Tag Archives: Mirza Ghalib

Remembering Umrao Begum

Basti Nizamuddin, NEW DELHI  :

RAVE CONCERN Umrao Begum’s grave, covered in green cloth in Nizamuddin | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan
RAVE CONCERN Umrao Begum’s grave, covered in green cloth in Nizamuddin | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

The unmarked resting place of Miza Ghalib’s wife deserves an epitaph

The grave of Mirza Ghalib’s wife, Umrao Begum, in Basti Nizamuddin, just at the side of her husband’s tomb, lacks an epitaph, probably because nobody tried to inscribe one on it in 1955 (when the poet’s memorial was built) or because she preferred anonymity as per the strictest tenets of Islam. Even so she deserves one for posterity’s sake. Umrao Begum was a pre-teenager when she married Ghalib, who himself was just 13 at that time, and the two shared conjugal bliss for nearly 57 years.

Umrao Begum was a kinswoman of the Nawab of Loharu, an erstwhile State now merged with Rajasthan, and her cousin was Bunyadi Begum, Ghalib’s sister-in-law. The begum, who was the Nawab’s sister, gave her haveli in Gali Mir Qasim Jan to Ghalib when he was in need of accommodation.

Umrao Begum bore seven children, all of whom died in infancy, leaving her and the poet heart-broken all their lives. Even the nephew, Nawab Zainul-abadin Khan Arif, whom they adopted, died young at the age of 18, though he had made his mark in Urdu poetry by then.

Strict lady

Umrao Begum was a strict Muslim lady, whereas Ghalib was not at all orthodox. After the First War of Independence of 1857, the poet was accosted by an English officer who asked him if he was a Muslim (as most members of the community were suspects in the eyes of the British). Ghalib replied “Half”. The officer sought an explanation to which Ghalib said that though he drank, he did not eat pork. The amused officer, marvelling at his wit, left him in peace.

Once Ghalib came home with a man carrying a basket full of wine bottles, bought with his first pay. Umrao Begum asked him why he had spent all the money on liquor, to which his reply was that God had promised to feed everyone but had not made any provision for drink, for which one had to make one’s own arrangements.

At another time he entered the courtyard of the house with his shoes on his head. To the Begum’s query, he replied that as she had made the whole haveli a masjid by her piety he had no other option. Umrao Begum died in 1870, a year after Ghalib, when Mahatma Gandhi was only a few months old and was buried according to her wish next to the poet.

Unfortunately, the Ghalib memorial built 85 years later became a barrier between the two graves, both of which should have come within its ambit. But it’s never too late to make amends for an oversight — if need be with Government help.

Her love for Ghalib was intense or he wouldn’t have been able to lead the carefree life he did. She was the one who took care of the house despite the poet’s love for gambling and dance girls, one of whom took undue advantage of him. Despite mischievous gossip by mohalla women, Umrao Begum was unruffled because she was convinced of her husband’s goodness of heart. Even when there was paucity of funds, she managed to see it to that Ghalib and nephew Arif got three square meals a day.

After the death of her children, she was the one who comforted her Mian Nausha so that the misfortune did not affect his mental equilibrium, without which his wit would not have continued to flow like the sparkling Thames.

Facing the music

Ghalib spent most of his time outside the haveli, except when he was writing poetry, having his meals or resting. So it was Umrao Begum who faced the creditors as she was the one who responded to the knock on the door in the absence of a regular maid. When the fat Kotwal of Delhi tried to bully Ghalib, as he disliked the poet because of their love for the same tawwaif and considered him a potential rival (as he always stole the limelight at the kotha), his wife was the one who confronted the Kotwal’s importunate minions at the haveli’s entrance and sent them away with the proverbial flea in the ear.

