Agra: wo weeks back,
a Pakistani tourist arrived here and wished to see the place where
the famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib was born. His guide was
perplexed. "Ghalib who?" he asked.
Mirza Ghalib's contribution to Urdu literature may have been as
significant as Shakespeare's to English, but the haveli in Kala
Mahal mohalla of Agra where he was born in 1797 has nothing to
show for its illustrious past.
"So many foreign tourists keep asking us about Mirza Ghalib's
birth place, but we feel sad to tell them that there's nothing to
see there now and nor are the people interested in literary
interaction," said Sandeep Arora, a hotelier of Taj Ganj area.
"Neither the literary circles nor the heritage conservationists
are bothered about raising a suitable memorial or promoting
research and creative activities to keep the traditions alive,"
lamented Syed Jafri, director of Ghalib Academy in Agra.
"Heritage conservation now means taking care of money spinning
stone structures and not preserving the cultural traditions,
cuisine or the folk lore of the area," said Surendra Sharma,
president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society. "Not
just Ghalib, Meer and Nazeer Akbarabadi, the other pillars of Urdu
literature who lived in Agra are equally forgotten," Sharma
The Municipal Corporation of Agra had several times in the past
announced that a road or a crossing would be named after Mirza
Ghalib. Even the Agra University had announced setting up a chair
after him. But the promises remain confined to files.
For years, fans of the poet and literary experts have demanded a
fitting memorial, but the assurances and promises from official
quarters have not materialised.
"When tourists from Pakistan and other countries ask to be taken
to Ghalib's birth place, we feel embarrassed," said Sandeep Arora,
a former president of the hotel and restaurant association here.
"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," Arora said.
True, Ghalib moved to Delhi in his teens, where his poetic talent
blossomed and found new expression when Bahadur Shah Zafar was
Mughal emperor. But his association with the city of the Taj Mahal
was a great inspiration to successive generations of Urdu poets,
many of whom later migrated to Pakistan.
Former Uttar Pradesh governor T.V. Rajeswar some years ago
suggested that Agra University set up a Mirza Ghalib chair to
promote Urdu literature, but the varsity has been dragging its
feet on the proposal.
Similarly, the house where Ghalib was born was to be acquired by
the earlier Mulayam Singh Yadav government and converted into a
memorial. But the proposal was shelved after he lost the 2007
state assembly elections.
"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'," asks Laiq Khan, a prominent
exponent of Agra Gharana of music. He recently released a CD of
Ghalib numbers, which has proved to be quite popular.
Syed Jaffrey, director of the Mirza Ghalib Academy in Agra, wants
better facilities and support from government agencies to promote
research in Urdu literature.
"Agra, which has given so much to the Urdu culture, should have a
decent memorial for the poet. The municipal corporation has
proposals pending to name a busy street or crossing after the
poet, but there has been no follow up," he added.
A year ago however, a park in the Cantonment area was named after
Ghalib. That is about all.
"But the general lack of interest in literature and cultural
traditions is pathetic and indicative of the society's
transformation into a 'waste land', rues Sudhir Gupta, an admirer
of Ghalib's poetry.