Ghalib and the revolution of 1857
Feb, 2008: (Ghalib's death anniversary falls on February 15)
Mirza Asadullah Khan
Ghalib, one of our greatest poets, was in Delhi when the uprising of 1857 was at
its peak. He observed the revolutionary changes taking place during his
lifetime. And his travel to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1830, the then capital of
the British India, had broadened his mental horizon. But no change or
revolution, no matter how great, could reflect in his poetry.
barely a few of Ghalib's couplets that can truly be attributed to any political
or social upheaval. A few of his ghazals and couplets are sometimes
unscrupulously reproduced and quoted as portrayal of the political revolution
that saw Indians losing the war of freedom and Mughals their throne. But the
fact is that his poetry has got nothing to do with the events of 1857 as he had
composed such ghazals and couplets much before the rebellion.
Ghalib's Urdu letters reward anyone who is lucky and wise enough to read them.
Many of them give an account of the events of 1857 and, besides carrying some
biographical details about Ghalib, make a good reading, too.
writing letters in Urdu in or around 1847. He quit the old-fashioned way of
writing letters that essentially meant long salutations and tortuous language
and instead went for a very lively and frank style. The language of his letters
is simple yet literary and sounds like the conversation of a person of highly
developed tastes and knowledge. His ability to smile at his sorrows and brighten
up at the gloomiest moments has made these letters a good example of decent
Ghalib talked of the 1857 revolution in many of his letters which
portrayed the pain and sorrows that he had felt. However, he was careful enough
not to say anything that could offend the British. His attitude towards the
'rebellious' Indians was not sympathetic at all and at least on one occasion he
denounced the Indians that killed the persons of British origin during the
revolution. Ghalib had many friends among British officers. He had been trying
all along to earn more favours particularly an award and pension from the
In fact there had been bad blood between Ghalib and his literary
opponents much earlier. The literary circle that celebrated his imprisonment in
1847 for running a gambling den at his place was among the front-runners in the
revolution of 1857. Renowned among them were Ustad Ibrahim Zauq and Maulvi
Muhammad Baqar (who was later hanged by the British), editor of Delhi's paper,
Urdu Akhbar, and father of Muhammad Hussain Azad.
Zauq, Muhammad Hussain
Azad's teacher and mentor, was his foremost literary opponent and he could
become the last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar's Ustad (one who 'advises' the king on
his poetry) only after Zauq's death.
The literary group that opposed
Ghalib was pinning their hopes on the 'mutiny' of 1857, expecting the defeat of
the British and full restoration of Mughal monarchy. On the other hand, Ghalib
had sensed a defeat of the revolutionary forces at the hands of the British as
the rebellion was neither well-organised nor powerful enough to counter the
military might of the foreigners.
Among his Urdu letters written during
the war of independence, many were addressed to the ruler of Rampur, a friend
and benefactor of Ghalib. As the letters contained some political advice and
spoke on the aftermath of the revolution, apparently not too sympathetic or
reverent towards the revolt and the Mughals, Ghalib had requested that the
letters be destroyed once read.
This was the time when he wrote Dastamboo
as a personal diary or journal in Persian. It records the events from May 11,
1857 to July 31, 1858. The book not only carries chapters from Ghalib's personal
life but it also speaks of the situation of Delhi and the British
Ghalib tried to make his readers believe that the book offered
the true picture and nothing had been added or omitted though he feared for his
life when anyone found near or dear to the Mughal king was being prosecuted. He
remained attached to the Red Fort as Bahadur Shah Zafar's mentor and his loyalty
to the British could have been questioned. In fact Ghalib wrote Dastamboo to
show his loyalty to the British and, as we know, truth is the first casualty of
Dastamboo was published in November 1858 from Agra when the sword of
the Press Act had fallen on the Indian press and the printing permission given
for many newspapers had been cancelled. Dr Moin-ur-Rehman has very rightly
pointed out in his book Ghalib Aur Inqelab-i-Satawan that while the printing
presses were being forced to close down by the British for publishing
'rebellious material' and newspapers were forced to cease publication, how could
any book be published that was not in favour of the British.
asked in a letter written on August 1, 1858, his friend Mirza Tufta to see if
Dastamboo could be published in Agra, he was surprised and asked how in those
circumstances (when the press act had been enforced) any press would be willing
to print a book that could invite the anger of the government. Ghalib replied:
"I will present a copy of the book to Nawab Governor-General Bahadur (Lord
Canning) and another through him to Malika-i-Muazzama Inglistaan (the Queen of
England). Now you should understand what will be the style of writing and how
any press could dislike its printing."
In a letter addressed to Mir Mehdi
Majrooh in October 1858, Ghalib wrote: "The owner of the press had shown, with
the help from Munshi Hargopal Tufta, the manuscript of the book to the
authorities in Agra for the permission to print. The authorities gladly
The British authorities must have been glad to see it in
print form as the book covered up the truth and the writer conveniently forgot
what happened in the aftermath of the failed 'mutiny' and how the British ran
amok with a desire for revenge.
It is beyond any shade of doubt that
Ghalib had written Dastamboo to save his skin and to show his
By Rauf Parekh (Dawn) email@example.com
"hey got really sme good informations. its not only about datamboo. ghalibs whole literary career was with the same effort only if you put his prsian poetry which had some of his elite whim as well. his letters are also full of lamentations on the degraded conditions of muslims in delhi but without uttering a single word against the british rulers who employed a marginlizing policy against the muslim com and favored hindoos."
City, Country: india
"You are right in your analysis. Article contains some good informations. "
Name: Imteyaz Waheed
City, Country: New Delhi India
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|Updated: 12 April, 2014|