر گوئی چہ باک

ch̅un ‘iy̅a̅nat khv̅ahi az Yazd̅an-i p̅ak

y̅a Mu‘̅inudd̅in agar go̅i cheh b̅ak?

{There is nothing to fear if one calls ‘Ya Mu̅inuddd̅in’ in order to seek God’s help.}

ابلہان را زانکہ دانش نارساست

گفتگوہا برسرحرف نداست

ablah̅an r̅a z̅ankeh d̅anish na-ras̅ast

guftagu-h̅a bar sar-i harf-i nid̅ast

{Since fools are shorn of reason, they dispute the call (nid̅a).}

مولوی معنوی عبدالعزیز

واں رفیع الدین دانشمند نیز

شاہ عبدالقادر دانش سگال

کایں دو تن را بود در گوہرہمال

بردن نام نبی و اولیاء

خود روا گفتند باحرف ندا

maulav̅i-yi m‘anavi ‘Abdulaz̅iz

v̅an Raf̅iudd̅in d̅anishmand n̅iz

Sh̅ah ‘Abdul Q̅adir-i d̅anish sag̅al

k̅in do tan ra b̅ud dar gauhar ham̅al

burdan-i n̅am-i nabi v auli̅a

khud rav̅a guftand b̅a harf-i nid̅a

{Shah Valiullah’s sons, Sh̅ah ‘Abdulq̅adir and Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz have permitted the use of word, Y̅a, for seeking help from the saints. Similarly, the eminent Chishti saint, Kal̅imullah, and the spiritual personality, Maul̅an̅a Fakhrudd̅in permitted it.}

Annual Celebrations of the Messenger’s birthday:

Ghalib does not see anything wrong in it.

Naqsh-i Qadam / نقش قدم/ footprint:

Respecting the stone considered to have the footprint of the Messenger is also not objectionable.

ہرکرا دل ہست و ایمان نیز ہم

چوں نورزدعشق با’’نقش ِ قدم

har kar̅a dil hast v ̅im̅an n̅iz ham

ch̅un navarzad ‘ishq ba naqsh-i qadam

{Why would one who has a heart and faith not love the footprint of the Messenger?}

برد از خویشم دوصد فرہنگ رشک

می برم زین نقش پا برسنگ رشک

burd az khuv̅isham do-sad farhang-i rashk

m̅i baram z̅in naqsh-i p̅a bar sang rashk

{On the other hand, Ghalib laments that a stone, and not his heart, has been blessed with this footprint.}

Annual celebrations at the tombs of Sufi saints:

عرس واین شمع و چراغ افروختن

عود درمجمر برآتش سوختن

جمع گشتن دریکے ایوان ہمی

پنج آیت خواندن از قرآن ہمی

نان بنان خواہند گان دادن دگر

مردہ رارحمت فرستادن دگر

گرپی ترویح روح ِ اولیاست

درحقیقت انہم ازبہرخدا ست

urs-o-̅in sham‘ o char̅agh afrokhtan

‘̅ud dar mujmar bar ̅atish sokhtan

jam‘ gashtan dar yake aiv̅an hami

panch ̅ayat khv̅andan az Qur‘an hami

n̅an ba-n̅an khvahandag̅an d̅adan digar

murdah ra rahmat farast̅adan digar

gar pae tarv̅ih-i r̅uh-i auliy̅a

dar haqiqat ̅an-ham az bahr-i Khud̅ast

{Ghalib says recitation of the Qur‘an and distribution of food to the people, for spiritual support to the souls of the departed ones is essentially to please God.}

Respect for aulia (Saints):

اولیا را گر گرامی داشتیم

نزپی ٔرومی و شامی داشتیم

ازبرای آنکہ این آزادگان

از رہ حق جان بجانان دادگان

از شہود حق طرازی داشتند

با خدای خویش رازی داشتن

auli̅a r̅a gar gar̅ami d̅ashtaim

naz pae R̅umi-o-Sh̅ami d̅ashtaim

az bara̅ey ̅an-keh ̅in ̅az̅adg̅an

az rah-i haq j̅an-ba-j̅an̅an d̅adg̅an

az shuh̅ud -i haq-tar̅az̅i d̅ashtan

ba khud̅a-yi khv̅ish r̅azi d̅ashtan

{If we respect saints, it is not because of their Roman or Syrian descent, but because they devoted their lives to the path of righteousness. They knew the way of observation of the Truth (haq) and were close to God.}

Ghalib strongly condemns those who refuse to pay respect to the saints:

آن ولی دریاد حق مستغر قست

عین حق گرنیست خود محو حقست

̅an vali dar y̅ad-i Haq mustagharaq-ast

ain-i Haq gar n̅ist’ khud mahv-i Haq-ast

{The saint who is engrossed in God may not be God Ghalib, Himself, but he is totally immersed in God.}

Ghalib chastises those who disrespect saints:

نیستی عارف کہ گویم خود مباش

بدمبیں و بد مگوی و بد مباش

n̅ist̅i ‘̅arif kih goyam khud mab̅ash

bad ma-b̅in-v- bad ma-goi-v- bad ma-b̅ash

{I would not ask you to cease being yourself because you are not a Sufi. However, you should see no evil , speak no evil and do no evil.}

بد شمردی رہروان پیش را

رہرو چالاک گفتی خویش را

گر سفر انیست منزلگہ کجا ست

لا الہ گفتی و الا اللہ کجا ست

bad shumardi rahrav̅an-i pesh r̅a

rahrav-i ch̅al̅ak gufti khuv̅ish r̅a

gar safar ̅inast manzilgah kuj̅ast

l̅a ilah guft̅i v ill̅all̅ah ku̅jast

{You called your predecessors bad and yourself a clever traveller. If such is travel where is the destination? You have negated all except God; what about that that exists besides God?}

Now, the description given above shows Ghalib as a believer in common irrational and superstitious religious notions and customs and this would certainly be not in line with his poetic freethinking. However, Ghalib was aware of the impression his views might create and offered his own position on rus̅um (customs) in practice among Indian Muslim societies and which continue to remain as contentious as in Ghalib’s days. His argument is that there are two types of rus̅um—those that are the rus̅um of kufr (containing un-Islamic content) and have to be rejected, and the other type of rus̅um are those that are beneficial to the people and, therefore, have to be maintained. Then, he brings in his argument about the relationship between these customs and the cultural milieu of the territory where Muslims live:

ہست رسم خاص درہرمرزبوم

خودچہ میخو اہی زنفی ایں رسوم

نفی رسم کفر ما ہم می کنیم

داد با دانش فراہم می کنیم

نفی کفر آئین ارباب صفاست

نفی فیض ای تیرہ دل رسم کجاست

نفی رسم و رہ ہوا رامی کشد

نفی فیضست اینکہ مار امی کشد

ای گرفتار خم و پیچ خیال

نفی بی اثبات نبود جز ضلال

ور تو گوئی و میکنم اثبات حق

ازچہ روئی منکر آیات حق

دانم از انکار انکار آوری

پیچشی در زلف گفتار آوری

hast rasm-i kh̅as dar har marzb̅um

khud cheh mi-khv̅ahi ze naf̅i ̅in rus̅um

naf̅i-yi rasm-i kufr m̅a ham m̅i kunaim

d̅ad b̅a d̅anish far̅aham m̅i kunaim

naf̅i-yi kufr ̅a̅’in-i arb̅ab-i saf̅ast

naf̅i-yi faiz ae t̅irah-dil rasm-i kuj̅ast

nafi rasm-v-r̅ah hav̅a r̅a mi kushad

nafi-yi faizast ̅inkeh m̅ar̅a mi kushad

ae giraft̅ar-i kham-v-paich-i khay̅al

naf̅i be-asb̅at na-buvad juz zal̅al

var t̅u go̅i -v- mi kunam asb̅at-i haq

az cheh r̅u’̅i munkir-i ̅ay̅at-i haq

d̅anam az ink̅ar ink̅ar ̅avari

pecheshi dar zulf-guftar ̅avari

{Each society has its own customs and traditions which cannot be denied,we also take the path of justice by reason and reject un-Islamic customs.

Rejection of kufr is the way of people of good conduct and only vicious people avoid the faiz (good effects); denying customs and traditions crushes human desires while rejection of benefits kills us.

O prisoner of a complex imagination! Negation without affirmation is nothing but misguidance,

and if you say that I believe in God then why do you deny the signs of God?

I know that you deny the denial and complicate the narrative.}

منکر اثبات گوئی نیستم

من حریف ایں دو روئی نیستم

munkir-i isb̅at go̅i n̅istam

man har̅if-i ̅in do-r̅u̅i nistam

{If you say that you affirm Truth (haq) then how can you deny the signs of Truth; it is doublespeak to say that I do not deny affirmation of the Truth.}

اولیا خاصان شاہی نیستند

یعنی آیات الٰہی نیستند

معجزات انبیا آیات کیست

وین صفتہا را ظہور ذات کیست

این و آن را ہرزہ انگاری ہمی

تاچہ از ہر در نظر داری ہم

auli̅a kh̅as̅an-i sh̅ah̅i n̅istand

ya‘ni ̅ay̅at-i il̅ah̅i n̅istand

mu‘jiz̅at-i anbi̅a ̅ay̅at-i k̅ist

vin sifath̅a r̅a zuh̅ur-i z̅at k̅ist

̅in-v-̅an r̅a harzah ang̅ari hami

t̅a che az har dar nazar d̅ari hami

{You consider the saints not in the close circle of God and not the signs of God. Whose signs, then, are the miracles of the ‘messengers’ and what is the source of such attributes? You deny both the positions. What exactly do you mean by the Truth?}

A question certainly arises on the sharp contradiction between these orthodox views and his pronounced non-orthodox poetic sensibilities as discussed above. Let us probe this problem further. Popular notions have never been Ghalib’s favourite subjects. Why did he select for his Masnavi subjects related to the externals of religion? It appears that his pragmatic self might have warned him that he would have to face opposition of a large section of people if he did not interpret these customs as being in line with the shari‘ah. At the same time, he was also aware that he might hurt the feelings of those who did not consider those customs in harmony with the shari‘ah. In the later part of the Masvavi he offers an apology for doing so.

من نہ بدگفتم وگر گفتم مرنج

تو کرا بدگفتہ در دل بسنج

خواجہ دنیا و دین رامنکری

زمرۂ اہل یقین رامنکری

بادل رنجیدۂ از کینہ پاک

منکری را گر بوم منکرچہ باک

man nah bad guftam v gar guftam ma-ranj

t̅u kar̅a bad guftah dar dil be-sanj

khv̅ajah-yi duny̅a v d̅in ra munkar̅i

zumrah-yi ahl-i yaq̅in ra munkar̅i

b̅a dil-i ranjidah-yi az k̅inah p̅ak

munkari r̅a gar ba-vam munkar che b̅ak

{I have not said anything bad and if I have done so, I do feel hurt. You are in denial of ‘the master of the d̅in (faith) and duny̅a (the world) and the Messenger of Islam and people of strong faith (ahl-i yaq̅̅in). What is wrong if, with a sad heart and with no bad feeling, I reject the rejecters?}

درد دل در نظم گفتن نیست بحث

ن کہ رندم شیوۂ من نیست بحث

من سبکروحم گراں جان نیستم

صد نشاں پیداست پنہان نیستم

dard-i dil dar nazm guftan n̅ist bahs

man kih rindam shevah-yi man n̅inst bahs

man subakr̅uham gar̅an-j̅an n̅istam

sad nish̅an paid̅ast pinh̅an n̅istam

{And, then, Ghalib says that his narration of his suffering in poetry does not amount to starting a discussion. I am a mild -mannered and not an aggressive man. There are hundreds of signs that are visible and not hidden.}

Narrating belief-related issues of the Masnavi, Ghalib clarifies that he was expressing his views as a poet and not as a Sufi or any religious scholar. That is, he was not apologetic but maintaining his position of a man of independent disposition with liberal independence emphasizing his being a poet and one attached to rus̅um. He holds that there is nothing wrong in following these rus̅um but offers no supporting arguments. He argues that there are two types of rus̅um—those that are within d`in and those that develop into kufr (unbelief) and should be rejected. The former type of rus̅um are regional in nature.

Creation of Man and the Universe:

Mehr-i N̅̅imroz 2 is an incomplete treatise on the history of Mughal kingship written by Ghalib as commanded by the Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar. It is a good piece of literature from the standpoint of style and subject but has not generally drawn the attention of Ghalib commentators except the Urdu critic, Mumtaz Husain.2 The preface to this treatise is particularly significant. Here, besides his religious concerns and beliefs, he has expressed opinions in the light of the views of Indian, Iranian, Greek, and Muslim thought on subjects like the creation of man, creation of the universe, and existence (vuj̅udiyat). As for style, it is a specimen of a flowery and ornate expression without the simplicity of his letters and the complexity of the preface of another treatise, Sir̅ajul-Ma‘rifat. There, he has taken a middle position between popular opinions of common Muslims and his own sufistic point of view. It clearly shows that he took care that whatever he wrote in that royal-commissioned treatise should not be controversial and invite condemnation if not acceptance of all the three crucial spaces‎—the royal court (darb̅ar), the hospice (kh̅anq̅ah) and the bazar (market). I would rather not like to treat these views as his own; nevertheless, they reflect the wide expanse of his knowledge, and his academic and intellectual impartiality. So far as his positions on existentialism are concerned, he maintains them as they are in his letters and Persian poetry.

Ghalib holds that, according to ancient religions of India, the life of the world consists of four jugs (epochs). The first Jug is Sat-Jug of seventy lakh and seventy thousand years and is the best; the second, the Tarita-Jug of twelve lakh ninety-six years is one in which virtue is merged with vice but the former dominates the latter. The third epoch is Dv̅apar of eight lakh sixty-four thousand years during which vice overpowers virtue. According to another concept, God created in the beginning four elements and a fifth, ̅Ak̅ash. It is called ̅Asm̅an by ordinary people while intellectuals do not agree with that and do not consider that ̅Ak̅ash was created from elements but from some other matter. One of this group consider ̅Asm̅an as non-existing and regards what is visible as faz̅a, the stars as the bright spirits of the saints that after separating from the mass rose up and mingled with spiritual (n̅ur̅ani) bodies. Some of these do not descend from this state into the lower world. Yet others renounce their position and accept rebirth in the material world. Brahma is the first creation, the epitome of attributes of Divine energy who brought the non-existent into existence and selected man from among them as their chief. The people were divided into four categories.The first, the Brahman, is the custodian of religious affairs. The second is the Chhatri for military affairs and statecraft and the third, the Vaish for commercial affairs of society. The fourth are the Sh̅udra who are to keep the city clean. The same organizer, who was the lone governor of all, revealed the book, Baid and told the obedient that it was revealed from the sky. All accepted it with full humility and built on its foundations the faith and its status. Now, this same has become the religion (mazhab) and law (q̅an̅un) of the Hun̅ud.

Concepts of the creation of man and the universe in the Muslim tradition based on the Qur‘an and Hadis are as follows:

Creation of Adam:

Again, Ghalib’s account is more that of a poetic imagination than that of a scholar of Islam. According to him, when the angel Jibra’̅̅il was asked by God to bring a handful of earth for the creation of Adam, the earth raised an alarm against such an action on the plea that the rebellions of the fire-creatures had already caused terrible destruction on earth and now a new shape out of her own self was going to be created. It could lead to her disintegration. However, her plea was rejected and, on the day now called the tenth of Muharram, Adam was created. Eve was created from Adam. All the angels were asked to prostrate to Adam and they, except Ahraman (Ibl̅is), did so. He was expelled from paradise and vowed to take revenge upon Adam. He succeeded in persuading Adam and Eve to commit a sin by eating wheat. Both were banished from paradise to earth but, to placate Adam the Ka‘bah was brought down on earth.

Ghalib believed in various miracles (m̅u‘jiz̅at) performed by the Messenger. Sending the messenger of God is, in fact, a form of the teaching of the reality of the secret. The Messenger of God is the final expression of the reality of the Essence (z̅at) and he is the last of God’s messengers. Ghalib refers (Mehr-i N̅imroz, pp.70-79) to two paths of the shari‘ah (Islamic legal system) and tar̅iqat (the Sufi way of life). The constitution of the Muslim nation (millat-i Ahmadi) consists of one leaf‎—on one side are written the secrets of Truth and on the other the commands of the shari‘ah. The shari‘ah was assigned to the kings. In the arena of agnosticism music on the flute and the chang is allowed and wine is permitted, while in the court of the shari‘ah, ‘Ainul-Quz̅at is consigned to carpet (bori̅a) and Mans̅ur Hall̅aj is condemned to death. Ghalib is trying to justify the shari‘ah action as being in accordance with its concept of justice. The wise soldiers of the shari‘ah are performing their assigned roles, while the Sufis are struggling against the might of the whirlpool of agnosticism. Ghalib’s balancing act between the shari‘ah and tar̅iqat does not appear to represent his true sufistic approach which so powerfully and uncompromisingly runs all through his poetry. As pointed out above, his mystical interpretations could not find place in a treatise written for a king whom he considered the custodian of the shari‘ah.


Ghalib’s Existentialism

اصلِ شہود و شاہد و مشہود ایک ہے

حیراں ہوں پھر مشاہدہ ہے کس حساب میں

asl-i shuh̅ud-o- sh̅ahid-o-mashh̅ud aik hai

hair̅an h̅un phir mushahidah hai kis his̅ab men

{The essence of the phenomenal world, the observer of the phenomenalworld and the observed are the same; I am intrigued how, then, should we account for the observation!}

Very few of the popular mystical (mystical henceforth) concepts are available in Ghalib’s poetry and letters. His total attachment to the concept of Existential Unity (Vahdatal-Vuj̅ud) and his intention of taking up the Sufi path as expressed in his letters to Ghamg̅in Shah were written during his post-poetic life around 1839. Regarding external influences, he has mentioned some views of Ibn Arabi. Influences of Bedil are found all through his poetry. In fact, all high points of literature and fine arts exhibit intense mystical sensitivities that free creative expression from the bonds of intellectualism, observation and experience. For Ghalib, to be attracted towards mystic way of looking at life was not unexpected since tasavvuf has been the soul of all classical Persian and Urdu poetry. Second, in order to face the emotional anguish his life had gone through, only a philosophy of life like tasavvuf could have helped. Third, it so happened that all the questions raised in mysticism were also the questions of Ghalib ‎— Existence, God, the universe, the relationship between religion and the material world, reality and illusion, love, reason, the heart, prayer (‘ib̅adat), obedience (it̅a‘at), reward and punishment, etc. Maikash Akbar̅ab̅adi has analysed some concepts of mysticism and the views in Ghalib.1

Nothing exists except God (Brahma). This is the final truth of the world. Tasavvuf, Ved̅ant, Neo-Platonism, and some other schools of thought agree on this.

There are several interpretations of the reality of the material world. They include Shankar Ach̅ary̅a’s concept of M̅ay̅a that treats the world as an illusion born of ignorance; the world is non-existent but due to ignorance appears to exists. On the other hand, Ibn Arabi believes in real existence of the world not as ‘other-than-God’ but as ‘Truth-in-Itself’ (‘ain Haq). In order to resolve difficulties in adapting the existing world to non-material sublime Reality, the Sufis have developed theories such as, a‘y̅an-i s̅abitah, tanazzul̅at, etc. These concepts are also there, in their own way, in Plato and in Neo-Platonism.

A‘y̅an-i S̅abitah is an abbreviation of ‘al-a‘y̅an al-s̅abita fi al- ‘ilm. According to this theory, the realities of external existence were there in the Divine Knowledge as epistemological (’ilm̅i) objects. Knowledge of a thing means that it has an existence in knowledge (‘ilm). Thus, all existence has an epistemological existence. These a‘y̅an are the reality of the external existences although they themselves do not exist externally. Maikash Akbar̅ab̅adi quotes Ibn Arabi: ‘al-a‘y̅an m̅a shammat r̅a’ihat al-vuj̅ud’. (A‘y̅an have not even smelt existence.) At another place, Ibn Arabi says: Haq (Truth, God) is mahs̅us (the felt) while khalq (the created world) is ma‘q̅ul (rational, comprehensible). Ghalib in a letter to Ghamgin says that he accepts both these positions.


The Real Existence (vuj̅ud-i haq̅iq̅i) is of various grades:

  1. Ahdiyat, H̅ah̅ut, the world of oneness, unity

  2. L̅ahut, ‘Ilm-i Ijm̅ali, divine nature revealing itself

  3. Jabr̅ut, ‘Ilm-iTafs̅il̅i, the celestial world

  4. Malak̅ut, the world of spirits

  5. ‘̅Alam-i Mis̅al, the intermediary world of imagination

  6. N̅asut, the material world

  7. ‘̅Alam-i Ajs̅am, the world of bodies

The Ishr̅aqi (Illusionistic wisdom) interpretation of Existential Unity has provided ample space for imaginative creativity. Ghalib has fully utilised it:

دہر جز جلوہ یکتائی معشوق نہیں

ہم کہاں ہوتے اگر حسن نہ ہوتا خود بیں

dahr juz jalvah-yi yakt̅a’̅i-yi ma‘sh̅uq nah̅in

ham kah̅an hote agar husn nah hot̅a khudb̅in

{The world is nothing except the phenomenon of uniqueness of the beloved

we would not have existed had beauty not been self- observer.}

آرائش جمال سے فارغ نہیں ہنوز

پیش نظر ہے آئینہ دائم نقاب میں

̅ar̅a’ish-i jam̅al se f̅arigh nah̅in han̅uz

paish-i nazar hai ̅a’̅inah d̅a’im niq̅ab men

{(God) is, still, engaged in self-beautification;

The mirror is always in front of Him behind the veil.}

Another point of Ghalib’s interest in Sufism deals with Allah and the Existent (mauj̅ud). The Sufis, during the early period, used the phrase l̅a il̅ahah illallah, to explain these phrases.2 In the beginning, the Sufis, in order to express themselves, used the phrase ‘l̅a il̅aha illallah’. During the second century of Hijrah, this phrase was modified to, ‘Except Him, there is no God (mab̅ud), no sought-after (maqs̅ud) and no existent (mauj̅ud)’. Later, the words, ma‘b̅ud and maqs̅ud were dispensed with and ‘l̅a il̅aha illallah’ came to be interpreted as, ‘l̅a mauj̅ud illallah’, that is, nothing exists except Allah. And this was described as Tauh̅id (oneness of God). However, some characterisations by certain other Sufis offer a different meaning. Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz believes thatVahd̅an̅iyat (state of being one), has two meanings: for the ‘ulam̅a committed to literal interpretations, God is only one and no one else. The Sufis interpret it as the Existing One is the only one, and no other exists. Ibn Arabi believes that the Real Existent (Vuj̅ud-i Haq̅iq̅i) is only one and all other existents appear existing, apparently, as another existent but internally they are a reflection (num̅ud) of Real Existence (Ibn Arabi, Fus̅usul-Hikam). According to the Transcendentalists (Var̅a’̅iyyah), the Existence that is common to all existents and from which all existents derive their subsistence form a higher Existence, that is God, which is not within the universe but beyond it.

Vahdatal-Vuj̅ud (Existential Unity): Vuj̅ud is a single existent which, when it acquired material forms, came to be known as the World of Existents. And, therefore, there is essentially no distinction between God and His creations. Whatever differences there are they are due to their forms and functions. The Unitarians (believers in Existential Unity) include Sufis such as Zunn̅un Misri (d. 856), B̅ayaz̅id Bist̅ami (d. 875), Junaid Baghd̅adi (d. 910), Husain bin Mans̅ur al-Hall̅aj (d. 921), Jal̅aludd̅in R̅umi (d. 1237), ‘Abdurrahm̅an J̅ami (d. 1793) and Sh̅ah Val̅iullah (d. 1762). Rejecting the Unitarian theory, Mujaddid Alf S̅an̅i, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (d.1598) offered his theory of Unity of Phenomena (Vahdatash-Shuh̅ud) and argues that the Unitarian’s observation of Unity of Being is, in fact, born of their state of intoxication (sukr); otherwise the existence of the material world is real. It is like the non-visibility of stars in sunlight which does not mean that the stars do not exist. If the observer’s eyes are rendered keener with the light of the sun, he would be able to see the stars besides the sun. This is Existential Unity (Vahdatash-Shuh̅ud).

Equipped with this preliminary knowledge of some Sufi theories of Existence, let us have a look at Ghalib’s mystic inclinations. We do find mention of certain known themes and concepts of mysticism in his letters, but that does not lead to the conclusion that he followed any specific theory in toto. Along with his emotional attachment to Unitarianism, traces of ‘phenomenal unity’ are also found. What is illusionary‎— being or non-being, what is the means of liberation—intellect or intuition, is God Just or Merciful, does God reside in places of worship or everywhere, is the relationship between man and God that between master and slave or that between the witness and the object? These are some of the questions the answers to which Ghalib did not find in the current Sufi schools. In fact, he drew on some of those concepts from the traditions of the shar̅i‘ah (Islamic law) and tar̅iqat (Sufism), not because he was a follower of those concepts but because he found them in harmony with some of his own concepts and suppositions.

He is an explorer of “meaning” wherever they were available. He is unattached to any religious or philosophical tradition. To give expression to his feelings and thought, he used, from amongst various intellectual traditions, words, images, symbols and concepts he found closer to his own thinking in a way that when he used them in his poetry, their external and internal meanings and the scenarios of the present and the future did not remain as they were at that particular time and became something quite different. And if he did not find words of his choice, he reshaped words from Persian and Arabic as his own symbols and metaphors. For instance, while he used traditional words, symbols and metaphors, he used some of them to convey totally different meanings, like tamann̅a, and̅ishah, ̅arz̅u, pind̅ar, ̅a’̅inah, kufr, andvaf̅a to convey different meanings.

In his letters there are not many references to mystic concepts, most probably because there were few among his addressees familiar with matters mystic like various stages of the Sufi path in which he was interested. However, he has exchanged views with Ghamg̅in on some complex problems of Sufi thought which will be discussed later. Here we shall focus on his approaches to Sufism in the informal mode of letters.

His passion for discovering the reality of realities and then facing them is reflected in some letters (to M̅ir Mahdi Majr̅uh, ‘Al̅a’udd̅in Ahmad Kh̅an, Chaudhri ‘Abdulghaf̅ur,) where he pleads that he is a simple Sufi engaged with pantheistic states, ‘far above Islam and non-Islam and light and fire’. However, the Sufi Ghalib reveals himself in a letter addressed to Mirz̅a Hargop̅al Taftah.1 “You are engaged with poetry and I am engulfed in (self) annihilation (fan̅a). I consider the scholarship of Ibn S̅ina and the poetry of Naz̅ir̅i as futile. Life requires just a little comfort whereas the rest, like wisdom, empire and poetry are rubbish. What if someone becomes an incarnation and one of these becomes messenger among the Muslims! How does it matter if one attains fame or lives or remains unknown? What is needed is some financial support and good health; the rest is mere illusion; however, I want to get over the problems of health and financial distress to pass through my state of detachment (be-rang̅i). I am in a realm that is neither this nor the other world. All is illusion. This is not a river, it is illusion (sar̅ab); not any real existence, it is only a conceit (pind̅ar).” The intensity of mental and spiritual suffering related to the absurdity of the notions of existence and non-existence through which he was passing during the last phase of his life as reflected in this letter is far more eloquent than what is to be found in his Urdu and Persian poetry.

There is a general opinion that Ghalib has used tasavvuf merely as a source of inspiration for poetic themes (maz̅am̅in, singular mazm̅un) and that it is not in harmony with his temperament. As we have seen, mystic themes have been a powerful presence in the traditions of all Persian and Urdu poetry. Ghalib’s poetry and letters contain several indications of his deep involvement in mystical themes. However, this opinion does not appear to be plausible in view of the painful experiences he endured and of his layered reactions to them as narrated in his poetry and letters. Instead, tasavvuf emerges as a shining revolving chandelier reflecting different aspects of Ghalib’s creative persona one after another or all at one time and then disappearing.

In letters, on the other hand, his attachment to tasavvuf is at another level. During the last phase of his life, passing through various layers of mystic thought appears to have transformed into an intense desire and a passion for attaining some higher stages on the path of a Sufi traveller (s̅alik). This phase of Ghalib’s personality persuaded Maikash Akbar̅ab̅adi to remark that, “besides his mystical beliefs, he was, also, a practising Sufi.” 3 Certainly, there are long shadows of mystic concepts like, Existence, Existents, Annihilation, Mak̅an, L̅a-Mak̅an, Time and Timelessness. Ghalib has used these concepts, not merely as poetic themes but, as a means for discovering meanings in his materialistic and spiritual experiences. He used the concepts and interpretations in harmony with his sense of self and life as a means of poetic expression but in a way that those concepts and interpretations coming out of the mysterious universe of tasavvuf became a part of Ghalib’s ‘poetic life’. That is why, whenever and wherever such impressions emerge in his poetry the readers, while having a feel of Ghalib, do not feel it necessary to dwell on the mystic symbolism in these impressions. For instance,

نہ تھا کچھ تو خدا تھا‘ کچھ نہ ہوتا تو خدا ہوتا

ڈبو یا مجھ کو ہونے نے‘ نہ ہوتا میں تو کیا ہوتا

nah th̅a kuchh to Khud̅a th̅a, kuchh nah hot̅a to Khud̅a hot̅a

duboy̅a mujh ko hone ne, nah hot̅a main to ky̅a hot̅a!

{When there was nothing, (only) God existed, had there been

nothing, God would have been; my being ruined me, had

I been non-being, what would I have been!}

آرائش جمال سے فارغ نہیں ہنوز

پیش نظر ہے آئینہ دائم نقاب میں

̅ar̅a’ish-i jam̅al se f̅arigh nah̅in han̅uz

paish-i nazar hai ̅a’̅inah d̅a’im niq̅ab men

{(God) is, still, engaged in self-beautification; God always keeps

the mirror before Him behind the veil.}

کہہ سکے کون کہ یہ جلوہ گری کس کی ہے

پردہ چھوڑا ہے وہ اس نے کہ اٹھاے نہ بنے

kah sake kaon kih yeh jalvah-gar̅i kis k̅i hai

pardah chhor̅a hai voh us ne kih uth̅ay nah bane

{No one can tell whose ‘manifestation’ this is; it is not possible to raise the

curtain put down by Him.}

حق را زخلق جو کہ نوآموز دید را

آئینہ خانہ مکتب توحید بودہ است

haq r̅a ze khalq j̅u kih nau-̅amoz-i d̅id r̅a

̅a‘̅inah-khanah maktab-i tauhid b̅udah ast

{Search for the Truth through the Created world since for the new seeker of the sight of God this world is a school for learning the Unity of God.}

These couplets contain both physical and metaphysical dimensions and impact at two different levels—intellectual as well as sensual. The sensual transmission is immediate. This transmission does not require any mystic interpretation of Existential Unity or Cognizant Unity. Most probably, Ghalib might not have written these couplets for the sake of interpretation of such concepts. On the other hand, it appears more plausible that he used them to express his social, sentimental, and intellectual experiences in philosophical and metaphysical metaphors. In any case, it is rather difficult to analyse Ghalib’s religiosity or spirituality through present-day terminology and conceptual frameworks. That is, much can be said on both sides. Therefore, to have access to Ghalib, there is no other device available for us except the Sufi diction, terms, concepts and ways of expression notwithstanding his comment that he had used a bit of tasavvuf and some astrology merely for the purpose of decorating of his poetic themes (maz̅am̅in):

ہمچومن شاعر وصوفی و نجومی و حکیم

نیست در دہر قلم مدعی و نکتہ گو است

hamch̅u man sh̅a‘ir-o-S̅ufi-o-nuj̅umi-o-hak̅im

n̅ist dar dahr qalam-mudda‘̅̅i-o-nuktah-go ast

{There is no poet, Sufi, astrologer and philosopher in the world like me who could claim to be (both) a man of pen and wisdom.}

Ghalib appears to belong to the Sufi school of thought that takes man as the centre of the universe, and directly in contact with the Creator. In such a context, all other realities‎—except man and God—do not remain the same but become something else; non-existing, illusory or imaginary. Mystical thought is a major factor in the shaping of Ghalib’s intellectual bent which means a conceptual enquiry seeking gnosis of the relationship between man and the Absolute Realty‎—without any intervention of other agents. It can be described as strong desire (tamann̅a, ̅arz̅u). Gnosis (‘irf̅an) is a medium other than knowledge (‘ilm). While knowledge is a product of the human senses and depends for its validity on rational and discursive support, gnostic results are free from any rational scrutiny, school of thought or religious system. Still, they are not totally free. The central, basic theme of every system of thought, under the compulsion of its materialization in human life, becomes something different from its original nature during the process of adopting various identities, limitations and restrictions—for instance, transformation of d̅in into shari‘ah. Likewise, Gnosticism has also acquired forms of several orders, schools of thought and customs. During the last twelve centuries Sufi Gnosticism has been divided into several Sufi references and, likewise, various references have emerged between allegory (maj̅az) and reality (haq̅iqat). In the process, the gnosis (ma‘rifah) has disappeared somewhere.

Ghalib is a poet of meanings with a natural affinity for mystic thought. Another factor to be kept in mind is that mystic thought, due to various historical and cultural reasons, has become an integral part of Urdu and Persian literary tradition and poetic culture. Third, for a poet attached to the 19th century intellectualism and epistemology, there was, in his cultural heritage, only tasavvuf that offered a vast treasure of thought, covering both the physical and metaphysical realms. The mystic questions from which the mystic system of thought is derived, also happen to be the fundamental problems of philosophy like Absolute Truth, Essence and Attributes, the essence of Things, Creation, factors underlying Creation, Time and Space, Existence and non-existence, knowledge, means of knowledge, Virtue, Truth, Beauty, etc. The treasure is unique and, except Vedanta, no other mystic system is as comprehensive as Islamic mysticism. There is a vast amount of writing, published and unpublished in Persian and Urdu which serves as a common source-material for both philosophy and Sufism. There is, also, a common space accommodating both Knowledge (‘ilm) of the distinguished philosophers, like, Ibn Sina along with the Gnosticism (‘Irfan) of the great Sufis such as Ibn Arabi. Complete freedom is available for a gnostic or a seeker of truth (muhaqqiq) to go anywhere in the universe of Knowledge (‘ilm) and Gnosticism (‘irf̅an), covering areas from pure prudence (ta‘aqqul) to even illusion (tavahhum). He is free to engage with any one—a believer (momin) or a non-believer (k̅afir), an atheist (mulhid) or a sceptic (mushakkik) and either accept them, ignore them, or reject them.

Within such a world are found various distinguished seekers of the Truth like the saints of Ved̅anta, bhakta such as Sant Kabir (15th century), Mira Bai (1498-1546) and Guru Nanak (Nov 29, 1469-Sept 22, 1539); Muslim Sufis like Mans̅ur Hall̅aj (858-March 3, 922), Ibn Arabi (July 26, 1165-Nov.16, 1240), Khv̅ajah Mu‘inudd̅in Chisht̅I (1142-1236), Niz̅amuddin Aulia (late 13th century and early 14th century), Al-Ghazali (1058-Dec. 19, 1111), Rumi (Sept. 30, 1207-Dec. 17, 1273), Bedil (1642-1720), Ghalib, etc. In their visions of the Ultimate, they were different from each other but they all had one thing common—”poetic afflatus” (she‘r̅I Ilh̅am), Mansoor Hallaj’s an-al-Haq, Sarmad’s (d. 1661) paradigm of l`̅a (non-existence)—all are poetic afflatus. This paradigm is somewhere beyond distinctions of religious faith (d̅in), religious law (shari‘ah) and the Sufi path (tar̅iqat). Ghalib belongs to this liberated world. His liberation from all philosophical systems has provided him with a vast space for identifying meaningful accommodation among varied and mutually conflicting schools of thought. That is why access to Ghalib is not possible through prevalent diction, traditional symbols, metaphors, or terms.

