On GHalib’s 226th Birth Anniversary

Today is Mirza GHalib’s 226th birth anniversary and this is my little tribute to this great philosopher and thinker. GHalib has intrigued and fascinated me since very early age. Thanks to my cultural background and upbringing, I was fond of literature and Urdu poetry since early days and GHalib’s poetry always fascinated me; not only how he has played with the language but also how he has modelled the complex ideas of life in his writing. His writing is multi-layered and the kind of ideas he has dealt with are profound. He has perfected the beauty of GHazal and shown the extreme powers of language. I consider him the greatest philosopher-thinker world has ever known. 

I have my own collection of his 100 ash’ar which I will publish some time in the future but today, just to give an idea of how GHalib has fascinated me through his writing, I am jotting down few stanzas which will give the reader an idea of his level of thinking; how he has seen the reality of this world in a very different light while sitting in his haveli at Ballimaran in Delhi worrying about day to day worldly affairs :).

ہے کہاں تمنا کا دوسرا قدم یا رب

ہم نے دشت امکاں کو ایک نقش پا پایا

है कहाँ तमन्ना का दूसरा क़दम या रब

हम ने दश्त-ए-इम्काँ को एक नक़्श-ए-पा पाया

hai kahāñ tamannā kā dūsrā qadam yā rab

ham ne dasht-e-imkāñ ko ek naqsh-e-pā paayā


I specifically mention this Sher here because GHalib upon further review of his anthology (NuskHa-e-Hamidia), he took this Sher out as he was not comfortable with its composition (“pa paaya”). This gives us an insight into the standards he set himself up for. In my view this is one of the greatest ash’ar of Urdu poetry. Entire universe of possibility is just one step of my aspirations. This provides an upper bound on the set of all the possibilities which includes all the causal structures of reality. What an amazing thought about the limits of aspirations of a human mind, and GHalib cut it out of his anthology as he was not happy with its composition :).

Another Sher that intrigued me at the very first instance when I read it –

قید میں یعقوب نے لی گو نہ یوسف کی خبر

لیکن آنکھیں روزن دیوار زنداں ہو گئیں

क़ैद में याक़ूब ने ली गो न यूसुफ़ की ख़बर

लेकिन आँखें रौज़न-ए-दीवार-ए-ज़िंदाँ हो गईं

Qaid meñ yāqūb ne lī go na yūsuf kī ḳhabar

lekin āñkheñ rauzan-e-dīvār-e-zindāñ ho ga.iiñ

In my view, this is the ultimate height of a poet’s ability to use simile; turning Jacob’s eyes in to the window of Joseph’s jail cell is a level of simile only GHalib is capable of. When I read this sher for the first time, I thought if I ever write something like this, that will be the pinnacle of my life’s achievement and I probably would not want to do anything after that :).

I do not claim to know a lot about the poetry in other languages but I feel there is a concept of chaining which is unique to Urdu GHazal. When you chain one concept on top of other, it makes the chain of words very powerful and conveys a very different idea than the original set of words themselves. GHalib has used this extremely powerfully. Couple of examples below –

کمال گرمی سعیٔ تلاش دید نہ پوچھ

برنگ خار مرے آئنہ سے جوہر کھینچ

कमाल-ए-गर्मी-ए-सई-ए-तलाश-ए-दीद न पूछ

ब-रंग-ए-ख़ार मिरे आइने से जौहर खींच

kamāl-e-garmī-e-sa.ī-e-talāsh-e-dīd na pūchh

ba-rañg-e-ḳhār mire aa.ine se jauhar khīñch


کس کا سراغ جلوہ ہے حیرت کو اے خدا

آئینہ فرش شش جہت انتظار ہے

किस का सुराग़ जल्वा है हैरत को ऐ ख़ुदा

 आईना फ़र्श-ए-शश-जहत-ए-इंतिज़ार है

kis kā surāġh jalva hai hairat ko ai ḳhudā

ā.īna farsh-e-shash-jahat-e-intizār hai

Also, as a student of STEM, I was intrigued with many asha’rs of GHalib explaining complex scientific and philosophical subjects with beauty and clarity. For example, below Sher is the most elegant definition of second law of thermodynamics I have ever come across –

हैं ज़वाल-आमादा अज्ज़ा आफ़रीनश के तमाम

महर-ए-गर्दूं है चराग़-ए-रहगुज़ार-ए-बाद याँ

haiñ zavāl-āmāda ajzā āfrīnash ke tamām

mahr-e-gardūñ hai charāġh-e-rahguzār-e-bād yaañ

“charāġh-e-rahguzār-e-bād” is such a beautiful expression which tells the fragility of the order against the backdrop of universal disorder.

These days, there is a lot of discussion in neuroscience about whether reality exists or it is all created by mind to optimize the fitness function of an intelligent being. Lot of research is happening in this area and with the advent of AI models, leading multi disciplinary experts are involved in figuring out as to what level mind creates the reality around us and how this benefits the conscious beings. Now read below stanzas from GHalib, written approximately 200 years ago –

ہستی کے مت فریب میں آ جائیو اسدؔ

عالم تمام حلقۂ دام خیال ہے

हस्ती के मत फ़रेब में आ जाइयो ‘असद’

आलम तमाम हल्क़ा-ए-दाम-ए-ख़याल है

hastī ke mat fareb meñ aa jā.iyo ‘asad’

aalam tamām halqa-e-dām-e-ḳhayāl hai


ہاں کھائیو مت فریب ہستی

ہر چند کہیں کہ ہے نہیں ہے

हाँ खाइयो मत फ़रेब-ए-हस्ती

हर-चंद कहें कि है नहीं है

haañ khā.iyo mat fareb-e-hastī

har-chand kaheñ ki hai nahīñ hai


Here GHalib is telling that mind creates reality, and it does not exist independent of mind. Another Sher comes to my mind when I read modern day debates around holographic principle 

ہے غیب غیب جس کو سمجھتے ہیں ہم شہود

ہیں خواب میں ہنوز جو جاگے ہیں خواب میں

है गै़ब-ए-ग़ैब जिस को समझते हैं हम शुहूद

हैं ख़्वाब में हुनूज़ जो जागे हैं ख़्वाब में

hai ġhaib-e-ġhaib jis ko samajhte haiñ ham shuhūd

haiñ ḳhvāb meñ hunūz jo jaage haiñ ḳhvāb meñ

I can keep going on for another 20 pages although I am not even a professional scholar of GHalib or Urdu poetry. I plan to publish selected verses of GHalib’s poetry with my understanding some time in future. For now, I am closing this with an extract from one of his letters advising the community two hundred or so years ago about what they should focus on. Alas, community did not listen then and has not listened now –

“MiyaN, kis qisse me phasa hai, Fiqah padhkar kya karega. Tibb-o-Nujoom-o-Haiyat-o-Mantiq-o-Falsafa padh jo aadmi bana chahe.”
–May, 1861, GHalib

A rough translation will be – 

“Mate, what the hell you are upto, it is waste of time studying religious doctrines. Focus on Medicine, Astronomy, Mathematics, Logic and Philosophy if you want to be counted as educated.”

“balā se haiñ jo ye pesh-e naẓar dar o dīvār

nigāh-e shauq ko haiñ bāl o par dar o dīvār”

I don’t care if these walls are blocking my vision. I will turn them into the wings of my visionary aspirations.