Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was born in Agra in the closing years of the eighteenth century. A precocious child, he began composing verses at an early age and gained recognition while he was still very young. He wrote in both Urdu and Persian and was also a great prose stylist. He was a careful, even strict, editor of his work who took to publishing long before his peers. His predilection for writing difficult, obscure poetry peppered with complex metaphors produced a unique commentarial tradition that did not extend beyond his work. Commentaries on his current Urdu divan have produced a field of critical writing that eventually lead to the crafting of a critical lens with which to view the classical ghazal. The nineteenth century was the height of European colonialism. British colonialism in India produced definitive changes in the ways literature was produced, circulated and consumed. Ghalib responded to the cultural challenge with a far-sightedness that was commendable. His imagination sought engagement with a wider community of readers. His deliberate switch to composing in Persian shows that he wanted his works to reach beyond political boundaries and linguistic barriers. Ghalib's poetic trajectory begins from Urdu, then moves to composing almost entirely in Persian and finally swings back to Urdu. It is nearly as complex as his poetry. However, his poetic output in Persian is far more than what he wrote in Urdu. More important is that he gave precedence to Persian over Urdu. Ghalib's voice presents us with a double bind, a linguistic paradox. Exploring his life, works and philosophy, this authoritative critical biography of Ghalib opens a window to many shades of India and the subcontinent's cultural and literary tradition.
India Allen Lane
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