Book Review: Ghalib: The Man, The Times

Ghalib was at the height of his powers when events took a turn for the worse. First came the decline of the Mughal court, then the rise of the British Empire and, finally, the Revolt of 1857.

Book Information

Author: Pavan K. Varma
ISBN: 9780143064817
Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date of Publication: 1989,2000,2008
Number of Pages: Approx 350 with cover

Book Review: Ghalib: The Man, The Times

Mirza Mohammad Asadullah Khan Ghalib popularly known as Mirza Ghalib or Ghalib, is a famous name in the world of Urdu and Persian poetry, and beyond. Ghalib was born at a time when power of one of the greatest imperial dynasties in human history, the Mughals, with an unbroken rule of centuries, was fading and the power of English imperialism in India was rising. He was born at a time when the de jure sovereignty still remained with the Hazrat Zill e Subhani Mughal Emperor who had turned into a British pensioner as the de facto power had gradually passed to the British.

Pavan K. Varma, in this well researched book, portrays this transition of political power seamlessly. The book, divided into five chapters beginning at An Empire in Decline and ending with the Last Years of the poet paints the life and times of the legendary poet, Mirza Ghalib. On one hand, the reader moves along the streets of Delhi stopping by the havelis and palaces during the last days of Mughal India in The City of Good Living and during and after The Trauma of 1857, witnessing the lifestyle, dress, custom, meeting the common man and the court nobles. On the other hand, the reader meets Ghalib, A Turbulent Genius, the man and the poet, who was ambiguously settled between the feudal aristocracy and the change of power looming at the horizon. The reader gets glimpses of his early life, his pension case lost, his strife with contemporary poets, and his financial distress and debts. The reader meets Ghalib during and after the mutiny, a sick and desolated poet, and finally watches him die.
I came across this book during research work required for one of my personal projects. What appealed to me after completing this book was that unlike many Non Fiction biographies, this book is not an information dump. The book cover, a photograph of the legendary poet (courtesy Ghalib Academy) gives a solemn color and purpose to the book. The font used is easy to read. Only complain I have is that the text spacing along with the size of the book creates a dense effect, but for which, the reading experience could have been smoother.
Rich with couplets of the poet (translated in English) and a glossary of Urdu and Persian words. This is a page turner if you are interested in the period when one of the major imperial dynasties in History was fading while another empire was rising, and this is a definite buy if you are interested in the life of the genius who had seen them both. You can purchase the book online at Amazon or at Flipkart, in case you live in India. You can also find the lowest price of this book in India at

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