न था कुछ तो ख़ुदा था – Mirza Ghalib’s farewell poem

Dimitrios Vassiliadis

Mirza Ghalib (27 December 1797 – 15 February 1869) is considered to be the most popular and influential poet of the Urdu language and is also credited with popularizing the flow of Persian poetry in India. His real name was Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, though in his poetry he used the Urdu pen-names of Ghalib (dominant) and Asad (lion).

He was born in Agra in Uttar Pradesh, but his family shifted to Delhi when he was 11 years old. There, he became a prominent poet in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last ruler of the Mughal period. He was honored with titles like Dabir-ur-Mulk and Najm-ud-Naoula.

Mirza Ghalib wrote both in Urdu and Persian. His Persian Divan is at least five times longer than his Urdu, but he became famous through his Urdu poetry. His poems (ghazals) have been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people in the Indian subcontinent. Today Ghalib’s poetry forms a cultural bridge between India and Pakistan, as his poetry remains popular in both countries.

His poetry is strongly influenced by the philosophy of Sufism and is distinguished by a constant search for the essence of existence while opposing the superficial social and religious morality.

The house where he lived in Old Delhi known as the Ghalib ki Haveli has now been turned into ‘Ghalib Memorial’ and houses a permanent Ghalib exhibition.

Οn his tomb, there is an inscription with a poem that conveys to later generations his existential anguish about the relationship between God and man, the objective and the subjective idealism. It is written in Hindi, Urdu and English, while it has also been translated into Greek in this article.

न था कुछ तो ख़ुदा था,
कुछ न होता तो खुदा होता

डुबोया मुझको होने ने,
न होता मैं तो क्या होता ।

When nothing was, then God was there,
Had nothing been, God would have been;

My being has defeated me
Had I not been, what would have been?

Όταν δεν υπήρχε τίποτα, τότε ο Θεός ήταν εκεί,
Αν δεν υπήρχε τίποτα, ο Θεός θα ήταν

Η ύπαρξη με έχει πνίξει,
Αν δεν υπήρχα εγώ, τότε τι θα υπήρχε

The poem in free interpretation renders the following message:

God existed before the creation of the world
And He will continue to exist after its destruction.
But if I cease to exist myself, then where will the world be and where will God be?
I am lost in the form and ideas of my own being (as ego, world and God have no differentiated existence outside of it).