He gave a new and refreshing facet to the genre of prose-writing and thereby, is often referred to as the father of prose-writing in the realm of Urdu literature. He is the most written about of all the poets of Urdu literature , so much so that the study of his works has surprisingly been converted into a branch of exhaustive Urdu literature named Ghalibiyaat. Ghalib truly excelled in the domain of letter and journal writing (especially letter-writing which he started in 1857), endowing the style a novel characteristic.
Before Ghalib ventured into literature, the prose literature included only a few theological and fictional books unnecessarily encumbered with heavy Persian and Arabic words. Ghalib divorced this highly artificial style in vogue, and hospitably welcomed his peculiar austere writing style. He effortlessly wrote two significant Urdu collections of letters; Urdu-e-Muallah (The Royal Urdu) and Ud-i-Hindi (The Indian Amber), laying a solid foundation of easy, popular and yet literary Urdu. He added another prominent feather to his literary cap through his narrative of historical accounts penned into impressive journal/diary format.
This format includes Dastanboo (Pellet of Perfume) and Mihr-e-Nim Roz (Midday Sun), both in Persian language. His idiosyncrasy became so popular that even the most popular writers including Maulana Hali and Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan embraced his unpretentious style and carried forth the valuable legacy. Through analysis it becomes clear that there cannot be encountered any essential difference between the style that Ghalib adopted, and the style which is prevalent in todays era which demands simplicity as well, rather than the complex and incomprehensible literature, embodying the heavy dose of flowery vocabulary and low content value.
Ghalib was a gifted and an erudite writer with no dearth of creativity; introducing the new style being the biggest example of his treasure of creative skills. His letters project a clear, uncomplicated, natural and fascinating style, characterized with unimaginable flow, rhythm and spontaneity in his language. He adopted a conversational manner in his letters, giving the impression that he is conducting a conversation with a friend who is ostensibly sitting in front of him, discussing the everyday matters face-to-face. Such open and frank style even assists a reader to bond and gel with writers flow of thought.
His words are impregnated with loud and fearless expressions of his innermost feelings, and at the same time reflect Ghalibs highly developed taste and knowledge, owing to his aristocratic lineage. He expresses them openly and frankly, and at the same time he expects the correspondent to reciprocate the same intensity of emotions and frankness. Apart from being simplified linguistically, the letters are quite informal, progressing from the rhyming sentences and flattering epithets/long salutations, which were the characteristic features of the letters written by the educated Muslims, to simple salutations.
Indebted to non-ornamental language, the commencement of a letter just by addressing the name of the recipient showed the transition in the long held tradition. Being celebrated for intense, intelligible poetry does not lessen Ghalibs exceptional talent in wit and humor. A pioneer of informal writing, Ghalibs recipes never lacked the spice of satire and comedy. His letters are rife in delighting humor and sharp wit, elucidating and highlighting Ghalibs jolly, candid and loving nature.
He even smiled at the gloomiest moments because the severe jolts of life had made him learn to smile in order to strengthen himself in the face of even the most terrible scenarios so as to mitigate the bitter and painful pangs of the agonizing life. For instance, when the 3rd wife of one of his friends died, Ghalib remarked: Allah Allah, there are some among us who have been freed from this prison three times and I have for the past 50 years this rope around my neck; neither this rope breaks nor it takes my life.
Another such example of his light-heartedness can be seen in one of his letters to Saif-ul-Haq, in which Ghalib candidly and cleverly talks his friend out of sending the predictable gift of mangoes, a fruit, of which he was awfully fond of, but was also flooded with, by his friends and companions. I cannot think of anything which I can ask you to send me from Surat. What is there to be had which cannot be had here. I like mangoes no doubt, very much, not less than grapes, but how can they reach here safely from Surat and Bombay. The Malda mangoes are known here as Pewandi and Vilayati.