When Arif was grooming Alexander Heatherley “Azad” as a shair, despite his Anglo-Indian antecedents, Umrao Begum took it upon herself to see to it that they were not disturbed and had some refreshments too during the long hours of coaching. Ghalib who had earlier imbibed the love for shairi in Arif, also fawned on him and when he died an untimely death, poured out his grief in a heartfelt elegy (quoted from memory) that is among his best poems: “Jatey huey kehtey ho qayamat ko milenge kya khoob, qayamat ka goya din hai koi aur!” (While departing you say will meet on the Last Day of Judgement, what an excuse on the pretext of a reunion on a vague day in Eternity).

Reading the elegy Umrao Begum burst into tears and told Ghalib not to rub salt into her raw wounds, according to Arif’s pupil, Alexander Heatherley’s descendant, George Heatherley who died in Perth a few years ago. Umrao Begum’s grave close to Ghalib’s is testimony enough, if one were needed indeed, of the emotional link between the two. Then why deny her the courtesy of an epitaph to seal the bond for the benefit of future generations? No matter how distant may be Arif’s final place of repose.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Society> Down Memory Lane – History & Culture / by R.V. Smith / November 27th, 2017

Gore, Kale and Ghalib



THE HAVELI of Kale Sahib is no more but the ahata (compound) still exists, and what a slum it has become since 1847 when Ghalib lived there after his release from prison for debt default! The poet quipped that after being freed by Gore (the British) he had been “imprisoned” by Kale. Kale Sahib was a highly venerated man. Whether he got this name because of his complexion is not known, but it is quite likely that the saint was not as fair as Ghalib. The Moghul emperor was among his devotees and so were Ghalib and his family. As a matter of fact, Ghalib’s sister-in-law, Bunyiadi Begum gifted the ahata to Kale Sahib and the name stuck.

Kale Sahib was a practical minded saint who refused to perform miracles just to please his devotees. He counselled them to pray fervently, pointing out at the same time that in 90 per cent cases prayers went unanswered. But there were instances when he did help people out of their difficulties. He once admonished a man from whom he had driven out an evil spirit that if he went back to his sinful ways he would again become possessed and then even miracles might not help. Apparently Kale Sahib did not have to exorcise him again.

Situated in the Ballimaran area of Delhi, Ahata Kale Sahib forms part of the locality founded by a Persian, Qasim Khan, who first settled down in Lahore about the year 1750 and was befriended by the Governor of Punjab, Moinul Mulk. When Ahmed Shah Abdali invaded Punjab, Moinul Mulk resisted him and was killed. His widow, Mughlai Begum then became the virtual ruler and made Qasim Khan her chief adviser. There were insinuations, but then which young widow is safe from wagging tongues if she befriends a man?

Qasim Khan later came to the court of Shah Alam where he was accepted as a nobleman. The place in which he lived is known to this day as Gali Qasim Jan. Qasim Khan’s son, Faizullah Beg built the ahata. But how Buniyadi Begum came to possess it is not clear.

Congested mohalla

Ahata Kale Sahib now is a congested mohalla. Few of its residents remember Kale Sahib. But the ahata is in the news generally, for whenever BSES resorts to power cuts, Ahata Kale Sahib is as much affected as distant Janakpuri. In fact one finds this link between what was once Asia’s biggest colony and one of the dirtiest amusing. After Ghalib’s joke about Gore and Kale this should surely take the cake for it would have tickled the poet too. But he is long dead and gone.. But one has the feeling that he couldn’t be resting peacefully in Nizamuddin for he was essentially a man of the walled city of Delhi whose charms began and ended within its confines.

The charms are still reflected in a slight difference in speech, the flavour of the kababs and the taste of the water from Hare Bhare Sahib. The breeze that springs from the Jamuna goes past the Red Fort, negotiates the many arches of the Jama Masjid and merges with the smell of the motia and chameli sold at the crossroads before cooling the courtyards of the houses in the narrow gullies.

Ghalib liked to move about in this area of which the Kashmere and Delhi gates were the two extremities, with the fort being the hub and centre and the mosque the cultural bastion of the city. Yes, of course, Ghalib always had a soft corner for Agra, because he was born there and passed his boyhood in Kala Mahal from which the Taj looks just like a building in the next locality.