He does not come across as either a believer (momin), believer in one God (muvahhid), Sufi, philosopher or a non-believer(kafir), or a believer in any creed (millat) or customs (rus̅um) related to a religion. To have access to Ghalib, new words, symbols, metaphors and terminology are required borrowed from Ghalib himself. More helpful would be to treat his domain as a sort of hospice (kh̅anq̅ah) where man enters for introspection and self-purification and not for presenting himself before God, as it is done in a mosque. There is no spiritual teacher (shaikh) or murshid, there. One would find there only one engrossed in his mystic states sharing with others his experiences of the differences between the existent (mauj̅ud) and the non-existent (l̅a-mauj̅ud).

Ghalib appears to have good knowledge of Sufism. Under the influence of Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅ad̅i and Hazrat Ghamg̅in Sh̅ah of Agra, he got attracted to the power and tradition of the concept of Existential Unity (Vahdatal-Vuj̅ud) in Persian and Urdu poetry. This came to be the axis of his sentimental and intellectual pursuits. Probably, he was more benefited by Sh̅ah Val̅iullah’s writings.4He did not write any treatise in prose on mysticism or Existential Unity nor in his letters. Wherever he mentioned it, it is very brief. At one place, he justifies the Messenger of Islam Rahmatalil- ‘̅Alam̅in and by doing so, he assures himself that his kufr may be forgiven.5

However, this much can be said with considerable certainty that the concept of Existential Unity provides access to Ghalib’s tablet of meaning on which he has recorded his intellectual concerns.

دل ہر قطرہ ہے ساز انا البحر

ہم اس کے ہیں‘ ہمارا پوچھنا کیا

dil-i har qatrah hai s̅az-i an-al-bahr

ham us ke hain, ham̅ar̅a p̅uchh̅na ky̅a

{The heart of every drop is a (musical) instrument of ‘I am the sea”; we belong to Him; our stature is most high.}

ہے تجلی تری سامان وجود

ذرہ بے پر تو خورشید نہیں

hai tajall̅i ter̅i s̅am̅an-i vuj̅ud

zarrah be partav-i khursh̅id nahi̅n

{Your (God’s) ‘illumination’ is the cause of all existence, the particle (of dust) is not without reflection of the sun.}

اتنا ہی مجھ کو اپنی حقیقت سے بعد ہے

جتنا کہ وہم غیر سے ہوں‘ پیچ و تاب میں

utn̅a hi mujh ko apni haqiqat se bu‘d hai

jitn̅a kih vahm-i ghair se h̅un paich-o-t̅ab men

{I am far away from my own essence, as I am struggling with the illusion of ‘the other’.}

اصل شہود و شاہد و مشہود ایک ہے

حیراں ہوں پھر مشاہدہ ہے کس حساب میں

asI-i shuh̅ud v sh̅ahid o mashh̅ud aik hai

hair̅an h̅un phir mush̅ahadah hai kis hi̅sab men

{The essence of the process of phenomenon, the observer of the phenomenon and the phenomenon is the same. I am, therefore, bewildered as to how to account for the act of ‘observation’.}

آرائش جمال سے فارغ نہیں ہنوز

پیش نظر ہے آئینہ دائم نقاب میں

̅ar̅a’ish-i jam̅al se f̅arigh nah̅i̅n han̅uz

paish-i nazar hai ̅a’̅̅inah d̅a’im niq̅ab men

{(God) is still engaged in beautifying Himself; a mirror is always before Him under the mask.}

دہر جز جلوہ یکتائی معشوق نہیں

ہم کہاں ہوتے اگر حسن نہ ہوتا خود بیں

dahr juz jalvah-yi yakt̅ai-yi ma‘sh̅uq nah̅in

ham kah̅an hote agar husn nah hot̅a khudb̅in

{The world is nothing except the phenomenon of unique-ness of the beloved; we would not have existed had beauty not been self- observant.}

عالم آئینہ ء رازست‘ چہ پیدا‘ چہ نہاں

تاب اندیشہ نداری‘ بہ نگاہ دریاب

‘̅alam ̅a’̅inah-yi r̅az ast, cheh pinh̅an, cheh nih̅an

t̅ab-i andishah nah d̅ar̅i, bah nig̅ahe dary̅ab

{The world is a reflection of a secret—visible and invisible,

if you cannot afford to think, access it through observation.}

گرد پندار وجود از رہ گذر خواہد نشست

بحر توحید عیا نی موجزن خواہد شدن

gard-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud az rahguzar khv̅ahad nashist

bahr-i tauh̅id-i ‘iy̅ani maujzan khv̅ahad shudan

{The dust of conceit in existence would settle down on the road; and the sea of ‘iy̅ani Tauh̅id would start surging.}

Let us attempt an analysis of the above positions of Ghalib. Ghalib replaces, “there is no God” (l̅a il̅ahah) of his Existential Unity by “nothing exists except Allah (l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah), and thus places, ‘there is no God’ side by side, ‘l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah’. That is, he replaces God (Ilah) with existent (mauj̅ud), indicating that he is intellectually more concerned with the Existent (mauj̅ud) than God (ilah.) What does this change mean? Let us see. Allah is common to both the phrases. God says that there is no God except God while Ghalib says that nothing exists except God. Therefore, Ghalib’s centre of attention is not Allah; it is the Existent (mauj̅ud). Ghalib is more involved in whatever exists besides Allah. From amongst the philosophical/mystical concepts like God (Ilah), God (Allah), Existence, conformity and non-conformity, he selects that concept according to which nothing exists except Allah.

It is said that when Sarmad was asked why he was stuck with l̅a ilah in the phrase, ‘l̅a il̅ahah il al-Allah’, he replied that he was still involved with the paradigm of negation, l̅a. Ghalib, on the other hand, is not stuck with the state of l̅a (negation) nor is l̅a Ilah his problem. His problem is to know the reality of what appears besides these two. He is stuck with the state of non-existence of reality. If we go deeper it would appear that, other than Allah, the cause of his involvement with the absence of reality is his intense longing for his own identity. How could this be possible without having an idea of the authenticity of the existence of things? It so happened that when he took the road to discovering the Absolute, that is, Existence, he found that, “nothing has existence except Allah”. A philosopher might have accepted it and would have gone back. However, Ghalib, while accepting this ‘illumination’, also starts thinking whether one who has been given this ‘illumination’, exists or does not exist. If ‘illumination’ has been awarded, then there must be a receiver who has received it. In the 17th century, Descartes doubted existence and it led him to the belief in his own existence. He said ‘I doubt, therefore, I am.’ Ghalib did not say this; he was liberated from his existential crisis since he was a poet and not a philosopher. His being a poet forced him to get out of the traditional concept of Existential Unity.

On Ghalib’s religious faith, Alt̅af Husain H̅ali comments that he was a staunch believer in Islam and held that Unitarianism was the essential principle of Islam. Thus, Unitarianism became an essential element of his poetry. Besides Bedil and another eminent Sufi, the Persian poet Naz̅ir̅i (1614), no other poet has treated this theme so extensively.6 Out of all beliefs and religious concepts, he picked up two things‎—Unitarianism and love of the Messenger and his family— for his liberation.7 Maikash Akbarb̅adi believes that Ghalib’s close friend, the Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi had been a great influence in Ghalib’s attachment to Unitarianism. The Maul̅an̅a believed in Unitarianism and had also written a treatise on this subject, Faizul Mauj̅ud fi Isb̅at-i Vahdatal Vuj̅ud.8. Maikash believes that all these concepts could have influenced him only academically, that is, as H̅ali had pointed out, Ghalib was not a Sufi by temperament (ahl-i h̅al). There is a state of pure mystic Unitarianism, gnosis (‘irf̅an) and the felt-gnosis (h̅al) in which none is present except Allah, and whatever appears to exist is a mere illusion. The other state is Ghalib’s worldly affairs.

Now, if mysticism for Ghalib is only a theme of poetic expression, how then to account for his multi-level intellectual structures based on these concepts? If every existence is an illusion except Allah then the universe, the Ka‘bah, the Messenger, and the reward and punishment that serve as the main axis of his thought-system, also have no existence. Shall we consider them simply a product of his rich imagination? There must be some more explanations. And there are. Ghalib had very intimate mystical relations with a known Sufi, Hazrat Ghamg̅in of Agra (1753-1851). In their correspondence they had exchanged views on Unitarianism. In one of his letters, Ghalib refers to a saying by Ibn Arabi which had attracted his attention. Ibn Arabi says that the Truth is something ‘felt’ while the created world is intelligible (al-Haq mahs̅us v al-khalq ma‘q̅ul). That is, the created world does not exist except in our mind as speculation and whatever is ‘felt’ is nothing other than Truth (haq). He says, “This is also my belief while the rest is illusion. All that is in the world, messengership, sainthood, the Day of judgment and resurrection, reward and punishment, are all true and I believe in them.” 9 In other words, the existence of the Creation is in the realm of senses called rational existence (aql̅i vuj̅ud) while absolute reality is only ‘the felt’. There is Truth only in ‘the Felt’ and all else is imaginary (vahm) Ghalib says:

قطرہ اپنا بھی حقیقت میں ہے دریا یکن

ہم کو تقلید تنک ظرفی منصور نہیں

qatrah apn̅a bhi haqiqat men hai dary̅a lekin

ham ko taql̅id-i tunak-zarfi-yi Mans̅ur nah̅in

{My drop, in fact, is also a river, but we do not like to follow Mans̅ur’s lack of magnanimity, that is, when he claimed that he is the Truth}

He clarifies that his purpose is to explain his belief so that it is known that as a believer in non-existence of anything except Allah, he is not in denial of anything and accepts them within a (special) state of feeling (kaif̅iyyat) — non-belief as well as Islam, substance/ ‘ain as well as the ghair (the other, non-substance). This is not exactly a concept that we conceive but that which belongs to this ‘special state of mind’. It may be described as ‘sea and wave or sun and sunlight’.10

I know this much that existence is one and can never be divided. If I believe in both the world and the faith (d̅in), it would amount to the sin of ‘association in existence (shirk fi’l-vuj̅ud’) which is the worst kind of ‘association’. For me, ‘faith’ like the ‘world’ is also an illusion and one should not attach oneself to illusion.11 This view could be taken as Ghalib’s unbelief, but it would not be correct to do so for one who describes himself as absolute believer in one-ness of God (muvahhid). Let us revert to the contradiction between Ghalib’s physical and metaphysical realms. If we keep in mind his use of ‘the felt’ (mahs̅us) and intelligible (ma‘q̅ul) for the faith and the world, the contradiction is removed and Ghalib appears to occupy a position from where he is examining the realms of unity and plurality of the Absolute Truth and a’y̅an-i s̅abitah (the eternal essences of things which together form the world of ideas), on the one hand and, on the other hand, monitor debates on man, universe, the faith, the world, reward and punishment, paradise and hell, etc. and this too with an absolutely pure, untainted and free mind.

If this analysis has any credibility, then Ghalib is offering a unique, thought-provoking concept much beyond Existential Unity and Cognizant Unity. According to this, the illusionary (mauh̅um) has also its own existence along with the Absolute Reality. This material world may not be ‘the felt’ but it is intelligible and is there; and if it is, then this illusion is, also, a “real illusion”! Ghalib in this ‘illusionary real’ or, in the words of Ibn Arabi, khalq-i ma‘q̅ul, is leading a life of an ordinary man. In this existence, all material realities are there as ‘concepts in a special state’, like a wave that, within a concept having ‘a special state’, considers itself existing separate from the sea.

Now, the position is that in terms of active intellect, Ghalib is suffering in the material world, fighting for his pension, flirting with a domini, interpreting Islamic beliefs and, amidst this, he elevates himself from this illusionary level to a higher level of converting experiences of his relationship with an indivisible real existence into his poetry. However, while harmonizing reality with illusion he came to face another problem. The rational world also includes the instrument (malikah) of Reason which he calls and̅ishah (deliberation, reflection). The Reflection, amidst the harmony between absolute reality, and illusionary reality created a powerful element of disharmony as well. Taking a position independent of every physical and metaphysical paradigm, no question arises of Ghalib fixing frontiers for his beliefs nor of reining in his thinking process/reflection. He has set both of them totally free… Nor is he apologetic for reflection confronting belief. His being capable of reflection saves Ghalib from falling prey to the illusory concept of Existential Unity. It has also helped prove the existence of an external Observer (sh̅ahid). Ghalib accepts this outcome.

دہر جز جلوہ یکتائی معشوق نہیں

ہم کہاں ہوتے اگر حسن نہ ہوتا خود بیں

dahr juz jalvah-yi yakt̅a’̅i-yi ma‘sh̅uq nah̅in

ham kah̅an hote agar husn nah hot̅a khudb̅in

{The world is nothing except the phenomenon of the uniqueness of the beloved; we would not have existed had beauty not been self- observant.}

However, Ghalib finds himself not fully comfortable with certain implications of Existential Unity and raises a question:

اصل شہود و شاہد و مشہود ایک ہے

حیراں ہوں پھر مشاہدہ ہے کس حساب میں

asl-i shuh̅ud o sh̅ahid o mashh̅ud aik hai

hair̅an h̅un phir mush̅ahadah hai kis his̅ab men

{The essence of the process of phenomenon, the observer of the phenomenon and the phenomenon is the same; I am, therefore, bewildered as to how to account for the act of observation.}

Continuing with his intellectual curiosity, Ghalib identifies andishah (reflection) as an effective tool for discovering reality, even if it is limited to the realm of ‘the felt’ (mahs̅us).

عالم آئینۂ رازست‘ چہ پیدا‘ چہ نہاں

تاب اندیشہ نہ داری‘ بہ نگاہے دریاب

‘̅alam ̅a’̅inah-yi r̅az ast cheh paid̅a cheh nih̅an

t̅ab-i and̅ishah nah d̅ari, bah nig̅ahe dary̅ab

{The world is a mirror of secrets whether visible or hidden. If you cannot afford to be reflective, access it by merely taking a look at it.}

As mentioned above, Ghalib looks at duny̅a (the world) and d̅in (faith) from a point external to him; sometimes he does not hesitate from going beyond it:

منظر اک بلندی پر اور ہم بناسکتے

عرش سے ادھر ہوتا کاشکے مکاں اپنا

manzar ek buland̅i par aur ham ban̅a sakte

arsh se udhar hot̅a k̅ashke mak̅an apn̅a

{We could build another spectacle on a higher plane,

wish we had a home on the other side of the Throne of God!}

Looking at faith and the world from outside, one is released from the bonds of Time. Such an attitude would be above all time-created pollutions, attributes, customs, and traditions. This is the attitude of Ghalib regarding issues related to religion which shocks and provokes those holding traditional and popular approaches and fascinates or provokes thinking. Looked at from such an external platform along with Ghalib, the physical and the metaphysical worlds would appear quite different and Ghalib’s intellectual concerns regarding Existential Unity and other related issues would, to a large extent, become comprehensible.

While discussing interpretations of certain issues like, kufr (unbelief) and Islam, the status of the human ego, reward and punishment, we should not forget that we are talking to poet and not philosopher Ghalib who, in fact, does not exist. Investigating intellectual content in poetry is an indispensable part of evaluation of poetry. If we look for social, religious or politico-religious themes in, for instance, other Urdu classical poets like Saud̅a (1713-1781), M̅ir (1723-1810), Naz̅ir Akbar̅ab̅adi (1735-1830) or Iqb̅al (1877-1938), it does not mean that we want to reduce him from the versatile position of a poet to that of a social reformer or of a politician. If a high-level concept flows into a she‘r (couplet), it is a process of transformation of a beautiful creation into an aesthetic value.

گو میں رہا رہین ستم ہائے روزگار

لیکن ترے خیال سے غافل نہیں رہا

go main rah̅a rah̅in-i sitamh̅a-yi rozg̅ar

lekin tere khay̅al se gh̅afil nah̅in rah̅a

{Although I always remained the target of social oppression; I was never unmindful of your thought.}

This couplet represents both aesthetic creation and aesthetic value.

لاف تمکیں غلط و نفع عبادت معلوم

در د یک ساغر غفلت ہے‘ چہ دنیا و چہ دیں

l̅af-i tamk̅in ghalat v naf‘-i ‘ib̅̅adat ma‘l̅um

durd-i yak s̅aghar-i ghaflat hai, che duny̅a v che d̅in

{Claims of arrogance are wrong and there is no outcome of prayers;the world and the faith both are just imaginary.}

Meaning, that is the intellectual content of poetry, is a part of the constituting elements of aesthetic value, but not philosophy or logic. The couplet cited above does not have any philosophical or any sentimental references. To derive any concept could be the function of some theological or philosophical system but it has no role to play in the spheres of fine arts and creative literature. Presence of aesthetic values greatly increases their longevity. However, general acceptance of an artist does not depend on the presence of aesthetic values only; there may be some other factors for it as well. In Ghalib, the demand for aesthetic value-creation is very intense. Among other Urdu poets, aesthetic values may be found along with aesthetics, but the demand for value-creation is comparatively much less. Other than Ghalib, the same intensity is found in Iqbal but of a different kind. The theme of creation of aesthetic values has been mentioned here since Ghalib has presented his intellectual concerns as aesthetic values; this was not a conscious act; in Ghalib, intellect is a part of the aesthetic. Let us try to have an idea of these aesthetic values.

کفر/ Kufr/ Unbelief:

کفر و دیں چیست؟ جز آلائش پندار وجود

پاک شو پاک‘ کہ ہم کفر تو دین تو شود

kufr-o-d̅in ch̅ist, juz ̅al̅a’̅ish-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud

p̅ak shau p̅ak, kih ham kufr-i t̅u d̅in-i t̅u shaved

{What is unbelief or religion except a pollution of pride of Existence?

Purify yourself in a way that unbelief becomes your faith.}

The phrase ̅al̅a’̅ish-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud is unique and contains the entire world of meanings, especially when purification of Existence leads to transformation of unbelief into belief. This phrase has been used in another couplet:

گرد پندار وجود از رہ گذر خواہد نشست

بحر توحید عیانی موجزن خواہد شدن

gard-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud az rahguzar khv̅ahad nashist

bahr-i tauh̅id-i ‘iy̅ani maujzan khv̅ahad shudan

{The appearance of the deceptive dust of pride of Existence would disappear and only One Being would be everywhere.}

Ghalib argues that both believers and non-believers are polluted by pride in Existence. In fact, to differentiate between unbelief and belief and between faith and the world amounts to the division of Existence which is no less than the sin of shirk (association of another thing with God). That is, to believe in Existence as God is a fundamental aesthetic value. The prevalence of the concept of Existential Unity in the poetry of Ghalib or in Persian and Urdu poetry is due to this same inclination for aesthetic value-creation.

Several terms of tasavvuf and Islamic jurisprudence are found in Ghalib’s poetry with enough space for their non-terminological understanding as well, such as punishments mentioned in the Qur‘an), and saz̅a (punishments) for other acts, ‘uq̅ub̅at, mak̅an, lat̅afat, kas̅afat, shuh̅ud, sh̅ahid, mashh̅ud, mush̅ahadah, asl, fr̅u‘, tamann̅a, ̅a’̅inah, zang̅ar, etc. He has used the term, kufr, not as in Islamic jurisprudence but in the mystic sense. H̅ali has also drawn attention to this element.12 Mujaddid Alf S̅an̅i has explained it in one of his letters.13 Referring to B̅a Yaz̅id Bist̅ami’s exclamation, “subh̅an̅i m̅a a‘zam sh̅an̅i” and of Mans̅ur al- Hall̅aj’s phrase, an al-Haq, he says that in a state forgetfulness (h̅al) they did not perceive their existence or that of the creation; they saw only God. Had they seen their own essence and uttered these words then it would have amounted to kufr (unbelief). When one reaches the stage of haqqul yaq̅̅in (real certitude) from the stage of ‘ainul yaq̅in (inner essence of certitude), the opposition of kufr does not sustain and their ‘ilm (epistemology) becomes the epistemology of shari‘ah itself.14 In another letter he says that for some Existential Unity is due to the excessive practice of contemplation and they understand the meaning of the phrase, l̅a il̅ahah illallah, in the sense of l̅a mauj̅ud illallah. Since this state of unity of God (tauh̅id) is made by the Sufis themselves and given the predominance of love of the beloved (God) they do not see anyone else existing. This tauh̅id is free from the imaginary and the illusory. Such people should be excused; to abuse them is uncalled for.” 15 Mujaddid Alf S̅an̅i comments that Islam-i maj̅azi (figurative Islam) is better than kufr-i maj̅azi and Islam-i tariqat is better than kufr-i tariqat (heresy of Sufis). Kufr-i tar̅iqat is all deception while Islam-i tariqat is all sensible (sahv). Kufr-i tariqat is the state of Existential Unity.16 Sharfudd̅in Yahy̅a Maner̅i said, “Without being a non-believer, one cannot be a Muslim.”17 Ghalib has also said the same thing:

دولت بہ غلط نبود‘ از سعی پشیماں شو

کافر نتوانی شدناچار مسلماں شو

daulat bah ghalat na-bavad, az sa‘̅i̅i pashem̅an shav

k̅afir na-tav̅an̅i shud, n̅a-ch̅ar Musalm̅an shav

{You cannot get good luck easily, repent your efforts to get it; if it is not possible to become an unbeliever, then there is no other option except to become a Musalman.}

This is how kufr is transformed into an aesthetic value. He voices the same sentiment in a letter: “Not to have hope in God is kufr. By getting disappointed with God regarding myself, I have become, according to the belief of Islam, a complete k̅afir (k̅afir-i mutlaq). Having become a k̅afir, every hope of getting forgiveness in afterlife has also been lost, the world as well as the faith.”18 Related to kufr is his liberality (az̅adgi). He has converted friendship with all into an aesthetic value. Mosque and temple, the Shaikh and the Brahman, both appear in him as positive and negative symbols.

نہیں کچھ سبحہ و زنار کے پھندے میں گیرائی

وفاداری میں شیخ و برہمن کی آزمائش ہے

nah̅in kuch sabhah v zunn̅ar ke phande men g̅ir̅a’̅i

vaf̅ad̅ari men Shaikh v Barhaman ki ̅azm̅a’̅ish hai

{Neither the rosary nor the sacred thread has any binding

force; the real test of the shaikh and the Brahman rests in their faithfulness (vaf̅ad̅ari).}

مقصود ماز دیر و حرم جز حبیب نیست

ہر جا کنیم سجدہ‘ برآں آستاں رسید

maqs̅ud-m̅a ze dair o haram juz hab̅ib n̅ist

har j̅a kunaim sajdah, bar ̅an ̅ast̅an ras̅id

{From temple and the mosque, we do not want to realize anything except our Beloved; wherever we prostrate, the abode of God descends there.}

چہ لطف رہروی آن کہ خار خاری نیست

مرو بہ کعبہ‘ اگر راہ ایمنی دارد

cheh lutf-i rahravi-yi ̅an kih kh̅ar khare n̅ist

marav bah Ka‘bah, agar r̅ah aiman̅i d̅arad

{What pleasure is there in taking a path devoid of difficulties? Do not go (even) to Ka‘bah if the path is peaceful.}

حرف حرفم در مذاق فتنہ جا خواہد گرفت

دست گاہ ناز شیخ و برہمن خواہد شدن

harf-i harfam dar maz̅aq-i fitnah j̅a khv̅ahad giraft

dast-g̅ah-i n̅az-i Shaikh o Barhaman khv̅ahad shudan

{Every word of mine, for people of taste, would become an object of turmoil (and as such) would become a precious authority of the Shaikh and the Barhaman.}

دیر و حرم آئینۂ تکرار تمنا

واماندگی شوق تراشے ہےپناہیں

dair v haram ̅̅a’̅inah-yi takr̅ar-i tamann̅a

v̅am̅andagi-yi shauq tar̅ashe hai pan̅ahen

{The mosque and the temple are mirror-images reflecting repetition of tamann̅a;these are (mere) places of refuge created by the fatigue of human yearning,}

All human beings, Muslim, Hindu or Christian are dear to me and I treat them as my brothers whether the others believe it or not.”(in a letter) 19

According to Maikash, Existential Unity is at the centre of his thought. However, I would suggest that rather than Existential Unity the concept of existence (vuj̅ud) as such is Ghalib’s central theme. He has not used the terms ‘Existential’ or ‘Cognitive Existence’ anywhere. His Urdu and Persian poetry exhibit the influence of both these concepts. While there is rejection of duality of existence and the phenomena produced by this concept, there is also a skepticism about both existence and non-existence. Let us study how he has treated Existence and its derivatives. As mentioned earlier, he is not bound by any current concept. He adopts any of the current concepts that suits his intellectual attitudes in a way that, in most cases, their meanings and their implications are quite different from their traditional sense.

Existential Unity means that Existence, the Necessary Being (V̅ajibul-Vuj̅ud), and the Absolute Reality are all factually one. Material phenomena are those forms of the Absolute Being that are shaped by the human senses. Reality is abstract, external to the human senses and not within the reach of the senses. Material phenomena are not real. Plurality of forms consists of ethereal constructs of Existence—in other words, they are mere illusion. One group of Sufis describe it through the phrase, l̅a mauj̅ud illa Allah; they also believe in l̅a il̅ahah illallah. Both these statements are of fundamental importance to the Sufis. The phrase, l̅a mauj̅ud illa Allah, states the relationship between mauj̅ud and Allah while the other phrase explains the relationship between ilah and Allah. For those believing in l̅a mauj̅ud, existence and God are one.

For believers in l̅a il̅ahah, Allah is Ilah and the rest, that is, that which exists, is other than Allah but is not non-existent. Ghalib’s poetic sensibility does not tolerate duality between mauj̅ud and Allah. For him, existence is only one. Those called existents are non-existent. In other words, Ghalib’s gaze is on the created instead of the Creator. Significantly, he too accepts the mauj̅ud as imaginary (mauh̅um). The question is: does the imaginary exist or is it an attribute of the imaginary?

آسماں وہم است از برجیش و کیوانش مگوی

نقش ما ہیچ است بر پنہان و پیدایش مپیچ

̅asm̅an vahm ast az Birjish v Kaiv̅anash ma-goi

naqsh-i m̅a haich ast, bar pinh̅an o paid̅a’ish m̅a-paich

{The sky is imaginary. Do not talk about its stars. We are nothing and do not go into its being, hidden or visible.}

اے کہ نبوی‘ ہرچہ نبود درتماشائش مپیچ

نیست غیر از سیمیا عالم بہ سودایش مپیچ

ae kih nabvi harcheh nabvad dar tam̅ash̅a’ish ma-paich

n̅ist ghair az s̅imiy̅a ‘̅alam bah saud̅a’ish ma-paich

{Do not involve yourself in the phenomenon of that which has no existence.

This world is imaginary; do not be obsessed with it.}

جز نام نہیں صورت عالم مجھے منظور

جز وہم نہیں ہستیِ اشیا مرے آگے

juz n̅am nah̅in s̅urat-i ‘̅alam mujhe manz̅ur

juz vahm nah̅in hasti-yi ashy̅a mere ̅age

{I accept the appearance of the world only in name;

the existence of things is, for me, only a false idea.}

ہستی کے مت فریب میں آجائیو‘ اسد

عالم تمام حلقۂ دامِ خیال ہے

hast̅i ke mat fareb men ̅aj̅a’̅iyo, Asad!

‘̅alam tam̅am halqah-yi d̅am-i khay̅al hai

{Do not be deceived by existence, Asad; the whole universe is a net of imagination.}

ہاں کھائیو مت فریبِ ہستی

ہرچند کہیں کہ ہے‘ نہیں ہے

h̅an kh̅a’̅iyo mat fareb-i hast̅i

har-chand kahe̅n keh hai, nah̅in hai

{Do no fall a prey to the deception of existence; you may assume that it exists but, actually, it does not.}

کثرت آرائی وحدت ہے پرستارئی وہم

کردیا کافر ان اصنام خیالی نے مجھے

kasrat̅ar̅a’̅i-yi vahdat hai parast̅ar̅i-yi vahm

kardiy̅a k̅afir in asn̅am-i khay̅al̅i ne mujhe

{Plurality of Unity is due to obsession with Illusion. These imaginary idols have turned me into a non-believer. Allah is one but I am caught in the illusion that the plurality of the material phenomena around me is real. My perception of them has made me a non-believer. Ghalib’s faith is a faith in, l̅a mauj̅ud illallah.}

زوہم نقش خیالی کشیدہ ای ورنہ

وجود خلق چو عنقا بدہر نایاب است

ze vahm, naqsh-i khay̅al̅i kash̅idah-yi, varnah

vuj̅ud-i khalq ch̅u ‘anq̅a ba-dahr n̅ay̅ab ast

{The creation does not exist.}

It is interesting that Ghalib refuses to believe in any existent except Allah but, at the same time, treats the illusion of things as real. It is something complex but it also provides an intellectual feast. He has described the illusion through various images and symbols borrowed from the Persian and Urdu tradition of the ghazal:

غرق محیط وحدت صرفیم ودرنظر

ازروئے بحر موجہ و گرداب شستہ ایم

gharq-i muhit-i vahdat-sarfaim o dar nazar

az r̅uy-yi bahr maujah v gird̅ab shashtah aim

{We are totally drowned in Existential Unity;

we have removed from the sea every wave and whirlpool.}

ہے مشتمل نمود صور پر وجودِ بحر

یاں کیا دھرا ہے قطرہ و موج و حباب میں

hai mushtamil num̅ud-i suvar par vuj̅ud-i bahr

y̅an ky̅a dhar̅a hai qatrah o mauj o hab̅ab men

{The existence of the sea depends on appearance of forms; otherwise drop of water, wave and bubble have no meaning.}

ہے تجلی تری سامان وجود

ذرہ بے پرتوِ خورشید نہیں

hai tajall̅i tiri sam̅an-i vuj̅ud

zarrah be partav-i khursh̅id nah̅in

{Existence is due to your (God’s) ‘illumination’;every particle of dust owes its existence to the light of the sun.}

There are several moments when his search for reality of the truth leads him from one concept to another. He does not get any satisfactory answer. The questions remain questions. This produces a state he has described as “bewilderment (tahayyur)”. However, even tahayyur could not satisfy the intellect of his natural life. As we shall see later, it has played a role in the construction of the values of his poetic life. Amidst his intellectual and intuitional inability to find meaning in mutual harmony and disharmony, he is satisfied in being able to see and enjoy phenomena of life.

عالم آئینۂ رازست‘ چہ پیدا‘ چہ نہاں

تاب اندیشہ نہ داری‘ بہ نگاہے دریاب

‘̅alam ̅a’̅inah-yi r̅az ast cheh paid̅a cheh nih̅an

t̅ab-i and̅ishah nah d̅ar̅i, bah-nig̅ahe dary̅ab

{The world is a mirror of the secret whether visible or hidden; if you cannot afford to be reflective, access it by merely looking at it.}

Out of the fierce struggle with questions of existence, non-existence and illusion emerges the real persona of Ghalib when he rejects all of them—not because he wants to replace them with some other concept or belief but because his intellectualism admits of its inability to reach to any conclusion. He sheds all his intellectual verdicts and goes back to the faith embedded in his mind and poetic intuition:

بیدلی ہاے تماشا کہ نہ عبرت ہے نہ ذوق

بیکسی ہاے تمنا کہ نہ دنیا ہے نہ دیں

bedil̅ih̅ay tam̅asha kih nah ‘ibrat hai nah zauq

bekas̅ih̅ay tamanna kih nah duny̅a hai nah d̅in

{No interest in the phenomena, showing no appreciation of their impact; how helpless is tamann̅a . There is neither world nor faith.}

لاف دانش غلط ونفع عبادت معلوم

درد یک ساغر غفلت ہے چہ دنیا وچہ دیں

l̅af-i d̅anish ghalat o naf‘-i ‘ib̅adat ma‘l̅um

durd-i yak s̅aghar-i ghaflat hai, cheh duny̅a o cheh d̅in

{The boastfulness of reason is wrong; and there is no benefit in praying; All is just a drop in the cup of forgetfulness be it the material world or faith.}

In this crucial struggle, Ghalib’s intellect finally asserts itself:

اپنی ہستی ہی سے ہو جو کچھ ہو

آگہی گر نہیں‘ غفلت ہی سہی

apn̅i hasti hi se ho jo kuchh ho

̅agahi gar nah̅i, ghaflat hi sah̅i

{Whatever can be achieved. can be achieved only by one’s own self; if not enlightenment, let it be forgetfulness.}

بازیچہء اطفال ہے دنیا مرے آگے

ہوتا ہے شب و روز تماشا مرے آگے

b̅az̅ichah-yi atf̅al hai duny̅a mere ̅age

hot̅a hai shab o roz tam̅ash̅a mere ̅age

{The world is a child’s toy for me; there is always some spectacle played out before me every day and night.}

He acknowledges the complex nature of the relationship between Absolute Reality and the reality of things. In the preface to his treatise, Sir̅ajul-Ma‘rifat”, he says: “Reality is like a complex letter headlined l̅a muvassir fi’l-vuj̅ud ill̅a Allah, and in the letter is written, l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah. The bearer and revealer of this letter is the last Messenger of God.” 19 One may call it the mysticism of Ghalib in which he and the world both become unreal. Mark it. He does not at all insist that you should agree with him.

Obligation and Possibility/ وجوب و امکاںvujub v imkan

Both are basic concepts of Ghalib’s Existentialism. Mehr-I N̅imroz provides some more material on these issues in his Existential Intellectualism. In various images, symbols and through many arguments, he elaborates the concept of Existential Unity.21 At the same time, to protect himself from allegations of doubting the non-Sufi beliefs in the dual existence of God the Creator and the Creation, he also quotes the traditional positions of the shari‘ah on these issues and clarifies that he was translating similar views held by others (implying that they were not his views.) He makes it clear that whatever he is writing is for a royal assignment and he is recording the positions of both of shari‘ah and thetariqat.

Ghaugin Sh̅ah:

His correspondence with Hazratj̅I Ghamg̅in Sh̅ah of Gwalior (1167/1753-1268/1851) contains exchanges of views on certain complex issues of Sufi thought and practice. They are important since they help, to a large extent, in providing an insight into Ghalib’s involvement with mystical thought which was an important factor in shaping his layered ‘poetic life’. Ghamg̅in Sh̅ah was in Delhi, aged 60, when Ghalib shifted to Delhi from Agra. After three years, in 1825, he came back to Gwalior. Ghamg̅in Sh̅ah was known as a Sufi and as a poet. He used to attend gatherings at the residence of eminent Sufi poet, Khv̅ajah M̅ir Dard. He had his disciples throughout India. Ghalib’s father-in-law, Nav̅ab Il̅ah̅I Bakhsh Ma‘r̅uf was one such. Between 1812/13 and 1815 Ghalib and Ghamg̅in were in Delhi but we do not know if they met each other even once. In a letter written from Gwalior, Ghamg̅in expressed his desire to meet Ghalib to discuss mystical issues.22 The available letters were written around 1838. Before that, in 1833, when Ghalib was 36, his Urdu collection had already been compiled, to be followed by the Persian collection in 1835. From this, one can glean that before these letters were written the physical and metaphysical dimensions of his intellectual concerns had already been shaped.

