Daagh Dehlvi was the nom-de-plume used by a famous 19th century Indian poet of the old Delhi school, who specialised in ghazals written in the Urdu language. The Persian language was still much in use at the time but Daagh concentrated on Urdu idioms and words, writing in an often sensuous and romantic style. His work was widely popular during his lifetime, with his simple, often flippant style, appealing to people of all classes and backgrounds.
He was born Nawab Mirza Khan on the 25th May 1831 in Delhi. His father was an important man, the Nawab Shamsuddin Ahmed Khan, who was the ruler of Lotharu and Ferozepur Jhirka. Tragically the Nawab was implicated in the murder of a British civil servant and was hanged for the crime when his son was only four years old. His mother was in great demand though and her second husband was the Mughal crown prince, Mirza Muhammad Fakhroo. Daagh therefore grew up in an extremely privileged environment at the Red Fort, receiving the best education including a period of study under poet laureate Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq. Much of his learning seemed to gravitate towards literature and a distinguished Urdu and Persian language poet by the name of Ghalib became his mentor.
He was encouraged to write and recite poetry from the age of ten and seemed determined to concentrate on the Dabistan-e-Delhi way of thinking and working, foregoing any temptation to introduce any western influences into his work. At the age of 25 he lost his step-father and his mother, widowed once more, took him to Rampur State, as much for their safety as anything else. Daagh soon found favour with the Nawab of Rampur and was employed as a civil servant for the next 24 years.
India was a turbulent country at this time and, following the death of the Nawab, Delhi came under British rule and Daagh decided it would be safer to leave. He took to the road for a period of time, visiting Hyderabad amongst many other places in the late 1880s. Here he enjoyed the company of fellow poets and he struck up a close friendship, and poetic rivalry, with the popular Lucknow poet Amir Minai. In 1891 Daagh was appointed royal court poet laureate to the Sixth Nizam of Hyderabad and, from then on, he lived in relative comfort with a generous salary.
He was a very popular participant at literary gatherings, called mushairas, where poets and singers would recite and perform their work. His popularity as a skilled exponent of the Urdu language in literature earned him plaudits wherever he went. Modern critics have considered him to be the last of the classical Delhi School of poets.
Here is an English translation of Ghazal Number One which is a short poem in which Daagh appears to be questioning his own continued existence as he is
Daagh married and had children but he was occasionally separated from his family for a variety of often political reasons and he wrote poems about this situation. Some of his ghazals were set to music by ghazal singers including Mehdi Hassan, Noor Jahan and many others.
Daagh Dehlvi suffered a paralytic stroke and died on the 17th March 1905 at the age of 73.