Bana hai Shah ka musahib phirey hai itraata : legendary rivalry between Ghalib and Zauq

In the reign of Bahadur Shah II ( 1837 to 1857) while the flame of thr Mughal dynasty was flickering, the shama (lamp) of Urdu poetry was burning brightly.zafar

The court of Bahadur  Shah II, himself an accomplished  poet who wrote under the nom de plume or takhallus of Zafar, was home to some of the brightest  talent to grace the world of poetry. The poets flourishing  under Zafar were  the calibre of Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq, Mirza Ghalib, Momin Khan Momin, Shefta , Azurda and Zafar himself.





Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq ( 1789–1854) was Zafar’s ustad ( mentor) and enjoyed the position a poet Laureate would.images

He was an accomplished  poet with complete mastery over Urdu and Persian but wrote in very simple terms, easily understood  by all.
“laayii hayaat aaye, qazaa le chalii chale
apnii khushii na aaye na apnii khushii chale”
[hayaat=life, qazaa=death]
Is one of his most famous and oft-quoted verses.


Mirza Ghalib felt that his entry into the favours of the Emperor  was being impeded by Zauq and this was a bone of contention for him.ghalib

Once in the lanes of Shahjahanabad he saw Zauq passing by and in an aside to his proteges and hangers on he said
Huwa hai shah ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata”
Zauq overheard it as he was probably  meant to and made a strong complaint to the Emperor. In the next mushaira at the Qila e Moalla (The Red Fort)  the Emperor took Ghalib to task.
Ghalib confessed that yes he had said the line but it was not aimed at  Zauq –
He said it was the first line (misra) of the last couplet (maqta) of his latest Ghazal. Bahadur Shah Zafar obviously  asked Ghalib to recite the entire verse.
The haazir jawaab poet immediately  turned it on himself and recited:
“Huwa hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata 
Wagar na sheher mein Ghalib ki aabroo kya hai”
“Having become the King’s companion he shows off arrogantly
Otherwise what other claim to respect does Ghalib have?”

Knowing Ghalib’s poetic prowess, Zauq didnot accept this at face value and asked the Emperor to insist on hearing the entire ghazal…
Both underestimated  Ghalib’s genius. He composed one of his most popular  ghazals on the spot and recited it to thundering applause. So impressed was Zauq by it that even he joined in on the praise being showered on Ghalib.

” Har ek baat pe kahate ho tum ki tuu kyaa hai
tumhiin kaho ke ye a.ndaaz-e-guftaguu kyaa hai

na shole mein ye karishmaa na barq mein ye adaa
koii bataao ki vo shoKh-e-tundaKhuu kyaa hai

shola=flame,:barq=lightening: Shokh e Tundkhuu- mischievous

ye rashk hai ki vo hotaa hai ham_suKhan hamse
vagarnaa Khauf-e-badaamozii-e-ad kyaa hai
[rashk=jealousy; ham-suKhan=some who agrees with you]
[Khauf=fear; aamozii=teaching; aduu=enemy]

chipak rahaa hai badan par lahuu se pairaahan
hamaarii jeb ko an haajat-e-rafuu kyaa hai
[pairaahan=dress/cloth/robe; haajat=need; rafuu=darning]

jalaa hia jism jahaaN dil bhii jal gayaa hogaa
kuredate ho jo ab raakh justajuu kyaa hai

ragon mein dauDate phirane ke ham nahiin qaayal
jab aa.Nkh hii se na Tapakaa to phir lahuu kyaa hai

vo chiiz jisake liye hamako ho bahisht aziiz
sivaa_e baadaa-e-gulfaam-e-mushkbuu kyaa hai
[bahisht=heaven; baadaa=wine; gulfaam=delicate/like a flower]
[mushk-buu=the smell of musk]

piyuuN sharaab agar Khum bhii dekh luuN do chaar
ye shiishaa-o-qadaah-o-kuuzaa-o-subu kyaa hai
[Khum=wine barrel, qadaah=goblet, subuu=wine pitcher ]

rahii na taaqat-e-guftaar aur agar ho bhii
to kis ummiid pe kahiye ke aarazuu kyaa hai

banaa hai shah kaa musaahib, phire hai itraataa
vagarnaa shahar mein “Ghalib” kii aabruu kyaa hai

Comment List

  • Sheena 22 / 11 / 2014 Reply

    Beautiful ghazal ! even more now as i have understood all the words! other wise was just guessing ! hope to read more and understand Ghalib’s poetry better

    • Rana Safvi 23 / 11 / 2014 Reply


  • Mukesh 16 / 02 / 2015 Reply

    Beautiful Ghazal. And such a romantic story behind it too. 🙂

    I feel bad just for saying this, but F W Pritchett who has translated and interpretated the entire deewan of Ghalb, in her explanation of this verse, mentions that the kissa of the first line being a snide at Zauq, is probably fictional. And it may have been added retrospectively. 🙁
    Sorry! I too wish I didn’t know that. :/

    • Rana Safvi 16 / 02 / 2015 Reply

      Thank you. That’s ok . maybe it is fictional but that’s what I have always heard

  • D S nagpal 19 / 12 / 2015 Reply

    whatever it be, there is no denying that it is truely a work of genius. So enjoy the works of Ghalib without thinking of the situations. This Ghazal is really a marvel.

  • D S nagpal 19 / 12 / 2015 Reply

    And with the explaining of word meaning it has become even more enjoyble

  • D S nagpal 19 / 12 / 2015 Reply

    Very well done Rana ji !!!! Thanks !!!!

    • Rana Safvi 20 / 12 / 2015 Reply

      Thank you

  • Syed Shahid Akram Allahabadi 19 / 06 / 2016 Reply

    Amazing! Was Ghalib’s wit ever matched by any of his contemporaries?

  • Devendra Pande 20 / 09 / 2017 Reply

    I have seen this video on youtube many a times. The word exchange between Zauk and Ghalib, followed by the Mushaira at the Emporer’s Place and the instant ghazal that Ghalib have recited. Its beautifully shooted on Nasiruddin Shah and Neena Gupta. And know Ranaji have posted this Ghazal with meanings have helped me to know the exact meaning of the Urdu wordings that have made the Ghazal more beautiful. Thanks Ranaji.

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