(Warning: If you find my normal posts tiring, do not read this. This is so mind numbingly long that it might kill you. And if you still go ahead, don’t haunt me after you die.)
Time: 5:00 PM
It was a hot day. Despite the departing sun, the temperature was still somewhere around the mid thirties. My friend Gaurang checked his watch. Wiping the sweaty glaze off his forehead, he asked, “Do you want to go?”
“Of course, I want to go. But I’m afraid the place will be closed by now. They won’t allow us inside.” I sounded as disappointed as I felt.
“That’s immaterial. This is Ghalib we are talking about. Even standing in front of his closed doors would mean the world to us.”
He was right. We had planned this trip for some time now. Visiting Ghalib ki Haveli was one of our most important objectives. Due to shortage of time and other pressing needs, we had to postpone the visit to the latter part of the day. So what if they don’t allow us inside? We will touch the walls. We will admire the old doors. We will be where Ghalib breathed, walked and wrote; the place where he existed. The rest was indeed immaterial.
“Yes, you are right. Let’s go then.”
Hiring a cab, I searched on my phone for the exact location of the Haveli. For some reason, Google showed two locations. One was in Nizamuddin West while the other was in Chandni Chowk.
The driver asked, “Sir, where do you want to go?”
“Ghalib ki Haveli.” The driver just blinked, utterly nonplussed. He had never heard of it.
“Nizamuddin,” I prompted.
“No, go to Chandni Chowk,” said Gaurang.
After hearing two more minutes of fruitless arguments in the backseat, the driver decided to take us to Nizamuddin. It was closer and free from the harrowing Old Delhi traffic.
We reached the place in less than half an hour. As we stepped out of the cab and started walking the streets of Nizamuddin West, something told us this wasn’t the place we were searching. Even though the alleys had narrowed considerably, we were still too close to the fast cars and the even faster life of New Delhi. Ghalib could not have lived here.
I checked my phone again, this time turning on the GPS. A place called Ghalib Academy was showing; and it was almost adjacent to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Sure enough, we spotted a board hanging outside a relatively old building that read “Ghalib Academy.” I also saw a couple of medieval looking doors to our left, which seemed out of place.
A couple of elderly men were sitting at the entrance of the Academy. On enquiry, they told us what we already knew. The place was closed. I asked one of them about those old doors.
“It’s Mirza Ghalib’s Mazaar,” came the reply.
We both gasped. It was like looking for a treasure chest and finding a boat filled with gold. I had been to Nizamuddin’s Dargah a few times before, yet I had never seen those doors. I had never even heard of another tomb at that location. No one even thought about telling us about this place before we had actually sought it. A page lost in history it was.
Racing out of the Academy, we walked as quickly as possible towards the gates of the Mazaar (Mausoleum). A sole guard was visible through the small window set in the door. There was an old woman sitting inside on a raised platform too. We could also see some children playing inside on what looked like a courtyard.
When we approached the guard, he reiterated the sentence we were expecting – it is closing time. We exhorted him to allow us just two minutes as we had travelled from faraway lands. After much persuasion from Gaurang, the guard finally let us in, while the old woman croaked, “Don’t be late.”
As we walked past the gate and turned towards our right past the courtyard, we noticed a number of graves. But those weren’t the ones we were looking for. The guard led us down a small flight of steps, and we emerged upon an opening with a sole decorated grave at the centre. We need not have asked. This was Mirza Ghalib’s grave.
Since we were in such a hurry, I could not stop for ziyarat. However, a quick glance brought to my attention a marble tablet with the following inscription:
“Na tha kuch toh khuda tha, kuch na hota toh khuda hota,
Duboya mujhko hone ne, na hota main toh kya hota.”
I showed it to Gaurang and almost immediately, he breathed:
“Hui muddat ki Ghalib mar gaya, par yaad aata hai
Woh har ek baat par kehna, ki yun hota toh kya hota”
And I thought it was the perfect tribute for Ghalib. Here we were two lost souls searching for the soul who had enraptured so many lost souls for generations. In those few moments, time stood still. We were silent. We just stood there and kept reading those words. We had memorised them long back. Yet here, it felt as if, they had come to life. It was as if, their creator was whispering them himself in our ears.
A gentle prod by the guard brought us out of our musings. It was almost dark now. We also remembered that our true objective was yet to be fulfilled. With a last glance towards the grave, we left the Mazaar, and called another cab. This time we were sure of our destination.