The letters indicate that the theme of Existential Unity was the chief element of mutual attraction between the two. They wanted to share, from philosophical and mystical angles, their views on complex concepts and experiences like existence, non-existence, a‘y̅an, ‘ain, ghair, fan̅a, baq̅a, mak̅an, zam̅an and be-rang̅i. This is the realm where intellect does not play any role and where only feelings are effective as means of communication and that too when words are capable of such communication. This is also the problem of poetic creation and communication. Therefore, in these letters are found the same mysterious symbols that float on the mystic plane of sublime poetry and which can be felt but are not amenable to analysis or explanation.

As we noted before, Ghalib had links with certain Sufis of Delhi. According to Muhammad Husain ̅Az̅ad,23 Ghalib had spiritual allegiance to the family of the Sufi, Maul̅an̅a Fakhrudd̅in Dehlvi. H̅al̅i has mentioned Ghalib’s intimate relations with Hazrat Mi̅an K̅ale who was the grandson and successor of Maul̅an̅a Fakhrudd̅in. It was through the good offices of K̅ale Mi̅an that Ghalib could get access to the court of Emperor Bah̅adur Sh̅ah Zafar. Maikash Akbar̅ab̅ad̅i believes that Ghalib learnt much on Sufi matters from K̅ale Mi̅an.24 Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq K­hair̅ab̅adi was another scholar who had greatly impacted Ghalib intellectually. Although he was a scholar of rational sciences, ma‘q̅ul̅at, he was also a believer in Existential Unity.25 The issues they discussed in the letters were strictly philosophical and gnostic. It is not possible to decipher this discourse, but one who is interested in these concepts may get a ‘feel” of it. Their exchanges are greatly nuanced and couched in mystical phraseology.

The exchanges between the two are mainly focused on the concepts of Existence of the Non-Existents and the complex nature of cognition, the relationship between concepts and the words that identify them. For instance, one major concept is of ‘ain (actual reality) and ghair (the ‘other’)—existence other than ‘ain and the nature of the relationship between the two. When Ghalib objected to the use of ghair in one of his letters to him, Ghamg̅in clarified that ghair is a meaningless word since its meanings are similar to the meanings of ‘ain. He points out that words do not change realities. However, it is also true that if the words ‘I’ and ‘You’ and ‘this’ and ‘that’ are removed, it would not be possible to decipher the text. Still, the latent meanings of these concepts are always concealed. Sufis like Ibn Arabi, Junaid of Baghdad and Shibli were in favour of keeping the mysterious meanings concealed, although they believed in the material world as the actual reality of god (‘ain Haq).

The central theme of Existence, as we have seen, has been variously explained by Ghalib. Existence is one and indivisible. He says that, “A belief in both the world and the faith amounts to committing the great sin of ‘association in Existence (shirk fi’l-Vuj̅ud)’. Faith (d̅in) like the world (dunya) is, also, an illusionary image and one should not have any attachment to it.”

A point to note is that these mystical and philosophical concepts were alien to Ghalib’s poetic sensibilities and, therefore, instead of becoming a part of his intellectuality, these complexities led to the emergence of what Ghalib called tah̅iyyur—a sense of bewilderment. In the same letter, he declares that it is his ̅im̅an (faith) and all else is illusion; at the same time, he also believed in all that exists in this world, messengership (nubuvvah), sainthood (vil̅ayat), day of judgment (hashr) and resurrection (nashr), reward and punishment. Was Ghalib in search of answers to ‘something more’ than what he had already known? Perhaps. It is this “something more” that he wanted to learn Ghamg̅in. But what that something was, is not clear. There is, however, one matter on which he was keen to be enlightened — the state of be-rang̅i. In a letter, he says that he has attached himself to be-rang̅i and his effort is to return to his essential being (hasti). Maikash explains that be-rang̅i is a Sufi practice performed by fixing one’s gaze at the sky or on the void (khal̅a) leading the practitioner into the state of selflessness (be-khud̅i) and, finally, into the state of annihilation into the essence of God (fan̅a). Achievement of this state is considered very important in all Sufi orders.26 In my opinion, rang means all material phenomena and be-rang̅i means a state of consciousness in which material phenomena do not exist. Practice of be-rangi means abstraction and to try to imagine the non-existent, abstraction of things besides God. Again, differing from the traditional Sufi concept, he says that he is not engaged in the practice of fixing his gaze on the void but for him be-rangi means returning to his essential existence (asl hast̅i). He writes that he, at that time, was observing the be-rangi scenario, a state that is automatically achieved through contemplation. He urges Ghamg̅in to direct intense attention (tavajjeh) so that he becomes exclusively occupied with that state, liberates himself from both rang and be-rang̅i and turns into absolute nullity (‘adam-i mahz).

Ghalib said that although he was an ignorant son of a soldier and his ancestors were Turks of the desert, he wrote some poetry but had no pretensions to tasavvuf. His state was no more than that of a person in whose consciousness Existential Unity and of existence of things had been embedded and the concept that ‘Truth (Haq) was mahs̅us and the Created (khalq) was intelligible (ma‘q̅ul). All he knows is that only the One exists and nothing else exists besides Him. At the same time, he has been forced to admit the fact of his own presence among the existents. “Apart from that, all my courage, efforts and devotional exercises, are dependent on a cup or two of wine which I drink at night and go to sleep. I know neither faith nor the world.” This is the second level of his attitude towards the world. On the third level, he is back in our world. “The hot summer and poverty are no problem for my travelling. I can just put on a garment and travel. But, my case (of pension) is pending abroad for the last two years. Hope that within a day or two, or in a month or two, I will receive the order (of pension) and would leave for Gwalior.”

Thus, for Ghalib the world is: (i) mere illusion; (ii) a world where there is no certainty about the existence of faith (d̅in) and the world (duny̅a) in case they exist; (iii) our world with its material problems. These three do not appear to be coaxial. Indeed, searching for any logical system in the realms of literature and fine arts would be futile. Ghalib himself has remarked on this, and the correspondence reflects a truth about certain points regarding his attachment to mysticism that is absent in his poetry.

  1. Existential Unity is the only means to achieve gnosis of the Absolute Reality. Duality of the actual Realty (‘ain) and ‘the other’ (ghair) is unreal,

  2. Existential Unity and knowledge are a part of my consciousness.

  3. Faith and the world are both an illusion.

These three levels, apparently, do not intersect each other, anywhere. In any case, it bears reiteration that searching for any logical system in the realms of literature and the arts would be a futile exercise. This correspondence, however, helps in the following ways to gauge Ghalib’s attachment to Sufism that is absent in his poetic expression.

(1) ‘The only source of gnosis of the Abstract Reality is the concept of Existential Unity. Duality of Actual Reality and ‘the other’ does not exist; both are the same.’

(2) He declares, ‘I have nothing to do with Sufism. However, cognizance of Existential Unity and of Things is imbedded in me.’

(3) ‘Faith and the world, both are imaginary’.

(4) ‘From a‘y̅an-i s̅abitah till the day of Last Judgement all phenomena are false while the state of Existence remains the same.’

(5) Ghalib fully accepts Ibn Arabi’s dictum that the existence of the creation is within the realm of human reason while the Haq is only that which man feels.

(6) He is not a disbeliever in anything; his belief includes belief in messengership, sainthood, and reward and punishment.

Commenting on these views, Ghamg̅in says that “the knowledge of Sufism expressed in your letters is absent even among the worldly ‘ulam̅a.”27 He adds that he greatly admired Ghalib’s independent approach and I would very much like to meet you. In Delhi, there are thousands of those with long beards, moustaches, rosaries and loose garments which are useless for me. I am very glad about your way of thinking.” 28

Now, what is this ‘independent attitude’? As mentioned above, in these letters, there is a three-fold perception of phenomena: (1) everything except Abstract Existence is mere nullity; (2) there is no distinction between faith and the world; (3) the world and its problems are real for all of us. These three levels are apparently parallel and even contradictory to each other. Is it necessary to search for any connection among them? On the other hand, in the realm of literature and the arts what is beyond communication is also effective (mu’assir). Ghalib was aware of this difficulty. He admits distinctions between reality and illusion, actual reality and ‘the other’, the world and its perception, and the distinction between the sensual and gnostic levels of identification. Then, after such an admission, he embarks on building, from a place far away from all these levels, his position for shaping harmony among these three levels, that is described by Ghamgin as an independent approach (̅az̅ad̅anah rava̅iyyah). While doing so, Ghalib suggests distinguishing between “concept” (tasavvur) and a “particular condition of mind/ feeling (kaifiyat).”

I do not deny anything but accept them all — unbelief as well as belief, actual reality as well as ‘the other’‎—not in real existences but in a particular state (condition) of mind/feeling. All these exist as concepts but not as the concepts that we normally form but those that this kaif̅iyat (particular state of mind) possesses. This relationship between the two is like that between sea and wave or sun and light.”

These letters, especially the above-mentioned one, show Ghalib at a unique meeting place of thought and intuition. His argument that all phenomena are especial perceptions—not the ones which we normally have but those possessed by this kaif̅iyat, invites every believer to deliberate on both the material and the spiritual worlds and on the relationships between the two. Again, to interpret Islam and kufr, and ‘ain and ghair as sea and wave and as sun and sunlight is unique in philosophical or mystic systems. This is, indeed, too complex a concept to understand.

Imtin̅a‘un-Naz̅irامتنا ع النظیر :

Around 1820, an issue that was being debated intensely among the ‘ulama of Delhi was whether Allah could create, like the present one, another world, Adam, and the Messenger of Allah. It was a very complex issue full of dangerous leads. The Delhi ‘ulam̅a were divided on the matter. One group, including Ghalib’s close friend, Maulana Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅ad̅i, believed that Allah was not empowered to create another world and a Messenger of Allah like the present one. The other group led by another eminent scholar, Sh̅ah Ism̅a‘̅il Shah̅id, claimed that Allah could do whatever He wanted to do and nothing was impossible for Him. According to Alt̅af Husain H̅al̅I 28, Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq, believed that creation of another Seal of Messengers (Kh̅atimun-Nab̅iy̅in, Muhammad) was an act just as Allah cannot create someone like Himself. Maul̅an̅a Ism̅a‘̅il Shah̅id’s position was that creation of a likeness (misl) of Muhammad was not impossible-in-itself (mumtina ‘bi-zz̅at), but it was possible-in-itself (mumkin bi-zz̅at) and impossible with ‘the other’(mumtina‘ bi’l-ghair). That is, ‘the likeness of the Messenger’ was not possible, not because Allah was not empowered to create him but because its creation would go against His quality of seal-ness (kh̅atim̅iyat). 29 Maul̅an̅a ‘Ism̅a‘̅il Shah̅id had written a treatise, “Yak Rozi”, as a counter to Maulana Fazl-i Haq’s thesis.30

Ghalib had great respect for Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq, as a scholar and litterateur. The Maul̅an̅a asked Ghalib to write in support of his position. Ghalib at first excused himself on the plea that it was difficult to versify academic issues, but later, on his insistence, agreed to do so. He expressed his views in the Masnavi Shashum included in his kulliy̅at. H̅ali commented that Ghalib did not say that Allah was not empowered to create the Seal of Messengers; he argued that although another Kh̅atim could not be created in the present world, He was empowered to create another world with a Kh̅atim like the present one.

آنکہ مہرو ماہ و اختر آفرید

می تواند مہر دیگر آفرید

̅ankih mehr o m̅̅ah o akhtar ̅afr̅id

m̅i tav̅anad mehr-i d̅igar ̅afr̅id

{One who has created the moon and stars can create another sun.}

لیک دریک عالم از رویٔ یقین

خود نمی گنجد دو ختم المرسلین

lek dar yak ‘̅alam az r̅u-yi yaq̅in

khud nam̅i ganjad do Khatmul- Mursal̅in

{But it is certainly unbelievable that there could be two ‘last messengers’ in

one world.}

یک جہاں تاہست یک خاتم بس ست

قدرت حق رانہ یک عالم بس ست

yak jah̅an t̅a hast, yak kh̅atim bas ast

qudrat-i haq r̅a nah yak ‘̅alm bas ast

{As far as there exists one world, there would be only one ‘last messenger’; however, God’s power does not end with only one world.}

خواہد از ہر ذرہ آرد عالمی

ہم بود ہر عالمی را خاتمی

khv̅ahad az har zarrah ̅arad ‘̅alm-e

ham buvad har ‘̅alam-e r̅a kh̅atam-e

{If He so wishes, He can create worlds from each particle with each having its own ‘last messenger’.}.

ہرکجا ہنگامہ‘ عالم بود

رحمتہ للعالمینی ہم بود

har kuj̅a hang̅amah-yi ‘̅alam buvad

Rahmatulil- ‘̅Alamin-e (Muhammad) ham buvad

{Wherever there would be a world, there would be a ‘Mercy for the Worlds.}

کثرت ابداع عالم خوب تر

یابیک عالم دو خاتم خو ب تر

kasrat-i ibd̅a‘-yi ‘̅alam kh̅ub-tar

ya ba-yak ‘̅alam do kh̅atim kh̅ub-tar

{What is better—many new worlds coming into existence or two ‘last messengers’ in one world?}

دریکی عالم دو تا خاتم مجوی

صد ہزاران عالم و خاتم بگوی

dar yaki ‘̅alam dot̅a kh̅atim ma-jue

sad haz̅aron ‘̅alam v kh̅atim ba-goe

{Do not seek two Seals in one world, hope for millions of worlds with their own ‘Seals’.}

At this point, Ghalib totally changes his stand:

غالب ایں اندیشہ نپذیرم ہمی

خوردہ ہم برخویش می گیرم ہمی

Ghalib! ̅In and̅ishah na-paz̅iram hami

khurdah ham bar khuv̅ish m̅i g̅iram hami

{Ghalib! What nonsense are you talking! I do not accept this view. I admit my mistake.}

مبداء ایجاد ہر عالم یکیست

گر دو صدعالم بود خاتم یکیست

mabda-yi ̅ij̅ad-i har ‘̅alam yakaist

gar do sad ‘̅alam buvad, kh̅atam yakest

{Since the creator of each world is only one, so there would be only one ‘Last Messenger’ for hundreds of worlds.}

صانع عالم چنیں کرد اختیار

کس بعالم مثل نبود زینہار

s̅ana‘-yi ‘̅alam chunin kard ikhtiy̅ar

kas ba-‘̅alam misl na-buvad, z̅inh̅ar!

IIt was the desire of God that there would not be any other like Muhammad.}

این نہ عجز ست اختیارست ای فقیہ

خواجہ بی ہمتا بود لاریب فیہ

̅in nah ‘ijz ast, ikhtiy̅ar-ast, aiy faqih!

khv̅ajah be-hamt̅a buvad, la raib fih

{(Dogmatic)Jurist! This is not the helplessness of God. It is His power to do what He wants to do.}

منفرد اندر کمال ذاتیست

لاجرم مثلش محال ذاتیست

munfarad andar kamal-i z̅ati-ast

l̅a jaram, mislash muh̅al-i z̅at̅i-ast

{The Messenger is unique in his personal attributes. It is impossible to be like


زین عقیدت برنگردم والسلام

نامہ را در می نوردم والسلام

z̅in ‘aqidat bar nagardam, vassal̅am!

n̅amah r̅a dar m̅i navardam, vassal̅am!

{I cannot give up this belief. This is the end of my submission.}

H̅al̅i observed that although Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq had fully explained his position to Ghalib, the latter wrote what he considered correct and his later clarification was made under the Maul̅an̅a’s insistence and does not represent Ghalib’s own opinion.31

The eminent poet-philosopher, Iqbal was also interested in this concept. In his J̅aved N̅amah, he has placed Ghalib in the sky as Mushtari (Jupiter). He queries Ghalib regarding the issue of Imtin̅a‘un-Naz̅ir and himself replies on behalf of Ghalib. Iqbal was experiencing difficulty in understanding it and consulted Maul̅an̅a Sulem̅an Nadvi. His views are as follows:

The present astronomers say that in some stars human beings and creatures of an even higher order may live. If it is like that then the manifestation of a Mercy of the World is necessary there too. In this manner, transmigration or buruz would be at least necessary for the Mohammadans. Suhravardi, the Shaikh of the Ishr̅aqi (illumination) philosophy was in a certain way convinced of transmigration of souls.” 32

Ghalib’s engagement with the issue of Imtin̅a‘aun-Naz̅ir indicates how he was spiritually and intellectually involved in the concepts of tasavvuf, philosophy and kal̅am (Islamic scholasticism). Second, it shows that he did not depend on the opinions of any other, howsoever eminent or close to him, on these issues. This is yet another instance of how for Ghalib his own intuition and intellect (or intuitional intellect) were the sole source of knowledge.

Concept of Time:

There is no substantial discussion on the concept of Time in the Indian Muslim intellectual tradition. It is also absent in the philosophical and Sufi discourse during the times of Ghalib. It is not a subject in the ma‘q̅ul̅at (contemplative sciences) or in the writings of Ghalib’s intellectual colleague, Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi. Iqbal was the first among the Indian Muslim thinkers who noticed it in his western intellectual references. He consulted Suleman Nadvi and other Muslim scholars on the concept of Time. He was told that that there was a treatise that discussed Time, Gh̅ayat al-Imk̅an fi Dir̅ayatul-Mak̅an. Iqbal had mentioned ‘Iraqi, an eminent Persian poet (1556-1591) as its author.33 Later, he clarified that he was not sure about the real author of that treatise.33 Its author is ‘Ain al-Quz̅at Hamd̅an̅i (525 A.H./1130-31).34

Mumt̅az Husain is the only Urdu academic who has identified the concept of Time in Ghalib’s treatise, Mehr-i N̅imroz. 35 He believes that if we study the discussion in Mehr-i N̅imroz along with a letter of Ghalib addressed to Ghamg̅̅in, the impact of ‘Ain al-Quz̅at on Ghalib’s concept of Time can be clearly discerned. Before discussing Mumtaz Husain’s views, let us have an idea of ‘Ain al-Quz̅at’s concept of Time through some quotations from that treatise:

The gnosis of Time and Space is the gnosis of the Essence and Attributes of God and one who possesses such gnosis (‘irf̅an) is blessed more with the direct knowledge of the Essence and Attributes of God.” 36

On Space, he says: “There are three types of Space. First, Corporeal Space (Mak̅an-i Jism̅aniy̅at); second, Spiritual Space (Mak̅an-i R̅uhaniy`at) and the third is the Space of God. Spiritual Space is of three types: (a) Lower Spirituality (Ad̅na R̅`uh̅aniy̅at), space of the angels looking after Hell and the earths below our earths, (b) Middle Spirituality (Avsat R̅uh̅aniyat), and (c) Higher Spirituality, the Space of those angels who are closest to God. There is also the Space of God (Mak̅an-i Il̅`ahi) having no length or breadth, no depth, no distance, no travelling, no highs, no lows; He is neither on the left nor on the right, nor in front nor behind. The Essence of God is beyond all attributes and accidents, without any physical features. If this is so, then the question arises as to how to understand the idea of closeness (qurb) to God? ‘Ain al-Quz̅at says that this “a sealed secret and it is not possible to know Him without the gnosis of Space and Time.”

Time is of three types: 37 (1) First: Corporeal Time —it has two grades. The first grade is of the World of Dense Time (Zam̅an-i Kas̅`if), that is created from the revolution and movement of the Skies like today or tomorrow; it contains in itself all the three‎—the past, the present and the future. The second grade is of the World of Rarefied Corporal Time (Zam̅an -i Jism`aniy̅at-i Lat̅if), in which the speed of Time is very fast. (2) The Time of Spiritualty (Zam̅an-i R̅uh`̅aniy̅at). One of its several types is Angels’ Time (Mal̅a’ikah k̅a Zam̅an). It does not have any resistance or paucity of space. Its past has no beginning (azal) and the future is eternity (abad). (3) The Time of God (Zam̅an-i HaqTa‘̅al̅a): it has no past or future; beginning and end are one; there is no space for any plurality; it is a Time that does not accept either plurality or divisibility. God rules over all infinite powers with a singular competence. He is the Knower of all eternal information with a knowledge having no plurality. He is the first and the last.

Besides ‘Ain al-Quz̅at, Mumtaz Husain quotes from a letter by Ghalib to Ghamg̅in:

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow are parts of the Absolute. Everything from beginning to end is one moment and all from the lowest to the highest is, in that moment, a single Space. Existence is one and indivisible and if the existence of the world and the faith (d̅in) are believed in, it would amount to ‘association in Existence (shirk fi al-vuj̅ud)’. I believe that faith, like the world, is an illusion and one should not be attached to illusion.”

The third source Mumtaz Husain refers to is Mehr-i N̅imroz where Ghalib writes:

The wise men of India, Khat̅a, and Greece agree that on both sides of the Creation there is no limit. From the beginning till the end this phenomenon would continue with all kinds with the same embellishments. What did not happen did not happen; what shall not happen shall not happen. This view is held not only by other religions, but our religious elite also believed in it. For instance, R̅umi says:

پشہ کے داند کہ ایں باغ از کے است

در بہاراں زاد و مرگش در دے است

pashshah ka’y danad ki ̅in b̅agh az ka’y ast

dar bah̅ar̅an z̅ad o margash dar Dai ast

{How can a mosquito understand since when this garden exists as it was born in spring and also died in spring?}

Ghalib then refers to the sayings of the Shi‘ah spiritual figures, ‘Ali and Imam Ja‘far S̅adiq, who believed that this had been the way when the Creator of Existence, as demanded by manifestation, created Adam and Eve on the inauguration of every age so that the world is inhabited with new generations of humankind and the administration of the forthcoming world would function smoothly. When this age ends, then would dawn the Last Day when everyone would be rewarded or punished according to his good or bad deeds in the world.

The discourse on Time includes the phenomena of incidence (hud̅us) and eternity (qidam) as indicators of the nature of Time. Ghalib rejects them as empty and inapplicable.

There is no external existence of the universe. New and old are incidental attributes. All attributes of the Holy Being are His Essence. And the world is not separate from Him just as rays are not separate from the Sun. From the external existents of the world up to the recreated forms of the Last Day, He is manifesting Himself from Himself (az khv̅ish bar khv̅ish jalvah gustar ast).”

Mumt̅az Husain deduces this same concept of Time from the Existentialism of Ghalib. Then he advances the view that the concept of Time that Ghalib constructed from his concept of Existential Unity (Vahdatal-Vuj̅ud), “nothing exists except Allah, nothing impacts in the existence except Allah”, contains revolutionary potentialities for the following reasons:

  1. The Concept of Time is the Time of constant creation.

در ہر مثرہ برہم زدن‘ ایں خلق جدید است

نظارہ سگالد کہ ہمان است و ہماں نیست

dar har mizhah barham zadan, ̅in khalq jad̅id ast

nazz̅arah sag̅alad kih hum̅an ast o hum̅an n̅ist

{With every blink of the eye, this world is new whereas we regard this as the same world and it is not.}

2) Infinity and serial Time become indistinguishable; Time and Space integrate into each other. In them, there is no first or last. Since Time is ‘one moment’, it becomes infinite. Similarly, since Space is ‘one Space’, it is also infinite. Time and Space are infinite since without this the process of the Absolute’s love of manifestation cannot be infinite. Besides, in this concept of Time the duality of Essence and Attributes does not exist.

3) Human existence, integrating with God, obtains His attribute of creativity.

ز آفرینش عالم غرض جز آدم نیست

بگرد نقطۂ ما دور ہفت پر کار است

ze ̅afr̅inash-i ‘̅alam gharaz juz ̅Adam n̅ist

ba-gird-i nuqtah-yi m̅a daur-i haft park̅ar ast

{The object of the creation of the world is nothing except man; the whole universe revolves around us.}

In this discussion, Mumtaz Husain did not refer to Ghalib’s old colleague, Bedil, where considerable material is available on this subject. That Bedil had a huge impact on the thinking of Ghalib is another subject of study. Here, Bedil’s influence on Ghalib’s concept of Time and Space is more visible. Khv̅ajah ‘Ib̅adullah Akhtar has identified influences of Bedil on different concepts and attitudes. The following is a summary of his impact on Ghalib’s concept of time: 38

Concept of Time and the issue of Recreation of the Likes of the Created Beings (tajaddud-i ams̅al). It means that the form and appearance of a thing is changing but the essence of the Thing itself does not change; everything during a process of change, every moment, passes through a new creation (khalq-i jad̅id).

در کار گہ تجدید یکست چمن سازیست

تقویم بہار ایں جا پارینہ نمی باشد

dar k̅argah-i tajd̅id yakast chaman s̅azaist

taqv̅im-i bah̅ar ̅in j̅a p̅ar̅inah nahm̅i-b̅ashad

{A new world is always created in the workplace of renewal; there is always spring in this garden.}

ز کار گاہ تجدد عیاں نہ شد بید ل

جز ایں قدرکہ کس ایں جا بہ انتہا نہ رسید

ze k̅arg̅ah-i tajaddud ‘ay̅an nah shud, Bedil!

juz ̅in qadar kih kas ̅in j̅a ba-intih̅a nah ra̅sid

{Bedil! From this workplace of renewal nothing emerged except that no one reached the ultimate limit.}

تکرارمبندید بر اوراق تجدد

تقویم نفس را خط پارینہ نبا شد

takr̅ar ma-bandaid bar aur̅aq- tajaddud

taqv̅im-i nafas ra khat-p̅arinah na-b̅ashad

{There is no repetition in the process of renewal. In the calendar of life, nothing gets old.}

نہ دی گذ شت نہ فردا بہ پیش می آمد

تجدد من و ما تا قیامت آغاز یست

nah dai guzasht nah fard̅a bah-paish m̅i-̅amad

tajaddud-i man v m̅a t̅a qay̅amat ̅agh̅az ast

{Neither yesterday has passed nor tomorrow is going to happen. My renewal or that of all would be a beginning forever.}

غبار ماضی و مستقبل از حال تو می خیزد

در امروز است گم گر و اشگافی دی و فردا را

ghub̅ar-i m̅az̅i v mustaqbil az h̅al-i t̅u mi-khezad

dar imroz ast gum gar v̅ashig̅afi dai o fard̅a r̅a

{The dust of the past and of the future rises from your present; if you dismember your yesterday and tomorrow, your would find that both are mingled in your present.}

نشاط ایں جا‘ بہار ایں جا‘ بہشت ایں جا‘ نگار ایں جا

تو کز خود غافلی صرف عدم کن دور بینی را

nash̅at ̅in j̅a, bah̅ar ̅in j̅a, bahisht ̅in j̅a, nig̅ar ̅in j̅a

t̅u kaz khud gh̅afile sarf-e ‘adam kun d̅urb̅in̅i r̅a

{Happiness, spring, paradise and the beloved are all here (in the present). Forget about the past and the future.}

ہر کجا رفتم‘ نرفتم نیم گام از خود بروں

صد قیامت رفت و امروز مرا فردا نکرد

har kuj̅a raftam na-raftam n̅im-g̅am az khud bar̅un

sad qay̅amat raft o imroz-i mar̅a fard̅a na-kard

{Wherever I went, I did not take one half step outside of myself, hundreds of calamities happened but could not change my today into tomorrow.}

آن سوی خویشت چہ عقبیٰ و چہ دنیا ہیچ نیست

بگذر از خود تا نگاہے پیش بیں پیدا شود

̅an sue khv̅ishat che ‘uqb̅a v che duny̅a haich n̅ist

begzur az -khud t`a nig̅ahe paish-b̅in paid`a shavad

{Life and life-after-death are there because of us. Go beyond yourself so that you can gain insight into the future.}

حرص ہر سو می برد برسیم و زردارد نظر

زاہد از فردوس ہم مطلوب جز دنیا نداشت

hirs har s̅u mi burad bar s̅im v zar d̅arad nazar

z̅ahid az firdaus ham matl̅ub juz duny̅a na-d̅asht

{Greed always keeps an eye on wealth; the ascetic’s desire for paradise, is nothing else than a greed for worldly pleasures.}

Mumtaz Husain believes that Ghalib’s concept of Time has been acquired from ‘Ain al-Quz̅at Hamd̅ani since Ghalib has mentioned ‘Ain al- Quz̅at in his Mehr-i N̅imroz, although there is no mention of the concept of Time there. Most probably, Bedil is the source of Ghalib’s concept of Time and also of the concepts of this world and the world after, reward and punishment, and of paradise and hell. In fact, in the interpretation of concepts of Existence, non-Existence, and the God-man relationship, Bedil’s intellect occupies a far higher position. However, Ghalib’s concept of Time, as constructed by Mumtaz Husain, invites attention, especially the ‘revolutionary potentials’ identified in it by him. If studied closely, we would find that Ghalib’s phrases of Existential Unity‎—’nothing exists except Allah’‎—and, ‘nothing is effective except Allah’, are not of his coinage but are concepts of tasavvuf. The concept of Time that Mumtaz Husain mentions as Ghalib’s second revolutionary aspect is borrowed beyond doubt from ‘Ain al-Quz̅at. However, the third aspect, mentioned by him of Ghalib’s concept of Time and which describes Man as the centre of life, in a way, reflects the serial manifestation of God’s Time (Zam̅an-i Il̅ahi) and, as such, demands placing man within material Time. This position appears to be quite different from the position of ‘nothing being existent and effective except Allah’. However, this question has nothing to do with Ghalib whose concepts of God, man, and the universe do not provide room for any intellectual situation that is normally described as conflict, contradiction or disharmony.

All thoughts, tendencies, prejudices and points of views are respectable citizens of Ghalib’s poetic life and they, for their part, respect each other. This analysis of the concept of Time leads to an important aspect of Ghalib’s intellectual concerns which is what Mumt̅az Husain has described as the first feature of Ghalib’s concept of Time‎— Time is a process of continuous creation; and this has endowed Ghalib with a beautiful and dynamic instead of ossified concept of life.

The Value-system of Ghalib’s Poetic Life

ہوں گرمیٔ نشاطِ تصور سے نغمہ سنج

میں عندلیبِ گلشن نا آفریدہ ہوں

h̅un garm̅i-yi nash̅at-i tasavvur se naghmah-sanj

main ‘andal̅ib-i gulshan-i n̅a-̅afr̅idah h̅un

{I am singing under the exuberance of the pleasure of thinking,; I am a nightingale of an uncreated garden.}

Every creative artist or poet leads a dual life ‎— a life of the given world and the world created by his imaginative self. In the world of his imagination he is the sole creator and destroyer. In mundane life, a poet goes through social and economic problems and experiences, ways of dealing with day-to-day problems with or without the help of any concepts, or pure romance in sentimental and emotional streams. Among thinkers with critical social attitudes, there are those whose concepts gradually develop into values of their poetic existence. It is such poetic values that serve as a constant in ever-changing human life. This same human creative intellect has maintained the illusion of treating time as real. While concepts have helped identify the three-fold Time of past, present and the future, values have been the cause of construction of continuity in this three-fold Time and in maintaining a dynamic relationship among them.

The poetic life is the world of imagination that enjoys an existence largely independent of the non-poetic universe and life‎—free from all usual human, individual, and social attributes and relationships and all the theoretical and intellectual traditions governing them. This poetic life has its own logical-, emotional- and thought-character, and its own justification in a constant state of mutual interaction. This process, again, is totally free of non-poetic tests, authority and control. It is also not necessary that the poet’s mundane life should be in any way related to his poetic life and amenable to the reader’s understanding or feeling. The felt form of poetic life is derived from language and diction, i.e. symbols, metaphors and themes. The word is autonomous in itself but when it relates to symbols, metaphors and other words, there emerges a life, which I call poetic life. As we know, with a mere change in the angle of observation, both, identities and identifications of things, change. Therefore, examination of things from all sides may provide some idea of their nature if not their reality. In poetic life, ‘knowledge’ of a thing has no meaning in the sense we use this word. Meanings should not be looked at in a couplet in the sense we generally understand them. In poetic life, the meaning of the meaning becomes quite different, in a way that in order to have access to its “meaning” one has to employ a synthesis of several tools of knowledge—senses, observation, imagination, feeling‎— and the poet is capable of narrating the experiences of this life through the impediments of words and narration while the experience of the gnostic life of a Sufi is more absolute than the experiences of a poetic life and, therefore, beyond exposition. If sometimes the Sufi articulates his experience, words would not be able to convey it to those not familiar with such experiences. Phrases like “I am the Truth” or “Praise be to my high status” have never been meaningful for non-mystic readers. On the other hand, when experiences of a poetic life acquire the form of words, they manage to find some space in the readers’ realm of literary appreciation. Every poet does not necessarily have a ‘poetic life’, as such. A ‘poetic life’ evolves in a poet when a poetic-logical relationship exists between abstract, spiritual, and intellectual realities and his own spiritual, intellectual, ethical, and emotional constructs. Poetic logic demands, unlike non-poetic logic, a paradigm of values. The evolution of poetic life is not possible without such a paradigm. Among the first-rank Urdu poets, apart from Ghalib, few appear to have poetic lives. Among these exceptions are Val̅i Aurang̅ab̅ad̅i (1667-1707), Sir̅aj Aurang̅ab̅adi (1715-1763), M̅̅ir Taq̅i M̅ir (1723-1810) and Iqb̅al (1877-1936).

Every poetic life of a poet is different from those of other poets since they are different. Again, poetic life is quite different from the poet’s everyday life (hay̅at-i tab̅̅i ‘̅̅i). Material factors, social environment, philosophical and cultural traditions, and customs, etc., are part of a poet’s life but poetic life is totally a creation of the poet himself with its own time and space and concepts. Even its happiness and suffering may be different from those of physical life. The values elevate a ‘good poet’ to the level of ‘eminent poet’. Second, in Ghalib, the values are inter-related in a way that they can be felt as a value-system. Initially, the values in a poem may appear to a reader as quite unfamiliar concepts and he may accept or reject them. However, with familiarity grows greater cognizability, and the reader would find that they are not changeable concepts but actually eternal values and, therefore, their acceptance or rejection would not be like that of concepts. A poetic value essentially is an aesthetic value. Aesthetic value is free from any religious, intellectual, and social binding. As such, the ‘appeal’ of a Ghalib couplet would not be conditioned by its ‘meanings’.

لاف تمکیں غلط و نفع عبادت معلوم

در دیک ساغر غفلت ہے‘ چہ دنیا و چہ دیں

l̅af-i tamk̅in ghalat o naf‘-i ‘ib̅adat ma‘l̅um

durd-i yak saghar-i ghaflat hai, che duny̅a o che d̅in

{Boasting of worldly positions is wrong and outcome of prayers nothing; the world and the faith, both are just imagination.}

Religious and rational minds may not agree with the view contained in the couplet but they cannot resist the impact it makes on one’s aesthetic sensibilities. Its value is the belief that the world and faith are no more than an illusion. This value appears repeatedly throughout Ghalib’s poetic life.

Now, what are the poetic values of Ghalib’s poetic life and is there any relationship among them that constitutes a system as such? A system of values is constituted around a specific central value through which it becomes empowered to shape, out of itself, its own unique intellectual and emotional attitudes vis-a-vis things, reality and happenings. For instance, the values of Iqbal’s poetic life could be ego, love and passion, while the value of ‘power’ is the value connecting these values.

Every individual or society consists, normally, of a combination of some system of beliefs or norms of culture or a set of customs adopted consciously or unconsciously. However, when an individual or a society selects any set of beliefs or non-belief, some norms of a culture or customs or when any belief system, concept or custom becomes an inalienable part of the individual or society, it turns into a ‘value system’. For such an individual or a society, ‘value’ is neither ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘positive’ nor ‘negative’. For instance, seeing God in an idol is a value for a Hindu. This ‘value’ would be found in his thinking and social attitudes.

