Syed Akbar Hyder

Turning Nets into Nests: Geography, History, and the Last Mughal Poet


Sayyid Ahmad Khan, in the early 1850s, asked Ghalib to assess the historical merits of A’in-i Akbari – an important account of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s rule written by Abu Fazl – by writing a short review of this text. Cognizant of the value of this text for its own time, the sixteenth century, Ghalib refused to sing the praises of Abu Fazl’s treatise in the nineteenth century and compared it to an old, useless calendar. This paper explores the socio-political implications of Ghalib’s refusal during his own time and the message that continues in subsequent decades, as Ghalib is deployed as Urdu’s first “Progressive” voice. It calls attention to the interface of religious devotion, poetic license, and political exigencies that constituted Ghalib’s Persian and Urdu oeuvre on one hand and his legacy on the other. The poetics of turning an aristocrat into a comrade of the downtrodden provide the larger framework for this study.


Syed Akbar Hyder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His fields of specialization are Indo-Muslim Cultures, Islamic History, Persian-Urdu Literary Traditions, and Islam in the West.