Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, better known by his pen name Ghalib and Asad, was born on December 27, 1797. Honoured with titles Dabir-ul-Mulk and Najm-ud-Daula, he wrote in both Urdu and Persian and traced his ancestry back to Aibak Turks who moved to Samarkand following the fall of the Selijuk dynasty. Ghalib’s grandfather immigrated to India from Samarkand during the reign of Ahmad Shah.
Regarded as one of the greatest Urdu poets, Ghalib’s love for Delhi is well known. He has time and again immortalised the spirit of the city, once writing, “Ik roz apni rooh se poocha, ki Dilli kya hai, to yun jawab main keh gaye, yeh duniya mano jism hai aur Dilli uski jaan.” (I asked my soul, ‘What is Delhi?’ It replied: ‘The world is the body, Delhi its soul”).
On the poet’s 222nd birth anniversary, here are a few facts about Mirza Ghalib
1. Ghalib married the daughter of Nawab Ilahi Bakhsh, Umrao Begum, when he was just 13-years-old, following which he settled in Delhi.
2. In 1850, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II bestowed upon Mirza Ghalib the title of Dabir-ul-Mulk, as well as the title Najm-ud-daula.
3. It was Bahadur Shah Zafar II who awarded him the title of Mirza Nosha, thus adding the word Mirza to his name.
4. Bahadur Shah Zafar II had appointed Ghalib as his tutor for poetry in 1854 and later he appointed him the tutor to his eldest son Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza. During this time, Ghalib was also appointed by the Emperor as the royal historian of the Mughal court.
5. Ghalib wrote his first verse at the age of 11, and interestingly, it has been noted that in most of his verses, the gender of the beloved is never known.
6. Ghalib’s closest rival was the poet Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq. Another contemporary of Ghalib who was well-known was Momin, whose ghazals were known for their lyrical styles.
7. The famed figure in Urdu literature Altaf Hussain Hali, who is also known as Maulana Khawaja Hali, was a shagrid (student) of Ghalib. Hali went on to write a biography on Ghalib titled Yaadgaar-e-Ghalib.
8. Following the death of Ghalib in February 15, 1869, the last great poet of the Mughal era was buried in Hazrat Nizamuddin near the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya.
9. Being a member of declining Mughal nobility, Ghalib depended on either royal patronage, or the generosity of friends. Following the fall of the Mughal Empire, Ghalib could never get his full pension restored.
10. Before Ghalib, letter writing in Urdu was extremely ornamental. The poet, who was also a gifted letter writer, made the style more conversational.
11. Ghalib chronicled a turbulent period in Mughal history. He would time and again write about the destruction of the famed bazaars of Mughal Delhi as well as havelis and mansions.
12. Mirza Ghalib’s residence, which is located in Gali Qasim Jan, Ballimaran, Old Delhi, has been converted into a heritage site. The museum also houses a life size replica of the legendary poet.