Again, since selection of values in a social structure is selection by different individuals at a given time, there may be both common and conflicting value systems in a society. Tensions, conflicts, disharmony, or disorder in a society may well be due to distinctions and clashes in available values.

آں راز کہ درسینہ نہانست نہ وعظ است

بردار تواں گفت وبہ منبر نتواں گفت

̅an r̅az kih dar s̅inah nih̅an ast nah va‘z ast

bar d̅ar t̅u̅an guft o bah menber nah t̅u̅an guft

{The secret hidden in my heart is not a sermon;

it can be uttered on the Cross but not the pulpit (of a mosque).}

The secret Ghalib can utter on the Cross but not the pulpit is one that is a value for him but may not be so for others. Ghalib has deduced this value from the conflict between the prohibitive regime of religion and the freedom of expression. This is a value of Ghalib’s poetic life and not of his everyday life. The poetic creations of every poet are undoubtedly derived from their experiences of real life, but the act of converting these experiences into values of their poetics are not, as we already noted, found in many Urdu poets. Value-formation based on experiences is found only in Ghalib. On the one hand, in his letters, he has narrated his encounters with society, class, customs, morality, etiquette, religious beliefs and so on of the 19th century North India, and, on the other, has offered in his poetic life images of the values produced by such encounters. It appears from an examination of these experiences and the values derived that adaptability between the pattern of the poet’s natural life with poetic values is not necessary‎— most probably because the poetic values flow from the poet’s reaction to real-life experiences. Generally, themes like beauty, love, annihilation (fan̅a), existence, and existential manifestation, are treated as concepts. However, it is to be noted that poetic values are quite different from intellect-related elements. Poetic values shape the poetic persona of a poet. We may even call them poetic beliefs. These are the values that also impact the readers‎—love in M̅ir Taqi M̅ir or the ego in Iqbal. The process of transformation of the experiences and concepts into values of poetic life must have been very long and excruciating. An analysis of Ghalib’s life and his poetry shows that his real-life experiences of economic deprivations had became a curse and played havoc with his emotional and intellectual personality. His letters are harrowing tales and moving portrayals till his last days of seeking restoration of his pension by the British dispensation, borrowing from moneylenders, disposing of his royal robes, etc. Any other person would have been undermined by these adversities, but his intellect (and̅ishah) saved him from total emotional disaster by examining the material and metaphysical causes of that situation. (Nineteenth-century Muslim society was used to understanding and explaining life along these lines.)

His poetic life shows that his intellectualism had always kept company with poetic intuition. The involvement of intellect with his pain (gham) produced a feeling identified as ‘bewilderment” (taha̅iyyur). Taha̅iyyur is a state that rises directly from inability to understand a phenomenon. Human senses can refuse to understand phenomena but their real nature remains out of certain minds. That is, ‘bewilderment’ is a state produced by a conflict between phenomena and their non-comprehension by the human mind. This state of bewilderment is individual-centred‎—certain phenomena may have many meanings for someone while being meaningless for others. Bewilderment may lead to skepticism as well. Ghalib has passed through both these states.

نہ تھا کچھ تو خدا تھا‘ کچھ نہ ہوتا تو خدا ہوتا

ڈ بو یا مجھ کو ہونے نے‘ نہ ہوتا میں تو کیا ہوتا

nah th̅a kuch to Khud̅a th̅a, kuch nah hot̅a to Khud̅a hot̅a

duboy̅a mujh ko hone ne , nah hot̅a main to ty̅a hot̅a

{When there was nothing, only God existed, had there been nothing, God would have existed; my being ruined me, had I been non-being, what would I have been!}

جب کہ تجھ بن نہیں کوی موجود

پھر یہ ھنگامہ اے خدا کیا ہے

jab kih tujh bin nah̅in ko̅i mauj̅ud

phir ye hhang̅amah ai Khud̅a! ky̅a hai?

{When there is none except you, then what is this tumult above?}

گردش ساغر صد جلوۂ رنگین تجھ سے

آئینہ داریٔ یک دیدۂ حیراں مجھ سے

gardish-i s̅aghar-i sad jalvah-yi rang̅in tujh se

̅a’̅inahd̅ari-yi yak d̅idah-yi hair̅an mujh se

{You turn around phenomena; I, bewildered, hold the mirror.}

Ghalib describes impact of skepticism like this:

اپنی ہستی ہی سے ہو‘ جو کچھ ہو

آگہی گر نہیں‘ غفلت ہی سہی

apn̅i hast̅i hi se ho jo kuch ho

̅agah̅i gar nah̅i, ghaflat hi sah̅i

{One’s being makes whatever one is, be it enlightenment or forgetfulness.}

ہاں کھائیو مت فریب ہستی

ہر چند کہیں کہ ہے نہیں ہے

an, kh̅a’̅iyyo mat fareb-i hasti

harchand ka̅he̅n keh hai, nah̅in hai

{Beware! Do not be deceived by existence;

howsoever you may say that it exists, it does not.}

جز نام نہیں صورت عالم مجھے منظور

جز وہم نہیں ہستی اشیا مرے آگے

juz n̅am nah̅in s̅urat-i ‘̅alam muhje manz̅ur

juz vahm nah̅in hast̅i-yi ashy̅a mere ̅age

{The form of the world is nothing except name; existence of things is, for me, only an illusion.}

دود سوداے تتق بست‘ آسماں نا میدمش

دیدہ بر خواب پریشاں زد‘ جہاں نامیدمش

d̅ud-i saud̅a-yi tataq bast, ̅asm̅an n̅am̅idamash

didah bar khv̅ab-i parish̅an zad, jah̅an n̅am̅idamash

{An illusory smoke rose and became a canopy that we called the sky, our eyes saw a wild dream and we named it the world.}

وہم خاکے ریخت در چشمم‘ بیاباں دید مش

قطرۂ بگداخت‘ بحر بیکراں نا میدش

vahm-i kh̅ake r̅ikht dar chashm, biy̅ab̅an d̅idamash

qatrah-yi ba-gud̅akht, bahr-i bekar̅an n̅am̅idamash

{Illusion threw dirt in my eyes and conjured a forest; a drop melted and we called it the sea.}

باد دامن زد بر آتش‘ نو بہاراں خواندمش

داغ گست آں شعلہ از مستی‘ خزاں نامیدمش

b̅ad d̅aman zad bar ̅atish, nau bah̅ar̅an khv̅andamash

d̅agh gast ̅an sh ‘lah az mast̅i, khiz̅an n̅am̅idamash

{The wind produced a fire and spring appeared as spring and the stain made by the fire was called autumn.}

غربتم ناسازگار آمد‘ وطن فہمیدمش

کرد تنگی حلقۂ دام‘ آشیاں نامیدمش

ghurbatam n̅as̅azg̅ar ̅amad, vatan fahm̅idamash

kard tang̅i halqah-yi d̅am, ̅ashiy̅an n̅am̅idamash

{My exile did not suit me, I named it motherland; when the

net became narrow, we called it a nest.}

درسلوک از ہر چہ پیش آمد گزشتن داشتم

کعبہ دیدم‘ نقش پاے رہرواں نامیدمش

dar sul̅uk az harcheh paish ̅amad guzashtan dashtam

Ka‘bah d̅idam, naqsh-i p̅ae rahrav̅an n̅am̅idamash

{Whatever happened to us on the Sufi path, we ignored it and proceeded forward. When we saw the Ka‘bah, we called it a footprint of wayfarers.}

These couplets convey intensely that the essence of reality-in-itself is out of our comprehension and it is we who, on our own, have accorded them identities.

Bewilderment includes skepticism. Existence does not exist but its names exist as suggested by our skepticism. Ghalib, as pointed out above, did not linger any longer; his intellectualism always remained close to his intuition and restrained bewilderment from converting into skepticism. The intellectualism opened a new landscape of values through the central value of tamann̅a (desire). Tamann̅a is the product of bewilderment. Integrating feelings, emotions and rational faculties, it gives it a particular direction, a dynamism in time and space. Ghalib adopted and treated it as a material and spiritual value. Tamann̅a, also appears to be the central value in his poetic life, with several other values in its orbit. The passage from taha̅iyyur to tamann̅a was not without impediment. He not only doubted the reality of the existence of ‘the other than himself’; at the same time, he remained in a constant state of discovery of himself and of ‘the other’. For him doubting does not mean a total rejection of existence, since doubting requires ‘the thing doubted’. If there is nothing, then the question of doubting does not arise. Earlier, Ghazali of the 11th century and Descartes of the seventeenth said the same thing. The difference is that while doubt led Ghazali and Descartes to affirmation of existence, it drew Ghalib into bewilderment as well, thus highlighting the difference between the realms of philosophy, on the one hand, and the arts and literature, on the other. Doubt about the existence of his own self, about ‘the other than himself’ and, especially, about the existence of Necessary Being dragged him to the point of bewilderment. The difference between skepticism and bewilderment is that the former is negative while the latter is positive and with positive possibilities. That is, although both doubt and bewilderment are static in nature, Ghalib did not allow bewilderment to remain static and it was handed over to desire (tamann̅a) for exploring ways of exposition of its positive potentials. Desire is capable of providing justification for the existence of one’s own self as well as that of ‘the other’ and of distinguishing the one from the other. Not only this, desire can also guarantee its spiritual integrity amidst the sufferings of material life.

Ghalib is one of those poets who are conscious of their art and are not conditioned to spontaneous expression of their thought or emotions. Emotions are spontaneous but their artistic expression may be conscious or unconscious. It is quite possible that a conscious process may produce artificial poetic forms; however, if a poet has an intellectual dimension and possesses a powerful instinct of self-examination, then it may help shape beautiful and enduring poetic creations as was the case with Ghalib and Iqbal who did not convert the spontaneous product of emotions into poetic expression but examined them intellectually. Ghalib, more than Iqbal, adopted those elements of life which were resistant to changes in time and, therefore, were more equipped for harmony with human emotional and intellectual longings. In other words, Ghalib had a powerful urge to feel and understand life, an urge that he identified as tamann̅a (strong desire). It is this tamann̅a to feel and understand life that led to the shaping of an intellectual and conscious framework pushing him into the wilderness of man and the universe. Sometimes he took refuge in religion and sometimes in mysticism; sometimes he considered love (‘ishq) as the axis of life and took intellect as an excuse for life, but in certain moments every value became for him meaningless.

لاف تمکیں غلط و نفع عبادت معلوم

در دیک ساغر غفلت ہے‘ چہ دنیا و چہ دیں

l̅af-i tamk̅in ghalat o naf ‘-i ‘ib̅adat ma‘l̅um

durd-i yak s̅aghar-i ghaflat hai, che duny̅a o che d̅in

{Boasting of worldly posssesions is wrong and, on the other hand, outcome of prayers nothing; the world and the faith are both just a peg of forgetfulness.}

While Ghalib did use the framework of Sufism, he did not limit his being to this framework. His framework was flexible enough to accommodate the Zoroastrian and Vedantic points of view as well. It is difficult to say with any certainty that he had direct access to any non-Islamic sources. It might have been through Sufism. It is to be noted that he did not accept all concepts of different traditions just for the sake of poetic requirements; he took a different way. His curiosity is not satisfied and he doubts their validity and, sometimes, rejects them outright.

بزم ِ ہستی وہ تماشہ ہے کہ جس کو ہماسد

دیکھتے ہیں چشم از خوابِ عدم نکشادہ سے

bazm-i hasti voh tam̅asha hai kih jis ko ham, Asad

dekhte hain chashm az khav̅ab-i ‘adam

nakushadah se

{Life is a phenomenon that we see through an eye that has not opened from the dream of non-existence.}

ہاں کھائیو مت فریبِ ہستی

ہر چند کہیں کہ ہے‘ نہیں ہے

h̅an kh̅a’̅̅iyyo mat fareb-i hasti

harchand kahen kih hai, nah̅in hai

{Do not be deceived by the deception of existence;

you may insist that it is, but it is not.}

ز وہم نقش خیالے کشیدۂ ورنہ

وجود خلق چوعنقا بدہر نایاب است

ze vahm, naqsh-i khay̅ali kash̅idah-yi, varnah

vuj̅ud-i khalq ch̅u ‘anq̅a ba-dahr n̅ay̅ab ast

{The world is only a creation of illusion, otherwise there is no existence like the bird ‘anqa which is never seen.}

ہستی کے مت فریب میں آجایواسد

عالم تما م حلقہ دام خیال ہے

hast̅i ke mat fareb men ̅aj̅a’̅iyyo, Asad

‘̅alam tam̅am halqah-yi d̅am-i khay̅al hai

Here, he has described being (hast̅i) as deception (fareb), a spiral net of Imagination (halqah-yi d̅am-i khay̅al), illusion (vahm), an impression of imagination (naqsh-i khay̅ali), and turmoil of imagination (mahshar-i khay̅al).

While doing so, he seems to admit to the existence of these illusions, although temporary, after breaking of which truth and its essence are revealed. He has used this especially with regard to the concept of Existential Unity, highlighting the illusion of existence against the Absolute Truth.

دہر جز جلوۂ یکتائی معشوق نہیں

ہم کہاں ہوتے اگر حسن نہ ہوتا خود بیں

dahr juz jalvah-yi yakta̅iy-yi ma‘sh̅uq nah̅in

ham kah̅an hote agar husn nah hot̅a khudb̅in

(Existence is nothing except illumination of the beloved’s uniqueness.; We exist by virtue of beauty being desirous of seeing itself.}

For Ghalib, only the Creator of the Universe is the Absolute Being and any other existence is mere illusion. He appears to be following the concept derived from tasavvuf in the tradition of Persian and Urdu poetry. However, he does not stop there; he examines it from the point of view of Existential Unity, regards existence as an illusion and doubts its validity.

جب کہ تجھ بن نہیں کوئی موجود

پھر یہ ہنگامہ اے خدا کیا ہے

jab kih tujh bin nahin ko̅i mauj̅ud

phir yeh hang̅amah aiy Khud̅a ky̅a hai

{If nothing exists except you, then what is this tumult all around, O God?}

This indicates that Ghalib, in spite of holding existence to be an illusion, does not find himself in a position to accept the validity of the reality of material phenomena. By recognizing the phenomena of life as “real illusion”, he has, in his thought-system, strengthened the foundations of a system of movement. For him, the reality or non-reality of phenomena are of such robust quality that he, refuses to even regard ‘being’ as ‘non-being’.

نمود عالم اسباب کیا ہے؟ لفظ بے معنی

کہ ہستی کی طرح مجھ کو عدم میں بھی تامل ہے

num̅ud-i ‘̅alam-i asb̅ab ky̅a hai? lufz-i be-ma‘n̅i

kih hast̅i k̅i tarah mujh ko ‘adam men bhi ta’mmul hai

{The phenomenon of the world is an empty word, I believe neither in existence nor in non-existence.)

In this way, in accordance with the ‘real illusion’ of existents, Ghalib liberates himself from the compulsions of all theories and offers a quite different interpretation. The question he poses is: How to deal with this real illusion?

اپنی ہستی ہی سے ہو جو کچھ ہو

آگہی گر نہیں‘ غفلت ہی سہی

apn̅i hast̅i hi se ho jo kuch ho

̅agah̅i gar nah̅i, ghaflat h̅i sah̅i

{Whatever has to happen, it would be by one’s own self, be it enlightenment or forgetfulness.}

This is an emphatic emphasis on human existence in comparison with the real illusion of the universe. That is, man and human intellect have full powers to engage with the illusion of reality. By recognizing human intelligence as different from the universe, Ghalib has enabled man to accommodate knowledge with absence of ignorance. Thus, he places man at the centre of the universe and wants to begin the voyage of the universe. I think this is the aspect of his intellect that determines his individuality. Ghalib intellectually and metaphysically identifies life as an illusion, He treats this illusion on material and spiritual levels as real and then proposes ways to deal with such a life. It appears that this fundamental assumption of illusion has helped him treat life as a ‘real illusion’ and taught him the ways of dealing with it. Now, let us see what human life looks like in this ‘real illusion’. We have seen that sources of Ghalib’s thought cannot be found in any existing philosophy or school of thought. So, the only source available is human life as apprehended through his faculties of observation and experience. Let us see to what extent his observations and experiences have helped build up an idea of life and its vital elements. A cursory glance at his life shows that it was a narrative of unfulfilled desires. But, then, what an artist feels or thinks in his artistic world does not necessarily have to have any logical relationship with his real life. Moreover, what he has received from his view of and experiences in life is more poetic, and less logical and social. In other words, he did not think or feel as a Sufi, philosopher, a rational being or a prophet but as a free human being. Out of the observations and experiences of his temporal life, he derived certain poetic values. Some of them are as follows:


His values, collectively, indicate movement in certain specific directions.

کشاکش ہائے ہستی سے کرے کیا سعی آزادی

ہوی زنجیر موج آب کو‘ فرصت روانی کی

kash̅akash-h̅ae has̅ti se kare ky̅a sa‘̅i-yi ̅az̅ad̅i

huv̅i zanj̅ir mauj-̅i ̅ab ko fursat rav̅ani k̅i

{How should one try to gain freedom from the struggles of life, whereas the permission to flow became a chain for the wave of water?}

Movement as a fact and as a compulsive force serves as a means for dealing with the complexities of the ‘real illusion of life’.

Tamann̅a or̅ Arz̅u /تمنا آ رزو (a strong, instinctive and constant state of longing, desire)

Tamann̅a is the only means for dealing with this real illusion. Tamann̅a, for Ghalib, is the principle of movement. A major portion of Ghalib’s poetry consists of representations, interpretations, and expressions of tamann̅a. It integrates different emotional and mental features into an individual’s personality and enables one to deal with the ups and downs of life. It persuades him into involvement and participation in the phenomena of the universe. Sometimes, as love, it tends to dissolve distinctions between the sacred and the profane. Second, this tamann̅a is self-existent and resists all possibilities of its fulfilment, since fulfilment is the death of tamann̅a. Ghalib does not want to encounter its death:

نفس نہ انجمنِ آرزو سے باہر کھینچ

اگر شراب نہیں‘ انتظار ساغر کھینچ

nafas nah anjuman-i ̅arz̅u se b̅ahar kh̅inch

agar shar̅ab nah̅in, intez̅ar-i s̅aghar kh̅inch

{Do not go out of gathering of Desire, if there is no wine, wait for the wine-cup.}

ہوں میں بھی تماشائیِ نیرنگ تمنا

مطلب نہیں کچھ اس سے کہ مطلب ہی برآوے

h̅un main bhi tam̅ash̅a̅i-yi nairang-i tamann̅a

matlab nah̅in kuch is se keh matlab h̅i bar ̅avey

{I am also an onlooker of various facets of tamann̅a and do not care if I get at all what I want.}

دل مت گنوا‘ خبر نہ سہی سیر ہی سہی

اے بے دماغ آئینہ تمثال دار ہے

dil mat ganv̅a, khabar nah sah̅i sair h̅i sah̅i

aiy be-dim̅agh! ̅a’̅inah tams̅ald̅ar hai

{Do not lose heart. If not knowledge, let it be a stroll,

this mirror (heart) is of multiple images.}

The frontiers of tamann̅a co-exist with those of despair and despondency. Ghalib is aware of that:

بس ہجوم ناامیدی خاک میں مل جائے گی

یہ جو اک لذت ہماری سعیِ لا حاصل میں ہے

bas huj̅um-in̅a-‘um̅id̅i kh̅ak men mil j̅a’ig̅i

yeh jo ek lazzat ham̅ari sa‘i-yi l̅a-h̅asil men hai

{Stop! O multitude of disappointments! You will destroy the pleasure that is there in our futile efforts.}

خیال مرگ کب تسکیں دل آزردہ کو بخشے

مرے دام تمنا میں ہے اک صیدِ زبوں وہ بھی

khay̅al-i marg kab task̅in dil-i ̅azurdah ko bakhshe

mere d̅am-i tamann̅a men hai ek said-i zub̅un voh bh̅i

{The thought of death does not render satisfaction to my sad heart; it too, is a helpless prisoner of my net of tamann̅a.}

But tamann̅a rescues him from despair going through which he may have a new birth.

نہ لائی شوخئی اندیشہ تاب رنجِ نومیدی

کف افسوس ملنا عہد تجدید ِ تمنا ہے

nah l̅a’̅i sh̅ukhi-yi and̅ishah t̅ab-i ranj-i naum̅id̅i

kaf-i afsos maln̅a ‘ahd-i tajd̅id-i tamann̅a hai

{My intellect could not bear the pain of disappointments. Feeling sorry is, in a way, a commitment to renewal of tamann̅a.}

Ghalib goes through all moments of despair and disappointments and narrates them. However, in these narratives he manages to discern some or the other positive aspect of himself:

اب میں ہوں اور ماتم ِ یک شہر آرزو

توڑا جو تونے آئینہ تمثال دار تھا

ab main h̅un aur m̅atam-i yak shahr-i ̅arz̅u

tora jo t̅u ne ̅a’̅inah, tims̅al-d̅ar th̅a

{Now, it is me and my lamentation for a whole city of desire; the mirror that you have broken was multi-image.}

طبع ہے مشتاق لذت ہائے حسرت‘ کیا کروں

آرزو سے ہے شکستِ آرزو مطلب مجھے

tab ‘hai musht̅aq-I lazzat-ha-yi hasrat, ky̅a kar̅un

̅arz̅u se hai shikasht-i ̅arz̅u matlab mujhe

{I am helpless. My nature likes taking pleasure in unfulfilled hopes; by desire (in fact) I mean destruction of desire.}

In such situations, sometimes, tamann̅a develops into despair but resists its hopelessness:

گھر میں تھا کیا کہ تراغم اسے غارت کرتا

وہ جو رکھتے تھے ہم اک حسرتِ تعمیر‘ سو ہے

ghar men ky̅a th̅a keh ter̅a gham use gh̅arat kart̅a

vo jo rakhte the ham ek hasrat-i ta‘m̅ir so hai

{What was there in the house which could be ruined by your pain (pain caused by my love for you), except the unfulfilled yearning for rebuilding (the house) which is still there.}

مثال یہ مری کوشش کی ہے کہ مرغ ِاسیر

کرے قفس میں فراہم خس آشیاں کے لئے

mis̅al yeh meri koshish ki hai keh murgh-i as̅ir

kare qafas men far̅aham khas ̅ashiy̅an ke lie

{My efforts are like a caged bird trying to collect straws for building a nest in the cage.}

Along with despair, a longing for recovery and a desire for shaping a nest in the cage persists. As pointed out earlier, his human concept of tamann̅a has a metaphysical dimension, as well.

ہے کہاں تمنا کا دوسرا قدم یارب

ہم نے دشت اِمکاں کو ایک نقش پا پایا

hai kah̅an tamann̅a k̅a d̅usr̅a qadam, y̅a Rab!

ham ne dasht-i imk̅an ko aik naqsh-i p̅a p̅ay̅a

{Where is the next step of tamann̅a, O God! We found the desert of the possible (dasht-i imk̅an) as a footprint.}

The question is whose tamann̅a it is‎—of man, of God or of himself. Such a thought appears quite strange but not for Ghalib. On an occasion, he puts it explicitly:

ز راز نہاں پردہ برزدہ

ز ذاتِ خدا منجری سرزدہ

تمنائے دیرینہء کرد گار

بوی ایزد از خویش امیدوار

جمالش دل افروز روحانیاں

خیالش نظر سوز یونانیاں

ze r̅az-i nih̅an pardah-e barzadah

ze z̅at-i Khud̅a munjari sarzadah

tamann̅a-yi d̅ir̅inah-yi kirdg̅ar

ba-vai ̅izad az khv̅ish umm̅idv̅ar

jam̅alash dil-afroz-i r̅uh̅anian

khay̅alash nazar-soz-i Y̅un̅ani̅an

{There is a secret, but it is now an open secret. A stream has emerged out of God. It is tamann̅a of God—God is seeking Himself from Himself. His beauty is enlightening for the spiritualists and his image, thought (khay̅al) anti-rational for the Greeks.}

The concept of Existential Unity determines the existence of the Universe as an outcome of God’s desire to see Himself and becomes related to the same God’s tamann̅a. Hence, it would not be wrong to conclude that the concept of Existential Unity became acceptable to Ghalib in relation to the concept of tamann̅a.

Concept of Love عشق // ‘ishq:

Ghalib’s love is another form of tamann̅a which seems to be imprisoned in some face or image of the beloved. Like tamann̅a his love too goes beyond an individuality and transforms itself into a vast universality or existentiality:

رونق ہستی ہے عشقِ خانہ ویراں ساز سے

انجمن بے شمع ہے گر برق خرمن میں نہیں

raonaq-i hasti hai ‘ishq-i kh̅anah-vir̅an-s̅az se

anjuman be-sham‘ hai gar barq khirman men nahin

{That is, all life in the world is due to love‎—the destroyer of homes.}

The emphasis is on the splendour of life and not on destructive ‘ishq. He likes both but is aware that they cannot exist together. As a realist, he accepts compulsions of their togetherness.

سراپا رہن عشق و ناگزیر الفت ہستی

عبادت برق کی کرتا ہوں اور افسوس حاصل کا

sar̅ap̅a rahn-i ‘ishq o n̅aguzer-i ulfat-i hast̅i

ib̅adat barq k̅i kart̅a h̅un aur afsos h̅asil k̅a

{I am fully immersed in the world and its destroyer‎— love.}

If this is so, then what is the meaning of love in Ghalib? He does not believe in self-annihilation in his beloved, whether real or allegorical. It would be more correct to argue that his concept of movement does not allow his emotion to overpower his intellect. ‘Ishq, like tamann̅a, is a sentiment independent of any temptations of gains and the beloved is simply a beauty that is a value in-itself.

نہیں نگار کو الفت نہ ہو‘ نگار تو ہے

روانی روش ومستی ادا کہیے

نہیں بہار کو فرصت‘ نہ ہو‘ بہار تو ہے

طراوتِ چمن و خوبی ہوا کہیے

nah̅in nig̅ar ko ulfat, nah ho, nig̅ar to hai

rav̅ani-yi ravish o masti-yi ad̅a kahiyye

nah̅in bah̅ar ko fursat, nah ho, bah̅ar to hai

tar̅avat-i chaman o kh̅ubi-yi hav̅a kahiyye

{The beloved does not love me but the beloved nevertheless is there. Likewise, the freshness of garden and good air is there even if the spring is not there.}

And, as in the case of tamann̅a, the outcome would be disappointment:

حاصل الفت نہ دیکھا جز شکست آرزو

دل بہ دل پیوستہ‘ گویا‘ یک لبِ افسوس تھا

h̅asil-i ulfat nah dekh̅a juz shikasht-i ̅arz̅u

dil bah dil paivastah goy̅a yak lab-i afsos th̅a

{The outcome of love is nothing but the end of desire.}

ہم نے وحشت کدۂ بزم جہاں میں جوں شمع

شعلہء عشق کو اپنا سروساماں سمجھا

ham ne vahshat-kadah-yi bazm-I jah̅an men j̅un sham ‘

sho‘lah-yi ‘ishq ko apn̅a sar o s̅am̅an samjh̅a

{In this mad world, we considered the flame of lamp as

our wherewithal.}

Traditional treatment of themes of love is also found in Ghalib, but these couplets do not represent Ghalib’s concept of love. He has himself discounted such a concept of love:

خواہش کو احمقوں نے پرستش دیا قرار

کیا پوجتا ہوں اس بتِ بیداد گر کو میں

khv̅ahish ko ahmaqon ne parstish diy̅a qar̅ar

ky̅a p̅ujt̅a h̅un us but-i bed̅ad-gar ko main

{Only fools regarded my longing for my beloved as her worship.}

Vafa / وفا / fidelity:

In love, more than any gain, as such, vaf̅a (fidelity) is crucial. The concept of vaf̅a, like love, is closely linked to tamann̅a. It, more than human values and human relations, plays a foundational role.

وفاداری بشرط استواری اصل ایماں ہے

مرے بت خانے میں تو کعبے میں گاڑو برہمن کو

vaf̅ad̅ari ba-shart-i ustv̅ar̅i asl-i ̅im̅an hai

mare but-kh̅ane men to Ka‘be men g̅aro Brahman ko

{Fidelity with steadfastness is the essence of faith; bury the Barhaman in the Ka‘bah if he dies in a temple.}

نہیں کچھ سبحہ و زنار کے پھندے میں گیرائی

وفاداری میں شیخ و برہمن کی آزمائش ہے

nah̅in kuch sabhah o zunn̅ar ke phande men g̅ir̅a’̅i

vaf̅ad̅ari men Shaikh o Barhaman ki ̅azm̅a’ish hai

{The net of rosary or the Brahamanic sacred thread do not have any binding force. The real test of the Shaikh and the Brahman rests in their fidelity (vaf̅ad̅ar̅i).}

دیر و حرم آئینۂ تکرار تمنا

واماندگی شوق تراشے ہےپناہیں

dair v haram ̅a’̅inah-yi takr̅ar-i tamann̅a

v̅am̅andagi-yi shauq tar̅ashe hai pan̅ahen

{The mosque and the temple are mirror-images reflecting repetition of desire. These are places of refuge created by the fatigue of human yearning.}

طاعت میں تا رہے نہ مئے وانگبیں کی لاگ

دوزخ میں ڈال دو کوئی لے کر بہشت کو

t̅a‘at men t̅a rahe nah mai o angb̅in ki l̅ag

dozakh men d̅al do ko̅i lekar behisht ko

{In order that no temptation for wine and honey is attached in obedience to God, put paradise into hell.}

کیوں نہ فردوس میں دوزح کوملا لیںیا رب

سیر کے واسطے تھوڑی سی فضا اور سہی

ky̅un nah firdos men dozakh ko mil̅alen, Y̅a Rab

sair ke v̅aste thori s̅i faz̅a aur sah̅i

{O God! Why not put paradise into hell and provide some

more space for taking a walk?}

کیا زہد کو مانوں کہ نہ ہو گرچہ ریائی

پاداش عمل کی طمعِ خام بہت ہے

ky̅a zuhd ko m̅an̅un keh nah ho garcheh riy̅ayi

p̅ad̅ash-i ‘amal ki tam‘-yi kh̅am bahot hai

{I do not believe in the giving up of worldly pleasures. It

reeks of greed (by the ascetics) for rewards for one’s acts.}

جنت نہ کند چارۂ افسردگی دِل

تعمیر با اندازۂ دیرائی ما نیست

jannat nah kunad ch̅arah-yi afsurdag̅i-yi dil

ta‘m̅ir bah and̅azah-yi v̅ir̅an̅i-yi m̅a n̅ist

{Paradise is not a cure for sadness of heart; the build-up is not in proportion to our desolation.}

Ignoring crime and punishment, regarding religion as a refuge of the fatigue of passion, and vaf̅a as the basis of all relationships, Ghalib points out that he always had full faith in the never-ending quest and unfulfilled desires—a faith that, in spite of regarding life as a ‘real illusion’, guarantees the position of human existence. Again, this is not a faith of a philosopher but of one who has exerienceed ups and downs like other people, loved and remained faithful and who, through the instinct of never-ending desire, saved his intellectual and spiritual personality from disintegrating. Thus, tamann̅a is the creator of his poetic life. He used tamann̅a and ̅arz̅u in the same meaning with the difference that while ̅arz̅u is directed to mundane objectives, tamann̅a covers, beyond the felt world, metaphysical realms as well.

Ghalib treats tamann̅a as free from all bonds of cause and effect. Redefinitions change the normal meanings of reason, intellect, love, ethics, temple and mosque, paradise and hell, and crime and punishment. These are perceptions articulated by man in a specific linguistic register. Poetic life being different from material life, the meanings of words as used in everyday life become quite different. Tamann̅a tends to narrate meanings of perceptions and thoughts in its own way. This attribute gives tamann̅a an independent character. Passing beyond natural phenomena, it ventures into perception of the Essence and even of experiencing the Essence itself. Its attribute of ‘movement’ or dynamism is derived from its freedom. All these interpretations are not being imposed from outside but have been deduced from Ghalib’s poetics and poetic life.

In the values of Ghalib’s poetics, tamann̅a functions as a value-making value. It has selected all values of his poetic life. In order to identify these values, let us look at the couplets that state the form and nature of tamann̅a. If we do so, we will find that the dynamism of tamann̅a is a reflection of his own failings and deprivations. When tamann̅a gets satisfied, it dies. Ghalib has no final destination in his poetic life. Tamann̅a takes him from one place to another and each place dissatisfies him.

آئندہ وگذشتہ تمنا و حسرت ست

یک کا شکے بود کہ بصدجانوشتہ ایم

̅a’̅indah o guzashtah tamann̅a o hasrat ast

yak k̅ashke bavad kih basad j̅a navishtah aim

{Tomorrow and yesterday are desire (tamann̅a) and unfulfilled desires; only the word ‘alas’ we have written in hundreds of places.}

درہیچ نسخہ‘ معنی لفظ امید نیست

فرہنگ نامہ ہاے تمنا نوشتہ ایم

dar haich nuskhah ma‘n̅i-yi lafz-i ̅um̅id n̅ist

farhang-namah-h̅ai tamann̅a navishtah aim

{We have compiled dictionaries of tamann̅a but the meanings of the word ‘umm̅id’ (hope) are not given.}

Tamann̅a always remains unfulfilled and without hope.

کس بات پہ مغرور ہے اے عجز تمنا

سامانِ دعا وحشت و تاثیرِ دعا ہیچ

kis b̅at pah maghr̅ur hai aiy ‘ijz-i tamann̅a

s̅am̅an-I du‘̅a vahshat o t̅as̅ir-I du‘̅a haich

{There is nothing for tamann̅a to be proud of as it neither suggests ways of praying nor indications of its efficacy.}

یا تمنا ے من از خلد بریں نہ گذشتے

یا خود امید گہے درخور آں می با یست

y̅a tamann̅a-yi man az khuld-i bar̅in nah guzashte

y̅a khud ̅umm̅id-gahe darkh̅ur-i ̅an m̅i b̅ayaist

{Either my tamann̅a should not have passed beyond paradise or there should have been a place for hope equalling my tamann̅a in status.}

منظر اک بلندی پر اور ہم بنا سکتے

عرش سے پرے ہوتا کا شکے مکاں اپنا

manzar ek buland̅i par aur ham ban̅a sakte

arsh se udhar hot̅a k̅ashke mak̅an apn̅a

{We could have raised another spectacle on a higher plane had we had a home on the other side of the Throne of God!}

He describes his existence as tamann̅a’s world of bewilderment.Tamann̅a is also a “spell of waiting”.

پھونکا ہے کس نے گوش ِ محبت میں‘ اےخدا

افسون انتظار‘ تمنا کہیں جسے

ph̅unk̅a hai kis ne gosh-i muhabbat men aiy Khud̅a

afs̅un-i intez̅ar, tamann̅a kahen jise

{Love means waiting for the beloved, that is, tamann̅a.}

خیال مرگ کب تسکیں دلِ آزردہ کو بخشے

مرے دام تمنا میں ہے اک صید زبوں وہ بھی

khay̅al-i marg kab task̅in dil-i ̅azurdah ko bakhshe

mere d̅am-i tamann̅a men hai ek said-i zubun vo bhi

{The thought of death is unable to comfort my ailing heart; death is, also, a prey in my net of tamann̅a.}

Tamann̅a is also charged with intellect, another value created by tamann̅a in Ghalib’s poetic life.

