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  • Ghalib and His Interlocutors
  • Syed Akbar Hyder (bio)

Ta badah talkh tar shaved o sina rishtar
bagudazam abgina o dar saghir afganam

Kyun na firdaus men dozakh ko mila len ya rabb
sair ke vaste thori si fiza aur sahi

Ghurbatam na sazgar amad vatan fahmidamash
Kard tangi halqa-e dam ashiyan namidamash

[To make the wine more bitter and the chest more sore
I shall melt the goblet and pour it into my drink

Why don't we mix a bit of hell into heaven, my Lord!
Let's have a bit more space to stroll around

Exile did not suit me, I took it for my homeland
When the noose of my net tightened, I called it my nest.]

—Mirza Asadullah Khan "Ghalib"

Few South Asian poets have been the subject of a more robust and voluminous corpus of writing than Mirza Ghalib (1797–1869). Living as he did in the politically volatile milieu of nineteenth-century North India, Ghalib witnessed a series of crises, precipitated by the decline of Mogul power and the onset of British colonialism. On a personal level, he suffered the loss of all his children. He seems to have retained his gusto through good wine, a great sense of humor, and his beloved pen that helped him undermine cherished conventions of his time and hence avenge his own suffering. His popularity hinges not only on his poetry but also on the images projected by his readers/audiences after his death. His influence permeates South Asian literature but also music, religion, and politics.

The significance of Ghalib's extraordinary impact on South Asia is suggested by a frequently quoted remark of Abdul Rahman Bijnauri, a prominent literary critic of South Asia: "India is home to two divinely inspired works: the Holy Vedas and the corpus of Ghalib's Verse."1 Such an attitude toward Ghalib testifies to the almost unearthly beauty of his verses. In spite of his seemingly playful attitude toward religion, he has provided inspiration for many generations of Muslim poets. Ironically, he has even been canonized in a popular Saudi Arabian journal, where he is listed as one of the forty-two most notable Muslims in human history; he is in the company of the first four caliphs who succeeded the prophet Muhammad, Abul Qasim Firdawsi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Muhyideen Ibn al-'Arabi, Jalaluddin Rumi, Muhammad Iqbal, Naguib Mahfouz, and Malcolm X.2 [End Page 462]

It is my goal in this article to reflect on one of Ghalib's most illuminating Persian poems, Chiragh-i Dayr, or The Temple's Lamp. I am drawn to this poem for the synergy of cosmopolitanism that is harnessed in it. By cosmopolitanism, I mean a mode of existence in which difference is not only accommodated or tolerated but also cherished and fostered. This article examines religious cosmopolitanism in the literary imaginaire of nineteenth-century South Asia, as fashioned by one of this region's most beloved craftsmen of words and images. I hope to look not only at the way in which Ghalib channels the socio-literary cosmopolitan imaginaire in The Temple's Lamp but also at the larger intertextual and intersubjective context in which this poem resides. Within the parameters of this study, I invoke Ghalibian words and anecdotes that are not directly tied to the poem under discussion but that do elicit sentiments similar to those expressed in this work. Furthermore, I align Ghalib's verses with discourses that precede his work but that nevertheless constitute the poetic and mystical textscape of Ghalib's world; I also explore how Ghalib figures into the literary mosaic of twentieth-century reformist Urdu literature, especially the Taraqqi Pasand Tahrik (Progressive Urdu Movement), which has prided itself for reading against the grain.

Situating The Temple's Lamp

Ghalib wrote Chiragh-i Dayr in 1827, during several months' sojourn in Banaras, en route from Delhi to Calcutta, where he went to have his family pension restored from the British. By 1827, a rapid decline of the Mogul rule in Delhi and the gradual consolidation of British hegemony in the subcontinent had begun. Just thirty years of age, Ghalib employed the medium of the masnavi, an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-226X
Print ISSN
1089-201X
Pages
pp. 462-475
Launched on MUSE
2006-12-20
Open Access
No
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