Mirza Ghalib and Shahjahanabad

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Mirza Ghalib and Shahjahanabad

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In Agra, Asad Ullah Beg Khan aka Ghalib was born in December 1797 in an aristocratic family having Turko-Persian ancestry. His poetry describes human emotions meticulously. Ghalib was greatly affected by his surroundings and his situations as depicted in his work. At a young age, he moved to the neighbourhood of Ballimaran in Shahjahanabad. Belonging to an aristocratic family who had given service to Mughals militarily he also started receiving pensions. At the time when Ghalib moved to Shahjahanabad, the Mughal throne was powerless with Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who was strictly under the surveillance of British colonial officials. Before the 1857 mutiny, Ghalib maintained good relations with some British officials, sometimes he wrote for them in hope of favours.  

After shifting to Delhi he met huge setbacks, he was struggling for a proper share of the pension, was in huge debt, and got briefly imprisoned too until 1850 when the Emperor appointed him to write the history of the house of Timur in the Persian language. He started receiving 50 rupees every month for his salary. Soon, he lost interest in the history writing process as a result of which only a volume was published. He regained his interest in Urdu poetry because the Emperor himself used to write them. When Ibrahim Zauq died in 1854 Ghalib became the tutor of Bahadur Shah Zafar to guide him in poetry and then he was appointed to teach the Emperor’s eldest son also for a yearly salary of 400 rupees. 

His diary, Dastanbu and his Khutoot (letters) are important sources to catch a glimpse of the 1857 rebellion and Ghalib’s life. He has observed events of 1857 from the eyes of an aristocrat. The diary throws light upon the effect of the mutiny on the occupants of Shahjahanabad. He talks about its intensity and pens down his feelings about the same. He criticizes rebels and sides with the British. He did not want to criticize them which would have bought him more trouble although he did not appreciate the British reassertion of Delhi. He mentions that rebels caused harm to everyone even the women and children, they looted and plundered. At night he could hear the sound of cannons, swords, and horses. A huge amount of smoke from the area of Chandni Chowk to Kashmiri Gate had covered Delhi like a blanket that was now a battleground. Many Muslims flew from the area for the concern of safety. The helpless emperor had given in to the demands of rebels who were rallying under his banner. Ghalib lived at the house of prominent Hakim Mahmood Hasan Khan in Ballimaran. To safeguard Hakim and his house, the Maharaja of Patiala had sent his soldiers. 

Delhi at the hands of rebels laid deteriorated, lifeless and it looked merely a fort whose royalty, nobility was now dead and its inhabitants were assaulted. One could only enter with a permit. The atmosphere was terrifying. In these times, Ghalib’s brother’s house was looted and he passed away after a few days. The poet was poverty-stricken at this time and could not afford a funeral for his brother. His neighbours had to arrange for him. Ghalib also lost many of his friends who were murdered, looted, or left Delhi. He uses a range of terms for the mutineers which highlight his anger and frustration. Unfortunately, he could never win the case for his pension for whom he wrote to everyone and he even sent a qasida to the queen of England.

According to the G.C. Narang, when the British reasserted Delhi he could hardly find a common ground between him and the new government. Ghalib was more familiar with the Mughal rule and shared the same ancestry. After the end of the mutiny, he felt bad for the aristocratic people and Delhi especially as restrictions were forced upon them. In his letters, he writes about the desolation caused by the lack of Mughal power around him. He misses the charm of Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, and his daily routines. Fortunately for Ghalib, he did become a prominent poet of Old Delhi. His pension was also restored with the efforts of Nawab of Rampur who also appointed him as a teacher. In February 1869, Ghalib left this world. N.N. Wig opines he might have suffered from Diabetes mellitus plus his alcoholism also contributed negatively to his health. 


Datta, V.N. “GHALIB’S DELHI.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 64, 2003, pp. 1103–1109. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44145537

WIG, N. N. “A NEW EVALUATION OF GHALIB AND HIS POETRY.” Indian Literature, vol. 11, no. 1, 1968, pp. 36–48. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23329606

NARANG, G. C. “Ghalib and the Rebellion of 1857.” Indian Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 1972, pp. 5–20. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23329794


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About Yusra Hadi

Yusra is a learner, feminist, Muslim and a local lover of this city who is always trying to discover it. Delhi might not have ’dil waale’ but Delhi and its people surely have their own spot engraved in her heart. Sometimes, she writes poetry too.

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