But his heart had been won over by Shahjehanabad. From Ballimaran to Jama Masjid the walk was long enough via Chandni Chowk. Sometimes one could meet Mir Ashiq who came from the opposite direction and went back to his kucha via Ballimaran. Was the tilt of his cap different from that of the residents of Nizamuddin? People noticed such traits and developed their pet notions.

For a man of such intense likes and dislikes as Ghalib, his grave in Nizamuddin is out of the milieu in which he flourished. It is a small enclosure though beautiful in its own way where sparrows make love in the afternoon. The illiterate take it for another shrine where obeisance must be paid, and budding poets hope to imbibe some of the virtues of the great “shair”.

An old man who sometimes steals up to the mausoleum feels that even a blank page touching the “mazar” would instantly be graced with a ghazal. He has never seen it happen, nor would we surely, but such feelings are the stuff legends are made of.


source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> MetroPlus Delhi / by R V Smith / Monday – November 29th, 2004

Celebrating Urdu

Hyderabad, TELANGANA :
A student posing as Mirza Ghalib
A student posing as Mirza Ghalib

It was an expo with a difference. No, it was not an art, fashion or product fair. It was all about language, something unheard of till then. The city of domes and minarets was witness to a unique celebration of Urdu. And it took school children to bring out the sweetness and magical lyricism of the Urdu language.

Titled after Daagh Dehlvi’s famous couplet ‘Urdu hai jiska naam …’, the exhibition hosted by students and teachers of Central Public High School, Khilwath, recently at the Mehboob Husain Jigar hall in Siasat daily was a runaway success. Students of different schools in the city and lovers of Urdu flocked the show necessitating extension of the expo.

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are headed. The expo did just that.

It not only traced the history of Urdu but gave visitors something to remember long after they left the premises. Some of the finest Urdu couplets and ‘nazms’ were on display.

What added to the appeal was the way students donned the attire and looks of the famous poets of yore. One could see the poet of East, Allama Iqbal, reclining in his trademark black suit and Mirza Ghalib with his typical cone cap and snowy beard, holding a hookah. There was also Wali Deccani, Mohd Quli Qutb Shah, Mir Taqi Mir, Hazrath Amir Khusro besides writers like Ibne Safi, Premchander.

Students waxed eloquent about the works of the poets apart from reciting their verses. Presentation of ‘Shikwa’ and ‘Jawab-e-Shikwa’, the epic poems of Allama Iqbal by students was the high point of the expo.

“We decided to present the language in all its glory as these days everyone is talking about the decline of Urdu,” said Mohd Zafarullah Faheem, Director, Central Public High School.

The limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s world. But there was no limit to the poetical appeal of the expo. Wherever one glanced one was greeted by ‘shayeri’.

Talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to this head. And if you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. That’s what the Urdu expo did — it went straight to the heart.

source: http://ww.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Features> MetroPlus / by J.S.Ifthekhar / Hyderabad – November 26th, 2015

Ghalib celebrated, even as his Agra birthplace lies forgotten

Pic Courtesy: - Ghalib The Man, The Times
Pic Courtesy: – Ghalib The Man, The Times

Agra :

Friday marked the 216th birth anniversary of Mirza Asad Ullah Khan “Ghalib”.   In Agra, the city of the Urdu poet and cultural icon`s birth, there is no proper memorial to him. There is not even a lane in the city named after him.

At the place of his birth, the Kala Mahal area in the heart of Agra, there is little to mark the occasion.

The demand for a Mirza Ghalib chair at the Agra University and an auditorium with a research library named after the poet has been hanging fire for decades.

The Taj city is identified with three pillars of Urdu “adab” or culture Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib and Nazeer Akbarabadi. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to perpetuate their memory.

“Stones alone do not make for heritage. Literature, traditions, culture are all part of the heritage that we must preserve,” said Sandeep Arora, former president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association, hinting at the fervour with which Mughal-era buildings are preserved, while other aspects of the city`s culture face neglect.

