An unanswered question on Ghalib

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R. K. Sinha

Silence is golden. Many in political, administrative and other circles maintain it on certain issues or certain times. It is understandable. But it is difficult for many in this century to figure out why Mirza Mohammad Asadullah Beg Khan or Mirza Ghalib was virtually silent over the first war of independence waged in the county. He is undoubtedly the all-time best Urdu and Persian poet. Some of the Urdu poems composed by him and verses he wrote are still being quoted and recited.
There can be no dispute over his brilliance as a poet. But some recent reports suggest that he did not say or write much on the first battle for independence in Delhi, his home city, on May 11, 1857, fought by the rebels of the Bengal Army garrisoned in Meerut. They killed white officers of the East India Company and Indians who supported them. There was a chaos in Delhi. The rebels did not spare anyone who came in the way. Then Commissioner of Delhi Simon Frazer and Captain Douglas who was protecting Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar were also brutally killed.
The rebels declared old and virtually powerless Zafar as the emperor of India and took Delhi under their command. Ghalib himself was one of the courtiers of the last Mughal emperor. As such, he was a witness to the first war of Indian independence.
But for some unknown reasons, he did not describe the events in detail nor did it form a part of his main writing. It is said that his brother Mirza Yusuf who was mentally deranged was shot dead by a Britisher, but Ghalib misreported it. He is said to have described it as a natural death.
Was he badly disturbed by the developments? Was he scared and did not write because of that? He was not opposed to either the British or the emperor. His critics say he used to receive rewards and pension from the Britishers. Was it the reason why he did not write anything against them? He had remained close to the Mughal emperor and attached to his court in spite of everything. Some of his couplets, Urdu poems, verses and sonnets he wrote during that period are still being remembered and quoted.
He had thousands of wishes. Many of them were fulfilled, yet good many remained unfulfilled. Like any other normal person he too had many weaknesses and had a fair share of grief and sorrow. Often he had a hard time, lived in debt. The noted poet had seven children but all of them had left him. That had caused immense pain but he smiled through pain and knew how to live through difficult times. He used to often call himself a half Muslim because he did not eat porn but was a guzzler.
It is said that he had to often borrow because of his drinking habit. He lived in a rented house in Delhi. Some historians say that after the imprisonment of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857, the Britishers were on a roll. Indians had a hard time. Severe punishment used to be given to them for even small crimes. A two aana (coin used then)tax was introduced and collection began to be made every month from Hindus as well as Muslims and those who did not pay the tax were pushed out of Delhi.
Mirza Ghalib had to pay that levy too every month .He has mentioned about it in a letter written to Hakim Ghulam Najaf Khan in July 1858. The second letter was written in February 1859 to Mir Menhdi Hussain Nazru. In both the letters there is a common complaint. ‘I have not been out of the house for weeks, because I could not afford to pay tax. If I get out of the house, the inspector will catch me’.
In ‘Yadgare Ghalib’, Maulana Halli writes, during the mutiny neither could Ghalib get out of Delhi nor his home.
During this period he composed less on the sepoy mutiny and more on his own sufferings. The developments between May 11, 1857 and July 31, 1858 have been noted by him in a diary called Dastambu.
However, while he was not saying much, a journalist in Delhi was openly condemning the British. His name is Mohammad Bakr who was an Islamic scholar. He had impartially covered the war between the British forces and the rebels in his newspaper, Dehli Urdu Akhbar. The emphasis was laid by him on Hindu-Muslim unity. Revolutionary poems were also published in the paper.It had a ‘Hazur- e- wala’ column which was very popular. It had four pages and each page had two columns with 32 lines.
He knew Urdu, Persian and Arabic. However, on September 14, 1857, when the British won the Jang-e-Azadi, his newspaper was closed and Treason charges were slapped. He was publicly hanged on December 14, 1857.
Shockingly for those who loved him, no mention about hanging was found in Ghalib’s writings. However, no evaluation can be made on the basis of one hit or a miss.

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