Ode to Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli

Jun 26 2005

From My trip to Ballimaaran. 26th June 2005
Gali 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, Mirza Ghalib 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 place.

Finally, 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.

Ballimaaran, 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 old times.

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 cuisine”.
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.

Ballimaaran, 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 wrote…

Hamne maana ke tagaaful na karoge lekin
Khaak ho jaayenge ham tumko khabar hone tak.

Gautam Dhar “Zafar”
25th December 2005
Lansing MI

Daily Excelsior (J&K Daily)
Rahul Pandita

Comments So Far..
  • Saurabh Saxena 29 January, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    A very nice description. Mathura is my home town, I am currently in Banagalore, which si very near to Delhi. However I was not been able to see Delhi though i lived near by.
    However, I am a great fan of Mirza Ghalib & also of Urdu Shayari, & it was my wish also to visit Mirza’s Haveli.
    Your description gives a clear insight of current situation & carelessness of ASI in this regard.
    I will be leaving for Delhi very soon & this will be in my intinierary.
    Thanks a lot.

  • munaza 30 January, 2007 at 3:16 am

    your description is so much better than the vdeo. whoever was taking it was not very good at it. dont mean to be very critical but maybe u could try posting pictures . i read what u had written before i saw the video , i guess i was looking forward to see what the haveli was like .
    but your effort is commendable

  • Amit Jain 30 January, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    It is a very nice description of yours about the old heritage(So called). We should try spreading the words around for not maintaining the heritage gift which is available today, and that too for such a great person.

  • shiv bhatia 22 July, 2007 at 5:17 am

    I would love to read all the famous gazhals of Ghalib along with their english translation. One particular poem that I like the most is ‘Hazaron Khawishen aisi ke har kwahish pe dum nikle’.I would like to know the meaning of this full poem.

  • Janki 2 May, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    wow..heartbreaking, beautiful, rich and amazing…all at once…
    I am glad you found the haveli….and took this video…
    it is sad how such priceless treasures are lost in front of our eyes..

  • Gautam 3 May, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Thanks Janki. I will visit it again next time I’m in Delhi. This was a rushed visit.

  • Syed Rizvi 7 July, 2008 at 5:28 am

    hen ajj bhi duniya men sukhan war bahut ache
    kehte hen ki Ghalib ka hai andaaze bayan aur.

    really amazing. i love it.

  • SAJID PERVEZ 12 August, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Thanks for your wonderful description of Ghalib ki Haveili at Ballimaran.

    Your words can express the sorrow of Legendry Mirza Ghalib, I personally appreciate your efforts to put the grievice and ignorance to the Legend.

    We can only say and ready to build up some uplifting task to give honour to Mirza Ghalib, you initiative can be like………



  • Gautam 15 August, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for coming by Sajid!

  • Dharmendra K. Verma 18 September, 2008 at 9:34 am

    We feel proud to be called Delhiwalas as GHALIB also lived there

  • Sajjad Ali Wazir 13 October, 2008 at 3:47 am

    Thanks alot for taking….such a noble venture.Mirza Ghalib is one of the greatest poets of the world.Its very heartening to see the Govt.of India as such does no significant work to promote Mirza’s awesome ,established works.Pesonally i appreciate your efforts,for decades the haveli had remained unknown.

  • mohammad junaid 2 December, 2008 at 5:36 am

    Thanks alot for taking Mirza Ghalib & his excellent odd, and Haveli Gali Qaasim. that place had wipe many sweet memories of Galib and his diwan and life style”ke kal kaya ho ga deka yaya ga”
    “Bazeecha e atffal hai dunya mere aage
    Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha mere aage”

  • Nandan 3 January, 2009 at 9:50 am

    thanks a lot for unfolding this
    India is a poor country we do not have sources to feed the alive hence we can not spent on somebody who is nomore however there are so many singers who have accumulated immense wealth by singing his ghazals May almighty tgive them some sober sense to initiate create a trust and spend for the haveli’s upkeep.

    Time has though distorted his haveli however no one would be able to fade great ghalibs Fame till the judgement day. Thanks to almighty. Khudaa unkee rooh to taskeen bakhshey.

  • Rahul 15 April, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Thanx a lot Gautam,

    Your effort is really appreciable and helpful to all of us in getting a brief idea of the belongings of the maestro and believe me u have enlighten and awaken that soft part of many like me which is only meant to love such a great art.
    And finally it’s really sad to see such condition of the heritage of one of the best artist ever. Coming month (May- Fist week) I am (along with my friends) going to the archaeological department to request to take some positive steps towards the remains of THE GREAT GHALIB. And I request to u all that whoso ever is interested in this please come forward.

  • Chander 28 April, 2009 at 1:55 am

    The ghazal which I like the most is ..”Hazaron Khwahishen aisi ki har khwahish pe dam nikle, bahut nikle mere armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikle….”

    The Ghazals of Ghalib sung by Jagjit Singh are the ultimate treasure trove for any lover of poetry and ghazals.

