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Poets have an uncanny ability to compress universal truths in just few couplets. Ghalib was iconic amongst an unending list of Urdu poets as his poetic genius had the ability to resonate and become part of the poetic lore. Ghalib is singularly described as a poet whose work belongs to all time and energises literary impulses. It is certainly due to the fact that his poetry employs the most exquisite language using devices such as wordplay, hyperbole, irony and paradox. His poetic images reflect diverse situations, depict a range of human emotions and provide deep insights into man’s life and his relationship with nature.

He left this world a century and a half ago yet his themes, imagery and melody are still very relevant and pertinent. His poetry is equally popular in dilettantes as well as connoisseurs of literature. His literary longevity attests to the universal appeal of ghazal form of poetry that has remained a dominant genre despite many modifications applied by subsequent poets. Ghalib elevated ghazal to convey shared human experience in semantically dense, rich and eloquent language.

Ghalib’s poetry dramatically affected the evolution of Urdu language though ironically he was more devoted to Persian and rated his poetic works in Persian as far superior to his Urdu poetry. His poetry uplifted Urdu into a distinct form of expression, much higher than the traditional epithet of Bhasha it was hitherto categorised as. His poetic expressions in Urdu depicting love, loss, betrayal and tragedy became commensurate with the feelings and emotions of individuals hence getting transferred to popular lore.


The novelty of his poetic expression was successful in evoking interest of both academia and popular culture. His poetry resonated in streets and was diligently read in classrooms. Academia played an important role in fuelling Ghalib’s popularity by thoroughly incorporating his works into the curriculum for students studying in many forms. His poetry became an indispensable part of the curriculum of Urdu and Persian studies and also became relevant in the syllabus of comparative studies, translation studies and English studies.

His unconventional approach to the best communication tool of his age, letter-writing, aroused widespread fascination and became part of literary courses offered by academia. Under his strong impact, letter-writing was completely metamorphosised becoming the most credible currency of written communication.

The most powerful impact of his works is that he has become part and parcel of visual and literary arts. In the process, Ghalib has been established as an unequalled, rare literary legend whose work transcends time to express universal human truths about love, death, life and everything in between. The legendary influence of Ghalib has cast its spell on various cinematic and theatrical performances. Ghalib’s life has been adapted into various films and television serials.

A page from the manuscript

The poet was immortalised by his disciple and poet, Altaf Hussain Hali, who wrote the very first biography of Ghalib titled “Yaadgar-e-Ghalib” in 1897. Hali’s book is a tremendous source of Ghalib’s scholarship and it familiarises the reader to a famous, free-spirited, witty and prolific poet whose life was shaken by the aftermath of the mutiny against British rule in 1857. He was introduced to English audiences by the famous biography penned by: Ralph Russell’s “The Oxford India Ghalib.” There has been no dearth of written material about Ghalib and new works keep on cropping about his personality and works.

Five editions of his Ghalib’s poetry were published during his lifetime and the first three were printed in Delhi. The first was printed in 1841 spread over 108 pages containing more than 1,000 couplets. The second was printed in 1847 containing more than 1,100 couplets and the third printed in 1861 had more than 1,600 couplets. The fourth edition was printed in Kanpur containing more than 1,800 couplets and the fifth edition was printed from Agra in 1863 containing more than 1,700 couplets.

There are numerous collections of his poetry printed throughout almost 200 years. In addition, there are many prominent hand written editions that started emerging from 1816 (Nuskha-e-Arshi) printed both in India and later in Pakistan in 1969. Though it was the earliest of his printed works but was only discovered in 1969. The other late discoveries of his hand written poetic editions date back to 1821, 1826, 1828, 1833, 1836, 1838, 1845, 1852 and 1855. TW

Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam is an educationist with wide experience


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