The Fifth Era of Āb-e ḥayāt:

Part Ten



It is not the task of an Urdu anthology-writer to record the substantive details of Persian compositions and write an opinion on them. Therefore I only write down the list.

Odes: There are ḥamds and naʿts. There are praises of the sinless Imāms. There are some in praise of the king of Delhi, the king of Avadh, the Governors, and some [English] gentlemen of high status.

#500# The volume of ghazals, with the volume of odes, was compiled in A.D. 1833-35 and spread among people of taste by means of hand-copying; and by now it has been printed a number of times.

Panj āhang: In this there are five chapters in five modes. It is an excellent composition for Persian-writers, who ought to write in his style.

In 1862 Qāt̤iʿ-e burhān was published. After some changes, he published it again, and named it Durafsh-e kāviyānī. He has pointed out the errors of Burhān-e qāt̤iʿ. But those with pretensions to Persian have made harsh attacks on it.

Nāmah-e ġhālib: A number of individuals wrote responses to Qāt̤iʿ-e burhān. Thus in Meerut there was a blind schoolteacher named Ḥāfiz̤ ʿAbd ur-Raḥīm. He wrote a response to this called Sāt̤iʿ-e burhān. In the style of a letter, Mirzā Sahib, by way of an answer to the aforementioned Ḥāfiz̤ Sahib, wrote some pages and called them Nāmah-e ġhālib.

Mihr-e nīm roz: Ḥakīm Aḥsanullāh Ḳhān was the personal physician to the king. He was interested in history, and usually had a cordial affection for people of accomplishment. At his suggestion, Mirzā first wrote one part of the aforementioned book. By means of it, in A.D. 1850 he gained formal audience with the king and received the post of history-writer at the royal court. And he was awarded the titles of Najm ud-Daulah Dabīr ul-Mulk Asadullāh Ḳhān Ġhālib Bahādur Niz̤ām Jang. Accordingly, in the first book he described the history from Amīr Tīmūr to Humāyun, and named it Mihr-e nīm roz. It was his intention to write the account from Akbar to Bahādur Shāh in the second book, and call it Māh-e nīm māh--but the Rebellion [of 1857] took place.

Dastanbū: From the 11th of May, 1857, to the first of July, 1858, he wrote an account of the Rebellion, a narration of the destruction of the city, and his own circumstances--in short, an account of the whole fifteen months.

Sabad-e chīn: Two or three odes, some verse-sets, and some letters, all in Persian, are in it, that were not included in his volume.

#501# And toward the end of his life, he did not keep his own poems with him. His Urdu compositions remained with Navab Ḥusain Mirzā Sahib, and the Navab kept on compiling them. The Persian ones he used to send to Navab Ẓiyā ud-Dīn Aḥmad Ḳhān Sahib, to whom he had given the pen-names of Nayyar and Raḳhshāñ and whom he had adopted as his favorite pupil and first heir. The second heir was Navab ʿAlā ud-Dīn Ḳhān Sahib.

It appears from his letters that he maintained his passion for letter-writing with great effort and exertion. Thus it is that ten or fifteen years before he died he began writing in Urdu. Thus in a letter to one friend he himself says,

My kind patron! Quite some time ago I gave up writing letters in Persian. Old age and the shock of physical infirmity have left me too weak to do hard work and concentration. My vital powers are in decline and it is as though,

/My senses have become weakened, Ġhālib--

Where is that good proportion in my elements!/

You're not the only one--to all the friends with whom I correspond, I write my letters of love and submission only in Urdu. The various gentlemen in whose service I formerly wrote letters in the Persian language, those few who are still alive--even to them, as necessary, it always occurs that I write letters and essays in this current language.

Impromptu: In Urdū-e muʿallā, he writes to Mirzā Ḥātim ʿAlī Mihr,

I have one verse-set that I composed in Calcutta. The occasion for it was that Maulvī Karam Ḥusain, one of my friends, in a gathering placed on the palm of his hand a betel nut of very good quality, without any fiber, and asked me, 'Please compose something on it, with similes about it'. Even as I sat there, I composed a verse-set of nine or ten verses and gave it to him, and in return I took that betel nut from him.

/The betel nut that is in our friend's hand

However much you praise it, it is suitable for it

#502# The pen has its finger against its teeth: how to write of it?

Speech has its head in its collar: how to speak of it?

