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The claim that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) is Urdu’s greatest poet can be challenged, but there is almost a consensus that he is definitely ranked among the very best, along with Mir Taqi Mir, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Mir Anees, notwithstanding what Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi (1884-1956), known as “Ghalib shikan”, or ‘the breaker of Ghalib’, wrote against the bard.

But it is saddening to note that there is not even a single edition of Ghalib’s Urdu divan that can truly be called complete, authoritative and definitive: an authentic version of his divan that includes Ghalib’s each and every Urdu couplet and is agreed upon by Ghalib scholars.

Kalidas Gupta Riza (also Raza) (1925-2001) was one of the sub-continent’s most acclaimed authorities on Ghalib. According to him, during Ghalib’s lifetime five editions of his divan had appeared. The first edition published from Delhi in October 1841 contained 1,096 couplets, but in the second edition (Delhi, May 1847) the number of couplets rose to 1,158. The third edition that appeared from Delhi in July 1861 had 1,796 couplets. The fourth edition of divan of Ghalib (June/ July 1862) had the highest number of Ghalib’s couplets: 1,820. But the last edition, which was the fifth one appearing during Ghalib’s lifetime and was published in 1863, contained 1,795 couplets. The divan of Ghalib compiled by Kalidas Gupta Riza, titled ‘Divan-i-Ghalib kaamil’, that has just run into its fourth Pakistani edition and published by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, Karachi, contains Ghalib’s 4,209 Urdu couplets and that too in a chronological order, based on utmost care and research.

Ghalib had discarded and abrogated a large number of his couplets, especially the poetry that he composed in his early phase.

But the lovers of his poetry dug up each and every couplet attributed to him and long after Ghalib’s death the newly discovered poetry kept on appearing in literary and research journals.

Some scholars had tried to compile an authentic version of Ghalib’s divan based on early editions and manuscripts. But the edited versions are considered, for one reason or the other, slightly lacking in some respects, albeit they are still considered authentic and held in much awe. Aside from others, two such versions of Ghalib’s divan are Nuskha-i-Hameediya and Nuskha-i-Arshi. Nuskha-i-Sherani, too, is supposed to be an authentic one.

Mufti Anwaar-ul-Haq compiled Ghalib’s divan based on a manuscript treasured in Bhopal State’s library. Known as Nuskha-i-Hameediya, it was published in 1921. But in 1938 when Hameed Ahmed Khan (1903-1974), a scholar who later became Punjab University’s vice chancellor, went to Bhopal and compared the original manuscript with the published version, he found many interpolations and discrepancies. He took notes but could not compile and bring out his own corrected version of Nuskha- i-Hameediya until 1969 — the year Ghalib’s centennial was commemorated internationally — when Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, Lahore, published it.

Some researchers believe that Hameed Ahmed Khan’s version of Divan-i-Ghalib, too, cannot be called truly authentic since he did not have the original before him at the time of compilation and the time span between the gathering of data and the compilation was about 30 years. Also, at several points, Hameed sahib had to consult and rely on two other versions of divan of Ghalib: one compiled by Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi Rampuri (1904-1981) and the other, Nuskha-i-Sherani.

What was appalling was the fact reported by Hameed sahib in his intro to the divan of Ghalib that the original manuscript was missing from Bhopal’s library and it was no more possible to check his edited version with the manuscript. Hameed sahib’s edited version is still considered among the authentic ones, despite minor objections raised against it.

Nuskha-i-Sherani is a manuscript owned by Hafiz Mahmood Khan Sherani (1880-1946), which he later donated to Punjab University library and its facsimile was published by Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, Lahore.

Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi is another big name in the realm of Urdu research and textual criticism. Ghalib’s divan compiled by Arshi, though considered authentic, too, has some questionable issues, about which Gian Chand has written in detail and which cannot be reproduced here. At the time of compilation of Ghalib’s divan, Arshi sahib had decided to take utmost care and he largely restricted himself to the five earliest published versions of Ghalib’s divan and six manuscripts that he could find. But Arshi sahib divided Ghalib’s poetry into four portions and inserted the couplets of the same ghazal, or other versifications, in different portions according to their category and chronology. As a result one has to go through all the portions of his compiled divan in order to read a complete ghazal. Secondly, Arshi sahib, despite the strict standards that he had set for himself, could not tell quite a few fake verses, purporting to be Ghalib’s creation, from the genuine ones and included them in his version’s first edition. Later, realising the mistake, he omitted the fake ghazals from the second edition published by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Hind, Delhi, in 1982 and in his preface, Arshi sahib declared that it was proved the expelled verses were definitely not Ghalib’s.

Mushfiq Khwaja wrote in one of his letters that the fake ghazals were the compilation of Abdul Bari Aasi and he had intentionally included them in his Sharah-i-divan-i-Ghalib (commentary on Divan-i-Ghalib). According to Khwaja sahib, Jaleel Qidwai was a witness to that forgery and it was Qidwai who leaked that secret.

But the forged and fake poetry of Ghalib is not something unique. Apart from the critics of Ghalib who in his times created funny and nonsensical verses and spread them just to tease Ghalib, there have been many attempts to create poetry and sell it in the name of Ghalib. Another questionable divan of Ghalib was published by Urdu’s well-known literary magazine ‘Nuqoosh’.

Discovered first in Bhopal and then brought to Amroha, and named ‘Nuskha-i-Amroha’, it was first published in Pakistan which created an uproar in India. It is a fact that the publication of the manuscript from Pakistan echoed in the Indian parliament and in 1971, a member of Lok sabha S.A. Shamim raised questions at the floor of the house as to how and why the rare manuscript of Divan-i-Ghalib discovered in India was “smuggled” to Pakistan and published there (for details see quarterly ‘Ghalib’, Karachi, issue Oct-Dec 1976).

Though the newly discovered divan was initially greeted with much fanfare since it was touted to have been written in Ghalib’s own handwriting and, hence, as the most authentic of all versions, later, research scholars such as Gian Chand, Abu Mohammad Sahar, Farman Fatehpuri and some others found loopholes in the entire matter and said it was forged, or at least was not handwritten by Ghalib himself.

In 1997, a new scandal involving Ghalib’s divan surfaced when Dr Syed Moeen-ur-Rahman claimed to have discovered a new and different manuscript of Ghalib’s divan and had it published from Lahore. It was named ‘Nuskha-i-Khwaja’. Soon a feud broke out among the scholars and many doubted the genuineness of the manuscript. Dr Moeen defended himself vehemently but Dr Tehseen Firaqi amply proved in his book ‘Divan-i-Ghalib Nuskha-i-Khwaja: asl haqaaeq’ that it was the same manuscript of divan of Ghalib that Dr Syed Abdullah had discovered and had introduced it in 1954. Committed to writing in or around 1853, the manuscript was owned by Punjab University library but was later found missing. Dr Firaqi also revealed that someone had tried to slightly tamper with some of its folios to hide its identification.

So, one definitive version of divan of Ghalib is yet to be compiled. But Kalidas Gupta Raza tried to address that lacuna and divan of Ghalib compiled by him may be called hitherto most comprehensive since it contains each and every Urdu couplet of Ghalib discovered so far. It may be called the complete collected Urdu verses of Ghalib. Raza compiled it in chronological order and one of the benefits is that one can ascertain the background against which certain ghazals were created. For example, about a ghazal of Ghalib, it was believed that it reflected the aftermath of 1857 war of independence but Raza’s work proved it was compiled much before 1857.

Dr Abdul Lateef, Shaikh Muhammad Ikram, Malik Ram and Imtiaz Ali Arshi had tried to compile Ghalib’s works in chronological order but could do it only partially. Raza did it in entirety. Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu deserves praise for bringing out this fourth edition that has been composed and proofread meticulously.