نہ لای شوخئی اندیشہ‘ تاب رنج نومیدی

کف افسوس ملنا‘ عہد تجدید تمنا ہے

nah l̅a’̅i shukhiy-yi and̅ishah t̅ab-i ranj-i naum̅id̅i

kaf-i afsos maln̅a ‘ahd-i tajd̅id-i tamann̅a hai

{Intellect is not cowed by hopelessness; to feel sorry is a vow for renewal of tamann̅a.}

Thinking (and̅ishah) and intellectualism (ta‘aqqul) do not admit of any sense of despondency. He interprets unfulfillment of desires as a commitment to renewal of tamann̅a. This liberation from despondency also liberates him from the compulsion of moving towards any fixed destination and he, making tamann̅a as his ‘other’, becomes its observer.

ہوں میں بھی تماشائی نیرنگ تمنا

مطلب نہیں کچھ اس سے کہ مطلب ہی برآوے

h̅un main bhi tam̅ash̅a’i-yi nairang-i tamann̅a

matlab nah̅in kuch is se kih matlab hi bar ̅ave

{I am also an observer of the multifaceted phenomena of life. I do not mean to get something from them.}

Tam̅ashah is a term selected by Ghalib that constitutes his non-commitment to phenomena.

حسد سے دل اگر افسردہ ہو‘ گرم تماشا ہو

کہ چشم تنگ شائد کثرت نظارہ سے وا ہو

hasad se dil agar afsurdah ho, garm-i tam̅ashah ho

keh chashm-i tang sh̅a’yad kasrat- nazz̅arah se v̅a ho

{If jealousy has made you sad, start looking at the phenomena of life; maybe the multiplicity of vistas will address your shortsightedness.}

نہیں گر سروبرگِ ادراک معنی

تماشاے نیرنگ صورت‘ سلامت

nah̅in gar sarobarg-i idr̅ak-I ma‘n̅i

tam̅ash̅ae nairang-s̅urat sal̅amat

{If means of understanding meanings are not available, the phenomena of life are there for appreciation.}

Tam̅ashah acquires the status of a value not as an act of observation only but as a confident attitude of enjoying the variety of natural phenomena and keeping tamann̅a alive.

نفس نہ انجمن آرزو سے باہر کھینچ

اگر شراب نہیں‘ انتظار ساغر کھینچ

nafas nah anj̅uman-i ̅arz̅u se b̅ahar kh̅inch

agar shar̅ab nah̅in, intez̅ar-i s̅aghar kh̅inch

{Do not give up desire, always wait for the outcome.}

Let us consider some areas of Ghalib’s poetic life:

مژدۂ صبح دریں تیرہ شبانم داد ند

شمع کشتند و زخورشید نشانم دادند

سوخت آتش کدہ زآتش نفسم بخشید ند

ریخت بت خانہ زنا قوس فغانم دادند

گہراز رایت شاہان عجم پرچید ند

بعوض خامۂ گنجینہ‘ فشانم دادند

افسرازتارک ترکان پشنگی بردند

بہ سخن ناصیہ فر کیا نم دادند

گوہر از تاج گسستند و بدانش بردند

ہرچہ بردند بہ پیدا‘ بہ نہانم دادند

ہرچہ از دستگہ پارس بہ یغما بردند

تا بنالم‘ ہم ازاں جملہ زبانم دادند

muzhdah-yi subh dar̅in t̅irah shab̅anam d̅adand

shama‘ kushtand o ze khursh̅id nash̅anam d̅adand

sokht ̅atish-kadah z̅atish nafasam bakhsh̅idand

raikht butkh̅anah ze n̅aqus fugh̅anam d̅adand

guhar az r̅ayat-i sh̅ah̅an-i ‘̅ajam parch̅idand

b-evaz kh̅amah-yi ganj̅inah fish̅anam d̅adand

afsar az t̅arak-i turk̅an-i pushangi burdand

bah sukhan nasiyah-yi farr-i kiy̅anam d̅adand

gauhar az t̅aj gusastand o b-d̅anish burdand

harcheh burdand bah paida, bah nih̅anam d̅adand

harcheh az dastgah-yi P̅ars bah yaghm̅a burdand

t̅a b-n̅alam, ham az̅an jumlah zab̅anam d̅adand

{In these dark nights, I have been given good news of dawn. The lamp was extinguished and I was informed of the rising of the sun. The Temple of Fire was burnt and its fire was given to my breath.The Temple was destroyed and by conch I got my lamentation.. Pearls from the flags of the Persian kings were taken away and in its place a treasure-showering pen was given to me. Crowns of the Turkish kings were removed and in poetry I was awarded with the magnificence of the Kiy̅ani dynasty. Pearls were taken away from the crowns and were imbedded in my intellect. What was taken away overtly, was transferred to me covertly. Out of the loot of Persia, I was given language so that I can lament the loss of Persian heritage. From whatever was looted in Persia (by the Arabs) I was endowed with the language for lamenting for all that was of Persia.}

Ghalib is different from all others:

نگہ گرم سے اک آگ ٹپکتی ہے اسد

ہے چراغاں خس خاشاک ِ گلستان مجھ سے

nigah-yi garm se ek ̅ag tapakt̅i hai, Asad!

hai char̅agh̅an khas o khash̅ak-i gulist̅an mujh se

{A fire drips from my hot sight; the dust and litter of the garden is illuminated by me.}

̅Az̅adgi/ آ زادگی /liberality:

بندگی میں بھی وہ آزادہ وخود بیں ہیں کہ ہم

الٹے پھر آے درِ کعبہ اگر وا نہ ہوا

bandagi men bhi voh ̅az̅adah o khudb̅in hain keh ham

̅ulte phir ̅aey dar-i Ka‘bah agar v̅a nah h̅uv̅a

{In spite of our being worshippers we are so free and self-assured so that we could turn back if the doors of Ka‘bah were not opened for us.}

کیا فرض ہے کہ سب کو ملے ایک سا جواب

آو نا ہم بھی سیر کریں کو ہِ طورکی

ky̅a farz hai keh sab ko mile aik s̅a jav̅ab

̅a’o nah ham bhi sair karen Koh-i T̅ur ki

{It is not necessary that all would get the same reply (from God, ‘you cannot see Me’); let us, too, take a tour of the mountain, T̅ur.}

آزادگی ست سازے‘ اما صدا ندارد

از ہرچہ درگذ شتیم آواز پا ندارد

̅az̅adg̅ist s̅az-e, amm̅a sad̅a nad̅arad

az harcheh dar g̅uzashtaim ̅av̅az-i p̅a nad̅arad

{Liberality/unorthodoxy is a musical instrument but soundless; whatever we have passed through has no sound of its footsteps.}

شعر غالب نبود وحی و نگوئیم ولے

تو و یزداں‘ نتواں گفت کہ الہامے ہست

she‘r-i Ghalib na-buvad vah`̅i o na-goyaim, vale

t̅u v Yazd̅an na-tu̅an guft kih ilh̅ame hast

{The poetry of Ghalib is not revelation and that’s what we say but, by God, is it not revelation?}

کم خود گیرو بیش شو‘ غالب`

قطرہ از ترک خویشنن گہراست

kam-i khud g̅ir o b̅ish shav, Ghalib!

qatrah az tark-i khv̅ishtan guhar ast

{Give up your ego and greater grow; when a drop (of water) gives itself up, it becomes a pearl.}

حریف منت احباب نسیتم‘ غالب

خوشم کہ کارمن از سعی چارہ گر گذرد

har̅if-i minnat-i ahb̅ab n̅istam, Ghalib!

khusham kih k̅ar-i man az sa‘i-yi ch̅arahgar guzrad

{I am no more amenable to the friendly favour; my life has gone beyond any help and favour.}

چنیں کہ نخل بلند است و سنگ نا پیدا

زمیوہ‘ تانہ فتد خود زشاخار چہ حظ

chun̅in kih nakhl buland ast o sang na-paid̅a

ze mevah t̅a nah fatad khud ze sh̅akhs̅ar cheh haz?

{When the tree is tall and stones are not to be found; there is no pleasure unless the fruit is plucked from the branch.}

گرنی تھی ہم پہ برق تجلی نہ طورپر

دیتے ہیں بادہ ظرف قدح خوار دیکھ کر

girn̅i thi ham pah barq-i tajall̅i nah T̅ur par

dete hain b̅adah zarf-i qadh-khv̅ar dekh kar

{God’s illumination should have hit us and not the mountain T̅ur wine is served to drinkers according to their holding capacity.}


We have seen that when conversing with his friends, Ghalib admits that, like other Muslims, he believes in God, Messengership and the Messenger. However, when conversing with himself about God he sometimes feels like a Sufi or a philosopher, in a way that his concept of God becomes two-worldly—the God of the physical world and God of the metaphysical world. In the physical world, man is the noblest being and a necessary cause for the creation of the universe.

برد آدم از امانت ہرچہ گردوں بر نتافت

ریخت مئے برخاک‘ چوں درجام گنجیدن نداشت

burd Adam az am̅anat harcheh gard̅un bar na-t̅aft

raikht mai bar kh̅ak, ch̅un dar j̅am genj̅idan na-d̅asht

{Adam adopted what the sky could not; wine fell on earth when the cup could not contain it.}

These attributes empower man to hold God accountable for demanding explanations from man for acts derived from the attributes of nobility accorded by God Himself. If man is answerable to God, likewise, why should God not be answerable for creating a helpless man. Again, using the parable of appearance of God on the mountain, Tur, he holds God responsible for not according man due respect and attention.

The relationship between God and Ghalib is of that between rahmat (compassionate God) and the sinner rather than between God and the servant of God (man), be it issues bearing on good and bad, crime and punishment, or intervention of reason in matters of faith. God appears to be listening to his ‘complaints’.

پکڑے جاتے ہیں فرشتوں کے لکھے پر ناحق

آدمی کوی ہمارا دم تحریر بھی تھا؟

pakre j̅aten hain farishton ke likhe par, Ghalib!

̅adm̅i ko̅i ham̅ara dam-i tahr̅ir bhi th̅a?

{We (humans) are being caught on the basis of what the angels have been recording about our acts. Was there any witness from our side present at the time of writing?}

نیکی زتست‘ از تو نخواہیم مزد کار

ور خود بدیم‘ کار توایم‘ انتقام چیست

nek̅i ze tust, az t̅u na-khv̅ahaim m̅uzd- k̅ar

var khud budaim, k̅ar-i t̅uam, inteq̅am ch̅ist

{For our virtuous deeds owing to You, we seek no reward. The bad we do is also Your work; why, then, the reprisal?}

مرا چہ جرم‘ گر اندیشہ آسماں پیما ست

نہ تیز گامئی تو سن ز تازیانہء تست؟

mar̅a che j̅urm, gar and̅ishah ̅asm̅an paim̅a-st,

nah tezg̅am̅i-yi tausan ze t̅azi̅anah-yi t̅ust

{I am not responsible if the intellect tends to comprehend everything, is not the speed of the steed due to your whip?}

This paradigm of complaint portrays God as compassionate and man as an apologetic sinner.

چوں زبانہا لال و جانہا پر ز غوغا کردۂ

بایدت از خویش پرسید‘ آنچہ باما کرد

chun zab̅anha l̅al o j̅anh̅a pur ze ghogha kardah-yi,

b̅ayadat az khv̅ish p̅urs̅id ̅ancheh b̅a m̅a kardah-yi

{When you have muted our tongues and filled our lives with turmoil, ask yourself what you have done to us.}1

ہفت دوزخ درنہادِ شرمساری مضمراست

انتقام است ایں کہ با مجرم مدارا کردۂ

haft dozakh dar n̅ih̅ad-i sharms̅ari muzmir ast

intiq̅am ast in kih b̅a mujrim mad̅ar̅a kardah-yi

{Several hells of the curse of guilt are imbedded in (my) Self; forgiving the sinner in spite of the sin is no less than revenge}

صد کشاد آنرا کہ ہم امروز رخ بنمودۂ

مژدہ باد آنرا کہ محو ذوق فردا کردۂ

sad k̅ush̅ad ̅an r̅a kih ham imroz r̅ukh benm̅udah-yi

m̅uzhdah b̅ad ̅an r̅a kih mahv-i zauq-i fard̅a kardah-yi

{The man is fortunate who has been blessed with vision today, and blessed are those whom You have promised the sight of tomorrow.}

خستگاں را دل بہ پرسشہائے پنہاں بردہ

با درستاں گر نوازشہائے پیدا کردہ

khastag̅an r̅a dil bah p̅ursishh̅a-yi pinh̅an burdah-yi

b̅a durastan gar nav̅azishha-yi paida kardah-yi

{You have rewarded the affluent, secretly, as well as the poor, openly.}

چشمہ‘ نوش ست از زہر عتابت کام جاں

تلخی مے در مذاق ما گوارا کردۂ

chashma-yi noshast az zahr-i ‘int̅abat k̅am-i j`an

talkhi-yi mai dar maz̅aq-i m̅a gav̅ar̅a kardah-yi

{You have tempered the poison of your anger, like bitter wine becoming bearable to our taste.}2

جلوہ و نظارہ پنداری کہ ازیک گوہر است

خویش را در پردۂ خلقے تماشا کردۂ

jalvah v nazz̅arah pind̅ari kih az yak gaohar ast

khv̅ish r̅a dar pardah-yi khalqe, tam̅ash̅a kardahe

{In your view, (Your) manifestation and its observation originate from the same essence, (that is why) You are viewing Yourself in created phenomena.}3

These are not grievances (shik̅ay̅at) but sort of appeals (shikv̅ah) to God for the injustice done. Ghalib is not holding God responsible for his deprivations but drawing His attention to them. It may have been noticed that the God of poet Ghalib is not an impervious and mighty God demanding accountability from man. Nor is He the God awarding punishments to sinners. He is a friend and beloved with whom he can talk freely about suffering, sin, shortcomings and deprivations.

Jabr v Qadr / جبرو قد ر / Freedom and Predestination

The intellectual history of Muslims highlights the fact that the Muslim mind has always been engaged with themes of both the spiritual and mundane spheres.4 During the first two centuries of the arrival of Islam, Muslim thinking remained focused on the two primary sources of Islam‎— the Qur‘an and the codification of Traditions (ah̅ad̅is- pluralof had̅is)‎— reports of what the Messenger of Islam said, did, and the pre-Islamic customs of Hijaz the Messenger maintained. The huge task of collection and codification of the Traditions started in about the third century of Islam from r̅av̅is (narrators) living in Hijaz, Nejd, Iraq, and Egypt, who had preserved for more than two centuries one or more than one of theTraditions, received from many other narrators. For authentication of these Traditions, two sciences were developed‎—Asm̅aur-Rij̅al to scrutinize the character and reliability of each narrator and ‘Ilmul-Jarh vat-Ta‘d̅il, to examine each reported tradition scientifically and rationally. This was followed by the development of the science of Islamic jurisprudence (‘Ilmul-Fiqh) and Islamic scholasticism (‘Ilmul-Kal̅am).

Both these sciences were in response to the contemporary social and intellectual requirements of a society formed by a huge influx of new converts to Islam from Persia, Central Asia, North Africa and Spain, bringing along with them several rich social, economic, cultural, religious and intellectual streams to constitute a dynamic new plural knowledge society the paradigm of which was at once spiritual and rational. The issues of this new society were, in many ways, quite different from those of the original Islamic society of Hijaz. Different schools of Islamic law emerged in different regions of Muslim empires. This trend was, perhaps, responsible for bringing in a totally external source of knowledge‎—the Greek philosophical schools and theories. The West was passing at that time through its Dark Age. Under the second Abbasid Caliph, M̅am̅un al-Rash̅id, a new age of knowledge was born. Greek philosophy, especially the Aristotelian concepts caught the attention of Muslims‎—Arab, Persian and Central Asian. The most compelling was the principle that every concept must stand true to reason and evidence.

The Qur‘an also lays great stress on judging every thought and concept in the light of reason and wisdom (hikmah, hikmat in Urdu). The new science of Islamic scholasticism (‘Ilmul-Kal̅am) introduced the method of understanding and interpreting the Qur‘an and the Qur‘anic teachings and beliefs rationally. Reason was mooted as a complement toVahi (revelation) which had still been held as the only source of authenticity. For about a hundred years, the Kal̅am retained its methodological duality of maintaining vahi as the source of Islamic guidance, and reason and rational methodology for the understanding and interpretation of the Qur‘an.

Scholasticism was not the first movement of building up the methodology for comprehension of certain concepts of the Qur‘an. The first philosophical questions raised much earlier by Muslim thinkers were regarding predestination and human freedom (jabr o qadr ). Is man fully free to act or every action is bound to God’s will? Two schools emerged in response to these questions. According to the Jabr̅iyyah school (the predestinarians, fatalists), man in his actions is totally subservient to the will of God. The Qadar̅iyyah, on the other hand, believed that man is empowered to choose between the good and the bad. Second, according to the Qur‘an, man has been endowed with full freedom to deliberate, through his faculty of thinking (and̅ishah in Ghalib’s terminology), on issues of this world and the afterworld.

The Mu‘tazilah emerged in the ninth to tenth centuries. They were rationalists, true successors of the Qadar̅iyyah. They believed that theoretical reason should be the arbiter of the revealed text, and they called themselves Ahlat-Tauh̅id val- ‘Adl (peoples of unity and justice). Another school, al-Ash‘ar̅i (named after its founder, Abul Hasan al-Ash‘ar̅i) was developed in opposition to the Muta‘zilah. It made use of the dialectical method for the defense of divine revelation as applied to theological subjects.

This background would help understand Ghalib’s belief in predestination (Jabr̅iyah). He repeatedly declares in his letters that he is a believer in predestination:

I neither fear death nor have a claim to being patient; my belief, as against the belief of the Qadr, is Jabr̅iyyah” (letter to ‘Al̅audd̅in Kh̅an, August 6, 1862).

However, in his poetic life, he is different. On the subject of reward and punishment, he appears in agreement with the Mu‘taz̅ilite position and maintains his belief in Jabr (predestination) as something imposed on him. He also complains of these compulsions all of which become questions on God’s attributes of Justice. This develops the concept of ‘predestination and freedom’ into a new Value.

His letters are full of detailed accounts of economic deprivations and loneliness, and they would certainly have impacted on the shaping of his physical and metaphysical thinking. His extreme poetry and desperate ways to meet minimum requirements of sustenance might have been responsible for leading him to jabr. There are couplets indicating this.

Of birds trying to break free writes he:

قفس ودام را گنا ہے نیست

ریختن در نہاد بال و پراست

qafas o d̅am r̅a gun̅ahe n̅ist

raikhtan dar nih̅ad-i b̅al o par ast

{Cage and net do not cause falling of wings. These are but natural things.}

Likewise, the good and bad are also predetermined.

غالب ازانکہ خیر و شر جز بقضا نبودہ است

کارجہاں ز پرد لی بے خبرانہ کردہ ایم

Ghalib! az̅ankih khair o shar juz ba-qaz̅a na-b̅udah ast

k̅ari-i jah̅an ze p̅urdil̅i be-khabar̅anah kardah-aim

{Ghalib! Good and bad are related to predestination; whatever we have done in the world we have done fearlessly and spontaneously.}

Here, Ghalib appears closer to the Mu‘tazilah but in his own way and, at the same time, he moves a little away from the Mu’tazilite position. He does not insist that God has created man as bound and helpless. He is not selective and does not adopt any one of God’s attributes ignoring some other. God is all-powerful but His other attributes infuse in it the aspect of freedom as well. In his poetic life, Ghalib’s belief in predestination, absorbing such attributes turns into complaints and protests addressed to God. His core question is that if good and bad flow from God, then the meanings of reward and punishment and of sin and good acts are totally changed. In his protests, he examines the concept of reward and punishment:

غالب زگرفتاری اوہام بروں آی

باﷲ جہاں ہیچ و بد و نیک جہاں ہیچ

Ghalib! ze giraft̅ar̅i-yi avh̅am b̅ur̅un ae

bi-Allah, jah̅an haich o bad v nek-i jah̅an haich

{Ghalib, shed illusions! By God, this world and its good and bad are all absurd.}

نیکی زتست‘ از تو نخواہیم مزد کار

ور خود بدیم‘ کارتوایم‘ انتقام چیست؟

nek̅i ze tust az t̅u na-khvahaim muzd-i k̅ar

var khud badaim, k̅ar-t̅u aim, inteq̅am ch̅ist?

{And if acts of virtue and vice are predetermined (by God), then the question of our responsibility does not arise.}

He takes a step further and declares himself unmindful of both paradise and hell.

ہوں منحرف نہ کیوں رہ و رسم ثواب سے

ٹیڑھا لگا ہے قط قلم سرنوشت کا

h̅un munharif nah ky̅un rah o rasm-i sav̅ab se

terh̅a lag̅a hai qat qalam-i sarnavisht k̅a

{Why should I not deviate from the tradition of reward for doing good? It is so written in my life.}

While analysing further the issue of crime and punishment, Ghalib arrives at the crucial point where all relations between man and God require answers to certain questions. What does obedience to God mean? Does it mean unqualified obedience to God or is it a means of receiving some reward—paradise, palaces or houri, and such like? For Ghalib, the ultimate destination is God which can be reached by love (‘ishq), Obedience is another form of love. Ghalib does not believe in any rewards in return for obedience to God. Thus, he brings man out of the mutually conflicting compulsions of Mu‘tazilite rationalism and that of the belief-based argumentation of the Ash‘arite where both ‘freedom and determinism’ go through a total change:

طا عت میں تا رہے نہ مئے وانگبیں کی لاگ

دوزخ میں ڈال دو کوی لے کر بہشت کو

t̅a‘at men t̅a rahe nah mai o angb̅in ki l̅ag

dozakh men d̅al do ko̅i lekar behisht ko

{Throw paradise into hell so that for obeying God there is no enticement of honey and wine.}

ایں کوثر و طوبی کہ نشانہا دارد

سرچشمہ وسایہ ایست درنیمہ راہ

̅̅in kausar o t̅ub̅a kih nash̅anh̅a d̅arad

sarchashmah o s̅ay̅ah aist dar n̅imah-yi rah

{For me kausar (a fountain in Paradise) and t̅ub̅a (a tree in Paradise) are not rewards; they are signs on the road leading to God, like a stream or a shadow on a road.)5

رنگ ھا چوں شد فراہم‘ مصرفے دیگر نداشت

خلد را نقش و نگار طاق نسیاں کردہ ایم

rangh̅a ch̅un shud far̅aham, masrafe d̅igar na-d̅asht

kh̅uld ra naqsh o nig̅ar-i t̅aq-i nisy̅an kardahaim

{When various embellishments are to be had, there is more to do; all these paradisal decorations we have put in the realm of forgetfulness.}

تاچہ سنجم د وزخ و کوثر کہ من نیز ایں چنیں

آتشی در سینہ و آبے بساغر داشتم

t̅a cheh sanjam dozakh o kausar kih man n̅iz ̅in chun̅in

atishe dar sinah o abe ba-saghar dashtam

{Why pay attention to hell and paradise when my chest is full of fire (as my punishment) and I have my cup of wine (as my reward) ?}

ناکردہ گناہوں کی بھی حسرت کی ملے داد

یارب اگر ان کردہ گناہوں کی سزا ہے

n̅a-kardah gunahon k̅i bh̅i hasrat k̅i mile d̅ad

ya Rab! agar in kardah gun̅ahon ki saz̅a hai

{If there is punishment for sins committed, my unfulfilled desire of committing sins should also be appreciated.}

Talk of good and bad, and obedience, may have some justification in a mystic context but for an ordinary man these are too abstract and would not produce anything other than a deep sense of frustration and deprivation. Ghalib was passing through the existential confusion made by such abstraction and for this very reason he made the abstract God a felt God so that he may complain to him just as one can to one’s beloved. Accordingly, he refers the problem of crime and punishment to the beloved—God. He searches all God’s attributes and finds the attribute of compassion which provides justification for the essence of the God-man relationship, reward and punishment, good and bad and paradise and hell.

Compassion/ / رحمتRahmat

A God-loving man is a concept of the Sufis. Sufism is based on direct relationship with man. On the sufi path, love is the only guide. Ghalib offers a new definition of love—vaf̅ad̅ar̅i (fidelity)

وفاداری بشرط استواری اصل ایماں ہے

مرے بت خانے میں تو کعبے میں گاڑو برہمن کو

vaf̅ad̅ar̅i ba-shart-i ustav̅ari asl-i ̅im`an hai

mare butkh̅ane men to Ka‘be men g̅aro Brahaman ko

{Fidelity with full commitment is the essence of faith, hence, if a

Barhaman dies in a temple, bury him in Ka‘bah}.

Vaf̅ad̅ar̅i is essential to a sufi on the path of tar̅iqat. How to accord steadfastness (ustv̅ar̅i) to vaf̅ad̅ar̅i? He attributes steadfastness to God’s attribute of compassion. Rahmat, to Ghalib, is a guarantee of one’s faith (̅im̅an). It is the only way to prevent a sinner from turning away from God. To believe in rahmat is to believe in God. This is what can protect a sinner from hopelessness.

رحمت اگر قبول کرے‘ کیا بعید ہے؟

شرمندگی سے عذر نہ کرنا گناہ کا

rahmat agar qub̅ul kare, ky̅a ba‘̅id hai

sharmindag̅i se ‘uzr nah karnah gun̅ah k̅a

{God’s compassion may accept not apologising, out of remorse, for commitment of sins.}

Iqbal has a she‘r carrying the same emotion:

موتی سمجھ کے شانِ کریمی نے چن لیے

قطرے جوتھے مرے عرق انفعال کے

mot̅i samajh ke sh̅an-i kar̅im̅i ne ch̅un liye

qatre jo the mere ‘araq-I infi‘̅al ke

{God’s compassion chose the drops of my remorse as pearls.}

گو یند صنعاں توبہ کرد ا ز کفر‘ ناداں بندۂ

کز خود فروشی ہاے دیں بخشش زیزداں خوش نہ کرد

goyand San‘̅an taubah kard az kufr, n̅ad̅an bandahe

kaz khud-farosh̅ih̅a-yi d̅in bakhshish ze Yazd̅an khv̅ush nah kard

{San‘̅an was a pious man who indulged in unethical activities amounting to unbelief. Later, he repented and gave up unbelief.}

Ghalib accused San‘̅an of not believing in God’s rahmat that could have forgiven his sins without him repenting. And if he, now, is forgiven it would be at the cost of his faith. This is how Ghalib explains it:

فرق است میان من و صنعاں در کفر

بخشش دگر و مزد عبادت د گر است

farq ast miy̅an-i man o San‘̅an dar kufr

bakhshish digar o muzd-i ‘ib̅adat digar ast

{There is a difference between me and San‘̅an, that is, between forgiveness of sins and wages for prayers.}

This concept of rahmat removes all intermediaries between God and man whether ascetic, jurist or religious functionary; as also any belief in, or apprehension of, reward and punishment, paradise and hell.

ہمانا کزنو آموزانِ درس رحمتی‘ زاہد

بذوق دعویٰ ازبر کردہ بحثِ بے گناہی را

hum̅an̅a kaz nau-amoz̅an-i dars-i rahmati, zahid!

ba-zauq-i da‘va azbar kardah bahs-i be-gun̅ah̅i r̅a

{Ascetic! You are among the novices of lessons of compassion who have memorised the discussion of innocence due to God’s compassion.}

In this way, rahmat becomes a value in Ghalib’s poetic life and brings man as close to God as could be.

Kufr /کفر/ unbelief:

Kufr is generally a denial of the fundamental beliefs and concepts of Islam. But, in the Persian and Urdu poetic tradition, non-acceptance of restrictions imposed by religious conservatives on libertarianism has been treated as kufr. The scope of this libertarianism has been extended to include various ways in which the beloved spurns the lover. The beloved has, also, become a k̅afir. As Ghalib is not interested in human love, he is not interested in amorous love. Regarding everyday life he has not used the term, kufr in his poetry. However, Ghalib has used the word kafir for his beloved. As such, in his poetic life, kufr enjoys the status of one of the fundamental values. Picking up from the Persian and Urdu literary tradition the concept of kufr, he converted it into a much wider dynamic value of intellectualism, liberty and freethinking. Since in the shaping of the nineteenth century Asian thought and culture, religion had been a strong factor, there was a greater impact of Islamic theology, philosophy, and Sufi thought on his value-building. Coverage of all aspects of the value of kufr is not easy. Nevertheless, a broad scenario of its nature, scope, and impact can be outlined. The first target of this value are the traditional concepts that are replaced by Ghalib’s intellectualism, creed and way of thinking.

ہم موحد ہیں ہمارا کیش ہے ترک رسوم

ملتیں جب مٹ گئیں اجزائے ایماں ہوگئیں

ham muvahhid han, ham̅ar̅a kaish hai tark-i rus̅um

millaten jab mit ga̅in, ajz̅a-yi ̅im̅an hoga’̅in

{We are monotheists, our way is abandonment of rusum; (various) ideologies (millaten), when decimated, become parts of faith (̅im̅an).}

Here, muvahhid means anyone who believes in one God. Becoming a muvahhid means giving up (religious) customs (rus̅um). Rus̅um (plural of rasm, custom), that is, social and cultural religious are norms formed over time. These rus̅um are related to different sub-sects of one or different religious systems. Rus̅um constitute schools of thought and it is in their nature to be different and, generally, opposed to each other. Ghalib considers plurality of millats as going against the pure concept of Tauh̅id (belief in the oneness of God). To believe in multiplicity of millats with different interpretations of oneness of God, is against the pure concept of oneness of God. However, when rus̅um are given up, millats would also dissolve into ̅im̅an and merge with it. Abandonment of rus̅um, for Ghalib, is not a (religious) belief, but a particular point of view‎—kaish. Kaish that is very extensive and charged with manifold meanings is not specific to any particular faith. Every faith has some belief in one God. This tauh̅id is the essence of faith (̅im̅an). At the same time, kufr, in Islamic theological terminology, stands for going against the Islamic faith. That is, in this sense, if only tauh̅id is considered to be the faith then, in essence, there would not be any difference among various religious systems. Theologically, a person violating Islam could not be called a man of faith but, Ghalib argues, a muvahhid (a believer in unity of God) may be called a man of faith, if not a Muslim! On the other hand it is also correct that theologically Ghalib is committing kufr since tauhid is specifically an Islamic belief. It can be surmised that Ghalib brings the controversial issue of kufr (unbelief) and faith (̅im̅an) out of the realm of Islam and Muslim, into a wider circle of human spiritual sensitivities. He is not concerned that by doing so one would become an unbeliever (k̅afir) or an atheist. On the other hand, he has full confidence in his kufr and avoids engaging in any jurisprudential discourse.

برآراز بز م بحث‘ اے جذ بۂ توفیق غالب را

کہ ترک سادۂ ما با فقیہاں بر نمی آید

bar̅ar az bazm-i bahs ay jazbah-yi tauf̅iq Ghalib r̅a,

kih Turk-i s̅adah-yi m̅a b̅a faq̅ih̅an bar nam̅i ̅ayad

{O sentiment of God’s blessing! Bring Ghalib out of the assembly of polemics; he is a simple person and cannot bear with the jurists.}

Ghalib is fully aware of the difference between kufr and kaish and insists on his kaish and kufr. Looking at the traditional concept of kufr and faith (d̅in) from the angle of his existential thought, he finds both kufr and d̅in mere pollution of certain assumptions of feeling of existence or of ego.

کفر و دیں چیست؟ جز آلایش پندار وجود

پاک شو پاک‘ کہ ہم کفر تو دین تو شود

kufr o d̅in chist juz ̅al̅aish-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud

p̅ak shav p̅ak kih ham kufr-i tu d̅in-i t̅u shaved

{Unbelief and belief are nothing except filth of pride in one’s own ego; purify yourself so that your unbelief becomes your belief.}

کو فنا‘ تاہمہ آلایش پندار برد

ازصور جلوہ و از آئینہ زنگار برد

k̅u fan̅a! t̅a hamah ̅al̅a’ish-i pind̅ar burad

az suvar jalvah o az ̅a’̅inah zang̅ar buvad

{Where is the annihilation that removes pollutions of pride and separate manifestation from phenomena and clears up the mirror?}

In the concept of Existential Unity, there is no space for a polluted ego. Kufr, as an existential value dominates over his poetic life.

زمن حذر نہ کنی گر لباس دیں دارم

نہفتہ کافرم و بت در آستیں دارم

ze man hazar nah kuni gar lib̅as-i d̅in d̅aram

nahuftah k̅afiram o but dar ̅ast̅in d̅aram

{Do not avoid me if I am clothed in religious dress,

I am a hidden non-believer and have idols up my sleeves.}

دارم سر ایں رشتہ بدانساں کہ ز دیرم

تا کعبہ تواں برد بزنار کشیدن

d̅aram sar-i ̅in rishtah bad̅ans̅an kih ze dairam

t̅a Ka‘bah t̅u̅an burd ba-zunn̅ar kashidan

{I have secured this thread (zunn̅ar) so that dragged by it, I can be taken from the temple to the Ka‘bah.}

کردہ ام ایمانِ خود را دستِ مزد خویشتن

می تراشم پیکر از سنگ و عبادت می کنم

kardah-am ̅im̅an-i khud r̅a dast-i muzd-i khv̅ishtan

mi tar̅asham paikar az sang o ‘ib̅adat mi kunam

{I have made my faith as the hand of my wages; I carve out an image from stones and worship it.}

This kufr obliterates all distinctions between mosque and temple.

سنگ وخشت از مسجد ویرانہ می آرم بشہر

خانۂ در کوے ترسایاں عمارت می کنم

sang o khisht az masjid-i v̅ir̅anah m̅i ̅aram ba-shahr

kh̅anah-yi dar k̅u-yi Tars̅ay̅an ‘ib̅adat m̅i kunam

{I bring stones and bricks from a mosque in a desolate land (not visited by Muslims) to town; and build a house in the locality of Christians and Zoroastrians.}

In other words, Ghalib is reiterating his belief that the same God is worshipped in all religions. Drawing on his own estimate of the value of kufr and denying any difference in kufr and ̅im̅an, he is going far beyond the definitions of kufr and ̅im̅an given in Islamic theological paradigm.

جز سخن‘ کفرے و ایمانے کجا ست

خود سخن در کفر و ایماں می رود

juz sukhan, kufre v ̅im̅ane kuj̅ast

khud sukhan dar kufr o ̅im̅an m̅i ravad

{Where else are belief and unbelief except in words,

these concepts are themselves in dispute.}

Kufr and ̅im̅an have no relevance. Only the relationship with the supreme reality matters.

شیخ مستغنی بدین و برہمن مغرور کفر

مستِ حسن دوست را باکفر و ایماں کار نیست

Shaikh mustaghni ba-d̅in o Barhaman maghr̅ur-i kufr,

mast-i husn-i dost r̅a ba kufr o ̅im̅an k̅ar n̅ist

{The Shaikh is without faith and the Brahaman has become proud of his unbelief; one who is engrossed in beauty has nothing to do either with unbelief or with belief.}

The Shaikh (an orthodox religious figure), muhtasib (public censor of religious beliefs and morals) and z̅ahid (a Muslim ascetic) have become symbols of narrow-mindedness and dogmatism. Their monopoly over interpretations of religion has severed them from the masses. This, too, is a reason for Ghalib’s ̅az̅adgi and for his inclination towards kufr.

