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the-last-mughalThe poetic rivalry between Mirza Ghalib and his contemporary, Ibrahim Zauq, is legendary, in the courts of Bahadur Shah Zafar. An exciting interaction demonstrating this rivalry has been captured beautifully by author William Dalrymple in his book “The Last Mughal”.

Below is an excerpt from the blog Hazrat-e-Dilli. The entire article can be accessed at: http://hazrat-e-dilli.com/classic-poetic-insults-traded-between-ghalib-and-zauq/

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favorite wife, Begum Zeenat Begum asked Ghalib to write a ‘sehra’ for her son, Mirza Jawan BaKth’s wedding.

The honour should have gone to Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq but he was reportedly unwell.
Complying with the Empress’ wish, Ghalib wrote a ‘sehra’ whose maqta* was:

GHALIB SIT‘hum suKhan_fehm haiN, Ghalib ke tarafdaar nahiN
dekheN keh de koi is sehre se baRh kar sehra’ **

We are connoisseurs of poetry, not partial to Ghalib
Let’s see if there’s anyone who can write a better ‘sehra’

The Emperor realizing that this was a dig at his mentor Zauq is said to have been displeased with the maqt’a. A slight to his mentor was seen as a slight to the Emperor himself. Zafar asked Zauq to write a ‘sehra’ as well . Not one to let go of an opportunity , Zauq included these lines:

jin ko daawa ho suKhan ka yeh sunaa do unkozauq
dekh is taraH se kehte haiN suKhanwar sehra

Tell those who claim to be eloquent
This is how poets write a sehra

Ghalib wrote his celebrated ‘qat’a-e-ma’azerat’ ( letter of apology) in response to the Emperor’s reaction. However, the egoistic Ghalib left no ‘verse’ unturned in adding insult to injury, using poetry as a medium to prove his supremacy. and take a dig at Zauq’s ancestry and the Emperor’s neglicience towards himself. The maqta of this ghazal became even more famous.

manzoor hai guzaarish-e-ahvaal-e-waaqa’aii
apna bayaan-e-Husn-e-tabii’yat nahiN mujhe

I accept the request to state the facts,
To praise oneself is not a habit of mine

sau pusht se, hai pesha-e-aaba sipahgari
kuchh shayari, zari’ye-e-izzat nahiN mujhe

My forefathers have been warriors for hundred generations
By writing poetry, fame I seek not

aazaadah rau huN, aur mira maslak hai sulH-e-kul
hargiz kabhi kisi se adaawat nahiN mujhe

I am a free spirit and my conduct is always peaceful,
I bear malice against no one

kya kam hai yeh sharaf ke Zafar ka Ghulaam huN
maana ke jaah-o-mansab-o-sarwat nahiN mujhe

Is the privilege not enough that I serve Zafar ,
Agreed rank, position and affluence I have not

ustaad-e-shah se ho mujhe parKhaash ka Khayaal
yeh taab, yeh majaal, yeh taaqat nahiN mujhe

The thought of a row with the king’s mentor
This arrogance, this audacity, this strength I have not

jaam-e-jahaaN_numa hai shahenshaah ka zameer
saugand aur gawaah ki Haajat nahiN mujhe

The king’s conscience is all encompassing,
The need for an oath and witness I have not

sehraa likhaa gaya ze_rah-e-imtiSaal-e-amr
dekhaa ke chaarah Ghair ita’at nahiN mujhe

The sehra was written in obedience of orders,
Non compliance with that order I dare not

maqt’e meiN aa paRi hai suKhan gustaraana baat
maqsood is se qat’a-e-moHabbat nahiN mujhe

I wrote something in the maqta’ which became popular,
A reason to ending friendship I want not.

ruu-e-suKhan kisi taraf ho, tau ruu_siyaah
sauda nahiN, junooN nahiN, veHshat nahiN mujhe

If I aimed it at someone in particular then may my face be
I am neither mad, nor crazed nor so deprived of sense.

qismat buri sahii, pa tabii’yat buri nahiN
hai shukr ki jagah, ke shikaayat nahiN mujhe

Although my luck is bad, but my habits aren’t bad,
I’m in a place of thankfulness and complain I do not.

saadiq huN apne qaul meiN Ghalib Khuda_gawaah
kehta huN sach ke jhooT ki a’adat nahiN mujhe

Always true to his word is Ghalib, as God is my witness,
I tell you the truth as lie I do not