They are fine indeed and they would be finer still at Surat, but it seems you would be going out of the way to send them from there to Delhi. The expense of sending mangoes worth a rupee would amount to about Rs. 4 by the parcel post and even then perhaps 10 out of 100 will get here in a sound condition. Please give up the idea of sending me any. Delicious mangoes of various kinds can be had here in plenty. The Nawab of Rampur often sends presents of fine mangoes from his own garden. While I am writing I have just received two baskets of mangoes from a friend at Bareily.
They have been opened in my presence but all except 83 out of 200 sent to me have become rotten. Ghalibs inexhaustible fund of humor not only eased his sorrows, but also pacified bereavement of the others. Ghalib himself said: I want to write the lines that whoever reads those should enjoy it. Similarly, his journals are also the epitome of simplicity and the natural flow of language characterized by the starkness of his sadness and the reflection of a bleeding heart. Thematically, Ghalibs letters are really pivotal and significant as they give a thorough insight into his exceedingly sensitive personality and thought patterns.
Ghalib started penning letters to his friends around the tumultuous and chaotic period of Indian Mutiny 1857. This period not only marked profound change in Subcontinents history, but also in Ghalibs life. Ghalibs beloved city crumbled to the ground, turning into rubbles and waste as a result of aggressive fight between the British and the Indian rebels. It drowned Delhi into the blood of not only the common Indians, but also in the blood of many of Ghalibs friends. A lot of his friends migrated from crimson-coated Delhi to seek refuge in other parts of the Indian Subcontinent.
This left Ghalib in a lot of pain because he could not bear this agonizing disunion as he used to cherish his camaraderie. He once in one of his letters told a friend: From hundreds of miles talk with the tongue of pen and enjoy the joy of meeting when you are separated. To give vent to his gregarious urges, he took a step to compose letters so that he could keep in touch with his comrades, thereby writing 5 to 6 letters a day. His letters mostly written to friends can also be seen as a testimony of his true regard for the pure relationship of friendship and his dependence on this means of communication.
Being a writer he was definitely a man of words and therefore, craved to have an outlet of the immense sea of expression that he possessed especially lovingly freed among people that he loved and owning to his affable nature there were many regardless of them being his contemporaries and supposed competition. These feelings can be found in the following extract from a letter to one of his closest friends Tafta: pg 51 Well sir would you continue to be cross or would you make peace with me? If you cannot get reconciled to me you should at least tell me the reason of your being cross. In my solitude I live chiefly on letters from friends.
When I get a letter from a friend I take it to be a visit from him. There is not a day on which I do not receive several letters from various directions. In fact on some days the postman brings my letters more than once, a few in the morning and a few in the evening. This keeps me busy as well as amused and I easily pass my day in enjoying their perusal and in having the pleasure of writing replies to them. Through his letters, he communicated well his sentiments regarding the War of Independence 1857, and the decline of the Mughal Empire, including the excruciating effect it rendered on him and his friends lives.
In his graphic letters, Ghalib presented the horrid picture of how Delhi was converting into a desert due to the scarcity of water, and also how the ruling Indian elite was coming to a dismal end which he so consciously belonged to and boosted off. He gives a picturesque account of the gory annihilation with a deep streak of gloom in it: An ocean of blood churns around me Alas! Were these all! The future will show what remains for me to see! In addition to this, he shared with his friends the other happenings that manoeuvered his life through the travails of life(Thus, the letters become autobiographical in nature).
He also conversed about the mannerism and the propriety observed at that point in time in Delhi. He himself belonged to the royal family of Seljuks, and invariably followed the decorum rampant at that time. A lot of his letters provide the testimony and several allusions to his nobility, the pride he took in it and his high self-respect as he proudly led a resplendent life of a royal person though he always was out of money and depended on the patronage of the royal court and the generosity of his friends.
Moreover, Ghalib took great pride in his literary works, and in a letter to his friend and contemporary Majruh, he conscientiously acknowledged his role as the reformer of Urdu writing by introducing a much needed and ground breaking change that was openly adopted by his contemporaries so as to popularize Urdu prose. An extract of it is as following: All the wealth of Delhi in gold and pearls and jewellery has flowed into the Punjab as a result of the loot that followed the Mutiny, but this style of writing was my peculiar property. This wealth has been looted by the cruel hands of a man from Panipat who resides in the Ansaris quarter.