سخن کوتہ‘ مرا ہم دل بہ تقوی مائل است‘ اما

ز ننگ زاہد افتادم بہ کافر ماجراے ہا

sukhan kotah, mar̅a ham dil bah taqvah m̅a’̅il ast, amm̅a,

ze nang-i z̅ahid uft̅adam bah k̅afir m̅ajr̅a’e-h̅a

{Briefly, my heart also tends towards piety; it was due to the ill-repute of the z̅ahid that I was drawn into disbelief!}

مقصود ما زدیر و حرم جز حبیب نیست

ہرجا کنیم سجدہ‘ براں آستاں رسد

maqs̅ud-i m̅a ze dair o haram juz hab̅ib n̅ist

har j̅a kunaim sajdah, bar ̅an ̅ast̅an rasad

{Our objective from mosque and temple is nothing except the Beloved; wherever we prostrate, the abode of God reaches there.}

اسد کو بت پرستی سے غرض درد آشنای ہے

نہاں ہیں نالۂ ناقوس میں در پردہ یا رب ہا

Asad! ko but-parast̅i se gharaz dard-̅ashn̅a’̅i hai

nih̅an hain n̅alah-yi n̅aq̅us men dar pardah ‘y̅a Rab-h̅a’

{Ghalib relates himself to idol worship for the sake of empathy; in the cry of the conch are hidden calls of ‘O God’.}

Here, his reference to idol worship is mutual human empathy. This couplet and several other couplets insist that definition and determination of faith is possible only through human values without in any way ignoring systems of faith.

The central point remains discovery of ways to access Reality. In his attitudes in mundane life he has insisted on his firm belief in tauh̅id, ris̅alat, and other fundamentals of Islam. In his spiritual-poetic life, on the other hand, he adopts those concepts that could serve as values. The question remains as to why Ghalib lays emphasis on kufr as a value. Alt̅af Husain Hali offers this explanation with reference to the following couplet:

دولت بغلط نبود‘ از سعی پشیماں شو

کافر نتوانی شد‘ ناچار مسلماں شو

daulat ba-ghalat na-buvad az sa‘̅i pashem̅an shav

k̅afir na-tu̅an̅i shud, n̅a-ch̅ar Musalm̅an shav

{Good luck is not easy to come by and you should not repent your efforts of having no options. If you could not become non-believer, become a Muslim.}

H̅ali says that by kufr, Ghalib most probably means the kufr which, in accordance with Sufi terminology, is a high stage of faqr (an Islamic trait of subsistence on minimum comforts, poverty) and darveshi (state of Muslim monks, hermits). Support for this view is to be had in the letters of Mujaddid Alf S̅ani, 4 according to whom, the nature of kufr depends on the state of mind in which kufr is noticed. Existential Unity (tauh̅id-i vuj̅ud̅i) is a type of knowledge of certitude, while Cognitive Unity (tauh̅id-i shuh̅ud̅i) is a type of ‘knowledge gained through observation and experience’ (‘ilm al-yaq̅in). Cognitive Unity is necessary on this path since due to the predominance of the state of Existential Unity, the traveller (on the path of Sufism) does not see anything else except the Essence (z̅at). It is like this: if someone has the knowledge of the sun, it would not make the stars invisible. And one who is observing the essence of the Sun, in keeping with the point of view of ‘ain al-yaq̅in (faith obtained through personal experience), stars do not exist. When B̅ayaz̅id Bist̅ami and Mans̅ur al-Hall̅aj respectively uttered, subh̅ani m̅a a‘zama sh̅an̅i (praise be to my magnificent position) and ‘an-al-Haq (I am the Truth/God), under the predominance of a spiritual state, they could not perceive their own existent being and that of the created world and could see only God. When the Sufi arrives from the state of‘ain al-yaq̅in into the state of haqq al-yaq̅in (Truth received directly from God), then negation of kufr does not survive and his knowledge of God becomes the knowledge of shar̅i ‘ah. 5 Kufr is of two types‎— kufr-i shari‘at and kufr-i tariqat. The state of kufr-i tariqat is the state of intoxication (sukr) and the state of kufr-i shari‘at is that of consciousness (sahv). Kufr-i Tariqat means the state of Unity of Existence, the state of sukr (unconsciousness), while Islami Tar̅iqat represents state of Cognitive Existence,6 Sharfudd̅in Yahy̅a Maneri says that unless one is not an unbeliever (k̅afir), he cannot become a Muslim. Here, kufr means kufr-i tariqat . Real faith (̅im̅an) can be obtained only through ‘real unbelief’ (kufr-i haq̅iq̅i).7 In his poetic life, Ghalib has adopted this mystic thought and filled it with his own concept of reality.

Love/ عشق/ ‘Ishq:

Allegorical love (‘ishq-i maj̅az̅i), more than divine love, has always been the most favoured theme (mazm̅un) with a vast range of multiple sensual and emotional images and relationships such as husn (beauty), ges̅u (hair, tresses), zulf (a curling lock hangng over the ear), gul (flower), bulbul (nightingale), vis̅al (tryst with the beloved), fir̅aq (separation from the beloved), vaf̅a (fidelity), jaf̅a (the beloved’s dismissal of the lover’s avowal of love), raq̅ib (rival in love), q̅atil (assassin, harsh beloved), beloved (mahb̅ub, ma‘sh̅uq), s̅aqi (one who serves wine), sitam (the beloved’s oppressions of the lover by the beloved), sitamgar (oppressor, beloved), n̅aseh (an advisor on ethical behaviour), ma’e (wine), maikadah (tavern), nashah (state of intoxication), k̅uchah-yi mahb̅ub (the lane where the house of the beloved is located), barq (lightning), ̅ash̅i̅anah (nest, home). In Ghalib’s poetry, there are no indications of his having been in love with any woman. It appears that his intellectual involvement in spiritual issues like being and non-Being did not provide any space for such love. However, there are many she‘r and ghazals dealing with the traditional themes and symbols of love, as mentioned above. Here, too, his art of treating these traditional themes maintains its own uniqueness. He makes it clear that his allusions are not to love but to desire (khv̅ahish):

خواہش کو احمقوں نے پرستش دیا قرار

کیا پوجتا ہوں اس بتِ بیداد گر کو میں

khv̅ahish ko ahmaqon ne parastish diy̅a qar̅ar

ky̅a p̅ujt̅a h̅un us but-i bed̅adgar ko main?

{Only fools describe my desire as my worship of my beloved.}

He is for flirting with rather than loving someone. Very significantly, in his poetic life as well, love (‘ishq), whether allegorical (maj̅az̅i) or of the Absolute (haq̅iq̅i), does not have the status of a value. Ghalib believed in flirtation and even had one or two beloveds of his own, but it is not the kind of love that for Mir and Iqbal was the chief emotion or thought energising their ideal poetic life. All areas of concern of both these poets revolved round their own respective concepts of love. For the intellectual Ghalib love (both haq̅iq̅i or maj̅az̅i) amounts to a self-surrender to the Absolute or to some beloved, and he is not amenable to any kind of surrender. Again, for him, love means involvement in something external‎—outside of one’s own self. There is no room in love for the intellect, skepticism or reasoning that are core concepts and values in Ghalib’s poetic life. In his poetic life, however, love as a perpetual category of steadfastness is as vibrant as intellect, wisdom, and Existential Unity are. What cannot be ignored is that Ghalib the poet has also passed through experiences of the universal concept of love and those between man and God. This is where the love of Ghalib as a mystic concept is transformed into a value.

Another point to note is paucity of that kind of poetry in which Ghalib appears to be helpless due to the unresponsive beloved. Ghalib does not look at his beloved as a god nor does he justify the worship of the beloved as necessary. The beloved and the lover confront each other. Along with loving the beloved, he is fiercely sensitive about respect for his own emotion of love. This is the factor that helps us glimpse Ghalib’ persona and consider his attitude towards love. He does not wish to put the beloved above the demands of the lover by according the beloved an ideal position. This is not a request but a friendly suggestion. His beloved is an ordinary common human being like himself who sometimes becomes aggressive:

عجز ونیازسے تونہ آیا وہ راہ پر

دامن کو اس کے آج حریفا نہ کھینچیے

ijz o niy̅az se to nah ̅ay̅a voh r̅ah par

d̅aman ko us ke ̅aj har̅if̅anah kh`inchiye

{If the beloved is not responding, let us try to employ some aggressive ploys.}

وہ اپنی خونہ چھوڑیں گے ہم اپنی وضع کیوں بدلیں

سبک سربن کے کیا پوچھیں کہ ہم سے سرگراں کیوں ہو

voh apn̅i kh̅u nah chhorenge, ham apn̅I vaz‘ ky̅un badlen

subuksar ban ke ky̅a p̅uchen kih ham se sargar̅an ky̅un ho

{The beloved is unyielding in her habits, so why should I change my attitude? Why should I bow down to ask her why she is unhappy with me?}

However, love (‘ishq) as a passion for life and for the Absolute Reality is always with him as a value:

رونق ہستی ہے عشق خانہ ویراں ساز سے

انجمن بے شمع ہے گر برق خرمن میں نہیں

raunaq-i hast̅i hai ‘ishq-i khanah v̅iran-s̅az se

anjuman be-sham‘ hai gar barq khirman men nah̅̅in

{The bloom of life is due to the love that destroys a house.}

سراپا رہن عشق و ناگزیر الفت ہستی

عبادت برق کی کرتا ہوں اور افسوس حاصل کا

sar̅ap̅a rahn-i ‘ishq o n̅aguzer-i ̅ulfat-i hast̅i

ib̅adat barq ki katrt̅a h̅un aur afsos h̅asil k̅a

{I am totally pledged to love and (at the same time) am in love with life; I crave for destructive elements and, at the same time, lament losses in life!}

عشق پر زور نہیں ہے یہ وہ آتش غالب

کہ لگائے نہ لگے اور بجھائے نہ بجھے

ishq par zor nah`̅in, hai yeh voh ̅atish, Ghalib!

kih lag̅a’y nah lage aur b̅ujh̅a’y nah bujhe

{Love cannot be controlled, it is a fire that can neither be lighted nor put out.}

ہم نے وحشت کدۂ بزم جہاں میں جوں شمع

شعلہء عشق کو اپنا سروساماں سمجھا

ham ne vahshat-kadah-yi bazm-I jah̅an men j̅un sham‘

sho‘lah-yi ‘ishq ko apn̅a sar o ̅sam̅an samjh̅a

{Like a lamp, we have found the flame of love in this world as an asset.}

عشق سے طبیعت نے زیست کا مزہ پایا

درد کی دوا پائی‘ درد لادوا پایا

ishq se tab̅I‘at ne z̅isht k̅a mazah p̅ay̅a

dard ki dav̅a p̅a’̅i, dard l̅a-dav̅a p̅ay̅a

{From love, I got the pleasure of life; medicine for my pain and the pain beyond remedy}

Ghalib’s instinct for not allowing love to dominate his rational self, projected yet another powerful attribute associated with love‎—Vaf̅a (fidelity).

Vaf̅a / وفا/ fidelity:

غیر سے دیکھئے کیا خوب نبا ہی اس نے

نہ سہی ہم سے پر اس بت میں وفا ہے تو سہی

ghair se dekhiye ky̅a k̅h̅ub n̅ib̅ah̅i ̅us ne

nah sah̅i ham se par ̅us but men vaf̅a hai to sahi

{The beloved has been loyal to the other and it shows that she can be loyal although not to me.}

دہر میں نقش وفا وجہ تسلی نہ ہوا

ہے یہ وہ لفظ جو شرمندۂ معنی نہ ہوا

dahr men naqsh-i vaf̅a vajh-i tasall̅i nah h̅uv̅a

hai yeh voh lafz jo sharmindah-yi ma‘n̅i nah h̅uv̅a

{Fidelity has never been practised in the world; this word is yet to be deciphered.}

Ghalib’svaf̅a, like his concept of love, has a share in his universal sensitivities and, as such, acquires a common value in social, religious and, generally, in all human value-structures.

اے چرخ‘ خاک بر سر تعمیر کائنات

لیکن بناے عہد وفا استوار تر

aiy charkh, kh̅ak bar sar-i ta‘m̅ir-I k̅a’in̅at

lekin bin̅ay ‘ahd-i vaf̅a ustv`ar-tar

{Construction of the universe be damned; fidelity as its foundation is stronger.)

نہیں کچھ سجہء وزنار کے پھندے میں گیرائی

وفاداری میں شیخ و برہمن کی آزمائش ہے

nah̅in kuch subhah o zunn̅ar ke phande men g̅ir̅a’̅i

vaf̅ad̅ari men Shaikh o Barhaman k̅i ̅ azm̅a’ish hai

{The test of the Shaikh and the Brahman is not in the extent of their being attached to the rosary and the sacred thread; the real test is in their fidelity (to their respective faiths.)}

Of all the themes, emotions and concepts related to love, Ghalib has adopted vafa as the value integrating all other conflicting concepts operating in life.

Ghalib as Thinker

با من میاویز اے پدر فرزند آزر را نگر

ہر کس کہ شد صاحب نظر دین بزرگاں خوش نہ کرد

b̅a man may̅avez aiy pidar, farzand-i̅ Azar ra nigar

har kas kih shud s̅ahib-nazar, d̅in-i buzurg̅an khush nah kard

{Father! Do not quarrel with me. Look at the son of ̅Azar (father of Abraham).

Whoever has become a man of vision/ thinker, did not like the way of thinking of his elders}

A casual look at the Urdu tradition of poetry would show that, besides various other things, it is more sensuous than intellectual. The aesthetic expression of feelings and emotions has been treated as a feature of the merits of poetry. The intellectual contents of poetic creations were given less attention. Whatever intellectual elements are found, they were mostly derived from Sufi themes and concepts and were used for sketching and developing themes of beauty and love. For expressing concepts, derived from personal experiences, help was again taken from mystic themes. In poetry, personal experiences, symbols, similes, and metaphors were used. Ghalib has admitted of such compulsions:

ہرچند ہو مشاہدۂ حق کی گفتگو

بنتی نہیں ہے بادہ و ساغر کہے بغیر

har chand ho mush̅ahadah-yi haq ki guftg̅u

bant̅i nah̅in hai b̅adah o s̅aghar kahe baghair

{Without using the metaphors of wine and wine-cup, it is not possible to talk about observation of Truth; (similarly) you have to use (metaphors of) the dagger and the stiletto even when the purpose is to talk about the beauty of the beloved.}

It appears that in the Urdu tradition of poetry, the poets were able to master the art of expressing their experiences and feelings, but there are few instances available of their studying and analysing their experiences and sentiments by detaching and distancing themselves from their own selves. Perhaps, this was the reason why the thought-content of poetry could not become a reference point for appreciation and criticism of poetry. In other words, recreation of themes (mazm̅un ̅afr̅in̅i), rather than creation of meanings (ma‘ni̅ afr̅in̅i) was considered the beauty of poetry. In this context, Ghalib appears to occupy a place quite distinct from all others. He has, without intending to, taken thought, intellect and deliberation as his poetic attitude and poetic aesthetics. His poetic analytics is not purely sensuous or sentimental; each experience takes the shape of poetry after going through the chain of intellectual scrutiny:

کشاکش ہائے ہستی سے کرے کیا سعی آزادی

ہوی ز نجیر موج آب کو فرصت روانی کی

kash̅akash-h̅a-yi hast̅i se kare ky̅a sa‘i-yi ̅az̅adi

huvi zanj`ir-i mauj-i ̅ab ko fursat rav̅an̅i k̅i

{How could a wave of water try to liberate itself from the struggles of existence when compulsion to flow is serving it as a chain!}

حد چاہئے سزا میں عقوبت کے واسطے

آخر گناہ گار ہوں‘ کافر نہیں ہوں میں

had ch̅ah̅iye saz̅a ko ‘uq̅ubat ke v̅aste

̅akhir gun̅ahgar h̅un,k̅afir nah̅in h̅un main

{For punishment, there must be some had (clear punishment mentioned in the Qur‘an); I am a sinner and not an unbeliever.}

Among his disciples, Ghalib was also considered a wise man.1 In showing respect to Ghalib, Mahdi ‘Ali Majr̅uh has emphasized this.

زہے غالبآں صاحب عقل وراے

فراست فزاے و غوامض کشا

خرد کردہ زیں گونہ با وے خطاب

کہ اے چرخِ اندیشہ را آفتاب

نبودہ بریں ساں عیار سخن

تو افزودۂ اعتبارِ سخن

ازاں بستہ شد با تو پیمان علم

کہ ظاہر شود برہمہ شانِ علم

اگر مرغ معنی است عرش آشیاں

کند تیر فکرت ہماں جا نشاں

تو قفل خرد را کلید آمدی

نہ آساں دریں جا پد ید آمدی

zahe Ghalib `̅an s̅ahab-i ‘aql o r̅a’y

fir̅asat faz̅a’y o ghav̅amiz kush̅a

khirad kardah z̅in g̅unah b̅a vay khit̅ab

kih aiy charkh-i andishah r̅a ̅aft̅ab

na-b̅udah bar̅in s̅an ‘iy̅ar-i sukhan

t̅u afz̅udah-yi a‘tib̅ar-i sukhan

az̅an bastah shud ba t̅u paim̅an-i ‘ilm

keh z̅ahir shaved bar hamah sh̅an-i ‘ilm

t̅u qufl-i khirad r̅a kil̅id ̅amad̅i

nah̅ as̅an darin ja pad̅id ̅amad̅i

{Ghalib is a thinker of a high order with great intellect and his knowledge bears this out. You have the key for opening the lock of intellect.}

Ghalib is as important as Plato and Aristotle:

چناں راز سربستہ اش را کشاد

کہ روح فلاطوں شود شاد شاد

ارسطو ست طفل دبستاں او

شدہ عقل اول ثناخوان او

chun̅an r̅az- sarbastah-ash r̅a kush̅ad

kih r̅uh-i Fal̅at̅un shaved sh̅ad sh̅ad

Arast̅u-st tifl-i dabist̅an-i ̅u

shudah ‘aql-i avval san̅a-khva̅n-i ̅u

{He revealed hidden secrets in a way that would have gladdened the spirit of Plato. Aristotle is a child in his school and the First Intelligence is all praise for him.}

According to Shaikh M̅uhammad Ikr̅am, Ghalib’s ultimate objective was not merely aesthetic creation but unmasking Reality2. He considered himself first as a thinker and a knower of Reality.

من نہ ہمیں پیکر آب وگلم

راز فراواں بود اندر دلم

man, nah ham̅in paikar-i̅ ab v gilam

r̅az fir̅av̅an buvad andar dilam

Ghalib, in his masnavi, Mughanni Namah, had fully explained the contribution of reason and intellect in the formation of his poetic personality. He was aware of the tension between poetic impulse and the demands of reason. Not only this, by including the eternal element, suffering (gham) into poetry and intellect, he manages to create ways for survival of his poetic life. Poetry, intellect, and suffering remain in their own circles; these circles are not static but dynamic and are seen felt as mingling into each other. 3

سخن گرچہ گنجینۂ گوہر ست

خرد را ولی تا بشے دیگر است

sukhan garcheh ganj̅inah-yi gauhar ast

khirad ra vale t̅abishe d̅igar ast

{Although poetry is a treasure full of pearls, reason has its own resplendence.}

بہ پیراہنش ایں کہن کار گاہ

بدانش تواں داشت آئیں نگاہ

bah pair̅ahanash ̅in kuhan k̅arg̅ah

ba-d̅anish tu̅an d̅asht ̅a’̅in nigh̅ah

{Only by intellect can this old world be disciplined.}

بود بستگے راکشاد‘ از خرد

سر مرد خالے مباد از خرد

buvad bastage r̅a kush̅ad az khirad

sare mard kh̅ale mab̅ad az khirad

{Reason can solve all problems, Man must always be in the company of reason.}

فروغِ سحر گاہِ روحانیاں

چراغ شبستان یونا نیاں

farogh-i sahar-g̅ah-i r̅uh̅aniy̅an

char̅agh-i shabist̅an-i Y̅un̅aniy̅an

{Reason is the brightness of the morning of the spiritual persons, and the lamp in the nights of the Greeks.}

پگا ہے کہ پوشیدہ رویانِ راز

بہ خمیازہ جستند از خواب ناز

زبالی کہ رخشا نی برق زد

سرا پردہ جوش انا الشرق زد

نخستیں نمودارِ ہستی گرا ے

خرد بود کامد سیاہی زدائے

بہ پیما نہاے نظر نور پاک

نمودند قسمت بر اجزاے خاک

زہر ذرہ کاں آفتابی شود

نگہ سر خوشِ کامیابی شود

ہنوزم در آئینہ رنگ بست

خیالے ازآں عالم نور ہست

pag̅ahe kih posh̅idah r̅uy̅an-i r̅az

bah khamy̅azah justand az khv̅ab-i n̅az

zab̅ani kih rakhsh̅ani-yi barq zad

sar̅apardah josh-i anash-Sharq zad

nakhust̅in nam̅ud̅ar-i hasti gar̅ae

khirad b̅ud k̅amad siy̅ahi zad̅ae

bah paim̅anh̅ae nazar n̅ur-i p̅ak

num̅udand qismat bar ajz̅a’e kh̅ak

ze har zarrah k̅an ̅aft̅abi shaved

nigah sar-khush-i k̅amy̅abi shaved

han̅uzam dar ̅a’̅inah-yi rang bast

khay̅ale az ̅an ̅alam-i n̅ur hast

{At the dawn of creation, a call was given by Reason, ‘I am the East’. It was Reason that was the first creation in the world of Existence; and it dispelled darkness. The pure illumination of reason was distributed among the particles of dust according to the scales of their intellect. The intellect celebrates its triumph from all particles illuminated by this sun. To date, in my mirror are reflected the shadows of the same universe of enlightenment.}

کفِ خاکِ من زاں ضیا گستریست

کہ چوں ریگ رخشاں با نجم گریست

کسی کو دم از روشنای زند

بخود فالِ دانش سنائی زند

دریں پردہ خود را ستایش گرست

کہ دانند مردم کہ دانشورست

خرد جویم ار خود بود مرگِ من

بہ ہستی خرد بس بود برگ من

kaf-i kh̅ak-i man z̅an zi̅a gustarast

kih ch̅un reg-i rakhsh̅an ba-anjum-garast

kase k̅u dam az raoshn̅a’̅i zanad

ba-khud f̅al-i d̅anish San̅a’i zanad

dar̅in pardah khud r̅a sat̅a̅ish-garast

kih d̅anand mardum kih d̅anishvar ast

khirad juyam ar khud buvad marg- man

bah hasti khirad bas buvad barg-i man

{Due to the eternal illumination of reason, I have become the illuminator who produces stars like shining particles, one who lays claims to the intellect of enlightenment and who admires and appreciates reason. On this pretext, he admires himself too, so that the people may acknowledge him as an intellectual. If I die in search of reason, even then Iwould continue this search. In my life, reason is enough for me.}

He would not mind even if religious belief fell victim to reason; it is not a crime or sin since reason is also a creation of God.:

مرا چہ جرم گراندیشہ آسماں پیماست

نہ تیزگامی توسن زتازیانہ تست؟

mar̅a cheh jurm gar and̅ishah ̅asm̅an paim̅ast

nah tezg̅ami-yi tausan ze t̅azianah-yi tust?

{I am not responsible if intellect is all-pervading.

Is not the swiftness of the steed due to your whipping?}

The inevitability of Intellect for identification of reality has always been emphasised by Ghalib. This is not only a poetic statement; he has wholeheartedly welcomed the administrative and legal trends ushered in by the British Indian government.

A very clear expression of an assessment is found in the review (taqr̅iz) Ghalib wrote at Syed Ahmad Khan’s request on the latter’s edited version of the, ̅A’̅in Akbari, compiled by Abul Fazl, a minister of the Mughal emperor, Akbar.4 However, Syed Ahmad Kh̅an found that he could not publish it due to Ghalib’s critical remarks on ignoring the big changes taking place in India and bringing out a work that was totally irrelevant to the demands of the day. Could this rebuke of Ghalib be one of the factors that, about twenty-five years later, shaped Syed Ahmad Kh̅an as the most distinguished modernist thinker and reformist of Indian Muslims taking up the complex task of socio-economic rehabilitation of Indian Muslims post 1857? It could not be overemphasized that Ghalib the poet-intellectual was first among the intellectual leaders to take note of the potential of the new academic, scientific, and administrative measures introduced by the British colonial regime to take medieval India into modern age‎—reforms essentially made for governance of the plural Indian societies. Rational and intellectual study and analysis was an integral part of Ghalib’s poetics. The central point of this assessment is that it was futile to revive dead things; the gaze must be on the facts of the present.

ویں کہ در تصحیح ’’آئین‘‘ رائ اوست

ننگ و عار ہمّت و الای او ست

من کہ آئین ریا را دشمنم

دَر وفا اندازہ دانِ خود منم

گربدیں کارش نگویم آفریں

جامی آن دارد کہ جویم آفریں

با بد آئینان نمانم در سخن

کس نداند آنچہ دانم در سخن

کس مخر باشد بگیتی ایں متاع

خواجہ راچہ بود اُمید انتفاع

گفتہ باشد کایں گرامی دفتر است

تاچہ بیند کان بدیدن درخور است

گرز آئین میرود با ما سخن

چشم بکشا و اندرین دیر کہن

صاحبان انگلستان رَا نگر

شیوہ و انداز اینان رَا نگر

تا چہ آئین ہا پدید آوردہ اند

ا نچہ ہر گز کس ندید، آوردہ اند

زین ہنر مندان ہنر بیشی گرفت

سعی بر پیشینیان پیشی گرفت

حق ایں قومست ’’آئین‘‘ داشتن

کس نیارد ملک بہ زین داشتن

داد و دانش را بہم پیوستہ اند

ہند را صد گونہ آئین بستہ اند

آ تشی کز سنگ بیرون آورند

ایں ہنر مندان زخس چون آورند

تاچہ افسون خواندہ اند اینان بر آب

دُود کشتی را ہمی راند در آب

گہہ دخان کشتی بجیحون می برد

گہہ دخان، گردون بہا مون میبرد

غلتک گردون بگرداند دخان

نرہ گاو و است را ماند دخان

نغمہ ہا بی زخمَہ از سَاز آورند

حرف چون طائر بپرواز آورند

ہیں، نمی بینی کہ این دانا گروہ

در دو دم آرند حرف از صد کروہ

میزنند آتش بباد اندر ہمی

مید رخشد بَاد چون اخگر ہمی

رو بہ لندن کا ندران رخشندہ بَاغ

شہر روشن گشتہ در شب بے چراغ

کاروبار مردم ہشیار بین

در ہر آئین صد نو آئین کار بین

پیش این آئین کہ دارد روزگار

گشتہ آئین دگر تقویم پَار

ہست، ای فرزانۂ بیدار مغز

در کتاب اینگونہ آئینہائی نغز

چون چنین گنج گہر بیند کسی

خوشہ زان خرمن چرا چیند کسی

طرز تحریرش اگر گوئی خوشست

نی فزون از ہرچہ میجوئی خوشست

مُردہ پروردن، مبارک کار نیست

خود بگو کان نیز جز گفتار نیست

غالب آئین خموشی دل کشست

گرچہ خوش گفتی، نگفتن ہم خوشست

در جہان سیّد پرستی دینِ تست

از ثنا بگزر، دعا آئینِ تست

این سرَاپا فرۂ و فرہنگ را

سیّد احمد جان عَارف جنگ را

ہرچہ خواہد از خدا موجود بَاد

پیش کارش طالع مسعود بَاد

vin kih dar tash̅ih-i ‘̅A̅in” r̅ay ̅ust

nang o ‘̅ar̅-i himmat-i v̅al̅a-yi̅ ust

man kih ̅a’̅in-i riy̅a r̅a dushmanam

dar vaf̅a and̅azah-d̅an-i khud manam

gar bad̅in k̅arash nagoyam ̅afr̅in

j̅ai ̅an d̅arad kih joyam ̅afr̅in

b̅a bad-̅a̅in̅an na-m̅anam dar sukhan

kas na-d̅anad ̅ancheh d̅anam dar sukhan

kas ma-khar b̅ashad ba-g̅it̅i ̅in mat̅a ‘

khv̅ajah ra cheh b̅ud umm̅id intiq̅a ‘

guftah b̅ashad k̅in gar̅ami daftar ast

t̅a cheh b̅inad k̅an bad̅idan darkhur ast

gar ze ̅a̅in m̅iravad b̅a m̅a sukhan

chashm bakush̅ad andar̅in dair-i kuhan

s̅ahib̅an-i Inglist̅an r̅a nigar

shevah o and̅az-i ̅inn̅an r̅a nigar

t̅a cheh ̅a̅inh̅a pad̅id ̅avurdah and

̅an cheh hargiz kas nad̅id ̅avurdah and

zin hunarmand̅an hunar b̅ish̅i giraft

sa‘̅yi bar paishiniy̅an b̅ish̅i giraft

haq-i̅ in qaumast “̅a̅in” d̅ashtan

kas nay̅arad mulk bah z̅in d̅ashtan

d̅ad o d̅anish r̅a baham paivastah-and

Hind ra sad g̅unah ̅a̅̅in bastah-and

̅atishe kaz sang b̅ir̅un avarand

`in hunarmand̅an ze khas chun ̅avarand

t̅a cheh afs̅un khv̅andah-and ̅in̅an bar ̅ab

d̅ud-i kishti ra hami r̅anad dar ̅ab

gah dukh̅an kishti ba-J̅ih̅un mi burad

gah dukh̅an, gard̅un ba-h̅am̅un mi burad

ghaltak-i gard̅un ba-gard̅anad dukh̅an

narha g̅ao o asp ra m̅anad dukh̅an

naghmah̅a be-zakhmah az s̅az ̅avarand

harf ch̅un t̅a’ir ba-parv̅az avarand

b̅in, nami b̅in̅i kih ̅in d̅an̅a garoh

dar do dam ̅arand harf az sad karoh

mizanad ̅atish ba b̅ad andar hami

mi darakhshad b̅ad ch̅un akhgar hami

r̅u bah Landan kandar̅an rakhshandah b̅agh

shahr raushan gashtah dar shab be-char̅agh

k̅arob̅ar-i mardum-i hushy̅ar b̅in

dar har ̅a’̅in sad nau ̅a’̅in k̅ar b̅in

paish ̅in ̅a’̅in kih d̅arad rozg̅ar

gashtah ̅a’̅in-i digar taqv̅im-i p̅ar

ch̅un chun̅in ganj-i guhar b̅inad kase

khoshah z̅an khirman par̅achinad kase

tarz-i tahrirash agar go̅i khush ast

ni fuz`̅un az harcheh mi-jo̅i khush ast

murdah parvardan, Mubarak k̅ar n̅̅ist

khud bago k̅an n̅iz juz guft̅ar n̅ist

Ghalib! ̅a’̅in-i kham̅ushi dilkash ast

gar cheh khush gufti, naguftan ham khushast

dar jah̅an Sayyid-parasti d̅in-i tust

az san̅a begzar, du‘̅a ̅ ain-i tust

̅in sar̅ap̅a farrah o farhang r̅a

Syed Ahmad Khan ‘̅Arif Jang r̅a

harcheh khv̅ahad az Khud̅a mauj̅ud b̅ad

pesh-i k̅arash t̅ala‘-yi mas‘̅ud b̅ad

{Editing ̅A’̅in-i Akbari is just a small chore in relation to Syed Ahmad Kh̅an’s capability. I am totally against hypocrisy. If I do not praise this work, my candour should be appreciated. I do not know what he hoped to achieve by taking it up. Syed Ahmad Kh̅an would have done better by turning his attention to the administrative systems and infrastructure brought in by the British. They have integrated reason with justice. And look at their technological overhauling: steam engines run trains and ships; the telegraph conveys messages over long distances in a few seconds. Go to England and see how gas lamps illuminate its cities.}

And Ghalib makes his key point:

{Worshipping the dead is futile. It (̅A’̅in-i Akbari) is nothing more than mere words. But, then, he tactfully tones down his critique, telling himself: ‘What you have said is good but it should better have remained unsaid. Your way if not to admire, is to respect Syed Ahmad Kh̅an, ‘̅Arif Jang is wisdom and grandeur incarnate. I wish him all success.’}

This is a versified statement by Ghalib on the momentous changes taking place in India at that time. The statement shows how open Ghalib was to knowledge and other systems. His intellectual poetics reflect the need to shed old ways and critically assess, adapt, and adopt the new.

Going back to Ghalib, the question is how can poetry and reason coexist? He is of the view that reason does not belong to the realm of poetry and yet whatever is there in poetry can be gauged through reason only.

سخن گرچہ پیغام راز آورد

سرود ارچہ در اہتزاز آورد

خرد داند ایں گوہریں درکشاد

ز مغزسخن گنج گوھر کشاد

خرد داند آں پردہ بر ساز بست

برامش طلسمے ز آواز بست

sukhan gar cheh paigh̅am-i r̅az ̅avurad

sar̅ud archeh dar ihtiz̅az ̅avurad

khirad d̅anad ̅in gauharin dar kush̅ad

ze maghz-i sukhan ganj-i gauhar kush̅ad

khirad d̅anad ̅an pardah bar s̅az bast

bar̅amish tilisme ze ̅av̅az bast

{Although poetry opens up the heart, and song creates enthusiasm, it is only reason that opens the golden door to the treasury of pearls. It is reason that places music on the instrument and creates the magic of sound by instruments.}

For Ghalib, intellect and poetry are inseparable.

سخن بادہ‘ اندیشہ میناے او

زبان بے سخن لائے بالائے او

sukhan b̅adah, andishah m̅in̅a-yi ̅u

zab̅an be-sukhan l̅a’y b̅al̅a’y ̅u

{Poetry is wine and andishah is its bottle; without poetry language is no more than a strainer of words.}

خرد کردہ در خود ظہوری دگر

دل از دیدہ پذرفتہ نوری دگر

زگنجی کہ بینش بویرانہ ریخت

درآفاق طرح پری خانہ ریخت

زدودن ز آئینہ زنگار بُرد

زدانش نگہ ذوقِ دیدار بُرد

khirad kardah dar khud zuh̅ure digar

dil az d̅idah pazraftah n̅ure digar

ze ganje kih b̅inash ba-v̅ir̅anah rekht

dar ̅af̅aq tarhe pari-khanah rekht

ze d̅udan ze ̅a’̅inah zang̅ar burd

ze d̅anish nigah zauq-i did̅ar burd

{Intelligence has produced, in its own being, a different illumination; the treasure which insight has thrown in the wilderness has caused beauty and ornamentation in the world; the mirror was cleaned and the eye developed the image for a vision of God.}

خرد کردہ عنوان بینش درست

رقم سنجئے آفرینش درست

khirad kardah ‘unv̅an-i b̅inash durust

raqam sanji-yi ̅afr̅inash durust

{It is intelligence that shapes the nature of the sight and shapes the nature of the universe.}

فروغِ خرد فترۂ ایزدیست

خدا ناشناسی زنا خردیست

farogh-i khirad fatrah-yi ̅izadaist

khuda n̅a-shan̅ashi ze n̅a-khiradaist

{The illumination of intelligence is the grace of God; if man does not know God, then it would be irrational.}

نظر آشنا روئے دانا ئیش

عمل روشناس توانا ئیش

زاندیشہ دم زد نظر نام یافت

بکردار رفت از اثر کام یافت

{Intellect knows its wisdom and action knows its power; when intelligence started thinking, it was named insight; and when it appeared in action it became effective.}

Ghalib considers intelligence also effective in human sentiments and morality.5

چناں سطوتش را زبوں خشم و آز

کہ فرمانِ او بردہ گرگ و گراز

غضب را نشاطِ شجاعت دہد

ز خواہش بہ عفت قناعت دہد

منشہائے شائستہ عادت شود

نظر کیمیاے سعادت شود

chun̅an sitvatash r̅a zub̅un khashm o ̅az

kih farm̅an-i ̅u burdah gurg o gar̅az

ghazab r̅a nish̅at-i shaj̅a‘at dehad

ze khv̅ahish bah ‘iffat qin̅a‘at dehad

mansh-h̅a-yi sh̅a’̅ishtah ‘̅adat shaved

nazar k̅imiy̅ay-yi sa‘̅adat shaved

{Anger and greed, both, are victims of intelligence; wolf and swine always obey it. Anger is changed by intelligence into the joy of bravery and control of passion makes it contented. In this way, attributes of rational behaviour become human habit and thinking a source of happiness.}

In the Masnavi, Ghalib has, so far, explained the relationship between poetry and intellect. However, the relationship of his sensuous experiences in the material world with reason and poetry emerges as follows and that is his centre of anxiety, namely sorrow (gham).

