JK Bank
The Agonizing Symphony of Mirza Ghalib
About Us | Contact Us | E-Paper
Title :    Text :    Source : 

The Agonizing Symphony of Mirza Ghalib

Ghalib has “played with fire” in his poetry, both Persian and Urdu, so much so that he could be safely called a “fiery poet”!

Post by on Wednesday, February 16, 2022

First slide

The “readers” of Ghalib know that he was/is a multidimensional artist whose symbolism is very much difficult to fathom for the general reader. Ghalib’s famous expression “kaghaz-i pairahan, paper shirt”, in spite of being quite known to the Ghalib readers, is still intriguing for many a student of his thought. It is historically known that an oppressed person in the middle ages used to wear a “paper-shirt” as a mark of protest for receiving redressal of his grievances before a king. Likewise, Ghalib has “played with fire” in his poetry, both Persian and Urdu, so much so that he could be safely called a “fiery poet”!  It is pertinent to note here that Ghalib, with respect to his resplendent Turk complexion, with regard to the tumultuous period which he lived in, as well as with respect to his multifaceted poetic art, had indeed a resemblance with fire!

Actually, Ghalib’s age was replete with turmoil, both political and social. The conditions for this great poet were thus worsened by his concept of love which had made him an epitome of longing which had in turn rendered him into a “poetic recluse”! Perhaps this is the reason that his cries of love and longing have become so much appealing over the years. The outbursts of this agony hardly needed any flute for conveyance:

faryad ki ko’i li nahin hai

nalah paband-i ni nahin hai


These symphonic “shrieks” had been entrusted to Ghalib in the world of “nothingness” (‘adam), the world where present time-space dimensions do not operate! So, he came to the world with the unspent quota of these “shrieks” to give vent to his love, longing and agony:

nalay ‘adam mayn chand hamaray supurd thay

jo wan na khinch sakay so woh yan a¯kay dam hu’ay 


The oppression and persecution faced by Ghalib had been nothing but the pangs of love and longing by dint of his indifferent beloved! This love, longing and separation have been known to the Persian and Urdu poets in general and the Sufi poets among them in particular. It is no wonder then that Rumi has began his famous Masnawi with the “shrieks” of the “flute” which has been cut (separated) from its source, the reed-bed! As per Rumi, it is the flute which has taught the whole mankind what crying in love is all about. Moreover, it is not wind which comes out through the flute; it is rather fire which comes there from:

atash ast ain bang ni-o nist bad

har ki ain atash nidarad nist bad


This is the reason that Ghalib doesn’t make the cries of love and longing subservient to flute or to any other material tool. However, the sparks of love intoxicate Ghalib so much that he feels that the cupbearer has mixed saffron with the wine:

raqs khas bar sho‘la zi insan sar khosham darad ki man

danam andar badah saqi za‘faran andakhta


Somewhere else, Ghalib has compared the “dance of the spark” with the short span of human life:

yak nazar baish nahin fursat hasti ghafil

garmi’i bazam hai ik raqs-i sharar honay tak


This Persian couplet of Ghalib not only shows the transitoriness of the world, but it also exhibits the meagre duration of the human life as well. As per the Qur’an, it is this span which man must utilize to store the same for the life hereafter (qaddamat ligad, Qur’an, 58:18). Moreover, the Qur’an emphasises that the deeds performed during the small lifespan will leave behind their traces in the world as well and the same will keep on amounting for the deceased (Qur’an, 82:05). This is the reason that Iqbal, Ghalib’s great admirer has looked upon the worldly life from yet another perspective, quite different from the mere summation of days and nights:

tu isay paimana’a imroz-o-farda say na nanp

jawidan, paiham dawan, har dam jawan hai zindagi  


Ghalib, however, makes his own standards of love, separation and longing! His heart’s cup is brimful with agony. So, for him, there is no difference between annihilation (fana’) and permanence (baqa) and birth and death are just the two sides of the same coin, eternal nothingness (‘adm). This is how Ghalib has expressed this idea again with a fiery touch:

sharar-i atish rakhshandah ‘ishqam kih yaki ast

dam-i milad-o wafatam tahan naha yahu   


Perhaps these fire-laden outbursts of Ghalib have led Iqbal to show him with Mansur al-Hallaj and Qur’atul ‘Ayn Tahirah in the sphere of Jupiter in his Javaidnamah. It is pertinent to note here that Jupiter is the red-brown-yellow planet having enough resemblance not only with Ghalib’s Turkish complexion but also with his agony of love and longing given vent through his fiery verse! 


(The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: alhusain5161@gmail.com)


Latest Post