“Foreign tourists, especially those from Pakistan and West Asian countries, ask after Ghalib`s house. We have been requesting the tourism and other departments to build a fitting memorial to the great poet, but nothing has been done,” said Rakesh Chauhan, hotelier and president of the Hotels` Association.

Ghalib is to Urdu literature what Shakespeare is to English. Born in 1797 in Agra, once the capital of Mughal rulers, he moved as a teenager to Delhi, where his poetic talent blossomed in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mughal emperor at the time.

He died in Delhi in 1869, leaving behind a rich legacy of poetry that continues to inspire.

“The haveli where Ghalib was born should be acquired by the state government and converted into a fitting memorial to Mirza Ghalib,” a resolution passed at a meeting of experts said.

The haveli in Kala Mahal area houses an educational institution. Agra`s literary fraternity has petitioned the government to acquire it and open a research academy there.

“The central and state governments should jointly build a fitting memorial and a library in Agra where Urdu poetry lovers can spend time and enlighten themselves,” Syed Ifteqar Jafrey, director of the Mirza Ghalib Research Academy said.

Agra, also called Akbarabad, is known as a city of romance, love, bhakti and culture. Although it is associated with monuments, it also has a rich tradition of literature in both Urdu and Braj Bhasha.

“Urdu poetry has stagnated in modern times as new poets are not getting recognition. But even so, who has not heard: “Dil-e-nadan tujhe hua kya hai; Hazaron Khwaishen aisee; Yeh na thi hamari kismat; Har ek baat pe kahte ho,” says Chandra Kant Tripathi, registrar of the Central Hindi Institute.

Syed Jaffrey, director of the Mirza Ghalib Academy in Agra, wants better facilities and support from government agencies to promote research in Urdu literature.

All that Agra has to remember its famous poet by is one park in the cantonment area, named after Ghalib a year ago. “This is indicative of society transforming into a wasteland,” says Sudhir Gupta, an admirer of Ghalib.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, at Gali Qasim Jaan in Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, where Ghalib lived, Friends for Education, an NGO is organising a reading of Ghalib`s poetry in the haveli where he lived. The haveli was restored after a public interest litigation was filed in the Delhi High Court in 1997.

source: http://www.zeenews.india.com / Z News / Home> Entertainment> Bookworm /  by IANS / Friday – December 27th, 2013

Remembering Mirza Ghalib in his haveli

Mirza Ghalib’s bust in his haveli.
Mirza Ghalib’s bust in his haveli.

To mark noted Urdu poet and cultural icon Mirza Ghalib’s birth anniversary a cultural extravaganza will be hosted in his haveli at Gali Qasim Jaan in Ballimaran in New Delhi on Friday. The event is being organised by Friends for Education, an NGO working to uplift education, civic sense and cultural heritage in the Walled City.

Heritage activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed, who filed a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court in 1997, which led to the restoration of Ghalib haveli, will conduct a session on “The Neglect of Ghalib and Urdu in Delhi”.

“Ghalib lived a life as deeply and humanly as any sensitive individual could have done. So, I am making a small attempt to create awareness about this genius whose poems in Persian and Urdu need to be read by the young generation. This would enable them to understand his philosophy of the need to live in peace and harmony. And what better way to commemorate his memory than to read his work in the haveli where he lived.”

For years, Mr. Bakht has been emphasising the need to breathe life into the monument. “Ghalib is in the heart of all the connoisseurs of poetry. However, what is to be lamented is that the memorial is now dead and defunct.”

The heritage activist said the need of the hour is to turn the dead monument into a living one by managing a reading room and a small chamber for teaching Urdu.

He feels a great service will be done to Ghalib if his translated poetry collections, especially in Hindi, can be put on display in the haveli. He also wants a tea stall to be set up in the haveli by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

“Unless Ghalib is brought closer to the local community, or people in general, merely celebrating his birth anniversary will have little efficacy,” he rues.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Delhi / by Madhur Tankha / New Delhi – December 27th, 2013