Compare it to the burnt-out star [of bad fortune] of Qais

Compare it to the dusky mole on the charming face of Lailā

Suppose it to be the black stone of the wall of the Kaʿbah

Call it the scent-gland of the deer from the desert of Khitan

If in a prayer cell you call it the tablet of prayer1

In a winehouse, call it the seal of the cask of wine

Describe it as the cosmetic-stained finger of the beautiful ones

Compare it to the breasts of a Parizad

Suppose the palm of my master's hand to be the heart

And call this black betel nut the [mystical] spot on the heart/

In short, there are twenty or twenty-two casual comparisons. How could I remember all the verses? I have forgotten them.a

An accidental encounter: Navab Zīnat Maḥal had much access to the king's disposition. Mirzā Javāñ Baḳht was her son, and although he was younger than many of the princes, the king was trying to make him the Crown Prince. When the occasion of his marriage came, it was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. Mirzā composed this sihrā [=epithalamion] and presented it before His Majesty:

/Be happy, oh fortune, for today is your laurel garland

Bind on Prince Javāñ Baḳht the wedding garland

How fine it looks on that moon-like face

The adornment of your heart-brightening beauty is the wedding garland

Your being on the head is quite suitable, but, oh side of the cap,

I'm afraid it may steal away your rank--the wedding garland

A shipful of pearls must have been strung

Otherwise, why do they bring it in a 'boat'-tray--the wedding garland

They must have collected pearls from the seven seas

Only then could it have been made, this kind of yard-long wedding garland

In the heat, the perspiration that drips from the bridegroom's face

Makes it a string of pearl-scattering clouds from end to end, the wedding garland

It would have been disrespectful for it to be longer than the outer garment--

It stopped at the hem of the garment, the wedding garland

Let the pearls not feel vain at their weakness

Without doubt there should be a flowered one too, the wedding garland

When the flowers are bursting out and blooming with happiness

How in the world could anyone weave out of flowers, a wedding garland?

The brightness of that shining face, the luster of rolling pearls

Why shouldn't it show the glow of moon and stars, the wedding garland?

#503# It is not a silken string, it is the vein of a spring cloud

How will it be strong enough to bear the heavy weight of pearls, the wedding garland?

I'm a judge of poetry, not a partisan of Ġhālib

Let us see whether anyone composes a wedding garland better than this wedding garland/.

When he heard the concluding verse, His Majesty thought that it was a dig at him. As if its meaning was that there is no one who can compose a sihrā equal to this one. [He thought,] 'I made Shaiḳh Ibrāhīm Ẓauq my ustad and 'Lord of Poets'. This is far removed from the understanding of poetry--rather, it's partisanship!'

Thus that day when the late Ustad came in, as usual, before His Majesty, the king gave him that sihrā: 'Ustad, please look at this'. He looked at it and, as was his custom, petitioned, 'My Lord and Guide, it is very good'. The king said, 'Ustad! You too compose a sihrā'. He said, 'Very good'. Then the king said, 'Write it right now. And please keep an eye on the concluding verse too.' The late Ustad sat down, and composed:

/Oh Javāñ Baḳht, congratulations, may it be auspicious, this wedding garland

Today around your head good fortune and auspiciousness form a wedding garland

Today is the day that the sky should bring, made with pearls of stars,

Using the new moon as a gold boat-tray, the wedding garland

On account of the brightness of beauty, like a ray of sunlight

On your radiant face it is full of light, the wedding garland

The former would say, 'Salutations to the Prophet!', the latter would say, 'Praise to God!'

When the moon and the stars would see on your face, the wedding garland

So that between girl and boy there may always be full sincerity

First recite the [Quranic] Chapter of Purity and then string the wedding garland

The fame of this wedding garland has spread throughout the universe

Why shouldn't the sweet-singing birds sing the praises of the wedding garland?

Since light rains down on your auspicious face

The thread of light has made itself entirely a wedding garland

At the time of preparation each one adorns the other--

On the head is a turban, on the turban is the wedding garland

Not a single pearl has been left in a hundred pearl-mines

When they have kept taking them out to make your wedding garland

The spring breeze goes around giving itself airs at the perfume--

Oh God, oh God, the flower-scented wedding garland!

On the head is a turban ornament, around the neck is a shoulder-garland

Flower bracelets beautify the wrists, the face is hidden behind the wedding garland

They sky would present to you the sun and moon as a 'face-showing' gift

If you show your face, lifting up the wedding garland

#504# From the profusion of glance-threads of the spectators

When they look at you, at your beautiful face the threads become a wedding garland

Having made it out of pearls of good luster of themes

Your praise-singer Ẓauq has brought you this wedding garland

The person who claims poetic skills--recite this to him and say,

Look--this is how poets make a wedding garland/.

