Ghalib lived in India in the seventeenth century at the end of the Mughal Empire and the beginning of British colonial rule. Many consider him to be the greatest poet since Kabir. He was a Muslim who spent much of his life in Dehli writing ghazals, a form of love poem developed in Iran during the tenth century. The word means "a conversation with the beloved," which can mean either a person or God.
There is a great deal of playfulness in the 30 ghazals included here as Ghalib makes fun of his own shortcomings and constantly wonders about the ultimate value of his poetry. For example: "Your talk about spiritual matters is great, Oh Ghalib. / You could have been thought of as a sage if you didn't drink all the time." And in another poem: "Tell me I should write something easier to understand. / I have to write what's difficult, otherwise it is difficult to write."
Although Ghalib doesn't quite measure up to the spiritual magnificence of the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, he does impress with his very human approach to "the Great One" who constantly eludes his attempts to pin him down: "When the Great One gestures to me, the message does not become clear. / When love words are spoken, I get six or seven meanings." But Ghalib is thankful for these meanings and as he makes clear in another ghazal: "Why should we bother with diamonds if we can write poems? / We have our own chests to dig in; why bother traveling to the mines?"
The inner riches come from a relationship with the Divine. And Ghalib's little "jests" as he calls them, are pathways to that place of great unknowing.