So-called observations

Clueless Guys Dining

The guys are at a high-end restaurant. They have ordered some of the exotic dishes, and are waiting for the service.

ARUN: This thing always confuses me. Which one goes in the right hand? The fork or the knife?

MANJIT: The knife. Fork goes in the left hand.

ARUN: Then why does the spoon go in the right during dessert and stuff?

MANJIT: Because it’s dining etiquette.

IMRAN: I think it’s bullshit.

ARUN: Yeah, me too. I mean, I can understand the Western folks don’t do anything unclean with their left hands; so it doesn’t matter which hand they use. But we do. The unclean stuff I mean. Therefore, it makes sense that we reverse the etiquette and use the fork with the right hand.

MANJIT: Yes, but then, you won’t be able to apply enough force with your left hand for cutting the food.

IMRAN: Wait a minute. The western folks don’t use any hands for the unclean stuff?

ARUN: Well, yeah. They use toilet papers, don’t they?

IMRAN: I know that. But they still have to use their hands for the toilet paper, right? They don’t just go up to a toilet paper roll, turn around, and start rubbing their you-know-whats against it.

ARUN: I see your point. In that case, I suppose, their hands are equally dirty. So, again it doesn’t matter which one they use.

MANJIT: I think it’s hygienic. Hands are too dirty most of the times.

IMRAN: Oh please! Don’t give me that hygiene bullshit. We are Indians. We pride ourselves at being unhygienic. We are born unhygienic, and we stay that way. Hell, just a few minutes back I saw you were counting notes and licking your fingers to moisten them just after having picked your nose.

ARUN: Hahaha, in your face!

MANJIT: All right, all right. Maybe, we are not hygienic, but you cannot deny that there is a certain level of sophistication and class on display when you use cutlery.

IMRAN: Look around dude. Desis are the most classless people in this world. For instance, do you see that dude over there with the strange bun over his head?

(They look around to where Imran is pointing, and spot an Indian male with long hair tied in a bun, wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt that said “Chicago!”)

What is his problem? Why is he wearing shorts to a high-end restaurant? It’s not hot here. This is not Kailash ka Dhaba. There is air conditioning here. It’s like, “Dude, stop being an American wannabe. You are miles from being cool. Get some pants for god’s sake.”

MANJIT: It’s called fashion.

IMRAN: All right, we’ve already agreed upon this. You don’t talk about fashion.

ARUN: I know what you mean though, Imran. I have similar thoughts when I attend my office parties. They will serve the meals in the classic buffet style, which is okay, but there won’t be any seats around. I mean after a long day, I just want to sit down comfortably and eat my meal. This whole suave dining system feels like another official exercise. Sophistication is nothing but pretence.

IMRAN: That’s not the worst part though. The worst part is that they serve you fish curry and tandoori chicken and expect you to not use your hands. I mean, how the hell do you eat something with bones with a spoon or a fork?

ARUN: That bugs me even when I have a place to sit down. For instance, they will serve you rice with chicken, and then you start eating with a spoon because you know eating rice with a fork is like holding chullu bhar paani. Of course, then you realise that you need a knife to cut the chicken, which is fine. But lo, you then realise that a spoon is ineffective for holding the chicken pieces while cutting. Therefore, you also need the fork. Now the problem is I have got only two hands. Where do I find the third one?

MANJIT: The one thing that bothers me about dining knives is that they are so blunt. I have to keep slicing and slicing to cut something as soft as a liver piece.

IMRAN: Oh, we know Manjit. When you use cutlery, you make such a racket that people are forced to stare at your ugly face in spite of themselves.

ARUN: Shush guys! Here comes our order.

(The waiter serves the food they had ordered and leaves.)

MANJIT: Oh, this looks delicious. I can’t even pronounce these names. They are Italian, right?

IMRAN: Or something with fake Italian names to make them sound cooler.

(Arun tastes an appetizer)

ARUN: I can see where you are coming from. Yuck! Oh my god, this is just raw cabbage dipped in some tomato sauce.

MANJIT: That’s cabbage? I thought it was some kind of pasta or something!

(Imran starts choking on something)

IMRAN: I’m done with this crap. What the hell is this? This is just a dollop of cream on raw onions. I’m going to order some biryani.

MANJIT: Shut up, Imran! Order some risotto. This is called fine dining.