Singers were in attendance at His Majesty's court. This sihrā was at once given to them. By evening it had spread through every street and lane of the city. The very next day it was published in the newspapers. Mirzā too was a great knower of courtesy and understander of poetry. He understood that he had wanted something, but something else had transpired; and he presented this verse-set in His Majesty's service:

A verse-set in apology:

/My wish is to submit nothing but the truth of the matter

To sing my own praise does not seem suitable to me

For a hundred generations my forefathers' profession has been soldiery

Poetry is not a means of honor to me

I am of a free spirit, and my habit is harmony with everyone

Enmity with anyone absolutely never occurs to me

Is this a small honor, that I am Z̤afar's slave?

I agree that honor and rank and wealth have not come to me

The thought of malice toward the king's ustad--

Such strength, such insolence, such power is not to me

A [magic] World-showing Cup is the great king's heart--

Oaths and witnesses are not necessary to me

Who am I to write in Rekhtah--indeed, no purpose for it

Except to delight His Majesty, occurs to me

A sahrā was written by way of carrying out orders

Except for obedience, no course was discernible to me

In the concluding verse by chance appeared a somewhat challenging remark

In this, the cutting off of love was no purpose to me

If I had intended to turn the face of my poem toward anyone, let my face be blackened

No madness, no insanity, no wildness has come to me

My luck may indeed be bad, but my temperament is not bad

It's a cause for thanks that no complaint occurs to me

I am sincere in my word, Ġhālib, as God is my witness

I speak the truth--no habit of lying comes to me/.

The encounter in Calcutta: #505# In Calcutta, many Iranians and and great scholars and learned men were present. But it's a pity that there Mirzā's accomplishment did not receive as much honor as was suitable for his status. In truth, he ought to have been honored. And he certainly would have been, except for a chance entanglement. The story [dāstān] of it is this: in some gathering Mirzā recited a Persian ghazal. Some persons objected to one word in it. And the objection was according to the rule which Mirzā Qatīl had written in one of his pamphlets. When Mirzā heard it, he said, 'Who is Qatīl? And what do I have to do with Qatīl? He was a Khatrī from Faridabad. I have no respect for anyone except native speakers.' Most of those people were pupils of Mirzā Qatīl. Thus, they averted their eyes from the rules of hospitality, and tumult and turmoil arose among great and small. Mirzā was astonished; thinking that this mischief should subside somehow, he adopted a moderate tone, and wrote a masnavi. And there is no doubt that in it he masterfully honored the claims of poetry. He presented the matter of the encounter with extreme excellence in the poem. He answered the objection with authorities. For his own part, with appropriate humility he fulfilled the claims of apology. But the greater pity is that when the masnavi was read in the gathering of the rivals, then instead of accepting his accomplishment, or apologizing to the guest for their excesses, one person deliberately said, 'What is the name of this masnavi?' They learned that it was Bād-e muḳhālif [=Contrary wind]. Another recited a phrase from the Gulistān, /In the stomach of one of the pious men, a contrary wind was twisting/, and everyone laughed.

An anecdote: There was a mushairah in Delhi. Mirzā recited his Persian ghazal. Muftī Ṣadr ud-Dīn Ḳhān Sahib [Āzurdah] and Maulvī Imām Baḳhsh Sahib Ṣahbāʾī were present in the gathering. When Mirzā recited this line, /In the valley where the staff of Ḳhiẓr is asleep/, at Maulvī Sahbāʾī's instigation the Muftī Sahib said, 'There is some doubt about the correctness of, "the staff is asleep"'. Mirzā said, 'Your Excellency! I am of Indian lineage. You have seized my staff--you couldn't catch hold of the staff of that Shirazi. /But in the very first attempt the staff of the old man went to sleep/'.2 The Muftī Sahib said, 'About the idiom itself, there is no doubt. The doubt is whether you have used it suitably or not.'

An anecdote: #506# One time Mirzā became very much burdened by debt. The creditors took him to court. He was summoned to answer the charges. It was the Muftī [Āzurdah] Sahib's court. When he was brought before the court, he recited this verse,

/I drank wine on borrowed money, but indeed I knew well

That one day my gallantry in adversity would have its effect/.

Because of an unexpected disaster, Mirzā Sahib had to remain for some days in jail, just as Hazrat Yūsuf had to in the Egyptian prison. His clothes had grown soiled. There were lice in them. One day he was sitting and picking off the lice. A noble came there to visit him, and asked, 'How are you?' He recited this verse:

/From the day when we wretched ones were captured by disaster

In our clothes, lice have been more numerous than stitches/.

