Dr Mehr Afshan Farooqi: Ghalib and Rampur: Present and Past Contexts

Rampur, in the eyes of the discerning, is the city Where the eight paradises have come together Rampur is an example of one vast garden, that is Alluring, fresh, verdant, immense and blissful Like clouds sprinkling rain in the month of savan The generous benefactor’s bounty flows like a river Ghalib: Qitah in praise of Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan

My recent sojourn to Rampur this past December to examine some rare manuscripts of Ghalib’s divan at the Raza Library prompted me to scrutinise Ghalib’s association with the Rampur Nawabs, with a view to assess the importance of Rampur in the larger picture of Ghalib’s life and work. Rampur holds a special place in the area of Ghalib studies because of the path-breaking work of Maulana Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi (1904-81), who joined the Raza library in 1932, and produced a stream of authoritative works on Ghalib from there.

Maulana Arshi painstakingly collated and published what is still considered the most definitive edition of Ghalib’s divan (1958): he strove to put together an impressive archive of published and unpublished materials. During my visit I examined the artistically decorated 1857 manuscript that Ghalib had got specially calligraphed for Nawab Yousuf Ali Khan. I also saw the 1866 intikhab that Ghalib had put together at Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan’s request. The 1866 intikhab has both Persian and Urdu selections. There are visible corrections in Ghalib’s hand throughout the manuscript and notes on the flyleaf in Maulana Arshi’s meticulous handwriting. As I held this intikhab in my hand I felt viscerally connected with generations of Ghalib scholars. I am grateful to the current librarian Janab Abu Sa’d Islahi for facilitating my access to the manuscripts.

Ghalib’s relations with the Nawabs of Rampur reveal some quirky aspects of the poet’s temperament as well as intricate nuances of poet-patron interactions in the post-1857 milieu. Ghalib’s financial condition was always strained because of his willful, contrary lifestyle, but also because of the adverse circumstances that had left him orphaned at a tender age, dependent on a pension, while many of his kinsmen were affluent. In the repercussion of 1857 his finances became even more strained. Thus his appointment as the ustad to Nawab Yousuf Ali Khan, with a stipend of Rs 100 a month must have been a godsend. The Nawab must have expected Ghalib to take up residence in Rampur or at least spend considerable stretches of time there — Ghalib apparently had no intentions of doing so. When he did go to Rampur for a short stay his stipend was doubled. All comforts were provided by the state. The poet spoke highly of the comforts, the climate, the water of Rampur, but preferred to live in Delhi.

From Delhi, Ghalib maintained a steady correspondence with his patrons. Of the 340-odd letters that he wrote to the nawabs, only 134 have been recovered and published. Presumably, the letters that were destroyed had to do with Ghalib’s reports on the state of affairs in Delhi following the rebellion of 1857. The poet’s letters to the two nawabs of Rampur, Nawab Yousuf Ali Khan and Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan, especially to the latter, speak mostly about his poor health and strained finances, but every so often there is a letter in exquisite prose describing Delhi’s torrid summer or torrential monsoon. Ghalib uses this as an excuse to desist from travel. In his letters from Rampur to friends, Ghalib eloquently describes the grandeur of Rampur, the sweet waters of the Kosi river and the sumptuous food. Ghalib wrote both Persian and Urdu qasidahs and qitahs in praise of Rampur and its Nawabs. The qitahs in particular rise above the routinised praise; there are sparks of good poetry and humour.

By the 1840s Ghalib had become a well-known, highly regarded poet and man-of letters. He had a following among elites and a sizeable number of shagirds. Among Ghalib’s elite acquaintances were Nawab Muhammad Saeed Khan and his younger brother Nawab Abdullah Khan of Rampur. Nawab Saeed Khan’s son, Yousuf Ali Khan was born and raised in Delhi. The young nobleman had a discerning taste in literature and wrote poetry as well. He had taken a few lessons in Persian from Ghalib.

At this time, Ghalib was busy serving the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. When Nawab Yusuf Ali became the ruler of Rampur in 1855, Ghalib wrote a qitah with a chronogram to honour the event and dispatched it to Rampur. However, he did not receive any acknowledgement. Fortunately, one of Ghalib’s old friends — Maulana Fazl-e Haq Khairabadi who was an advisor to the Nawab — convinced the Nawab of Ghalib’s poetic genius and persuaded him to invite the poet to Rampur. On Feb 5, 1857, Nawab Yusuf Khan dispatched a cordial note with a generous sum of Rs250 as an offering and requested Ghalib to be his ustad in matters of poetry. Ghalib graciously accepted the request and began to offer islah (corrections/suggestions) on the Nawab’s poetry. In his very first letter dated Feb 15, 1857, Ghalib politely suggested that the Nawab change his takhallus (nom de plume), Yusuf:

I would not like you to have a takhallus that is the same as your given name. May I suggest: Nazim, Aali, Anwar, Shaukat, or Naisan. If you like anyone of these, please adopt it. But I don’t want you to choose one against your will. If you prefer the one you have, may it be the auspicious one.

The Nawab humoured his ustad and changed his takhallus to Nazim.

In May 1857, Ghalib had a special mussavidah (manuscript) of his divan prepared for Nawab Yusuf Ali Khan. It was calligraphed by Fakhruddin Khan Bahadur. The mussavidah was carefully screened by the poet himself for errors of copy. It was decorated with delicate art work and gold leaf. He had a plain copy of this manuscript made which he kept in Delhi. Soon after, northern India was plunged in the fire of rebellion. The revolt of 1857 changed Delhi’s scenario forever. The English forces entered Delhi on Sept 18 and began to loot and massacre. Many of Ghalib’s friends were killed or ruined in the aftermath of the revolt. Libraries had been plundered and burnt. The destruction of the personal libraries of Ghalib’s close kinsmen, Nawab Ziauddin Ahmad Khan Nayyar and Nawab Husain Mirza, resulted in the irrevocable loss of many of his writings. Ghalib’s pension was cut off by the British and not restored until 1860. It was thus fortuitous that Ghalib had secured a position at Rampur which assured him of an income, and that he had dispatched a specially prepared manuscript to Rampur.