A few minutes later, we were being jostled by the overwhelming crowds and dazzled by the bright sparkling lights of Chandni Chowk, with the colossal Red Fort behind us. Climbing a rickshaw, I instructed the puller to take us to Ghalib ki Haveli. A blank stare told me that even Ghalib’s neighbours have forgotten that he used to live here. And here we were thinking Google was confused. He knew Ballimaran, though; so that is what we told him was our destination.
Soon we were racing past other rickshaws; weaving our trail through the sea of controlled chaos that was Chandni Chowk; twisting our bodies and grimacing as the rickshaw licked the sides of unwary pedestrians on the bustling alleys of Ballimaran; before stepping on the hallowed grounds of Gali Qasim Jaan. A few rushed steps later, emerged from relative darkness, the ancient-looking wooden doors of the place the arguably greatest poet of India lived in his twilight years. Here we were, finally, standing in front of Ghalib’s home – Ghalib’s Haveli.
We waited on the front steps for some time. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine the doors were back to the magnificence of their heydays. The curtains would part slightly and the hushed voice of Umrao Begum would filter past them from the other side.
Shaking myself out of my reverie, I strode inside, into the hallway. A second set of doors on the right were closed, as were the set on the left. Despite expecting this due to the odd hours of our visit, I could not shake off the bitter feeling of disappointment. We were so close and yet so far. However, there was nothing to be done. I looked over to Gaurang, and it was like looking at a mirror, as his face had the same despondent look as mine.
We came out of the hallway and stood on the front steps again. Many people were passing by; yet no one even turned their heads to look at this place. It was as if Mirza Ghalib was just a name from the history books; a remnant from a bygone era; just another Djinn in this City of Djinns. How sad it was that while his words found home in the hearts of people all around the world, his own people had forgotten him; forgotten that he was only a human. That he too had a home; that he too needed people to visit him, think about him, and ask him if he was all right. Maybe, he was wrong after all when he had said:
“Dil hi toh hai na sang-o-khisht
Dard se bhar na aaye kyun”
Maybe, the hearts of men are made of bricks and mortar. Perhaps, compassion and remembrance are just words. Words written by mad poets like Ghalib.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone said, “Come back after an hour and talk to the night watchman. He will let you in.”
While we were lost in our thoughts, an old roadside shopkeeper had been observing us intently. He must have read the disappointment on our faces, and wanted to help us out. He told us that with a little “persuasion,” the night watchman would let us in for a few minutes.
I could hardly believe him. Was there hope after all? Would we breathe the air inside Ghalib’s home? Was it possible that we could hope to be his mehmaan? Who was this old man? How did he know Ghalib? Wasn’t that name lost? To add to my amazement, he also offered to talk to the guard himself on our behalf.
Therefore, accordingly, we waited for an hour, and the night watchman let us in. Finally, after all that effort, we were invited to Ghalib’s abode. We already knew it was a museum these days. There were stone busts of Ghalib and replicas of his Diwan. There were murals on the walls with his pictures and couplets. These were all fine, but these were not the things that almost made me shout out loud in happiness. It was the fact that we were inside Ghalib’s Haveli at a time when it was not accessible to visitors. We were alone with him. It was dark outside, but I was glowing on the inside. Everything around us said Ghalib. Everywhere we looked, there was Ghalib. Every moment we spent there, it was with Ghalib.
As we left the place and started walking towards the Lal Qila, Gaurang started reciting Gulzar’s memorable lines on Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan:
“Ballimaran ke mohalle ki wo pechida daleelon ki si galiyan
Saamne taal ke nukkad pe bateron ke qaseede
Gud-gudaati hui paan ki peekon ki wo daad wo, wah-wa
Chand darwaazon pe latke huye bosida se kuch taat ke parde
Ek bakri ke mimayaane ki awaaz.
Aur dhoondhlaayi huyi shaam ke be-noor andhere
Aise deewaron se mooh jod kar chalte hain yahan
Chudi-waalan ke kade ki badi bee jaise
Apni bujhti hui aankhon se darwaaze tatole
Isee be-noor andheri si gali qasim se
Ek tarteeb chiragon ki shuru hoti hai
Ek quran-e-sukhan ka safaa khulta hai
Asadullah Khan Ghalib ka pataa milta hai.”