However I bear him no grudge for this loot. May God bless him. This small passage alone holds an array of cultural, historical and autobiographical dimensions. The exquisite letters also bring into light the poets unstable monetary conditions as only his poetry could qualify as his property for he never even had a house to his name. Needless to say that a talent like Ghalibs must be rightfully considered as a treasure, but the orphan despite being the owner of such a priceless possession survived owing to his friends favors or royal rewards.
In the following extract from a letter written to his friend and fellow poet Saif-ul-Haq Sayyah, Ghalib discloses a dependable source of income: For 12 years the late Nawab Yusaf Ali Khan of Rampur used to send his verses to me and to send a draft for Rs. 100 every month, but never asked me for a receipt for this money. He used to enclose the draft in his letter and he used occasionally to send a lump sum of Rs. 200 or 250 as a present. During the disturbed period following the mutiny my income from the fort (that us the Red Fort of Delhi) had vanished and the pension from the British government had been stopped.
It was through the kindness of the Nawab of Rampur, who continued sending the fixed salary every month and other sums in addition, that I and my dependents managed to live in those days. The present Nawab, his successor, may God preserve him long, continues to send me my monthly salary as usual, though I do not know whether the occasional gifts would continue or not. This letter shows his unfavorable dependence on others generosity and appreciation of literature.
However, in the particular era, the royals and the aristocracy deemed all arts to be an asset to the heritage of their nation and did not hesitate in investing in it physically, mentally or financially. Kings, princes, nobles, common men delved into poetry, and it was socially compulsory for men of respectable parentage to show their talent in verses so as to affirm the capability of their cultured and refined minds. Therefore, literary men from all walks of life esteemed Ghalib to be a patron of literature and made him the receiver of many deserved rewards.
Unfortunately, the officials and courtesans of that time could be easily regarded as an early manifestation of the corrupt worm that is so dominatingly residing in the insatiable bulging bellies of the clerks and officials of our 21st century government. Ghalib as well became a victim of an absolutely unjust scheme of the devious courtiers which he aptly pens in a letter to his good friend Tafta of which an extract is given below: You have reminded me of a very old story, which has revived a sore spot in my heart. A Qasida was submitted through Munshi Husain to Roshan-ud-Daula and through the latter to Nawab Naseer-ud-Din Haider of Lucknow.
The Nawab ordered Rs. 5000 to be sent to me on the very day when the Qasida reached him. Muhammad Husain, the middle man, never informed me of the order. The late Muzaffar-ud-Daula came to Delhi from Lucknow sometime after this and told me about it, but he asked me not to tell Muhammad Husain that he had given me this information.
I wrote to Sheikh Imam Baksh Nasikh to enquire what had been the fate of my Qasida. He wrote back in reply that a reward of Rs. 5000 had been given by the ruler of Lucknow, but Roshan-ud-Daula himself kept Rs. 3000 out of the sum and gave Rs. 000 to Muhammad Husain telling him to send Ghalib any sum that he liked out of Rs. 2000. Nasikh enquired from me whether Muhammad Husain had sent anything out of the sum to me. I replied that I had not received even five rupees out of the whole sum of Rs5000. Nasikh on hearing this wrote to me again that I should write him a letter stating that I did not know whether any reward for my Qasida had been given by the king and he promised that he would manage to place the letter before the king and to get the person who had taken my money to disgorge it.
I wrote a letter to the above effect as desired and posted it; but on the 3rd after the dispatch of the letter I heard a report in Delhi that Naseer-ud-Din Haider was dead. You can see for yourself what I could do and what could be done by Nasikh after this misfortune. Through Ghalibs letter, the modern generation is facilitated to learn about the long sowed seed of corruption and injustice and also the mistreatment and exploitation of artists. Although the financial situation of writers, poets and other creative upholders has improved through the progressive times but even now they are not given their due share especially in the East.