When the situation in Delhi became somewhat calm, Ghalib proceeded to Rampur in January 1860 via Meerut and Moradabad. On arrival he was received at the Nawab’s palace where he stayed for some days and then moved to an independent haveli at Rajdvarah with full provisions for his well-being. Food was brought every day from the palace and his stipend was doubled to Rs 200. Now that the Nawab was Ghalib’s shagird, it was expected that the renowned poet would spend time working on Nawab Yusuf Nazim’s poetry. Ghalib’s daily schedule of working on the Nawab’s compositions is not described anywhere but we know that Ghalib made good use of his time and worked on editing his own divan. Ghalib stayed for about three months and sought permission to return to Delhi. One reason was that Baqir Ali Khan and Husain Ali, Mirza’s grandsons, whom he was extremely fond of, and who had accompanied him to Rampur, were getting restless and wanted to leave. Permission was sought for them to leave first, and then Ghalib followed soon after.

Nawab Yusuf was succeeded by Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan (1865-87). At first Ghalib was not sure of what his position would be with the new Nawab. However, the new ruler, though not a poet, continued Ghalib’s patronage. He invited and expected Mirza to be at Rampur for the coronation. Ghalib, now older and not in good health, nonetheless, decided to undertake the journey. For the occasion, Ghalib wrote a prose piece and a 35 verse qasidah in Persian filled with exuberant praise. On this visit he was given another mansion closer to the fort, as his residence. At Jarnaili kothi, all comforts were provided. In a letter dated Oct 21, 1865, Ghalib writes to Ghulam Najaf Khan:

Several kinds of broth, pilau, mutanjan, kebabs (pasandah), an assortment of breads, pickles and preserves were provided as daily fare. A waterman, light attendant, and sweeper were appointed by the state. I hired a barber and washerman myself.

Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali in his classic memoir, Yadgar-i Ghalib reports an amusing anecdote that refers to Ghalib’s Rampur sojourn and shows how pert and spirited our poet was, even with his patron. Apparently, during Ghalib’s stay, Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan had to go Bareilly to visit the British commissioner. When the Nawab was leaving, Ghalib presented himself and offered the conventional greeting of salam. The Nawab responded in a similar mode: “I leave you in God’s hands.” Ghalib quipped: “Sir, God had put me in your hands and now you are returning me back to Him.”

Ghalib stayed for a little less than two months at Rampur; he returned to Delhi on Jan 8, 1866. My impression is that the Nawab wanted Ghalib to be present in Rampur and grace his darbar as a “poet laureate,” but Ghalib, despite the many difficulties of life in Delhi, cherished his independence and managed to live in Delhi and still be on the Nawab’s payroll. Perhaps because of this the Nawab did not increase his stipend despite repeated requests nor did he respond to the poet’s pleas for monetary help with the marriage plans for one of his adopted sons, Husain Ali Khan. (He finally helped out with the settlement of Ghalib’s debts and the cost of the wedding after the poet’s death).

Ghalib’s letters to Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan tell us the story of Ghalib’s last years of financial struggle but there are some interesting, acerbic exchanges between the two such as the letters that were exchanged on Ghalib’s review of the Nawab’s foreword to a commentary on the qasidahs of the Persian poet Badr-e Chach. Ghalib disparaged Indian lexicographers.

551fbf0ad8e72Although Ghalib took great pride in his Persian poetry, he astutely realised that Urdu was the popular language of the day and so he made concerted efforts to publish fresh editions of his Urdu divan. In Aug 1866, the Nawab requested Ghalib to prepare a special selection (intikhab) of his Persian and Urdu poetry. The poet was feeling really old and weary; he was deaf; he had developed a tremor in his hand; good calligraphers are hard to find he wrote.

Nonetheless, the task was completed. First the Urdu, then the Persian intikhab were dispatched in September of the same year. However, according to Maulana Arshi, the Persian intikhab was published while the Urdu manuscript was shelved. He found the Urdu manuscript among a pile of unattended papers in a corner of the Raza Library, and published it with a thoughtful introduction in 1946.

Ghalib died on Feb 15, 1869 at the age of 72 but not before his fame both as a poet and a prose stylist were well-established. During the last decade of his life he took a keen interest in writing Urdu prose in the form of letters. His letters illustrate the artful use of language; they exemplify the innovative and elegant structure of Urdu prose in the hands of a master. A volume of his letters, Ud-e-Hindi (Ud means various things; a rough translation would be Urdu’s Fragrance), published in 1868 quickly became a classic. A second collection, Urdu-e-Mualla (The Exalted Urdu Language) was brought out in March less than a month after the poet’s death. More volumes have appeared since then. The letters to the Nawabs of Rampur were published in 1937 in a beautiful edition by Maulana Arshi. Khaliq Anjum collected and annotated Ghalib’s letters. They were published by the Ghalib Institute (1984-90). The poet lies buried in the compound of the Loharu family graveyard at Nizamuddin, New Delhi.

Ghalib: Qitah in praise of Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan

Mehr Afshan Farooqi, email maf5y@virginia.edu, is Associate Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia. She is currently writing a commentary on the mustarad kalam of Ghalib and this article has been published here with consent and thanks. Links by Editor, email: pakistanhorizon@hotmail.co.uk

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