IMRAN: Fine dining, my ass. Fancy names cannot obscure the fact that I am being served raw veggies. I don’t even eat the cooked veggies. It’s like they have recorded my worst nightmare, and then made me watch the whole thing in a multiplex after paying for deluxe seats and awful popcorn.

ARUN: You know I have similar thoughts when I go to a coffee shop. First they serve you this god awful cappuccino which is so bitter that it can kill all the worms in your gut. Adding extra sugar doesn’t help either, because then the flavour of the coffee gets lost. So basically, I’m paying some 60-70 bucks for a draught of the dead, pretending to enjoy it because it’s supposed to be cool, while in reality I’m only gulping it down because it’s so damn expensive.

MANJIT: Want to go to Shankar’s dhaba and order some tandoori?

BOTH IN UNISON: Hell, yeah!


लालू रिटर्न्स और मैं

If you have even a feeble interest in Indian politics, you will die laughing while reading this brilliant piece.


मेरे जैसे अपने को बुद्धिजीवी कहने वाले अक्सर राजनैतिक चुप्पी साध लेते हैं. ये कह कर कि इस देश का कुछ नहीं हो सकता. लोगों ने देश से भागने के चक्कर में जी जान मेहनत की, जुगाड़ लगाए, और नेताओं नें ये रोड, वो इंडस्ट्री खड़े कर दिये कमीशनखोरी के चक्कर में. मज़ाक मज़ाक में देश टैलेंट की खान बन गया, और विकास के हिलोड़ें लेने लगा. इसी धक्केबाजी में मैं भी बिहार के एक गाँव से उठ कर अमरीका रिटर्न डॉक्टर बन बैठा. पर इसका सारा क्रेडिट महानुभाव लालूजी को. भला मोमबत्ती में पढ़ने में जो शक्ति थी वो ट्यूबलाइट में कहाँ? इधर उधर ध्यान हीं नहीं जाता. कागज पे एक गोल प्रकाशित क्षेत्र दिखता, उसके अतिरिक्त सब अंधेरा. जूही चावला की एक तस्वीर दिवाल पे लगा रखी थी. अंधेरे में बिल्कुल भूतनी नजर आती. ऐसे डरावने माहौल में तो आदमी दो ही चीज़ें पढ़ पाए- एक सामने रखी…

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So-called observations

Clueless Guys Shopping

Three guys are talking and looking at stuff at a mall. One of them is trying to buy a gift for his mother. The other two are helping him decide what to pick.

ARUN: Will you two stop staring at that girl and do something useful?

MANJIT: Will you look at that douche bag? How the hell do girls fall for these idiots?

 Dude, if you are gay, just tell us? We won’t judge. I mean, there is a perfectly hot girl over there and all you can see is her lapdog?

 Screw you!

 C’mon you guys! Help me! They all look the same to me. Why do women need to carry these stupid bags anyway? I mean, it cannot be only for makeup items. The other day I saw a girl about this tall (pointed to his waist), and she was carrying a bag bigger than a 6-year old kid. If all she was carrying was makeup, then I honestly pray that her boyfriend doesn’t see her in the morning.

 That makes me wonder actually. There is a very good possibility that I might end up with an arranged marriage. What if my parents fall for the advertisement and when I open the package, there is a completely different product?

 Oh, don’t worry. In your case, it would be the opposite. Your parents will paint such a Pandit Gangadhar image of you before the wedding that when she finally learns the truth about your kaminapanti, she will elope with the milkman.
(Ducks Manjit’s punch and turns to Arun)
Right, so what were you thinking bringing us along to buy ladies bags? We have as much experience with these things as Mr. Douche Bag over there has with books.

 I just didn’t want to be embarrassed alone. Anyway, what do you think of this one? (Shows a green leather purse) 

 Nah, too small.

 He is right. Considering our experience in ladies accessories, it would be better if we stick to what we know.

 What, geometry?

 Well, yeah. Your mom is not going to like any bag you choose. Therefore, the best you can do is get her something that can at least hold some money.

 Dude, she is my mom. She will like anything I buy.

 That is exactly the point. Only because you, her son, are buying the bag.

 All right, let’s ditch the bag idea. How about saris?

 I think I saw the sari section over there, but we have to walk past the lingerie section. You two go along. I don’t want to look any creepier than I’m feeling right now.

(They go to the sari section, dragging Imran physically)

All right, so what do you know about saris?

Uh, they are long?

Would you cut it out with the dimensions, already? Sheesh! What do you think, Imran?