Ghamغم :

Ghalib says that his intellect is not born of philosophy but of his suffering.

بدانش غم آموزگار منست

خزانِ عزیزاں بہار منست

غمی کز ازل درسرشتِ منست

بود دوزخ‘ اما بہشت منست

ba-d̅anish gham ̅amozg̅ar-i manast

khiz̅an-i ‘az̅iz̅an bah̅ar-i manast

ghame kaz azal dar sarisht-i manast

buvad dozakh, amma bahisht-i manast

{It is suffering that has taught me reason and intellect. The suffering that destroys my friends is spring for me. It has been in my nature since eternity. Even hell is my paradise.}

The sorrow Ghalib received from intellect became his guide in poetry:

بدیں جادہ کا ندیشہ پیمودہ است

غم خضر راہ سخن بودہ است

bad̅in j̅adah kand̅ishah paim̅udah ast

gham-i Khizr r̅ah-i sukhan b̅udah ast

{On the path of poetry as recommended by intellect, suffering is my guide.}

That is, the poetic life of Ghalib is born of grief and suffering. They have formed his intellect and, thus, in turn, further shaped his poetic life:

من از خویشین با دلِ دردمند

نواے غزل برکشیدہ بلند

غزل را چو ازمن نوائی رسید

زوالا پسیجے بجائی رسید

کہ نشگفت کایں خسروانی سرود

شود وحی و ہم برمن آید فرود

man az khvishtan b̅a dil-i dardmand

nav̅a’y ghazal bar kash̅idah buland

ghazal r̅a ch̅u az man nav̅a’i ras̅id

ze v̅al̅a pas̅ije baj̅a’i ras̅id

kih nashguft k̅in khusrav̅ani sar̅ud

shaved vah̅i o ham bar man ̅ayad fur̅ud

{I have raised the voice of the ghazal from my grief-stricken heart. When the ghazal took up my tune, it reached such a high note that it would not be surprising if it turns into revelation and then descends on me.}

He is not unhappy with suffering since it is a gift of the intellect:

نشاید کہ من شکوہ سنجم زغم

خرد رنجد ازمن چورنجم ز غم

nash̅ayad kih man shikvah sanjam ze gham

khirad ranjad az man ch̅u ranjam ze gham

{It does not suit me to complain of suffering; if I do not accept suffering, intellect would be displeased with me. This,then, is another reason for befriending suffering.}

چر گر کہ زخمہ زخم برچنگ زند

پیداست کہ از بہرچہ آہنگ زند

در پردہ نا خوشی خوشی پنہا نست

گا زر نہ زخشم جا مہ بر سنگ رند

chargar kih zakhmah ze zakhm bar chang zanad

paid̅ast kih az ba-harcheh ̅ahang zanad

dar pardah-yi na-khushi khushi pinh̅anast

g̅azar, nah ze khashm j̅amah bar sang zanad

{Happiness is hidden in suffering. The instrument is sounded to create music.}

نغمہ ہائے غم کو بھی اے دل غنیمت جانیے

بے صدا ہوجائے گا یہ سازہستی ایک دن

رنج سے خوگر ہوا انساں تو مٹ جاتا ہے رنج

مشکلیں اتنی پڑیں مجھ پر کہ آساں ہوگئیں

naghmah-h̅a’y gham ko bhi aiy dil ghanimat j̅ani’ye

be-sad̅a hoj̅a’ig̅a yeh s̅az-i hasti aik din

ranj se khugar huv̅a in̅san to mit j̅at̅a hai ranj

mushkilen mujh par par̅in itni keh ̅as̅an hoga’̅in

{O heart! Consider the songs of suffering a blessing; this instrument of being is going to be mute one day; when man becomes habituated to suffering, suffering is wiped out. So many difficulties befell me that they became easy.}

Nevertheless, as bearing and accepting suffering cannot be rational acts, Ghalib also, becomes deeply distressed.

دل ہی تو ہے‘ نہ سنگ و خشت‘ درد سے بھرنہ آئے کیوں

روئیں گے ہم ہزار بار‘ کوئی ہمیں ستائے کیوں

قید حیات و بند غم‘ اصل میں دونوں ایک ہیں

موت سے پہلے آد می غم سے نجات پائے کیوں

dil hi to hai nah sang o khisht, dard se bhar nah ̅a’ey kiy̅un

ro’enge ham haz̅ar b̅ar, ko̅i hamen sat̅a’y kiy̅un

qaid-i hay̅at o band-i gham, asl men donon aik hain

maut se pahle ̅admi gham se naj̅at p̅a’y kiy̅un

{It is after all, heart and not stone or brick; so why shouldn’t it fill up with grief? We will weep a thousand times, why should someone pester us so? Chains of being and grief are the same; and only death brings deliverance and relief.}

نومیدی ما گردش ایام ندارد

روزے کہ سیہ شد سحروشام ندارد

naom̅idi-yi m̅a gardish-i ayy̅am nad̅arad

roze kih si̅ah shud, sahr o sh̅am nad̅arad

{Our hopelessness does not hold any chance of change; the day that has turned dark has no dawn or evening.}

It appears that while Ghalib does not allow reason to interfere with suffering he, at the same time, is not prepared to let life to be dominated by suffering. He wants to see suffering and intellect as complementary and not as adversaries. In this, sometimes he succeeds and sometimes fails. Let us remind ourselves that Ghalib is not a philosopher in the strict sense; he is a poet also and, therefore, it would be unwise to expect logical or philosophical consistency in the creative artist.

بغم خوش دلم‘ غم گسارم غمست

بہ بے دانشی پردہ دارم غمست

ba-gham khush-dilam, gham-gus̅aram ghamast

bah be d̅anish̅i pardah-d̅aram ghamast

{I am happy with my suffering. Suffering is my sympathiser and conceals my lack of intellect.}

Zoe Ans̅ar̅i opines that a direct connect between suffering and intellect protects the poet from forced versification.6

بہ دانش غم آموزگار منست

خزاںِ عزیزاں بہار منست

bah d̅anish gham ̅amozg̅ar-i manast

khiz̅an-i ‘aziz̅an bah̅ar-i manast

{By virtue of intellect, suffering is my teacher; the autumn of my dear ones is a spring for me.}

We are now in a position to appreciate Ghalib. From the point of view of active intellect, is suffering in the everyday world—fighting for his pension, flirting with a domini (a professional woman singer), offering various interpretations of Islamic beliefs and, at the same time, jumping from this illusory stage, to a high point of moulding his experiences of relationship with Absolute Reality into his poetry. But, in the process of establishing harmony between illusion and reality, a new problem pops up.

The created world also includes the aspect of reason that Ghalib calls andishah (thinking, deliberation). Now, it so happens that in the integration of illusion and Absolute Reality, andishah infuses an element of conflict as well. Since Ghalib is looking at all that is happening free from any physical or metaphysical discipline, no question arises of imposing restrictions on his intellect or of drawing any line confining his belief-system. Both have been left free, something not normally possible for anyone. Moreover, he is not apologetic for confronting belief with intellect. His intellect saves him from the concept of illusory Existential Unity. It has made Ghalib aware of the existence of the observer (sh̅ahid) in Existential Unity. Ghalib welcomes this outcome.

دہر جز جلوہ ء یکتائی معشوق نہیں

ہم کہاں ہوتے اگر حسن نہ ہوتا خود بیں

dahr juz jalvah-yi yakt̅a’̅i-yi ma‘sh̅uq nah̅in

ham kah̅an hote agar husn nah hota khud-b̅in

{The world is nothing except the phenomenon of unity of the beloved (God); had Beauty (God) not been self-observant, we would not have existed.}

Like Bedil, his intellectual and spiritual mentor, Ghalib, too, was a sort of a protester against all traditional, familiar, and irrational views, concepts and values in life as well as in the Urdu/ Persian literary tradition. He did not care for the etiquette and the cultural norms of the decaying Muslim culture of north India. This attitude was certainly out of line in 19th century South Asia. An uncompromising intellect was the chief architect of his uniqueness and that of his poetry. The poetry is a fascinating epic of the conflict between the norms of existing society and his own value-system. His Masnavi Shashum is an important chapter of this epic.

As the Masnavi shows, in terms of active intellect Ghalib is suffering in the material world. As has been repeatedly pointed out, he has been fighting for his pension, flirting with a domini, and interpreting Islamic beliefs. Amidst this, as he pointed out, he elevates himself from this illusionary level to a higher level of converting experiences of his relationship with an indivisible real existence into his poetry. However, while harmonising reality with illusion he faces another problem. The rational world also includes instrument/malakah of Reason that he calls, andishah (reflection, thinking). Reflection, amidst the harmony between absolute reality and illusionary reality has created a powerful element of disharmony as well. Taking a position independent of every physical and metaphysical paradigm, no question arises of Ghalib fixing frontiers for his beliefs nor of reining in his ways of deliberation. He has set both of them totally free nor is he apologetic for reflection confronting belief. His being capable of reflection saves Ghalib from falling prey to the illusory concept of Existential Unity. It has also helped prove the existence of an external observer (sh̅ahid). Ghalib accepts this outcome.

However, he finds himself not fully comfortable with certain implications of Existential Unity and raises a question:

اصل شہود و شاہد و مشہود ایک ہے

حیراں ہوں پھر مشاہدہ ہے کس حساب میں

asl-i shuh̅ud o sh̅ahid o mashh̅ud aik hai

hair̅an h̅un phir musahadah hai kis his̅ab men

{The essence of the phenomena, the observer, and what is observed being the same, I wonder how to account for ‘(the act of) observation’!}

Continuing with his intellectual curiosity, Ghalib identifies andishah (reflection) as an effective tool for discovering reality, even if it is limited to the realm of ‘the felt’ (mahsus).

عالم آئینۂ رازست‘ چہ پیدا‘ چہ نہاں

تاب اندیشہ نہ داری‘ بہ نگاہے دریاب

‘̅a̅lam ̅a’̅inah-yi r̅az ast, cheh paid̅a, cheh nih̅an

t̅ab-i andishah nah d̅ari, ba-nig̅ahe dary̅ab

{The mirror shows the world‎—secret or visible; if you lack the vigour of intellect, take pleasure in looking at it.}

منظر اک بلندی پر اور ہم بناسکتے

عرش سے ادھر ہوتا کا شکے مکاں اپنا

manzar ek buland̅i par aur ham ban̅a sakte

arsh se udhar hot̅a k̅ashke mak̅an apna

{Had our house been away from God’s seat, we could have formed another phenomenon on a much higher plane!}

Looking at the faith and the world from outside, one is released from the bonds of Time. Such an attitude would be above all time-created taints, attributes, customs and traditions. This is the attitude of Ghalib regarding issues related to religion which shocks and provokes those holding traditional and popular approaches and fascinates or provokes thinking. From such an outside platform along with Ghalib, the physical and the metaphysical worlds would appear quite different and Ghalib’s intellectual concerns regarding Existential Unity and other related issues would, to a large extent, become comprehensible.

While discussing interpretations of certain issues like kufr (unbelief) and Islam, the status of the human ego, reward and punishment, we should not forget that we are addressing Ghalib the poet and not Ghalib the philosopher Ghalib who does not exist. Investigating intellectual content in poetry is an indispensable part of the evaluation of poetry. If we look for social, religious or political-religious themes in, for instance, other classical Urdu poets like M̅ir (1723-1810), Saud̅a (d.1824), Nazir Akbar̅ab̅adi (1735-1830) or Muhammad Iqb̅al (1877-1938), it does not mean that we want to redesignate them as social reformers or politicians. If a high-level concept flows into a couplet, it is a process of transformation of a beautiful creation into an aesthetic value.

گو میں رہا رہین ستم ہائے روزگار

لیکن ترے خیال سے غافل نہیں رہا

go main raha rah̅in-i sitamh̅a-yi rozg̅ar

lekin tire khay̅al se ghafil nah̅in rah̅a

{Although every day I was with torments, you remained constantly in my thoughts. In other words, though beset with the oppression of society, in his mind’s gaze, Ghalib never lost sight of his beloved.}

This couplet represents both aesthetic and intellectual values.

لاف تمکیں غلط و نفع عبادت معلوم

در دیک ساغر غفلت ہے‘ چہ دنیا و چہ دیں

l̅af-i tamk̅in ghalat o naf‘-i ‘ib̅adat ma‘l̅um

durd-i yak s̅aghar-i ghaflat hai, che duny̅a o che d̅in

{Claims to worldly positions are wrong and outcome of prayers is nothing;(the fact is) the world and the faith are both merely imaginary.}

Meaning, the intellectual content of poetry, is a constituent element of aesthetic value. Aesthetic values extend the life of art and literarture many times over. However, general acceptance of an artist does not depend on the presence of aesthetic values only; there may be some other factors involved as well. In Ghalib, demand for aesthetic value-creation is very intense. Among other Urdu poets like Quli Qutb Sh̅ah (d.1612), Saud̅a (1713-1781), Mushafi (d.1824), Makhd̅um Muh̅iudd̅in (1908-1969) or Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984), aesthetic values may be found along with intellectual content, but the demand for value-creation is much less. It is perhaps only in Iqbal that we find the intensity of the sort matching Ghalib. The theme of creation of aesthetic values has been raised here since Ghalib has produced his intellectual concerns as aesthetic values; this was not a conscious act, intellect is a part of the aesthetical. Let us have a look at these aesthetic values.

Kufr / کفر/ Unbelief

کفر و دیں چیست؟ جز آلائش پندار وجود

پاک شو پاک‘ کہ ہم کفر تو دین تو شود

kufr-o-d̅in ch̅ist, juz ̅al̅a’ish-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud

p̅ak shau p̅ak, kih ham kufr-i t̅u d̅in-i t̅u shavad

{What is unbelief or religion except a pollution of pride of Existence? Purify yourself in a way that unbelief becomes your faith.}

The phrase, ̅al̅a’ish-i vuj̅ud is unique and contains a world of meanings, especially when purification of Existence leads to transformation of unbelief into belief. This phrase has been used in another couplet:

گرد پندار وجود از رہ گذر خواہد نشست

بحر توحید عیانی موجزن خواہد شدن

gard-i pind̅ar-i vuj̅ud az rahguzar khv̅ahad nashist

bahr-i tauh̅id-i ‘iy̅ani maujzan khv̅ahad shudan

{The deceptive dust of pride of Existential pride will disappear, and only one Being will be everywhere.}

Ghalib argues that both believers and non-believers are polluted by pride in Existence. In fact, to differentiate between unbelief and belief and between faith and the world amounts to the division of Existence which is no less than the sin of shirk‎—association of another thing with God. That is, to believe in Existence as God is a fundamental aesthetic value. The prevalence of the concept of Existential Unity in the poetry of Ghalib or in Persian and Urdu poetry is due to this same paradigm of aesthetic value-creation.

Several terms of tasavvuf and Islamic jurisprudence are found in Ghalib’s poetry with enough space for their non-terminological understanding as well. Some exmples are: had (punishments for certain bad acts mentioned in the Qur‘an), saz̅a (punishments) for other acts, ‘uq̅ub̅at, mak̅an, lat̅afat, kas̅afat, shuh̅ud, sh̅ahid, mashh̅ud, mush̅ahidah, asl v fr̅u‘, tamann̅a, ̅a’̅inah, zang̅ar and so on. He has used the term, kufr, not in Islamic jurisprudential terms but in a mystical sense. H̅ali has also drawn attention to this element.7 Mujaddid Alf Sani has explained it in one of his letters. Referring to Ba Yazid Bistami’s exclamation, “subh̅ani m̅a a’zam sh̅ani” and of Mansur Hallaj’s phrase, an al-Haq, he says that in a state forgetfulness (h̅al) they did not perceive their own existence or that of creation; they saw only God. Had they perceived their own essence and uttered these words then it would have amounted to kufr (unbelief). When one reaches the stage of haqqul yaq̅in (real certitude) from the stage of ‘ainul yaq̅in (inner essence of certitude), the opposition of kufr does not sustain itself and their ‘ilm (epistemology) becomes epistemology of the shari‘ah, itself.8 In another letter, he says that for some, Existential Unity is due to excessive practice of contemplation and they understand the meaning of the phrase, l̅a il̅ahah ill̅a Allah, in the sense of, l̅a mauj̅ud ill̅a Allah. “Since this state of unity of God (tauh̅id ) is made by the Sufis themselves in the predominance of love of the beloved (God) they do not see anything else existing. Such people should be excused; to abuse them is not only futile, but also uncalled for.” 9 Mujaddid Alf S̅ani comments that Islam-i maj̅azi (figurative Islam) is better than kufr-i maj̅azi and Islam-i tariqat is better than kufr-i tariqat (heresy of the Sufi path). Kufr-i tariqat is all deception while Islam-i tariqat is all sensible (sahv/ صحو). Kufr-i tariqat is the state of Existential Unity.10 Sharfudd̅in Yahy̅a Maneri remarked, “Without being a non-believer, one cannot be a Muslim.”11 Ghalib has also said the same thing:

دولت بہ غلط نبود‘ از سعی پشیماں شو

کافر نتوانی شدناچار مسلماں شو

daulat bah ghalat nabavad, az sa‘̅i pashem̅an shav

k̅afir natav̅an̅i shud, n̅a-ch̅ar Musalm̅an shav

{Good luck is not easily to be had: repent your efforts to get it. If it is not possible to become an unbeliever, then there is no other option except becoming a Muslim.}

This is how kufr is transformed into an aesthetic value. He puts the same sentiment in a letter: “Not to have hope in God is kufr. By getting disappointed with God regarding myself, I have become, according to the belief of Islam, a complete kafir (k̅afir-i mutlaq). By becoming a k̅afir, every hope of beng pardoned by God for my sins (maghfirat) is also lost, and so is the world as well as the faith (din).” 12 Related to kufr is his liberalism (̅az̅adg̅i). He has converted friendship-with-all into an aesthetic value. Mosque and temple, the Shaikh and the Brahaman‎—all are vital to him.

نہیں کچھ سبحہ و زنار کے پھندے میں گیرائی

وفاداری میں شیخ و برہمن کی آزمائش ہے

nah̅in kuch sabhah v zunn̅ar ke phande men g̅ir̅a’̅i

vaf̅ad̅ari men Shaikh o Barhaman ki ̅azm̅a’ish hai

{Neiher the rosary nor the Brahmanical sacred thread have any binding force; the real test of the Shaikh and the Barhaman rests in their fidelity (vafadari)}

مقصود ماز دیر و حرم جز حبیب نیست

ہر جا کنیم سجدہ‘ برآں آستاں رسید

maqs̅ud-i m̅a ze dair o haram juz hab̅ib n̅ist

har j̅a kunaim sajdah, bar ̅an ̅ast̅an ras̅id

{From temple and mosque, we do not want to achieve anything except our Beloved; wherever we prostrate ourselves, the abode of God descends there.}

چہ لطف رہروی آن راکہ خار خاری نیست

مرو بہ کعبہ‘ اگر راہ ایمنی دارد

cheh lutf-i rahravi-yi ̅an keh kh̅ar kh̅are n̅ist

ma-rav bah Ka‘bah, agar rah aimani d̅arad

{What pleasure is there in taking a path bereft of difficulties? Do not go (even) to the Ka‘bah if the path is easy.}

حرف حرفم در مذاق فتنہ جا خواہد گرفت

د ست گاہ ناز شیخ و برہمن خواہد شدن

harf-i harfam dar maz̅aq-i fitnah j̅a khv̅ahad giraft

dastg`ah-i n̅az-i Shaikh v Barhaman khv̅ahad shudan

{Every word of mine, for people of taste, would become an object of turmoil (and as such) a precious authority of the Shaikh and the Brahaman.}

دیر و حرم آئینۂ تکرار تمنا

واماندگی شوق تراشے ہے پناہیں

dair o haram ̅a’̅inah-yi takr̅ar-i tamann̅a

v̅am̅andagi-yi shauq tar̅ashe hai pan̅ahen

{The mosque and the temple are mirror-images reflecting repetition of desire; these are places of refuge created by the fatigue of human yearning.}

All human being‎— Muslim, Hindu or Christian‎—are dear to me, and I treat them as my brothers whether others believe it or not.” 13

The Ghalib-God relationship:

Ghalib may be considered the creator of a new genre of Urdu poetry that questions God on his ‘unjust’ treatment of human beings. Iqbal undoubtedly followed Ghalib while penning the Shikvah part of his masterpiece, Shikvah, Jav̅ab-i Shikvah. Ghalib was intellectually satisfied that his questioning certain Islamic beliefs was an act of faith rather than unbelief. His questions are as follows:

For one who has adopted, “none exists except Allah”, as a creed and one who does not distinguish between the world and the faith, the concept of reward and punishment becomes crucial to the issue of justification or non-justification of the creation of man. In this discourse, Ghalib treats the sacred relation between man and God as a fundamental aesthetic value. This value includes complex issues like Ghalib’s ego and, on its basis, his relationship with the Creator, a just God and His being the sole creator of all things. In this regard, Ghalib positions man as confronting God, if not as God. Ghalib is most eloquent:

طاعت میں تا رہے نہ مئے وانگبیں کی لاگ

دوزخ میں ڈال دو کوئی لے کر بہشت کو

t̅a‘at men t̅a rahe nah ma’e o angb̅in ki l̅ag

dozakh men d̅al do ko̅i lekar bahisht ko

{Put paradise into hell so that no temptation for honey and wine is attached in obedience to God.}

پکڑے جاتے ہیں فرشتوں کے لکھے پر ناحق

آدمی کوئی ہمارا دم تحریر بھی تھا

pakre j̅ate hain farishton ke likhe par n̅ahaq

̅adm̅i ko̅i ham̅ar̅a dam-i tahr̅ir bhi th̅a?

{We are being accused on the basis of what has been written by the angels.Was there any one from our side at the time of writing?}

بندگی میں بھی وہ آزادہ و خود بیں ہیں کہ ہم

الٹے پھر آئے در کعبہ اگر وا نہ ہوا

bandagi men bh̅i voh ̅az̅adah o khud-b̅in hain keh ham

ulte phir ̅a’y dar-i Ka‘bah agar v̅a nah hu̅a

{Even in servitude we are so free and self-conscious that we would turn back if the doors of the Ka‘bah did not open.}

نہ تھا کچھ تو خدا تھا‘ کچھ نہ ہوتا تو خدا ہوتا

ڈبویا مجھ کو ہونے نے نہ ہوتا میں تو کیا ہوتا

nah th̅a kuch to Khud̅a th̅a, kuch nah hot̅a to Khud̅a hot̅a

duboy̅a mujh ko hone ne, nah hot̅a main to ky̅a hot̅a

(When there was nothing, there was God, had there been nothing, God would have been; my being undid me; had I been non-being what would I have been?}

گرنی تھی ہم پہ برق تجلی‘ نہ طور پر

دیتے ہیں بادہ ظرف قدح خوار دیکھ کر

girn̅i th̅i ham pe barq-i tajalli, nah T̅ur par

dete hain b̅adah zarf-i qadah-khv̅ar dekh kar

{According to the Qur‘an (7: 143) Moses went up to the top of the mountain, Tur, seeking a vision of God. God, as an indication that Moses could not bear the bright sight cast His light on the mountain and the mountain caught fire. Ghalib points out that God’s illumination (barq-i tajall̅i) should have descended on him instead of Tur, because (using the sufi metaphorical tradition of Persian and Urdu poetics) wine is served in accordance with the consuming capacity of the drinker!}

زماگرم است ایں ہنگامہ‘ بنگر شور ہستی را

قیامت می دمداز پردہ ء خاکے کہ انساں شد

ze m̅a garm ast ̅in hang̅amah, bingar shor-i hasti r̅a

qay̅amat mi damad az pardah-yi kh̅ake kih ins̅an shud

{This furor (the world) is due to us. Look at the phenomenon of existence, great turbulence radiates out of the dust that became man.}

And then follows a most scathing comment:

چرابہ سنگ و گیا پیچی‘ ائے زبانہ ء طور

زراہ دیدہ ء دل رو و زجاں بر خیز

chir̅a bah sang o giy̅ah pech̅i, a’y zab̅anah-yi T̅ur!

ze r̅ah-i didah o dil rav o ze j̅an barkhez

{O Flame of Tur (vision of God)! Why are you involving yourself with the stone and grass (of the mountain)? Descend in our heart through our eyes and emerge out of our soul.}

Ghalib is objecting to what God has done and suggests that the suitable location for the appearance of the vision of God is not a mountain but the heart of a human being.}

در گرم روی‘ سایہ و سرچشمہ نجوئیم

با ما سخن از طوبی و کوثر نتواں گفت

dar garm-ravi s̅ayah o sar-chashmah na-j̅uyaim

b̅a m̅a sukhan az T̅uba v Kausar natu̅an guft

{Traversing quickly, we are not searching for any shadow or canal. Do not mention to us the trees and canals of paradise.}

آں راز کہ در سینہ نہانست نہ وعظ ست

بردار تواں گفت‘ بہ منبر نتواں گفت

̅an r̅az kih dar sinah nih̅anast nah va‘z ast

bar d̅ar tu̅an guft, bah minbar natu̅an guft

{The secret hidden in our chest is not a (religious) sermon;This can be uttered on the cross but not on a pulpit (in the mosque).}

Ironically, Ghalib’s kufr is derived from his total attachment to God. His faith in God’s mercy is more intense than that of a Muslim.

God’s Mercy/رحمت/ rahmat:

رحمت اگر قبول کرے کیا بعید ہے

شرمندگی سے عذ ر نہ کرنا گناہ کا

rahmat agar qub̅ul kare, ky̅a ba‘̅id hai

sharmindagi se ‘uzr nah karn̅a gun̅ah k̅a

{It is no wonder if God’s compassion accepts

not seeking His forgiveness out of remorse.}

گویند صنعاں توبہ کرد از کفر ناداں بندۂ

کزفروشی ہاے دیں پخشش ز یزداں خوش نہ کرد

goyand Sin‘̅an taubah kard az kufr, n̅ad̅an bandah-e

kaz faroshi-h̅ay d̅in bakhshish ze Yazdan khush nah kard

(It is said that Sin‘̅an, a Sufi, repented for his phase of unbelief in the past.

Ghalib comments: Stupid person! By selling out his faith, he forfeited the opportunity of God’s forgiveness.}

In a way, unbelief and belief, commitment of sin and God’s mercy, reward and punishment, God’s compassion, authenticity of religious systems and greatness of Man are Ghalib’s own intellectual perceptions, unconnected to any particular Islamic school of thought or to any other religious system. He did not complain about his not being understood by anyone. He was a gnostic in the company of himself.

رہ رو تفتہ در رفتہ بہ آبم غالب

تو شہ بر لب جو ماندہ نشانست مرا

rahrav-i taftah dar-i raftah bah ̅abam, Ghalib!

toshah-yi bar lab-i j̅u m̅andah nish̅anast mar̅a

{Ghalib! You are like a traveller who has drowned in water, your provision-pack lying by the bank of the river, lies there as your only identity.}

Referring the belief-related issues of the Masnavi, Ghalib clarifies that he was expressing his views as a poet and not as a Sufi or any religious scholar. That is, he was not apologetic but was maintaining his position of a man of independent disposition with a liberal stance, and emphasizing his being a poet and one attached to rus̅um. He holds that there is nothing wrong in following these rusum but offers no arguments in their support either. He argues that there are two types of rus̅um—those that are within d̅in and those which develop into kufr and should be discarded. The former type of rus̅um (customs) are regional in nature.

ہست رسم خاص در ہر مرز بوم

خودچہ می خواہی ز نفی ایں رسوم

hast rasm-i kh̅as dar har marzb̅um

khud che mi khv̅ahi ze nafi-yi ̅in rus̅um

{Each cultural region has its special customs.What do you gain by rejecting them?}

نفی رسم کفر ما ہم می کنیم

داد با دانش فراہم می کنبم

nafi-yi rasm-i kufr-i m̅a ham kunaim

dad ba danish faraham mi kunaim

{Every society has its own customs which cannot be denied. We also reject customs of kufr and follow the path of reason.}

Here, Ghalib denies the customs based on unbelief and supports certain customs on rational grounds. This distinction does not appear convincing. We know that he was a believer in abandonment of customs (tark-i rus̅um). Extending conditional support to certain customs might have been to placate his scholar-friend, Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq. Earlier, chastised by the Maul̅an̅a, he had modified his position on the issue of Imtin̅aun-Naz̅ir (impossibility of creation by God of another Messenger in another existence), in a way that balanced his position with the opposite view of the Maul̅an̅a. The question is: should we treat his views on certain controversial customs popular among Muslim people as more a flight of free imagination rather than his well-considered intellectual positions? It would help get an idea of Ghalib’s attitudes if we go a hundred years back to the school of Sh̅ah Val̅iullah of Delhi.

Sh̅ah Val̅iullah formulated in the 18th century new concepts of Irtif̅aq̅at and Iqtir̅ab̅at which apppear to be the first of the kind in the field of social sciences.14 Briefly, Irtif̅aq̅at are different evolutionary stages of human society. The first Irtif̅aq, Irtif̅aq-i Avval, is the earliest stage of social structuring and includes development of speech, animal husbandry, making of stone weapons, and so on. The second stage, Irtif̅aq-i S̅ani, is of urban social organization. The third stage, Irtif̅aq-i S̅alis, is of emergence of systems of government and the judiciary. The fourth stage, Irtif̅aq-i R̅abe‘, consists of development of multiple political formations. Iqtir̅ab̅at means the means of getting closer to God. Both Irtif̅aq̅at and Iqtir̅ab̅at are universal, comprehensive (kull̅i) concepts and function in various forms. One example of the Irtif̅aq-i S̅an̅i is marriage and various customs attached to it, like playing of music, decent dressing, feeding people, etc. According to Sh̅ah Val̅iullah, certain forms and modes of irtif̅aq̅at are called customs (rus̅um̅at) and constitute “millat”. These rus̅um enjoy the same position as that of the heart in the human body. Millat is a particular, specific structure of Irtif̅aqat and Iqtir̅ab̅at.

He explains in his Hujjat-allahil-B̅alighah, that ‘many of these rus̅um are true (haq) in their essence since they are the guardians of ethically good (saleh) irtif̅aq`̅at and indicators of theoretical and practical perfections. Without them human life would be beastly. Many people perform marriages and such other social activities in accordance with these customs without having any idea of the rationale behind it‎— just because it is a national norm. Thus, when once this tradition is consolidated, then the people adhere to it for centuries. They live with it and die with it. They believe that, for existence and non-existence, this is the only way of life. Only one of an evil heart would go against it.’ This is the background of Sh̅ah Val̅iullah’s comment that ‘messengership (nubuvvat) is more often subservient to some or the other millat. Maul̅an̅a ‘Ubaidullah Sindhi, the best presenter of Sh̅ah Val̅iullah and author of a new interpretation of Islam in the modern period, explains Sh̅ah’s concept of millat and rus̅um.15 He held that the Qur̅an condemned all those national religions that caused disintegration of humanity and stated that the authentic faith in God is that which is closest to God. Closeness to God means that by transcending sects and nations it includes the whole of humanity. The Qur’an effected an aggregation of all central themes of all nations and religions that can be applied worldwide and was the only authentic basis of true humanism.16 Sh̅ah Val̅iullah treats rus̅um at the centre of all systems of God. The Qur‘an has defined it as ma‘r̅uf (generally accepted). 17 Sindhi presents this in a different way: ‘When life acquires a teleological garb in this world, it has to adopt rus̅um in order to be potential and existent. Without these rusum life cannot take shape within time and space.18 To express this concept, Sindhi quotes a couplet of Ghalib and by doing so offers an interpretation of the couplet that had eluded comprehension by all commentators of Ghalib so far.

ہم موحد ہیں ہمارا کیش ہے ترک رسوم

ملتیں جب مٹ گئیں اجزائے ایماں ہوگئیں

ham muvahhid hain, ham̅ar̅a kaish hai tark-i rus̅um

millaten jab mit ga̅in, ajz̅a-yi ̅im̅an hoga’̅in

{We are monotheists, our way is abandonment of rus̅um; when (various) ideologies (millaten) are decimated, they become parts of faith (̅im̅an).}

Sindhi argues that the purpose of the Qur’an is to liberate humanity from the bonds of rus̅um and traditions. Unfortunately, every nation had taken the rus̅um for the true faith and started fighting for them. A true follower of Islam fights against such hollow rus̅um. A believer in the Quran is a muvahhid (monotheist) and abandonment of rus̅um is his kaish. In order to sustain itself in the world of cause and effect life has to adopt rus̅um. Sindhi holds that rus̅um like apparel should remain just that; when rus̅um (customs) acquire the status of faith then they develop into idols.19 As we have seen, Sh̅ah Val̅iullah and Sindhi regarded rus̅um, as distinguished from faith, as certain specific social forms of faith (d̅in) within various frames of time and space. For Sh̅ah Val̅iullah, these rus̅um are permissible if the people do not treat them as faith. According to him, material interpretations of faith need not necessarily be anti-faith. He does not appear to reject people’s interpretations of faith as a whole. On the other hand, he accepts them provided they do not violate principles of faith. During Ghalib’s time, one school of thought adopted this point of view and Ghalib appears to adhere to it this point of view, as we shall see.

Ghalib had stated in his Masnavi that on these issues, he was following many other ‘ulam̅a, including Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz and Sh̅ah Ism̅a‘̅il Shah̅id. The latter, in his, Taqviyatul ̅̅̅̅̅̅Im̅an, had commented on the popularity of innovations on a large scale. He says that people seek help from the Muslim clergy, messengers of God, im̅ams, martyrs and fairies in times of difficulty and, hold celebrations and perform various acts in the names of these persons. Some swear in the name of these personalities. In short, such fake Muslims were doing all that what the Hindus did for their idols.20 Ghalib’s close friend, Mufti Sadrudd̅in ̅Azurdah has written a treatise on these innovations. He had also written a treatise on Imtin̅aun-Naz̅ir, which is not traceable.21. According to Ghul̅am Ras̅ul Mehr, Maul̅an̅a Abul Kal̅am ̅Az̅ad believed that the work in question had been published as a part of ̅Iz̅ahul Haq, and was a refutation of the treatise of Maul̅an̅a Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi.22 Mufti ̅Azurdah has expressed his position on issues like visiting graves of saints in his Muntah̅i al-Maq̅al fi Sharh-i Hadis l̅a Tashaddud al-Ramal, and Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi had written a note at the end of its printed edition.23 Shabb̅ir Ahmad Kh̅an Ghori believes that Ghalib himself did not have a deep knowledge of Arabic grammar and syntax and could not cope with the controversial complexities of Islamic jurisprudence and, as such, he chose to follow on these issues, the sons of Sh̅ah Val̅iullah, Sh̅ah ‘Abdul‘az̅iz, Sh̅ah Rafiudd̅in and Sh̅ah ‘Abdulq̅adir, besides the two other eminent ‘ulam̅a of Dehli, Sh̅ah Kal̅im Jah̅an̅ab̅adi and Maul̅an̅a Fakhrul Hasan Dehlvi. He also believes that Ghalib, on rus̅um, side-stepping Islamic jurisprudential arguments, had laid more emphasis on friendly human aspects of the rus̅um which was, he considered, a sure way of attaining God.

