Part Two: Mirza Ghalib, Aligarh and the Death of the Beloved

As the 19th century turned on the subcontinent, the managed decay of the mughal empire became a complete collapse. The British East India company had occupied Delhi since 1803, when they brought emperor Shah Alam II under their protection. Though their rule was still technically universal, its diminished status was clear, as the cry went up among the people Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam (the empire of Shah Alam runs from Delhi to Palam). Palam is a suburb of Delhi. The sickly empire would stumble on for another half century, before meeting its end in the abortive convulsion of 1857, when the assorted rent-seeking remnants of Mughal power would rally jockeying armies under the nominal authority of  the final emperor Bahadur Shah II, only to be summarily crushed by British authority.  In a fitting coincidence for the ruler who wished often to be a poet , as Bahadur Shah I would begin the empires decline after Augranzeb, Bahadur Shah II would end it. None would exemplify this period of change, in which had once seemed solid for the Indo-Islamic ruling class would finally disapear, and the new emperor resided in London rather than Delhi, than Mirza Ghalib. Though he is considered among the greatest poets of the classical form, Ghalib lived a life of tragedy, with the death of his children and wife, and was dependent on irregular pensions, both from the Mughal court (where he was tutor even to the Emperor),  and the BEIC. He lived the poetic tnesion of the ghazal, participating in wild drinking, while also writing extensively on religious devotion. His works were deeply melancholic reflecting the sense of abandonment, nostalgia, and societal failure which accompanied the end of Mughal rule. Though his work reflected the deep psychological dislocation experienced by the gentry, his more practical affairs exposed how much the basic class incentives of the group remained the same. In the aftermath of the rebellion, the British were the new source of patronage, and reassuring the new masters of their loyalty was of utmost importance. Ghalib wrote Qasidas in honour of Queen Victoria, and in his Dastanbuuy, sent british officials a diary that emphasized his personal innocence and the broad innocence of the gentry against the disloyal rabble commanded by the individual villians he asserted made up the rebels against wholesome British order (which, in an unrelated matter, happened to have temporarily suspended his pension).  This was not the only response to the ruined and humiliated state of Delhi, and in the years that followed many of Ghalib's disciples would compile the Fughan-e Delhi, a compilation of poetry which appropriated the language of the marsiya (a Shi'a lamentation) to eulogize the bitter and unequal harm that had come to the city and to Muslims in particular, the harm that had come to Islam itself with the sack of the sainted city. The time had come for new solutions, offered up in the latter half of the century by the Aligarh movement. With Sir Syed Ghulam Ahmed as its political face, and Altaf Hussain Hali as its chief poet, the movement sought to reestablish Indian Islam under a more rational, enlightenment basis. Universities were established to prepare families in the European sciences and languages, seperate from the previous mixed semi religious education system  (Other movements concurrently established their own as exclusively religious neo-traditionalist madrasahs, also organized on British lines), in order to prepare muslims to retain their former priveleged status, but beneath European instead of Mughal masters.  The new poetry would be  a clear guide for a new, strong Indo-Islamic society towards the pure guidance of enlightenment reason and Islamic ethics (one and the same of course), and away from the wavering, unclear debauchery of Mughal decline. It would agitate for the expansion of the Urdu creole of native refinement, more fitting for the British-Indian civil service than foreign Persian or pagan, unwashed Hindi. It would  be naturalistic, modelling itself more off of the moral literature of Tennyson than the muddled mourning of Ghalib. No more would they concern themselves with odes to an absent beloved God/woman/man, cloaked in terms of un-Islamic debauchery. That beloved was dead, smashed beneath British cannon. Time to move on. 

Title Page

Divan e Ghalib

This 1969 edition encompasses the Urdu of works of Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), considered among the greatest masters of Urdu verse, though he largely preferred hhis work in Persian, as befitted a low ranking member of the Mughal court. He witnessed in his time the completion of the hollowing out and complete collapse of the Mughal societal order that had begun in the 18th century, and his work reflected a similar spirit of apocalyptic melancholy. He seems in a perpetual crisis of faith, varying from odes to the prophet to remarks upon his completely non-metaphorical drinking problem (which led him to remark to the British troops which entered his neighborhood in 1857 that he was only "Half-Muslim"). In his hands the tools of the classical ghazal are turned against itself, the search for meaning against the futility of life and the length of suffering is a problem poetry, nor the poet, is capable of resolving. His work is work for the end of an era, consciously so.

Khutoot e Ghalib

Khutoot e Ghalib

This 1941 edition contians the collected personal correspondence of Ghalib, one of the earliest corpuses of Urdu prose. He speaks of a life of immense personal grief, losing his wife and children fairly early, and then being trapped in a loveless marriage, all of which fed into his work as regrets continualy compounded. Particularly interesting are the insights into the his relationship with British authority. On the one hand, he expressed private sympathies for the 1857 rebellion, and some authors suspect he may have been involved in planning, but on the other he wrote qasidas in praise of Queen Victoria and made extensive plans to market his pro-British diaries to British officials to exonerate himselv. This dynamic of quasi-submission had an indirect impact on the career of Sir Syed, as after publishing a new edition of the 16th century Mughal record Ain-i-Akbari , Sir Syed approached Ghalib for a foreword. Ghalib obliged, but wrote that it was a tragedy that such a talented young man would waste himself on the study of a failed empire, when the British had proved themselves "superior" in law, arms, and sciences. The edition was never published, and Sir Syed became a strident anti-antiquarian

This is the 1907 edition of The Water of Life, originally published in 1880 by Muhammad Husain Azad. The book was the first chronoogical collection and review of Urdu poetry from the 16th to 19th centuries, though it took a decidedly editorial tone, as its author was a member of the Aligarh school, and though the technical skill of poets like Mir Taqi Mir and Ghalib were lauded, the book heavily criticized the obfuscation, ambiguity, and obsession with a narrow set of themes that characterized the poetic canon. Instead, a "naturalistic poetry", which would clearly evoke the experience of sensation through the text, in the model of British authors, was advocated.

Musaddas e Hali

This 1900 edition of the 1879 Musaddas-e-Hali (Also known as Musaddas on the Ebb and Flow of Islam), by poet of the Aligargh movement Altaf Hussain Hali. The work is meant to be an example of the naturalistic style of poetry, and to establish the decadenced and loss of the previously dominant islamic society. English styles of similie are combined with influences from the Shahr Ashobiyya style. Interestingly, and in keeping with the broader Islamic Modernist tradition of the period, inspiration was also taken from Arabic literature, particularly Al-Rundi's Lament for the Fall of Seville, a 13th century piece that shared similar subject matter in the lament for the collapse on an Islamic society which had fallen into decadence (Al-Andalus). In a precursor of events to come, along with being published as a book, the Musaddas were also released in Tahzib-ul-Aklaq, the circulating journal of the Aligarh movement.