 I think…if that chick over there at the counter had more hair on her upper lip, she could have participated in that moustache competition, My Hair Lady.

Oh My God! You two are such useless pieces of shit!

MANJIT: Woah, woah! Chill dude! Cut out the profanity. Aunties will start judging us.

IMRAN: (Under his breath) As if they aren’t already. Three jobless youths loitering around the lingerie section.

ARUN: All right, let’s go and check some sari designs then. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

(After checking out a few saris, they pull out one of them)

ARUN: Okay, so why is there no tag on this one? How do I know whether it’s silk or not?

MANJIT: You are supposed to know that from the touch. You see there are various kinds of silks that are used for making saris, like the Benarasi sari.

ARUN: What else?

MANJIT: How would I know?

IMRAN: Do you even know anything of substance?

MANJIT: I know more than you.

IMRAN: Yeah? Like what?

MANJIT: Like the fact that the tent-like thing over there is called a maxi or nightie. Or that, those tight suffocating pants that the mannequin is wearing are called leggings.

IMRAN: Okay, Versace, we know what a maxi is and what leggings are.

ARUN: Hey, that makes me think about one thing. Why do some aunties greet their guests wearing maxis? I mean they will put a dupatta over their heads, but forget that they are wearing nightclothes.

IMRAN: Oh, man, I know. I hate that too. It’s like, “Oh, hey kids, would you like some cookies? And by the way, don’t I look great in my balloon gown?”

ARUN: Exactly! And they will say it while baring their wrestler arms as if to say, “So why aren’t you eating my cookies?”

IMRAN: I know! By the way, have you noticed that when they are flexing their muscles, they shout something back to their husbands with a voice of death, and again turn back to you in a sing-songy voice and go, “Ooh, teehee!” I mean what in the world is that. Is that supposed to pacify my fears or something?

MANJIT: Whoa, whoa, my mom does that! How dare you mock her?

IMRAN: Oops, sorry dude. No offence to your mom. She is different you know. I was just talking about other aunties. (Exchanges sheepish looks with Arun)

(Sensing trouble, Arun takes the initiative)

ARUN: Okay this is not working. I don’t have any clue whatsoever about saris. For instance, this one time my mother complained to my dad that some particular design on her sari was making her look old. I checked the design and there were these straight lines kind of things printed on the fabric. I spent the next few hours looking up the relationship between straight lines and old age. I never found the exact connection; although I did discover that ladies pump shoes actually do not have tiny gear pumps installed in them; and that women blurt like ten times more words than men in one day, which is the alleged source of their power of nagging. Anyway, forget about saris. Let’s go for something a bit more vanilla, you know.

MANJIT: Thank god! If you had listened to me the first time, we would be feasting on tandoori chicken by now.

IMRAN: Oh please! Getting his mother an Adidas cap? Really? How do you not fall over while walking?

ARUN: Guys, guys, cut it out, okay. Look over there, hot girl at 2 o’clock. Wanna go over and say hi?

BOTH IN UNISON: Yeah…right!

ARUN: Your choice. In that case, let’s go and look for something less unique. I’m thinking an expensive pen will do.

IMRAN: Of course, it will do. Soon we will be accompanying you on grocery shopping trips looking for adha kilo piyaz and do kilo atta while referring to a slip handwritten with Sheaffer ink.

MANJIT: You can give her a scarf.

IMRAN: Tum chup raho yaar. Tumse nahi ho payega. What the hell will she do with a scarf in July?

MANJIT: Okay, Einstein, why don’t you suggest something, rather than pathetically attempting to sharpen your sarcasm on us?

ARUN: Yeah. What do you suggest, Imran?

IMRAN: It’s quite simple really. Just give her a hug.

MANJIT: Can we go and eat now?


So-called poetry


They said I had died 
At four past midnight
They said I had tried
To survive; to fight

‘Twas the head you see
That truly killed me
Caution and safety 
Those could not save me

Sometimes I wonder
If ’twas a blunder

Dreams torn asunder
When I went under

But with all this strife
That cuts hearts like knife
And pain that is rife
How good is a life?

So I lie in peace
In white of one piece
Troubles come to cease
Death is sweet release



Assam for Dummies

I have travelled to most of the big cities of India except Hyderabad. The one thing that is common in these places of the “mainland” India is that people have very little idea about Assam or the North-East in general.

I remember when I was in Mumbai a few years back, this Marathi auto driver asked me where I was from. When I said Guwahati, he asked, “Is that close to Delhi?”
I replied, “Na, bhai, it’s in Bihar.”

