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Remembering Umrao Begum

The grave of Mirza Ghalib’s wife, Umrao Begum, in Basti Nizamuddin, just at the side of her husband’s tomb, lacks an epitaph, probably because nobody tried to inscribe one on it in 1955 (when the poet’s memorial was built) or because she preferred anonymity as per the strictest tenets of Islam. Even so she deserves one for posterity’s sake. Umrao Begum was a pre-teenager when she married Ghalib, who himself was just 13 at that time, and the two shared conjugal bliss for nearly 57 years.

Umrao Begum was a kinswoman of the Nawab of Loharu, an erstwhile State now merged with Rajasthan, and her cousin was Bunyadi Begum, Ghalib’s sister-in-law. The begum, who was the Nawab’s sister, gave her haveli in Gali Mir Qasim Jan to Ghalib when he was in need of accommodation.

Umrao Begum bore seven children, all of whom died in infancy, leaving her and the poet heart-broken all their lives. Even the nephew, Nawab Zainul-abadin Khan Arif, whom they adopted, died young at the age of 18, though he had made his mark in Urdu poetry by then.