Similarly in another letter of his to Mir Mahdi Majruh, Ghalib reveals his priority to be his work and not the sales or the profits acquired from his work of art. This shows Ghalibs respect for his creativity and his unmatchable dignity. As acknowledged before by critics he was too much of a poet to think like a business man which also depicts the older generations simplicity and sensitive ego. The passage goes as: You tell me that there are many people desirious of purchasing the book and that I should let you know the price.
I am not a broker, a bookseller or the manager of a press. The owner of the Ahmadi press, where it has been published, is Muhammad Husain Khan. Its manager is Mirza Ammun Khan, the press is at shahdara. The owner lives at Delhi in Kucha Rai Man. The price of the book is -/6/-, postage extra. You may give this information to intending purchasers, who may send for any number of copies they may like by post. They may remit the price either in cash or in postage stamps to the above address.
You and I have nothing to do with the matter. Owning to his self-confidence and self-assurance, Ghalib did not indulge in building facades and rightfully took the responsibility of a much needed literary reformer. Through his auto- biographical letters, many of the decadent literary traditions of the past times are revealed to us. For example, in those days authors and poets had the habit of sending their works and books to their fellow esteemed colleagues to write eulogistic notes on them as a guarantee of the writers brilliance and talent regardless of its actual existence which in Urdu is known as Taqriz.
The friends asked of the favor used to be under an unspoken oath of flooding their notes with excessively high praises and ostentatious bouquets of compliments, deserving or undeserving, which tainted the credibility of the author himself and the notes were cleverly ignored by the clever audience as a blank page of any book. Ghalib put a stop to this hollow practice and became moderate in offering praises due to which many of his friends felt mistreated at the hands of the usually generous Ghalib.
Tafta, also once complained of the unkindness with which he was met when he received a meager gratification for one of his books which is illustrated in the following extract: I cannot give up my principles. I do not know that style of Indian writers of Persian in which they begin to praise one like professional bhats. Look at my qasidas you will find that the proportions of poetical flights on general subjects of a literary nature is much larger in them than the verses devoted to the eulogy of the person praised. The same principle I follow in my prose.
Look at the Taqriz I wrote on the book of Nawab Mustafa Khan and see how small the space devoted in it, to his praise is. See again the preface I wrote for the Diwan of Mirza Rahim-ud-Din Haya or look at the Taqriz I wrote at the instance of Mr. John Jacob on his edition of the Diwan-i-Hafiz. There is only one verse in praise of him and the rest of the writing, in prose, is on other interesting topics. I assure you if I had written a preface to a collection of poems of a prince I would not have given him more space than I have given to the praise of your work.
If you knew this peculiarity of mine, you would have regarded the praise that I have bestowed on your work as enough. Similarly being one of the most celebrated and prominent writers of those times and also of the times ahead, Ghalib was a recipient of many books and works of his colleagues and reverent pupils for corrections, criticism, improvements and advice, a common practice in the era in question. It was commonplace for men of education to indulge in literary writings regardless of their parentage. Therefore, more room for criticism and professional help was made.
Masters also, openly accepted this tedious and monetarily fruitless challenge so as to increase the number of their subservient pupils, a matter of pride and popularity in those days and also to encourage and invest in literary taste which in the 18th century was a testimony of refined culture. Ghalib in order to help his colleagues and pupils ran in extra mile by not only correcting their mistakes but by also writing helpful but lengthy additional notes so as to ensure improvement and fulfill his responsibility.
An example of this is the following extract from a letter to Tafta in which Ghalib dutifully criticizes his sent work: Well done. What a nice Qaida you have written? The continuity of sense and the simplicity of words are praise-worthy. One of your lines coincides with a line of a verse from Shaukat of Bukhara that is chak gardidamo az jaib badaman raftam. I think you may well be proud of your thought having reached the same height as that of Shaukat in this line, but the line preceding this in your poem does not come up to the corresponding line of Shaukat.