Similarly, when I was in Bangalore another time, this engineer asked me, “Is it true that a bomb goes off almost every other day in Assam?”
I wanted to say, “Oh yes, and I am the ghost of Bob Marley who died when he mistook a few sticks of dynamite for pot-enthused sausages.”
Alas, I just muttered, “Haha, no.”

Then there was the time when I was in Delhi when an acquaintance of one of my friends remarked, “You know, you speak really good Hindi for an Assamese. And you look nothing like a chinki.”
I said nothing. I just made a face like I was getting ready to fart.

Finally, when I was in Chennai three years back, a taxi driver asked me, “Sir, is Assam in Guwahati? And do you need passport to go there?”
Again, I said nothing, and coughed and pretended to sneeze before making my trusted fart face.

As for Kolkata, the bongs are okay. They know we exist. It is possible that the reason may be mainly because many of their relatives live over here. We are also practically neighbours, connected by the goose neck. So not knowing about us would be embarrassing, I suppose.

Now, you would wonder why I am writing all this. Trust me, this is not a rant against all those imbeciles I have had the misfortune to meet during my travels. Such idiots exist everywhere. Assamese folks aren’t all that different. For instance, if you speak Hindi in front of an Assamese bloke, he will instantly assume you are from Bihar. Even if you tell him that you belong from UP or Rajasthan, he will not be convinced. Instead, he will produce ten reasons to prove that you belong from Bihar. Moreover, if you are a Bengali Muslim, a typical Assamese would automatically assume you are an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, even if your family has been living here for more than a century.

Therefore, stupidity is a common disease throughout the country. And this post is not about stupidity.

In this post, I want to share some pictures of Assam that will give you a glimpse into this wonderful place I call home. They might also hopefully entice you to visit us someday. Oh and these photographs are fairly representative of the actual thing. That’s because I’m neither a photographer, nor do I have any Photoshop skills. So I lack the ability to find something beautiful where none exist. Moreover, I don’t own any expensive camera equipment. These photos were clicked on my phone and on a fairly cheap point-and-shoot camera I used to own. Since I have mentioned this point, I would like to apologise in advance for the poor quality of some of these images. Some of the pictures are quite old.
The college where I studied. Such cloudy sights are common during the monsoon season, as it rains a lot over here.
The college where I studied. Such cloudy sights are common during the monsoon season, as it rains a lot over here.
A typical sunset on the banks of the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati. (This place is called Kharguli, and is one of the best places to hang out)
A typical sunset on the banks of the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati. (This place is called Kharguli, and is one of the best places to hang out)
You can get on one of these ferries and visit one of the many river islands. If I am not wrong Majuli is the largest river island in the world. (Please Google Majuli)
You can get on one of these ferries and visit one of the many river islands. If I am not wrong Majuli is the largest river island in the world. (Please Google Majuli)
Does seeing the Great one-horned Indian rhino excite you? Then visit the Kaziranga National Park.
Does seeing the Great one-horned Indian rhino excite you? Then visit the Kaziranga National Park.
What to do when a wild elephant confronts you? "Stay silent and don't make sudden moves," according to our guide. (another Kaziranga pic)
What to do when a wild elephant confronts you?
“Stay silent and don’t make sudden moves,” according to our guide. (another Kaziranga pic)
This swamp deer says Hi.
This swamp deer says Hi.
You can stay at one of these houses in Kaziranga. They have no electricity, and during a moonless night, you can find your way from the light of the stars. Trust me this is an amazing experience.
You can stay at one of these houses in Kaziranga. They have no electricity, and during a moonless night, you can find your way from the light of the stars. Trust me this is an amazing experience.
Assam used to be known for its oil long back. The British founded the oil town Digboi more than a hundred years ago (the name came from the phrase, "Dig boy, dig.")
Assam used to be known for its oil long back. The British founded the oil town Digboi more than a hundred years back (the name came from the phrase, “Dig, boy, dig.”)
A British era Bungalow in Digboi.
A British era Bungalow in Digboi.
This is the view I wake up to every morning.
This is the view I wake up to every morning.
So-called observations

Five weird people who recite the Azaan

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar …
If you are a Muslim, this will resonate with you. The azaan is one of the most beautiful sounds you will hear over your lifetime. As a kid, you aspire to sound as good as the muezzin as he effortlessly carries the notes and exhorts you to come and pray. There is a real skill to a good azaan. From my layman’s perspective, I would say a bit of a nasal tone is required for the high pitch, which is necessary for the azaan to be carried over a large area. You also need to have a good control over your breathing, so as to not change pitch midway. Needless to say, you need to know the correct pronunciation of the Arabic words. Enunciation is of utmost importance.

