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Ghalib celebrated, even as his Agra birthplace lies forgotten

By Brij Khandelwal, Agra, Dec 27 : Friday marked the 216th birth anniversary of Mirza Asad Ullah Khan "Ghalib". In Agra, the city of the Urdu poet and cultural icon's birth, there is no proper memorial to him. There is not even a lane in the city named after him.


At the place of his birth, the Kala Mahal area in the heart of Agra, there is little to mark the occasion.

The demand for a Mirza Ghalib chair at the Agra University and an auditorium with a research library named after the poet has been hanging fire for decades.

The Taj city is identified with three pillars of Urdu "adab" or culture Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib and Nazeer Akbarabadi. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to perpetuate their memory.

"Stones alone do not make for heritage. Literature, traditions, culture are all part of the heritage that we must preserve," said Sandeep Arora, former president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association, hinting at the fervour with which Mughal-era buildings are preserved, while other aspects of the city's culture face neglect.

"Foreign tourists, especially those from Pakistan and West Asian countries, ask after Ghalib's house. We have been requesting the tourism and other departments to build a fitting memorial to the great poet, but nothing has been done," said Rakesh Chauhan, hotelier and president of the Hotels' Association.

Ghalib is to Urdu literature what Shakespeare is to English. Born in 1797 in Agra, once the capital of Mughal rulers, he moved as a teenager to Delhi, where his poetic talent blossomed in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mughal emperor at the time.

He died in Delhi in 1869, leaving behind a rich legacy of poetry that continues to inspire.

"The haveli where Ghalib was born should be acquired by the state government and converted into a fitting memorial to Mirza Ghalib," a resolution passed at a meeting of experts said.

The haveli in Kala Mahal area houses an educational institution. Agra's literary fraternity has petitioned the government to acquire it and open a research academy there.

"The central and state governments should jointly build a fitting memorial and a library in Agra where Urdu poetry lovers can spend time and enlighten themselves," Syed Ifteqar Jafrey, director of the Mirza Ghalib Research Academy said.

Agra, also called Akbarabad, is known as a city of romance, love, bhakti and culture. Although it is associated with monuments, it also has a rich tradition of literature in both Urdu and Braj Bhasha.

"Urdu poetry has stagnated in modern times as new poets are not getting recognition. But even so, who has not heard: "Dil-e-nadan tujhe hua kya hai; Hazaron Khwaishen aisee; Yeh na thi hamari kismat; Har ek baat pe kahte ho," says Chandra Kant Tripathi, registrar of the Central Hindi Institute.

Syed Jaffrey, director of the Mirza Ghalib Academy in Agra, wants better facilities and support from government agencies to promote research in Urdu literature.

All that Agra has to remember its famous poet by is one park in the cantonment area, named after Ghalib a year ago. "This is indicative of society transforming into a wasteland," says Sudhir Gupta, an admirer of Ghalib.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, at Gali Qasim Jaan in Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, where Ghalib lived, Friends for Education, an NGO is organising a reading of Ghalib's poetry in the haveli where he lived. The haveli was restored after a public interest litigation was filed in the Delhi High Court in 1997.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 27-12-2013)

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