The day he was leaving there, and it was time for him to change his clothes, he tore up the kurta he had been wearing there and threw it down and recited this verse,

/Alas for the fortune of these few inches of cloth, Ġhālib

In whose fortune it was to be a lover's collar/.

Impromptu: Ḥusain ʿAlī Ḳhān [his adopted grandson], when he was a small boy, one day came in the course of his play: 'Granddad, send for sweets'. He said, 'I have no money'. The boy opened the box and began to grope around here and there in it for coins. He said,

/Where do I have coins and wealth--

Where, in a kite's nest, is there meat?/

An anecdote about the six-monthly pension disbursement: The government pension arrived once every month. After the Rebellion at Delhi, the order went out that it should be given every six months. On this occasion he writes to a friend,

/There is a custom of the six-month ceremony for the dead

These are the conventions that people follow

Look at me--I'm alive

and my six-month ceremony comes twice a year/.

But these two verses are in reality from an ode, as a result of which he obtained an order from the court of the king of Delhi that the six-monthly pension should be paid monthly. In his Persian odes too he composed a number of this type of 'dismissals and appointments'. And this is nothing unusual. Anvarī and so on, a number of poets, have done the same thing [by rededicating old poems to new persons].

An anecdote: #507# Maulvī Faẓl-e Ḥaq Sahib was a great friend of Mirzā's. One day Mirzā went to visit him. His habit was that when any close friend would come, he would recite a line from the Ḳhāliq bārī: /Come brother, come brother/. Accordingly, he rose to greet Mirzā Sahib, recited this line, and seated him. He had just sat down, when the Maulvī Sahib's mistress rose and came in from the opposite verandan and sat down. Mirzā said, 'Indeed, sir, now please recite the second line also: /Oh sit down, Mother; oh sit down, Mother/'.3

An anecdote: Many persons had written answers to Mirzā's Qāt̤iʿ-e burhān, and had used very sharp and insolent language against him. Someone said, 'Your Excellency, you haven't written an answer to So-and-so's book'. He said, 'My friend, if a donkey kicks you, what reply can you give him?'

An anecdote: His sister was ill. He went to visit her. He asked, 'How are you?' She replied, 'I'm dying. I die with the worry about debts on my shoulders.' He said, 'Sister! What kind of a worry is that? Do you think that Muftī Ṣadr ud-Dīn Ḳhān [Āzurdah] sits in God's house, to make a decree and have you seized?'

An anecdote: One day Mirzā's pupil and follower came and said, 'Your Excellency, today I went to the tomb of Amīr Ḳhusrau. By the tomb there's a khirni tree. I ate quite a number of its fruits. As soon as I had eaten them, it was as if the door of eloquence and rhetoric opened. Just see how eloquent I've become!' Mirzā said, 'Aré my friend, why did you go six miles? Why don't you eat the berries from the pipal tree in my back courtyard? You would have obtained fourteen grades of illumination!'

An anecdote: Various pupilsb said to Mirzā, 'You have composed many odes--and very powerful odes--in praise of Hazrat ʿAlī. You have not written anything in praise of any one of the other Companions.' Mirzā, after a little hesitation, said, 'If you show me some one among them who is like him, I'll praise that one as well'. Mirzā Sahib's liveliness of temperament always kept him dyed in this color. So that ignorant people #508# accused him of impiety. And because this mood seemed not to accord with his stature and dignity, his friends were startled to hear such things. The more startled they were, the more playfully he behaved. His temperament was habituated to the joy of intoxication. But he considered it a sin against God, and had vowed never to drink during Muḥarram.

An anecdote: Some days after the Rebellion of 1857, Pañḍit Motī Laʿl, who in those days was a translator for the Punjab government, went to Delhi with the Chief Commissioner Sahib of the Punjab. And through love of his native place and love of the art, the Pañḍit visited Mirzā Sahib. In those days his pension had been stopped. He had no permission to attend at court. Because of his downheartedness, Mirzā was brimful of complaints and laments. In the course of conversation, he said, 'In my whole life, if there's a single day when I haven't drunk wine, then I'm an infidel; and if I've offered prayer a single time, then I'm not a Muslim. Thus I don't know how the government includes me among the rebellious Muslims.'