Most Imams and muezzins have these qualities. However, there are many aberrations too (or if the Imam or muezzin is on leave and someone unqualified steps up for the job). I will list only five of them as I don’t want to offend too many of these pious souls and earn myself an easier ticket to Hell.

1. Mr Reshammuezzin
This fellow takes the nasal thing a bit too seriously, so much so that, you begin to wonder whether his voice originates from his throat at all. He hits such high notes that birds start flying haphazardly. Cows start mooing incessantly. Bricks start falling off rooftops and glasses start breaking (Well, not exactly, but you know isn’t that how people exaggerate). Even the non-namazi Muslims start screaming, “Ya Allah, make it stop. I’m going to the Masjid.” As for my neighbour who is chanting shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita at the top of his voice, it only gives him an excuse to raise his decibel levels to the point where you don’t know who is winning the competition.

2. Mr Distraction Jackson

Every stupid thing distracts him when he is reciting the azaan. His eyes are never in the right place. He will check whether your kurta is half-sleeved and whether the ends of your pajamas are above the ankles or not as he is turning his head during the Hayya‘alas-salāh/Hayya‘alal-falāh part. And if he catches you talking, he will frown at you and make weird eyebrow signals to admonish you. He will also turn his head at other times, like when there is a person walking past the adjacent street, especially if it’s a woman. Now what he does with his eyes or head is his problem. However, the issue arises when he turns his head so much that his mouth shifts away from the microphone and the azaan becomes more of a fill in the gaps exercise than calling the faithful for prayer.

3. Mr Consti von Pation

He is all right in every aspect. He belts out great azaans and can do it consistently. The only problem is that you can never look at his face when he is on the microphone. Every muscle on his face is stretched to the limit. His eyes are closed shut and his brows are joined together furrowing deep into his forehead. Beads of sweat start rolling down his cheeks as he strives to strike that perfect note. If you take a picture of him and crop out the fingers and hands, while keeping just his face, you will find it extremely difficult to ascertain whether he is in the Masjid or somewhere less pure.  In fact, his apparent discomfort makes you very conscious of not approaching him from behind in case something smelly happens.

4. Mr Puff Shorty

He often sets the records for the shortest azaans in history. He then goes on to break them himself. The source of his power is his incredible ability to not be able to hold a note for more than two seconds. He has developed this ability over the years through numerous packets of bidis and their cooler cousins, the cigarettes. Of course, the years of shouting matches with his wife at the middle of the night have tuned his vocal chords to match his breathing abilities. There is one plus though. He is the one you can turn to on cold December mornings for the Fajr namaz.

5. Sir Croaksalot

This fellow has no clue whatsoever regarding the concept of qirat. He thinks reciting the azaan equals to shouting over the microphone like an orator. The word besura means zilch to him. He just lives in the moment, and like Mr Reshamuezzin, his specialisation in calling the faithful lies in his extraordinary ability to annoy the hell out of the listeners. If you listen carefully, you can literally hear frogs croaking in unison with him, and saying, “Croak! My ears! Croak! My ears!” The worst thing about him is that he never gets discouraged by the grimaces of the people who have suffered his torture. He mistakes them for grins and picks up the microphone before anyone else during the next namaz.

P.S. I think I belong to the last category. But the people in my society probably caught on to the impending danger during my childhood and made me understand, “Beta, tumse na ho payega.”



In Search of Ghalib

(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.)

Place: Delhi

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.”


Ghalib's grave
Ghalib’s grave
The lines that got me interested in Urdu in the first place. Sorry for the poor image quality.
The lines that got me interested in Urdu in the first place.
A coulpet on a wall inside the Haveli
A coulpet on a wall inside the Haveli
This bust was apparently gifted by Gulzar. The books on the sides are replicas of his Diwan.
This bust was apparently gifted by Gulzar. The books on the sides are replicas of his Diwan.


A closer glimpse of the Diwan. Sorry for the poor image quality. Our phones were dying by that time and we just snapped a few pictures quickly.
A closer glimpse of the Diwan. Sorry for the poor image quality. Our phones were dying by that time and we just snapped a few pictures quickly.