Shaikh Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq: The Mentor of Bahadur Shah Zafar and his Rivalry with Mirza Ghalib
Updated: Mar 22
Shaikh Mohammad Ibrahim was born in a low-income household in Delhi, in 1789. He came from a family with obscure backgrounds and was the son of a trooper. Ibrahim and his family resided near the Kabuli Darwaza in Shahjahanabad, and he received his early education at the Maktab of Hafiz Ghulam Rasool, which was a school near his house. Today, Mohammad Ibrahim is known as one of the most influential poets who went by the name “Zauq”. He is also remembered for his rivalry with Delhi’s most remembered poet ‘Mirza Ghalib’. Mohammad Ibrahim gained his early knowledge in Urdu and Persian poetry from Hafiz Ghulam Rasool, who went by the name “Shauq”. Inspired by his mentor, Mohammad Ibrahim took up the name “Zauq”. Under his mentor, he mastered the art of poetry composition and furnished his skill, and after having gained command over his art, he joined Shah Naseer as his disciple, under whom Zauq finessed his skill and gained excellence. Zauq’s simple style of composition and writing made his work appeal to all, be it intellectuals, courtesans, emperors, and common people who were not very educated. One of Zauq’s friends, Mir Kazim Husain introduced him to the Qila-e-Moalla (the original name of the Red Fort).
There are two instances known to us that tell us about Zauq’s entry into the Qila-e-Moalla. According to the first one; Shah Naseer was the Ustad of Mirza Sirajuddin Abu Zafar, who later came to be known as Bahadur Shah Zafar. But after some time, Naseer moved to Hyderabad as he was getting more recognition and pay there. After Naseer left for Hyderabad, Zafar recognized Zauq as his Ustad. The other instance, which is the more probable one goes as follows: On one occasion, Zauq recited a Persian Qasida to emperor Akbar Shah, who got very happy after hearing it and conferred Zauq with the title, Khaqani-e-Hind. After this Zauq got his due recognition in the intellectual circles of Delhi and he further moved on to gain knowledge in the field of science, astronomy, and music. But his interest in the sciences was short-lived, and he made his way back to poetry. Zauq was also a regular participant in the Mushairas that used to be held at the Qila-e-Moalla, and hence when Bahadur Shah ascended the throne, Zauq was appointed as the court poet. Bahadur Shah who was himself a poet added his poetic name ‘Zafar’ to the end of his name at the time of his Coronation (Jashn Taj Poshi: Celebration of the coronation of the emperor; Read here).
Hence Bahadur Shah was naturally attracted to Zauq and made him his poetic mentor until he died in 1854.
The Rivalry between Ghalib and Zauq
After Zauq’s death, Ghalib gained the coveted position of the ‘Ustad’ and came into close contact with Bahadur Shah. Both Ghalib and Zauq were arch-rivals in the court of Bahadur Shah (1837-1857). Ghalib believed that his closeness with the emperor was being impeded by Zauq and this was a bone of contention for him. Once in Shahjahanabad, when Ghalib saw Zauq passing by, he said, “Huwa hai shah ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata”. Zauq overheard what Ghalib said and made a complaint to the emperor. In the next Mushaira at the Qila-e-Moalla, the emperor asked Ghalib to apologize to Zauq, and Ghalib did so. But Ghalib said that although he did say the line it was not intended toward Zauq. It was the Misra (first line) of the maqta (last couplet) of his latest Ghazal. After this Bahadur Shah asked Ghalib to recite the entire verse and he did so.
“Huwa hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata
Wagar na sheher mein Ghalib ki aabroo kya hai”
But Zauq did not accept this argument and asked the emperor to ask Ghalib to recite the entire Ghazal. Both Bahadur Shah and Zauq underestimated Ghalib’s poetic prowess, and Ghalib composed his most popular Ghazals on spot and it received a big round of applause! Even Zauq was awestruck and impressed with Ghalib that he applauded for Ghalib and joined the praise being showered upon him. The Ghazal went like this:
” 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
ye rashk hai ki vo hotaa hai ham_suKhan hamse vagarnaa Khauf-e-badaamozii-e-ad kyaa hai
chipak rahaa hai badan par lahuu se pairaahan hamaarii jeb ko an haajat-e-rafuu kyaa hai
alaa 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
piyuuN sharaab agar Khum bhii dekh luuN do chaar ye shiishaa-o-qadaah-o-kuuzaa-o-subu kyaa hai
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