Manoeuvring past the hustle bustle of Chandni Chowk and reminiscing over the Mughal magnificence and splendour that was once Shahjahanabad, I am reminded of the 19th century poet Mirza Ghalib. Though there have been numerous shopping and eating trips to Chandni Chowk but these never extended beyond Nai Sarak. This time keen to visit the abode of Ghalib, with his couplet in heart, “Woh aaye ghar mein hamaare khuda ki kudrat hai, Kabhee hum unko, kabhee apne ghar ko dekhte hain,”, I cross the Townhall and enter the narrow lanes of Ballimaran. Just as I stand at the threshold of Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran, my sight captures a big wooden door taking me down the memory lane of the Mughal era. Nostalgia takes over me as I am drawn closer to the abode of Mirza Ghalib. Ghalib’s haveli in Ballimaran is the place where the liberal mystic poet spent the last years of his life.
The haveli which was the rented house of Mirza Mohammad Asadullah Khan Ghalib, one of the greatest poets of India, bears testimony to the changing political times and has seen many transitions just like its occupant. While Mirza Ghalib saw the decline of the Mughal court, advent of the British and finally the Revolt of 1857 that ended the Mughal rule, the haveli too has seen tumultuous times. From being the poet’s abode and muse to a building material and coal store and a small manufacturing unit to finally a memorial museum.
It is now a heritage site as declared by Archaeological Survey of India and credited to the efforts of heritage activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed who had filed a PIL demanding restoration of the haveli and the Ghalib memorial movement pioneered by Kathak exponent Uma Sharma. In the year 1999 the Delhi government acquired a part of the haveli and repaired it to give the 19th century look. The memorial displays the objects and other things used during those times to make it look like the actual dwelling of the poet. A sculpture of Ghalib, his life-size replica with a hookah, translated couplets of Ghalib, hand-written books displayed give an insight into the life and times of Ghalib.
Reading through the famous couplets of Ghalib that grace the walls of the haveli, I could feel the soul stirring poetry of Ghalib mesmerising me. After learning a little more about his life, I say farewell to the life-size replica of Ghalib with his hookah and set on my return journey. I re-enter the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, which Ghalib must have also traversed in his times. Taking the same road I think aloud, “Almost every building of the walled city has some history attached to it. My Dilli is so vivacious, it’s cultural and heritage history speaks so much but why are we so shy to display it.” My quest takes me to Dr Swapna Liddle, Co-convenor, INTACH, Delhi Chapter. She feels that it is not shyness or apathy but often it may be that people of Shahjahanabad are afraid to acknowledge the historicity of their buildings for fear that they will be acquired. They should be reassured, and encouraged to take pride in and maintain the original character of their buildings, she adds.
Text by Shalvi Dutta
Image by Supriya Aggarwal