On death anniversary, Ghalib’s haveli languishes in squalor

By Firoz Bakt Ahmad, IANS
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NEW DELHI - Mirza Ghalib, the best-known of the Urdu poets of Delhi during last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s rule, wrote: “Hum ne mana ke taghaful na karoge lekin/Khak ho jayenge hum tumko khabar hone tak! (You will not be indifferent, I know/ Nevertheless, dust I’ll be by the time you get my news).”

It can hardly be said that the poet’s memories have been honoured. The haveli in Gali Qasimjan in the Ballimaran area in the heart of old Delhi, where Ghalib died exactly 141 years ago Feb 15, 1869, is a favourite spot for holding wedding receptions.

At other times it sees tied-up goats or the labourers of an adjacent guesthouse using the place to catch a quick nap - despite the house being taken over by the Delhi government to be converted into a monument.

The state culture department has just made some perfunctory and cosmetic repairs to the structure. The haveli houses lately a bust, some framed pieces of Ghalib’s ghazals, some books on the poet, copies of a few letters in Ghalib’s handwriting and a few brass utensils from the poet’s times.

The inner cubicle where Ghalib’s statue is there with a book, has been littered with empty cardboard cartons, a blanket and the bag of the guard there who is hardly seen there.

It’s been over a year and a half since Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was approached for further renovation and lighting in the haveli. Dikshit spoke to Culture Secretary Keshav Chandra but nothing has been done. Of late, Chandra has even stopped responding to phone calls.

A fitting tribute will be to set up a reading room where people residing in the vicinity can avail themselves of Urdu, Hindi and English newspapers and magazines. Besides, a room must be devoted to selling the life history and pictures of the Mirza for his connoisseurs. A lot of demand is there for his Urdu diwan (collection) in Hindi as there are more lovers of Ghalib in Hindi than even in Urdu!

Ghalib’s tomb is another story, built almost 100 years after his death.

It was Ghalib’s wish that he should be buried in the city he loved. But it wasn’t to be till a century later when an ardent fan of his, an Englishman, came to Delhi in search of his grave but, to his disappointment, he couldn’t find it.

He then wrote an article in one of the newspapers about it, after which it came to light that the great poet even after death didn’t have much of a place to call his own. That’s when a tomb was built at the grave, close to the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin.

Later, the mausoleum was beautified by funds from legendary actor Sohrab Modi and businessman Hakim Abdul Hameed of Hamdard.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed can be contacted at firozbakhtahmed07@gmail.com)

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