Ghalib’s Expression

زلفِ خیال نازک و اظہار بے قرار

یارب! بیان شانہ کشِ گفتگو نہ ہو

zulf-i khay̅al n̅azuk o iqr̅ar be-qar̅ar

y̅a Rab! bay̅an sh̅anah-kash-i guftg̅u nah ho

{The tresses of imagination are delicate and (passion of) expression is impatient; God! Let not analytics restrict the discourse.}

Every creative personality resides in his/her expression. It consciously or unconsciously selects its own ways and tools of expression or formulates new ways. Like the creation, its expression too is complex. The created literary piece, itself, and its unique expression, distinguishes one poet from the other. What is the nature of relationship between thought and the art of its expression in Ghalib? The point that comes to mind in this regard is his deviation from the Perso-Urdu poetic tradition. Just like his deviation from this tradition in his existential discourse, he was compelled to ignore following this tradition or, at least, maintain a critical attitude towards it. In both these deviations, Ghalib’s ingenuity asserts itself. An attempt is intended to trace the process in the following analysis of Ghalib’s style of poetic expression.

From whichever angle you try to access Ghalib, he would leave all his observers puzzled. Try every tool of literary appreciation and he would still elude these. In case you choose to apply ideological pressure, he would appear to accommodate all mutually conflicting theories simultaneously. This is the case with all Urdu cultural and literary critics and theoreticians; they thought it better not to touch Ghalib’s world of poetic thought, and, instead, preferred studies of the external forms of his poetry.

While looking into Ghalib’s intellectual concerns, we have been repeatedly reminded that he refuses to be treated as belonging to any particular school of thought and yet there appears to be enough space for every point of view. It was felt that he has his own poetic attitude towards mundane and spiritual phenomena and this poetic attitude has transformed all human concepts and experiences into an eternal source of happiness. If this assessment is valid, then there should be some relationship between his intellectual concerns and his poetic themes and ways of expressing them. What could be the nature of the natural relationship between his thinking and his ways of expressing it in poetic form?

Ghalib’s poetic style, although an ambiguous term, is his own. He does not want to just narrate something; technically and conceptually he leaves a lot unsaid in a way that a large amount of the meanings and effects of the couplets along with a vast scope of objects of the world beyond emerge in the mind and feelings of his reader and listener. Is this process spontaneous or deliberate? Let us examine this important point. His own views on certain aspects related to the present subject are given below:

Early education and training:

In a letter, in Urdu, to his friend, Zi̅audd̅in Kh̅an Zi̅a Dehlvi, Ghalib gives some idea of his early education and admits that he was not interested in traditional education in language and literature and used to take part in all types of unethical activities. However, he had a natural affinity to literature and poetry especially Persian language and literature. He also mentions that his initiation into the world of Persian language and literature and to the intricacies of philosophical and mystic thought was due to a person (name not mentioned) from Iran who had arrived in Agra during that period and was as great and unique scholar and thinker as Fazl-i Haq Khair̅ab̅adi and “momin-i muvahhid and s̅ufi o s̅af̅I (believer in oneness of God and a pure Sufi)” who took interest in his literary and academic training. According to an opinion, he concocted this story so that he could claim that he was not without a teacher‎— a requirement, during those times, considered mandatory for a student or poet to be recognised as such by the literary and scholarly community.

It is interesting to find Ghalib holding his own opinions about the intellectual history of Muslim culture and it is very relevant to the contemporary ongoing discourse on Muslim theories of knowledge. Paying tribute to the long and distinguished past of the peoples of Iran, Ghalib points out that the Iranians were believers in the eternity (qidam) of the world and, like the Hindus, did not explain the beginning or the end of the world. They were experts in all sciences and arts. The scientific value of Iranian scholarship was so much prized that when Alexander occupied Iran, he got the texts of these sciences obtained from the library of D̅ar̅a translated into Greek. Similarly, had Avicenna not transmitted knowledge from the libraries of the Greeks, the Arabs would not have had much by way of the rational sciences except some subjects of Islamic jurisprudence. Before the Arab conquest of Persia, Persian was the language in which Iranians discussed their sciences and it was the language of learning and teaching. When, under the second caliph, Persia came to be ruled by the Arabs, Iranian emperor Yazdgerd was killed and all Persian libraries and their collections of texts were destroyed.

Emergence of Urdu and the neglect of Persian:

Although rhetoric was the contribution of the Arabs, both the Arabs and the Iranians were equal contributors to the discipline of the simplicity of expression (fas̅ahat). Both came closer and closer, religious differences disappeared and all political and administrative affairs were conducted through mutual consultations. They were intelligent people. By combining Arabic and Persian elements, they developed a new beautiful language‎—Urdu. Urdu developed as a language with a taste that was neither pure Arabic nor pure Persian but Ghalib laments that this resulted in total neglect of the entire literature of Persian grammar, while highly scholarly treatises on Arabic grammar were prepared. Persian became a maidservant of Arabic. It became a target of insult. The promoters of Urdu simply ignored Persian grammar. In about 800 or 900 A.H./ 14th or 15th centuries A.D., unqualified people started writing Persian dictionaries. Ghalib refused to accept the authority of these lexicons for his poetic language.

Relationship between Thought and Poetry and Reason and Literature:

In a letter, in Persian, addressed to ‘Al̅auddd̅in Ahmad Kh̅an, he says:

Reason is the First Principle, the First Creation of God. However, reason has not been allowed in holy affairs. The rationalists and the intellectuals have not been revealed anything except knowledge of Existential Unity and Cognitive Unity. It is not possible for us to know the Creator of Reason; it is enough if we recognise God as the Creator and Reason as the co-sharer of the mysteries of the era of Creation, measures the pearls of reason in the scale of poetry and transforms poetry into a mould of reason. Whether it is language or its narration or wisdom and intellect, both are an amalgam of God’s kindness. Apart from all these things, knowing this discipline under the guidance of the Teacher is (what is called) culture.’

Love poetry:

The distinction between me and love-poetry is like that between kufr (unbelief) and ̅im̅an (belief).” (Urdu Letter to ‘Al̅audd̅in Kh̅an‘Ul̅ai)

The art of poetry:

Writing poetry is not a physical activity; it requires heart, brain, taste and passion.” (Urdu Letter to Ghul̅am Ghaus Kh̅an Be-Khabar)

Poetry difficult to understand:

Ghalib did not believe in poetry being difficult or easy to understand. His poetry was often described by some of his friends as very difficult to comprehend. He responded to this opinion:

مشکل ہے زبس کلام میرا‘ اے دل

سن سن کے اسے سخنورانِ کامل

آسان کہنے کی کرتے ہیں فرمائش

گویم مشکل و گر نہ گویم مشکل

mushkil hai ze bas kal̅am mer̅a, aey dil!

sun sun ke use sukhanvar̅an-i k̅amil

̅as̅an kehne ki karte hain farm̅a’ish

goyam mushkil o gar nah goyam mushkil

{The literary elite ask me not to write difficult poetry. For me both writing and not writing such poetry is difficult.}

He believed that talking of difficulty or simplicity in creating poetry is misplaced. Difficulty resides not in poetry but in the mind of a listener or a reader. It is a problem of non-communication of the meanings of poetry to them. In fact, “meaning” is central to Ghalib’s poetics. It is mainly a problem dealing with appreciation of poetry. In this regard, he makes some suggestions. For instance, he distinguishes love poetry from agnostic (‘arif̅anah) poetry and, what we call, ‘intellectual concerns”. For Ghalib, they are agnostic/mystic issues. Likewise, appreciation of poetry is also of two types—intuitive and narrative. Among the attributes for appreciation of poetry, he mentions simple language, unique themes, carefully selected words, deep meanings and easily appreciated ways of expression. (Urdu letters to Muhammad Zakariy̅a Kh̅an Zaki Dehlvi). Another characteristic of poetry is that at first reading it appears simple but it is impossible to recreate something similar to it. It is the highest stage of beauty in poetry. In short, he classifies poetry from the point of view of content as simply poetic, agnostic/mystic, intuitive and narrative. It is to be noted that he does not attach importance to form as essential for good poetry.

Ghalib’s hermeneutics:

Let us look at his departures regarding the choice of words. Ghalib has his own collection of words that he has used in meanings other than their popular meanings by converting them into symbols and metaphors. Was this a conscious process? He does not appear to agree.

گنجینۂ معنی کا طلسم اس کو سمجھیے

جو لفظ کہ غالب مرےاشعارمیںآوے

ganj̅inah-yi ma‘n̅I k̅a tilism us ko samajhye

jo lafz kih Ghalib mere ash‘̅ar men ̅ave

That is, words are not brought in but they on their own enter into his couplets. In other words, he believes in the autonomy of words. This autonomy of words appears to be responsible for the ‘difficulties” in his poetry. However, use of certain particular words as symbols and metaphors is certainly his own creation. The particular words he has used as symbols and metaphors for identification of his existential thinking and for studying the phenomena of life include, ̅arz̅u, tamann̅a, (desire), pind̅ar (pride), ̅a’̅inah (mirror), vaf̅a (fidelity), and̅ishah (faculty of thinking), khay̅al (imagination), naqsh (imprint), shauq (longing),‘ishq (love), khv̅ahish (desire for a particular object), tam̅ashah (worldly phenomenon), kufr (unbelief), ̅im̅an (belief, faith), rahmat (God’s attribute of compassion), mashrab (way of looking at things), kaish (a specific ethical and intellectual way of thinking), dair (temple) , haram (mosque),‘adam (nonbeing),vuj̅ud (existence),vahm (illusion), khv̅ab (dream), mauj (wave), bahr (sea), hab̅ab (bubble), jauhar (substance), ‘arz (accident), z̅at (essence), sif̅at (attributes), sh̅ahid (observer, witness), mashh̅ud (spectacle, phenomenon), mushahadah (observation), be-khudi (forgetfulness), be-rangi (state of dis-attachment with the world), hast̅I (being), n̅ist̅I (non-being), fan̅a (state of annihilation), zunn̅ar (belt worn by Christians and Jews), tasbih (the rosary), z̅ahid (pious, ascetic), muhtasib (the public censor of religion and morals), b̅adah (wine), paim̅anah (wine-cup), s̅aqi (one who serves wine in a tavern) and so on. One can gauge from this collection of words the extent and breadth of Ghalib’s thought. Some of these words have been used as representatives of his experiences through participation in different phenomena of life and the universe. A detailed analysis of his hermeneutics would greatly help in the study of Ghalib.

For instance, Sh̅anul Haq Haqqi, an eminent poet and critic, has explained 1 the poetic significance of one of his representative terms, ̅a’̅inah, saying that this term, has been used as a mirror reflecting sentiments of bewilderment. Generally, for mystic themes, he has used familiar symbols and metaphors but Ghalib has also used them in quite new meanings for his existential themes. Almost every word is chosen consciously for reflecting some or the other concept and not for any passing sentiment. For meanings of words, he follows Persian-language authorities and, among Indian poets, only the eminent poet, Am̅ir Khusro (651 A.H./1253-725A.H./1325). In his Urdu letter to Chaudhri ‘Abdul Ghaf̅ur Sur̅ur, he says that he does not use any word unless it is available in the poetry of the great Persian poets like S̅a’ib (1503-1672), Kal̅im Kashni (d.1651 ) and Haz̅in (1692-1766). However, he is open to new words and new objects and concepts if no words are available in Persian or Urdu; for instance, ch̅ab̅i (key), t̅ar (telegram), bijli (electricity) and r̅ubkari (a legal process of writing judgement in a court of law in India), talbi (summons, a writ commanding a person’s attendance in a court of law), and sarishtahd̅ari (an accounts official in the Indian courts of law) which he himself has used in his poetry. (Ghalib is quite different from his contemporaries regarding support for using new words for new requirements.)

Mazm̅un (plural, mazam̅in): a popular theme variously versified by poets in Persian and Urdu ghazals):

The nature of what has been said in a couplet of a ghazal can be identified through its mazm̅un (theme) and ma‘n̅i (meanings).

Examples of maz̅am̅in:

Themes of love:

The beloved is depicted as an oppressor and killer (q̅atil) of the lover and maqtal, the locality of the beloved’s house, is described as a place of execution of the lover, rival and so on.

Themes of revolt against religious rigidity:

Criticism and condemnation of dogmatic religious authorities like z̅ahid, protests against their imposing restrictions on human freedom and so on.

زاہد نہ تم پیونہ کسی کو پلا سکو

کیا بات ہے تمہاری شراب طہور کی

zahid! nah tum p̅iu nah kisi ko pil̅a sako

kiy̅a b̅̅at hai tumh̅ari shar̅ab-i tuh̅ur ki

{Orthodox/ ascetic! You can neither drink (the wine) nor serve it to others; your sacred wine is exceptional̅̅!}

Themes of Sufism:

Vahdatal-vuj̅ud, Vahdatush-shuh̅ud, hast̅i, n̅isti, man’s freedom or life being pr-determined, reward and punishment, relations between man and God, paradise and hell, desert (dasht), sea (bahr), wave (mauj) and bubble (hab̅ab), allegorical (maj̅azi) love and love of God (haq̅iq̅i), etc.

Ghalib treated such traditional themes as inconsequential and not having any literary value and such poets as simply living in their own artificial and imaginatary worlds; they do not think nor are they concerned about the world around them and are unreceptive to their social and intellectual experiences. There is no place for traditional themes in his poetics. It appears that Ghalib had no attraction for subjects and themes not related to human experiences and questions about being and nonbeing. He even questions the relevance of certain symbols of traditional poetry;

Meanings/ معنی/ ma‘ni:

Ghalib’s poetics of meaning is the only way to assess him in totality. According to Asl̅ub Ahmad Ans̅ari, neither history nor ideology can help in the assessment of Ghalib. His greatness lies in his uniqueness, the fascinating imaginativeness and by the optimum use of the power of words to build up the magic of meanings. The function of criticism is to locate this process through which the meanings could be discovered.2 As mentioned above, in the Persian-Urdu poetic tradition, certain metaphors, symbols and similitudes are used to express human sentiments. Some of these have been repeatedly used and are known as poetic themes (maz̅am̅in). Creation of new themes (mazm̅un ̅afr̅in̅i) is another way of using various constructions in this system of exposition. This is not related much to natural creativity or intellectual or emotional experiences. Creation of meanings (معنی آ فرینی), on the other hand, is pure creativity. It does not depend on any ‘theme’. It is, in a way, moulding of particular sentiments and thought-experiences into universal sentiments and thought-phenomena. Creation of meaning thus becomes a literary and mystic value. This allows him, in spite of his being a product of the Perso-Urdu poetic tradition, to ignore it whenever it comes in the way of selection of subjects he intellectually prefers. Search for meaning is a demand of his poetic life. He was well aware of the complexities of physical and metaphysical phenomena. While trying to deal with them, sometimes he was successful and sometimes not. He has himself described his poetry as a poetry of meanings.

گنجینۂ معنی کا طلسم اس کو سمجھیے

جو لفظ کہ غالبؔمرےاشعارمیں آوے

ganj̅inah-yi ma‘n̅i ka “““““““tilism us ko samajhiye

jo lafz kih Ghalib mere ash‘̅̅ar men ̅ave

{Every word that comes into my poetry, is a magic formula uttering which the buried treasure of meanings is unconcealed.}

Instead of emotions, meaning is the basic element of his poetry. What is the meaning of meaning for Ghalib?

آوازۂ معنی را برساز دبستان زن

ہنگامۂ صورت را بازیچۂ طفلاں شو

a̅v̅azah-yi ma‘n̅I r̅a bar s̅az-i dabist̅an zan

hang̅amah-yi surat r̅a b̅azichah-yi tifl̅an shav

{Refer the song of mystic meanings to discourse

Make the form of poetry only a child’s toy to play with.}

ہزار معنیٔ سر جوش خاص نطق من است

کز اہلِ ذوق دل و گوے از عسل برد است

ز رفتگاں بیکے گر توار دم رو داد

مداں کہ خوبی آرایش غزل برد است

مراست ننگ و لے فخر اوست کاں بسخن

بہ سعی فکر رسا جا بداں محل برد است

مبر گمانِ توارد‘ یقین شناس کہ دزد

متاعِ من ز نہاں خانۂ ازل برد است

haz̅ar ma‘n̅i-yi sarjosh kh̅as nutq-i man ast

kaz ahl-i zauq dil o goe az ‘usal b̅urdast

ze raftag̅an ba-yake gar tav̅ardam r̅ud̅ad

mad̅an kih kh̅ub̅i-yi ̅ar̅a’ish-i ghazal burdast

mar̅ast nang vale fakhr-i ̅ust k̅an ba-s̅ukhan

bah sa‘̅̅i-yi fikr-i ras̅a j̅a bad̅an mahal burdast

mabar gum̅an-i tav̅arud yaq̅in shan̅ash kih duzd

mat̅a‘-yi man ze nih̅an-kh̅anah-yi azal burdast

{Various meanings are the main feature of my poetry that, by virtue of high thinking, has won the hearts of persons of taste. In case some of my verses appear similar to the meanings of verses of some earlier poet, do not think that

it has diminished my stature. This is a matter of shame for me but is a matter of pride for that poet who could attain such a height. Do not consider it simultaneity (tav̅arud); Believe me! The thief has stolen it from the hidden cell

of eternity!}

Ghalib has used traditional themes or figures but has commented on them in an untraditional way:

Majnun//مجنوںQais / قیس:

تیشے بغیر مر نہ سکا کو ہکن اسد

سرگشتۂ خمارِ رسوم و قیود تھا

t̅ishe baghair mar nah sak̅a kohkan, Asad!

sargashtah-yi khum̅ar-i rus̅um o quy̅ud tha

{Without an axe Majnun/Qais (kohkan) could not kill himself; (because) he was bound by traditions and customs. This is with reference to the anecdote that Qais could not cut the mountain as demanded by Khusro. husband of Sh̅ir̅in, beloved of Qais and he killed himself with his axe.}

N̅aseh / نا صح/moral adviser:

یہ کہاں کی دوستی ہے کہ بنے ہیں دوست ناصح

کوی چارہ ساز ہوتا‘ کوی غم گسار ہوتا

yeh kah̅an ki dost̅i hai kih bane hain dost n̅aseh

ko̅i ch̅ar̅ahs̅az hot̅a, ko̅i ghamgus̅ar hot̅a

{What sort of friendship is this that friends have turned admonishers . If only there had been some to ease my grief, some sympathiser.}

Another point in this regard is that, in Ghalib, ‘appreciation of poetry becomes a process of ‘deciphering the meanings of poetry’. That is, beauty resides in the meanings. But, then, meanings becoming beauty would require some other tools or ways of measurement of beauty. Ghalib has provided that tool which he describes as, kaif̅iyat, a particular state of mind and sentiment. As mentioned in his correspondence with Ghamg̅in Sh̅ah3, he refers to a kh̅as kaifiyat; (a particular state of mind and sentiment) in which he accommodates various conflicting beliefs and concepts. In kaifiyat, meanings become secondary. A couplet may have different impacts on different readers and listeners. Ghalib believes that, in a couplet, meaning may take the form of kaifiyat.

گر بہ معنی نہ رسی‘ جلوۂ صورت چہ کم است

خمِ زلف و شکن طرف کلاہے دریاب

gar ba ma‘n̅i nah ras̅i, jalvah-yi s̅urat che kamast

kham-i zulf o shikan-i tarf-i kul̅ahe dary̅ab

{If you could not access meaning, the illumination of form is enough, enjoy the beauty of tresses and of the headgear (of the beloved.)}

He is one of those who believe in multiple meanings of a poetic composition. One reason supporting his contention is, as the eminent poet Bedil had argued, that the meaning of a word is explained, again, by yet another word, thus rendering the meaning unexplained. On this complex issue, another important view of ‘Ainul Quz̅at Hamd̅ani is to be examined. His views on the concept of Time we have discussed earlier3, Muhammad ‘Umar Memon has referred to the views of Hamd̅ani as analysed by the eminent scholar Toshihiko Izitsue4. A brief summary of his views is given below:

Ghalib has described meaning as the essence of his poetry and the word as a source of unlimited meanings, but did not say anything about the meaning of the meaning. Bedil argued that using another word to explain the meaning of a word does not carry any sense.5 Hamd̅ani, on the other hand, proposes duality of meaning. Muhammad Omer Memon’s summary given in Urdu is as follows: 6

  1. The reality of a thing and its knowledge installed in the human mind are two different things.

  2. Until man passes through reason and rational thinking into the para-rational region, he cannot attain the stage of perfection. The whole structure of the existing world is such that the final stage of the region of empirical experiences is directly connected to the first halting place of the pararational realm.

  3. Man is not fully equipped on exposition of reality of things or of what man is listening or feeling. There is a wide gulf between what we are feeling or what we know or that which we want to know and its description. This becomes further complicated when we, besides believing in the dimensions of human experience, also believe in the authenticity of the dimension of the pararational. When a Sufi wants to express or narrate his personal observations, it becomes inevitable for him to encounter all these linguistic problems emerging out of disharmony between his personal knowledge and his capability of its expression.

So, what could be the effective way for a Sufi to get around the creative limitations of his linguistic tools? Are such tools available, at all? Symbolism may be one of them. In fact, most of the Sufi poets and philosophers have constructed systems of symbols and taken refuge in them. But Hamd̅ani suggests that on such occasions, multi-dimensional words which he describes as equivocation (tash̅aboh, ibh̅am-go̅i), might prove helpful). According to him, interpretation of various terms of Islamic philosophy should be done by tash̅aboh.

  1. In the study of the relationship between word and meaning, words should not be given undue importance. Such unnecessary emphasis on words, as if they are different from meanings amounts to a confrontational compromise. This is far from the truth. The universe of meaning is extremely fine, flexible and dynamic in nature. It does not have the consistency that accords with the customary and material robustness of words.

  1. Hamd̅ani does not believe in some strong covert relationship between word and meaning. On the contrary, between them, there is only a causal relationship of meaning, purely external and, in a sense, unreal, since there is no equal division of weight between the two; there is a kind of uncertain balance between them. It cannot be otherwise since, according to Hamd̅ani, they belong to different systems of existence. The word relates to the material and felt world (malak) while meaning is related to the non-material world (malak̅ut). The word cannot be compared with the unlimited landscape of meaning. Meaning has its own life and is not something stagnant like the word. Meaning is absolutely unrelated to the word that justifies it and grows on its own in accordance with the intensity of human experience and human consciousness. Looked at from the outside, it is not possible to assess the vastness of its meanings to be communicated through the word. It is especially true with regard to meanings with a very deep agnostic experience. When the meaning is of a non-empirical nature, then the word expressing it inevitably reaches the highest point of tash̅aboh.

  1. In such cases, to attain a direct insight into the meaning, one has to adopt an exquisite attitude towards the word since it would require one to use the word as a springboard in order to jump into the depths of meanings. As long as one tries to access meanings through words, one would never succeed. One must approach the meanings directly. For this, we have to understand the nature of Hamd̅ani’s tash̅aboh.

  1. Hamd̅ani’s concept of tash̅aboh is different from the concept of manifoldness of meanings. By tash̅aboh he meant various levels, especially, two levels: Level-A of rational deliberation, and Level-B, the pararational level which stands for the sense of mystic terminology. Regarding Level-B, it is to be kept in mind that, at that point, meanings are difficult and cannot be accessed through the meanings available at Level-A of any expanse. This is so because the meanings of all the words appearing at Level-B are cognitive experiences that are totally different from the experiences in the domain of rational thought. This is so because, as we have seen, at Level-B, perception of meaning in the pararational realm is possible only through intuition (bas̅irat).

These concepts of Hamd̅ani demand a separate discussion. Since Ghalib knew Hamd̅ani, reference to his views on a subject of Ghalib’s interest was considered appropriate. Meanings in the pararational realm are of unlimited scope and different from the meanings of a rational paradigm. Hamd̅ani’s concept of meaning may facilitate some idea of the creativity in that poetry of Ghalib which is described as “difficult”. It can also be said that since this poetry is at the pararational and metaphysical levels, its words are, in fact, those symbols and terms with vast and flexible meanings and, hence, could not be appreciated by the readers of Level-A, who are stuck with the word and meanings without any help from intuition. That is, there are meanings but they are not for laymen. In order to solve this riddle, we have to go back to Ghalib who, for the meanings of Level-B, uses the term, kaif̅iyat; and if kaif̅iyat is the experience of a poet, then it is not possible for many to unravel it. It appears that Ghalib had realised that that factor of difficulty is due to the ever-present struggle between the nicety of imagination and ‘impatience of expression’ and he prays that the use of argumentation for discovery of meanings should not injure the delicacy of thought and imagination.

The Last Point

فارسی بیں تا ببینی نقشہاے رنگ رنگ

بگزرازمجموعہء اردو کہ بے رنگ من است

Farsi b̅in t̅a bab̅ini naqshh̅a-yi rang rang

begzur az majm̅u‘ah-yi Urdu kih berang-i man ast

{If you wish to see multiple colours of my thought, go through my Persian writings and ignore my Urdu collection which does not reflect my colour.}

First, this study agrees with Ghalib’s suggestion that it is his Persian, and not Urdu, poetry that contains most of his innermost intellectual concerns. Second, assessing a poet from the angle of duality of his/her natural and poetic life provides greater satisfaction from the intellectual as well as aesthetic points of view. Undertaking a dual-life study of Ghalib was very helpful in unravelling his multilevel persona. In his day-to-day life, his letters explained the society in which he lived, his experiences in it and, above all, the way the persona emerges through his narrations of these experiences. We have seen how he was dealing with his poverty, helplessness and sufferings; how he passed his days of suffering and loneliness waiting for the release of his pension; and had no choice but to write fake panegyrics in praise of people in power. These letters show his great love for friends and disciples in poetry. His informal attitude towards friends, avoiding imposing himself on others, his simple narrations of his shortcomings, his mentioning his helplessness and deprivations, his voicing belief in fatalism without any reservations‎— all make us feel like he is a childhood neighbourhood friend. In this everyday life, he talks about religions and the religion of Islam just like a common, ordinary and average-educated Muslim. All the rituals and customs that that ordinary Muslims consider religious are also acceptable to Ghalib. Nor does he consider himself any different from followers of other religions. All of them are like dear friends.

His poetic life, though, appeared different from his day-to-day life. In his poetic life, Ghalib is an agnostic, and that too of a different type. This agnostic persona has been constructed by certain values that, ignoring all traditional sources of knowledge reconstruct all material and non-material thought-content and concepts through poetic intuition. In Ghalib’s poetry, these reconstructions have a kind of intellectual beauty that liberates his poetic life from all rational, religious, philosophical and mystic formulations.

We have remarked on the duality of Ghalib’s life. The difference between the two is evident and, no need is felt of discovering any sort of relationship between them. In the chapter “Ghalib’s expressions”, a link between his intellectual concerns and their poetic expression has been clearly discerned, and it again indicates that every great poet carries with him his own language and creative style.

Another important point was noted in this study. It is related to the poetics of Urdu poetry. All efforts to construct the poetics of Urdu poetry have suffered from a major misunderstanding‎— putting thought and art in two totally separate compartments.

For over a hundred and fifty years, Ghalib has remained an intimate friend of the literary elite as well as of the layman. He has been the most studied and scrutinised Urdu poet in South Asia. A question has been raised often as to what are the factors underlying his popularity which are not there in the poetry of other poets. The first response to this may be that this question is unnecessary; the other opinion may be that such a question is not unexpected. People of literary taste would like to talk about it. Ghalib, as we have noted, has been extensively discussed by critics, commentators and admirers. Generally, these writings have mostly concerned formal aspects of his poetry. They mostly consist of interpretations of and commentaries on his poetic compositions. Almost all this literature is devoted to different features of the form and artistic technique of treatment of themes of love, the beloved and related issues such as rhetoric, symbols, imagery and so on and ignores the thought content. Much has been written on the form and rhetorical features of classical Urdu poets like Vali, Sir̅aj, M̅ir, Saud̅a, Dard, ̅Atish, Mushafi, Zauq, Momin, Yag̅anah and others, but their social, ethical, and cultural concerns have been left almost untouched. Form and rhetoric were the main focus, while meanings were not taken up for analysis. The standard assumption was that formal features and style determine the merits of a poet. Meanings were not considered as a part of poetic evaluation. This ducked question that if such features are determined as measures to evaluate poetry then distinguishing one good poet from another would not be possible since every good poet observes all necessary requirements of figures of speech, rhetoric and so on. For Ghalib, good poetry can be evaluated in terms of its thought-content and meanings.

Urdu readers, students, and critics generally do not care much about the intellectual aspect of Ghalib’s poetics as discussed in the present work. Most of them skirt around his humanism, his liberal and, most often, critical approach to traditional religious beliefs in afterlife, freedom and predestination, reward and punishment and so on. Ghalib’s approach to understanding metaphysics and, particularly, certain complex and underlying layers of meanings of several such sensitive religious beliefs has also eluded their notice. The complex philosophical and mystical concept of Existence treated by Ghalib as the main platform for construction of a dynamic human life is a universal epistemological theme. The discourse on Time attached to Existence is another indicator of the depth of his passion for knowing Reality.

Finally, this study suggests that intellect is to be considered an integral tool for the appreciation of poetry. With the fast pace of epistemological changes, intellect along with aesthetics has become part and parcel of evaluation of beauty. Meaning is to be treated as the source of poetic beauty and it is to be made part of poetics. If this is done it will be found that classical Urdu poetry is a fascinating product of the interaction between the poets, on the one hand and, on the other, the experience of the social and cultural ethos of their times. Looked at from the Asian cultural perspective it serves as a source of cultural thought and not just as a collection of themes centred on love.

perspective it serves as a source of cultural thought and not just as a collection of themes centred on love.




eternity in future


state of non-existence


enlightenment, awareness

ahlat-Tauhid v-al-‘Adl

people of Unity and Justice, the Mu‘tazilah

ahl-i baiyt

Muhammad’s family

ahl-i yaq̅in

people of strong faith


eye’ in philosophy denotes a particular concrete thing perceived in the outside world as distinguished from the concept of that thing in the mind; it is also sometimes used in the sense of substance (jauhar). The Sufis, on the other hand, use the term ‘ain for the inner essence of a thing and especially for the universal idea of a thing eternally existing in the mind of God.




inner essence of certitude



‘̅alam- asb̅ab

the realm of causation, the world


I am the Truth/God, Hallaj’s claim


intellect, faculty of reasoning


assembly; congregation; meeting


A mythical bird



aql al-avval

first Intelligence

aql al-f̅a‘il

active Intellect


gnostic, endowed with ma‘rifah


God’s chair


accident, quality that adheres to a subject


̅arz̅u/ tamann̅a



nest, home




a science developed for scrutinizing the lives of the narrators of had̅is.

a‘y̅an-i s̅abitah

the eternal ideas existing in the mind of God which are said to be really real, or of which this world is a mere shadow or dream.” 1

̅alam-i barzakh

the world in which human souls would remain between death and the Day of Judgement;

Literally, “the intervening space”, but technically the term denotes the “World of Ideas” which is considered intermediary between the material or phenomenal world and the world of pure spirits as well as of God. In the philosophy of Illuminationism (al-hikmat al-ishr̅aq̅iyah), barzakh means simply body as opposed to light (n̅ur). Barzakhs, thus, are dark bodies that become illuminated through the light received from the spirit. The heavenly spheres being bodily are also barzakhs, but they are living barzakhs as compared to the physical bodies of the world which are dead barzakhs.”


signs of God


liberality, independence, heterodoxy


eternity in the past


father of Abraham






literary way of creating multiplicity of meanings


lightning, illumination

barq-i tajalli

God’s illumination




state of detachment


state of detachment from the world


religious innovations against Shari‘ah

bid‘at-i hasanah

customs which are new but not against Shari’ah






beloved, idol




a redresser, a curer, a healer


maker of music


in Persian and Urdu poetics, the sky stands for the source of all calamities


eternal duration, eternity in the past (azal) is in a constant union with eternity in future (abad)

dahri, dahriyah




d̅ar al-harb

abode of war, an Islamic legal term


sacred book of the Parsis




a professional woman singer


the world


good effects


state of annihilation


Islamic jurist


a mendicant; one who leads a simple, pious life






a literary feature of simplicity of expression


separation from the beloved






a buried treasure


hair, tresses


forgetfulness, heedlessness, negligence

ghaib-i ghaib

the state of absence of absence


the other


suffering, grief, pain


a genre of Urdu/ Persian poetry




a sinner




an Islamic legal term, punishment mentioned in the Qur‘an


a report of the Messenger’s sayings or actions; plural ah̅ad̅is


state of mystic forgetfulness


truth, God




prohibited in Islam






being, existence


wisdom, use of rational faculties for achievement of knowledge


a houri, a nymph of Paradise






concept of all things belonging to all

ilm al -Jarh-v-Ta‘dil

a science developed by Muslim jurists for examining the scientific authenticity of each reported Tradition

ilm al-fiqh

science of Islamic jurisprudence


Islamic scholasticism


political and religious chief of the Shi‘ahs


political institution of the Shi’ah according to which the head of the Muslim state is appointed by the Imam of the time


strong belief, faith




a controversial issue whether God is competent to create another world and for it another last Messenger


state of waiting


Shah Valiullah’s theory of means of getting closer to God


gnostic awareness


Shah Valiullah’stheory of different evolutionary stages of human society



ishq-i maj̅azi

allegorical love




Illumination theosophy

islam-i tariqat

state of Cognitive Existence


seeking help


expression /literary expression


permissible in Islam

jabr v qadr

freedom and predestination;


the school of predestination, fatalists


state of God’s majesty


attitude of rejection by the beloved of the lover’s avowal of love


manifestation of the Divine






angel who brought God’s commands to the Messenger


open presence






an absolute non-believer


a feeling of appreciation, depending upon the reader’s sensibilities

kaifiyat-i kh̅as

a special state of feeling


a specific ethical and intellectual way of thinking


impurity, denseness


a stream in Paradise


good, virtue


the phenomenal world, creation of the world of nature






the political institution of Sunni Muslims based on peoples’ mutual consent


privacy, solitude


one who looks only at himself




longing for a particular object

k̅uchah-yi mahb̅ub

the lane where the house of the beloved is located




figurative unbelief


unbelief under Islamic law

kufr-i haq̅iqi

real unbelief

kufr-i tar̅iqat

state of intoxication on the Sufi path


no, nothing




divine nature of revealing itself


elegance, exquisiteness


forgiveness after death of sins in one’s life

mahb̅ub, ma‘sh̅uq


mahshar-i khay̅al

turmoil of imagination




space, location, house


non-material world, angelic world

ma‘ni ̅afr̅ini

creation of meaning




last couplet of a ghazal mentioning the takhallus


locality of the beloved’s house described as a place of execution of lovers




agnostic knowledge


generally accepted concept or a practice


spectacle being observed by all


way of looking at things


a branch of Persian and Urdu poetry


the first couplet of a ghazal