Qaasim Jaan was wrapped in fading darkness. A few tattered
curtains hung listlessly on some doors. Pigeons flew
overhead and some kids fought over marbles. Somewhere a goat
tethered to a threshold, bleated timidly.This was
Ballimaaran in the walled city of Delhi more than 150 years
ago where one of the greatest masters of Urdu Poetry,
once lived.Mirza gave a whole new dimension to the world of
Urdu Poetry, and has been hailed as one of the the true
Masters. My desire to visit Mirza’s Haveli was soon going to
be realized. Regardless of how well one knows the streets of
Delhi, it is no joke to locate Gali Qasim Jaan where Mirza’s
Haveli still stands.
It is a crying shame that what once was a two-storey Haveli
has been reduced to barely a neglected remnant. Years of
government indifference has led to severe misuse of the
Archaeological Society of India took matters into its own
hands and two ushers now look after the Haveli. Visiting
hours are observed for tourists who long to feel the air,
which still echoes with Mirza’s recitals.
where the Haveli is situated - is predominantly a Muslim
area and the lanes are barely wide enough to allow one
rickshaw to pass. The scenes have obviously changed from the
times of Mirza. Hustle and bustle of honking vehicles and
endless shopping hoards have taken over mercilessly. It was
a somewhat pleasant day despite the overnight rain, which
often leads to humidity in the month of June. I found it
dismaying to discover that even the localites did not seem
to know the whereabouts of Mirza’s Haveli. A pity indeed.
After riding around on the rickshaw puller’s whims for a
while, I was finally able to locate Gali Qasim Jaan where
the Haveli is located.
A plaque by
the front entrance gave a brief introduction of the place
and listed the visiting hours for tourists. A big man stood
guard and waited eagerly for the clock to strike five. There
was another man inside the Haveli who didn’t make things any
easier. After convincing the so-called staff that I had come
all the way from the United States, I was allowed to spend a
few moments inside. Despite the short amount of time I spent
there, my camera clicked restlessly. The Haveli was more
like a large compound with Mughal style columns and walls
that were studded with portraits and large frames. Mughal
style bricks were clearly visible and invoked the memory of
As soon as
one enters, a huge portrait (expanded) of Mirza’s couplets
in his own handwriting can be seen hung on the sidewall.
Wall of fame (as I address it) studded with photographs and
illustrations was further ahead. Ustaad Zauq, Abu Zafar,
Momin Khan Momin, and other noted contemporaries of
Mirza have been creatively arranged in the vast collage.
Another wall shed some light on Mirza’s personal favorites.
His trademark “Balon wali lambi topi” and “Lamba kurta”
were listed as amongst his favorite attire. “Taley kabab,
Aam, Achaar, Daal Murabba were a part of his favorite
He also took avid interest in “Patangbaazi, Chausar and
Shatranj“, as the list portrayed. A large sketch of
Mirza hung surrounded by his selected couplets, and featured
him with his trademark huqqa.
The only room with a door, set slightly aside from the rest
of the Haveli featured a large frame with Mirza’s last ever
taken photograph. With high ceiling and a dim lamp that hung
listlessly - simply took my breath away. On either side of
the room hung various pictures and portraits of Mirza’s
Mazaar and other facets of his life and time.
This was the
place where women once sang celebrating the birth of yet
another child. A child who would not survive. Here is where
Mirza stayed lost in thoughts for hours - penning down
verses. This was where Mirza Ghalib lived. The man who
changed the world of Urdu Poetry forever.
As I was
leaving, I couldn’t help but wonder about the man whose
genius people could never recognize. Not when he was alive,
and not when he has departed. Even after the High Court’s
judgment in 1997 that an impressive memorial be built at the
place of Mirza Ghalib’s haveli, no heed has been paid as
mere cosmetic repairs have been carried out in the name of
the restoration. Mirza’s Mazaar at Hazrat Nizamuddin has met
the same fate if not worse. I wonder whether these crumbling
monuments would survive the neglect and indifference of
people and authorities.
Incidentally, as Rahul Pandita adds in his memoir of
Ballimaaran, Hasrat Mohani’s Ghazal “Chupke, chupke
raat din ansoon bahan yaad hein….” was written on a terrace
in Ballimaraan by a youthful Mohani who had fallen in love
with a girl living in the next house. She would often come
to the terrace on the pretext of drying clothes.
which stood witness to the bloodshed during the revolt of
1857, has seen it all. From the days of Mirza Ghalib to the
current times. It still stands tall as if serving his
master, Mirza himself. I stepped out with the imagery of the
Haveli engrained in my heart and soul.
And as I turned for a final glance, I could hear the place
crying loudly to each passer by - what the man himself once
maana ke tagaaful na karoge lekin
Khaak ho jaayenge ham tumko khabar hone tak.