    My only lament is that in todays’ generation, most people have not heard such masterpieces and instead sway to such meaningless rubbish like pappu can’t dance ssalla etc.

  • Chander 28 April, 2009 at 2:27 am

    One of the famous compilations of Ghalib is …”Bazeecha e atffal hai dunya mere aage Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha mere aage…”

    In this, one of the stanzas goes like this.. “Imaan mujhe roke hai jo kheenche hai mujhe kufr, kaaba mere peeche hai, kalisa mere aage….”

    I have wondered about the meaning of this stanza. This ghazal was probably compiled by the great Ghalib during the dying years of Mughal Empire. One by one, the provinces and kingdoms were falling to the expanding British colonial rule. Not many philosophers and thinkers were happy in the prevailing state of affairs.

    In this background, was Ghalib resigtering his protest against the white man (and his God) by using the word Kalisa (Church) in the lines ? Or was the use of Kalisa merely an extension of his depiction of his journey from one holy place (Kaaba) to the other (Kalisa) ?

    Can anyone offer explanation and interpretation of this stanza ?

  • Gautam 28 April, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    This is another one of Mirza Nausha’s mystic ash’aar. This is the best explanation from Dr. Niazi’s book:

    As a believer , my religion keeps me from approaching the unbelievers, the idolaters. I am caught in a dilemma between the Kaaba and the Hindu temple. Note that the Hindu temple contains Idols. (Christians are not disbelievers or Kaafirs). The word, Kalisa (Church) confuses the verse. The poet is saying that he is torn between choosing to become a believer or an unbeliever. Note that the beloved is addressed as an idol. This is tantamount to the poet becoming a disbeliever.

  • Navin Mehta 29 May, 2009 at 11:10 am

    I loved Ghalib’s work. I listen Ghlaib’s gazals sung by various artists, most favourite being those sung by Suraiya & Talat Mahemood. From 1967 till 2002 I used to visit Delhi alomst every 2 to 3 months and also entered in Ballimaran many times but thinking, I will visit Great Ghalib’s Haveli next time and so on, but unfortunately couldn’t visit the Haveli (my bad luck). Now I don’t think, I will ever be visiting Delhi due to age and knee joint problem. I am happy, atleast I could see it in a video presented here.

    Duniya me bahut hi achhchhe achhchhe shair aaye lekin
    Ghalib ka andaz hi kuchh aur hai.

  • mohd. saquib usmani 14 July, 2009 at 12:55 am

    jitne bhi comment kiye jayeen kum hain ghalib ke liye. he was a great scholar and thinker as well. he challenged the clerics which was a challenge itself for him in n that era.
    great philosopher, realistic
    humko maalum hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
    dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khayaal acchha hai.
    reflects his wisdom n research.
    i visited once his haweli in ballimaran n i dont think that anybody will care for his memories.
    its my great wish that some prominent person from art n cinema field come together and organise an evening to tribute him n other great personalities from different field who has been forgotten by time n us like other big award ceromany.
    in this situation we should think about it!!!! isn’t it!!!
    saquib usmai

  • Narendera K Gupta 7 August, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I visited the HAVELI on 6th August, 2010. Thanks to ailing wife of our Tailor Master late Mohd Ishaqe jee[for fifty years now], she described with fineness the location.

    I chose to roam through the streets. Asahmed to share that many a people did not know the exact location in that very street. I was guided like “samne hai”, “teen dukan chod do” ” hakim ji ki haveli poochna”. A quiet guard/helper from Uttrakahnd is available there. The tap is leaking, one bucket is kept at the entrance.

    I vowed down in my respects to the great poet. Read through the posters. Very educative.

    I strongly recommend that all school children should necessarily pay a visit to this Historical Venue.

    narendera K gupta

  • Munawar 9 December, 2010 at 11:05 am

    I echo Nandan’s suggestion. It behooves those artists who have benefited from Ghalibs’ ghazals to contribute to the repair and maintenance of Ghalib’s haveli. It would be a gesture of generosity and a small way to give back to the person who gave so much to them.
    Best not to rely on the government.

  • Arshad Masood Hashmi 4 November, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    A moving description!!
    It would be so kind of you if you could allow me to add this writing in my forthcoming English translation of the Masters of Urdu Poetry.
    Thanks n regards

  • aaliya khan 20 June, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I love the insightful discussions here and lovely descriptions of things that reminds one of Urdu.

  • abinash 16 September, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    the place is nicely narrated by gulzar sahab in his mega serial ‘mirza ghalib’, i would say ghalib work ranged from philosophy to crossed all borders and is difficult to gulp at aninitial glance, but once understood it reigns in our nerves..would add some praises in his name..

    galiyon main ghalib goonjta hai aaj bhi puraane khatiye pe bujurg jab hooka phoonk ke asar padhte hain,

    kahin se ghar kar leta hai woh aadmi, aapna sa koi peeth sehla raha ho jaise..

    nasihat baan gayi hain uski yaadein, ek umr chahiye usse samajhne ko..

  • Raju 15 August, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for posting your great work.

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