An anecdote: A person came from Bhopal to see the sights in Delhi. He was also eager to meet Mirzā Sahib. Thus one day he came to visit. From his style it appeared that he was an extremely abstemious and pious person. Mirzā treated him with perfect courtesy. But it was his customary time for drinking; he sat there, enjoying himself. A glass and a bottle of wine were before him. This poor man didn't know that he had this taste. Thinking it to be sherbet, he lifted the bottle up in his hand. Someone nearby said, 'Sir, this is wine'. The gentleman from Bhopal instantly put the bottle down and said, 'I picked it up thinking it was sherbet'. Mirzā Sahib smiled and looked toward him and said, 'What good fortune--saved by a mistake!'

An anecdote: One time at night he was seated in the courtyard. It was a moonlit night. The sky was full of stars. Looking at the sky, he began to say, 'A task that is undertaken without advice and counsel is without finesse. When God made the stars in the sky, he didn't obtain anyone's advice. That's why #509# they're scattered about. They're not in a row or a series, nor do they form a flowery border'.

An anecdote: A Maulvī Sahib, whose sect was Sunni, came for a visit during the days of Ramazan. The late afternoon prayer had been said. Mirzā asked a servant for water. The Maulvī Sahib said, 'Your Excellency, what a dire thing--in Ramẓān, you're not keeping the fast!' Mirzā said, 'I'm a Sunnī Muslim--I break the fast when four watches of the day remain'.4

An anecdote: It was the month of Ramẓān. He was seated at Navāb Ḥusain Mirzā's place. He asked for pān, and ate it. One gentlemen with an angelic nature, extremely abstemious and pious, was in attendance at the time. He asked with surprise, 'Your eminence, you don't keep the fast?' He smiled and replied, 'Satan is victorious [ġhālib]'.

An anecdote: This jest is already famous among people of wit. It is said that ʿĀlamgīr was unhappy with Sarmad. Therefore he always used to keep him under watch. Thus Qāẓī Qavī, who in that period was the Qāẓī of the city, on one occasion seized Sarmad in the act of drinking bhang. First there were many jests, and witty questions and answers of repartee. Finally the Qāẓī said, 'No! The command of the Shariat is like this. Why do you say things against the command of God?' He said, 'What can I do, my friend--Satan is powerful [qavī]!'

An anecdote: It was the winter season. One day Navab Muṣt̤afā Ḳhān Sahib [Sheftah] came to his house. Mirzā filled a glass with wine and placed it before him. He began to stare at Mirzā's face. Mirzā said, 'Please take it'. Since he had already given it up, he said, 'But I've renounced it'. He replied in surprise, 'What--even in the winter?'

An anecdote: One gentleman said in a tone meant for overhearing, 'Drinking wine is a great sin'. He laughed and said, 'Well, if you drink, what happens?' He said, 'The least of it is that your prayers are not accepted'. Mirzā said, 'Why, do you know who, after all, drinks wine? First of all, he who has a bottle of Old Tom, with the trimmings, before him. Second, he who is carefree. Third, he who is healthy. You yourself tell me: #510# whoever has all this, what else will he need that he will have to pray for?'

Twenty years before he died, Mirzā Sahib found a phrase for a chronogram for the date of his death; he liked it very much, and he put it into verse.

A death chronogram: [two Persian verses]. According to this reckoning, he should have died in A.H. 1277 [1860-61]. In that year, there was a severe epidemic in the city. Thousands of people died. In those days grief over the destruction of Delhi was fresh. Thus he says, in reply to Mīr Mahdī Sahib, 'Why do you ask about the epidemic? There was only this arrow left in the quiver of the archer of Fate. The slaughter was so universal, the looting so harsh, famine so major--why shouldn't there be an epidemic? The Tongue of the Unseenc had said, ten years before,

/Ġhālib, all the disasters are over

There is only one unexpected death more/.

My friend, the mention of the year A.H. 1277 was not wrong. But I considered it unworthy of myself to die in the midst of a universal epidemic. Really, it would have been beneath my dignity. After the contagion of the epidemic is over, I'll settle accounts.' [Ten ghazals #511# #512# #513# #514# #515# by Ġhālib.]

1 Shias offer their prayers on a tablet of clay that represents the earth.

a See the letters in Urdū-e muʿallā.

2 In other words, if ʿaṣā meaning 'staff' can be made to sleep, then ʿaṣā in its colloquial meaning of 'penis' can also be made to sleep.

3 Since the Ḳhāliq bārī is a textbook, in both cases the same phrase is given first in Persian, then in Urdu.

b This anecdote has been attributed to a number of poets.

4 In reality, Sunnīs break the fast only a tiny bit earlier than Shias.

c He named himself the Tongue of the Unseen.