[Mirza Ghalib's tomb in New Delhi.]
Agra: Though Mirza Ghalib's contribution to 'Urdu Adab' is considered as significant as Shakespeare's to English, the mansion in Agra where he was born on this day in 1797 bears no memorial to the great poet till date.
For that unfortunate reason, the people here remember the association the doyen of Urdu literature had with this city with considerable regret -- especially on Ghalib's 218th birth anniversary.
"For years fans of Mirza Ghalib and literary aficionados have demanded a fitting memorial, but the assurances and promises of the authorities never materialised," lamented Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
Agra was the pride of Mughal empire, enjoying the status of the capital under emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Royal patronage contributed to art and literature thriving and the flourishing of 'Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb' to which Ghalib made handsome contributions with his writings.
Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810), another great classical Urdu poet, was born here. And peoples' poet Nazir 'Akbarabadi' (1740-1830) -- for 'Akbarabad' was how Agra was known in the Mughal era -- spent most of his life here.
"When tourists from Pakistan and other countries ask to be taken to Ghalib's birth place, we are very embarrassed," said Sandeep Arora, a former president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
"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," he said.
Mirza Asadullah Khan 'Ghalib' was born in the Kalan Mahal area of Agra in 1797. He moved to Delhi where his poetic talent blossomed and found new expression at a time when Bahadur Shah Zafar was the Mughal emperor.
His rich contribution to 'Urdu Adab' (language and literature) continues to inspire poets to this day.
"The house where Ghalib was born should be converted into a national memorial," feel the locals.
"Unfortunately, despite our persistent demands over the years, this city does not have a proper memorial to the noted figures of Urdu literature like Mir, Nazir and Ghalib, all three of whom had association with the city," Sharma said.
A former Uttar Pradesh governor T.V. Rajeswar had 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 over the proposal.
Similarly, the state government, when Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister, decided to acquire the house where Ghalib was born and convert it into a memorial -- but the proposal continues to gather dust in some remote corner.
"Urdu poetry has stagnated in modern times as new poets are not getting recognition. Had it not been for the Bollywood film industry, Urdu language would have joined the ranks of dead languages," said Nasir Mohammed, a local journalist.
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 Urdu culture, should have a decent memorial for the poet Mirza Ghalib. The municipal corporation has proposals pending to name a busy street or crossing after the poet, but there has been no follow-up," rued senior journalist Rajiv Saxena.
Literary critics and young poets at a meeting here even urged that Mirza Ghalib be awarded the 'Bharat Ratna'.