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Ghalib Academy A Treasure Trove for Urdu Lovers

Ghalib (1797- 1869) was court poet to the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Ghalib wrote in both Persian and Urdu but is famous for his self-selected collection of 2,000 Urdu couplets. He enlarged the range of Urdu literature in the nineteenth century much beyond its hitherto romantic focus. His poetry reflected his fluctuating fortunes, the stagnation of his own society and the onslaught of the British conquest on his beloved city Delhi during the revolt of 1857. The Ghalib Academy in New Delhi was established as a `literary and cultural' memorial by Hakeem Abdul Hameed, to eternalize memory of Ghalib in 1969.

Ghalib Academy is situated opposite the Qawwali hall of the holy shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Nizam Uddin Aulia near the mausoleum of Ghalib, in the bustling by-lane of Nizamuddin. This place is also a stone's throw from the tombs of two celebrated poets Amir Khusro and Abdur Rahim Khan Khanan. Built in the architectural style contemporaneous to Ghalib, the Academy's building has ornamental canopies and embellishments with delicate lattice work along with modern adaptations in order to meet the requirements of the present day. Set in the midst of historical residuum, the place breathes the bewitching grace resembling the times and life of Ghalib. The Academy was established on the death centenary of Ghalib in 1969. It was inaugurated by another Ghalib fan and a man with a name in the world of Letters, President Zakir Hussain. The Academy was equipped with an auditorium, museum and a conscientiously built library, to serve as a melting-pot for all research and discourse on Ghalib and his times.

Mirza Asad Ullah Khan `Ghalib' was, they say, the last classical poet and the first modern poet of India. He was a symbol of the syncretic cultural ethos of India. Even though Ghalib held his Persian poetry in great regard, it was his Urdu poetry which left an indelible mark on the hearts of people. His Urdu poetry has enthralled generations till date, irrespective of their religion or cultural background. Although Ghalib prided himself in being an elitist poet, his Diwan, written in Urdu, made him a poet of the masses. Thus, in view of Ghalib's immense contribution to composite culture of our nation, through both Urdu poetry and prose (in the form of letters), the first task contemplated by the founders of the Academy was to bring out an authentic and a complete edition of Ghalib's Diwan, Secondly, to serve the Urdu language in a new way. Since various Universities and Madarsas were already teaching and attempting to popularize Urdu, the Academy decided to encourage Urdu in those aspects where it was still untouched. For the purpose, innovative schemes of teaching Urdu typewriting, Kitabat- composing of books and manuscripts, Fan-e-khattati or calligraphy, Urdu shorthand, proof reading, translation work and the training in Urdu journalism were endeavoured and earnest efforts were made to get the various courses State recognition and certification. However, as Zaheer Naqvi the erstwhile founding secretary of the Academy reminisces, owing to weighty red-tapism only few schemes could be initiated. For instance, the Urdu Board instituted only a paltry sum of ten thousand rupees for one of the schemes and much to the chagrin of the founders, asked them to pay half the amount. Ghalib's poetry, which was earlier made popular by Sohrab Modi's film Mirza Ghalib and later by the soulful music and melodious voice of singers such as Jagjit Singh was rendered timeless by the publication of the new Diwan and the regular talks, lectures, mushairas and musical soirees organized by the Academy.

Besides the library which has a lot of source material for Ghalibean research, an attractive feature of the Academy is the museum on the fourth floor. The items on display give one a peep into to the world of the Ghalib's times. Its walls are arrayed with old but beautifully framed photographs and paintings of the great contemporary poets, such as, Zauq the court poet of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali who was a devoted disciple of Ghalib, and other luminaries of Urdu poetry such as Mohd. Hussain Azad and Abdur Rehman Chugtai. Other photos include places where Ghalib had stayed at various times in his life such as the Gali Kasim Jan, Benares house, the dalan where nikah of Ghalib was performed in 1810, and the Ballimaran house where Ghalib breathed his last, on 15th Feb 1869. The Delhi government has recently attempted to restore the Ballimaran Haveli of Ghalib to its original glory. Amongst other items on display are the extremely beautiful and ornamented specimens of calligraphy or katabas and waslis, in kufic script. They include a copy of a rare manuscript which belonged to Prince Dara Shikoh, the son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan; a copy of the celebrated Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl, the court historian of Mughal King Akbar 'The Great'; and a farman of Balban, a Sultan of Delhi in the fourteenth century A.D.. There is also a collection of coins and postal stamps of eighteenth century along with some of recent times with Ghalib's face on them.

It is well-known that Ghalib was a prolific letter writer and also a calligrapher of no mean distinction. The visitors to the museum can witness some of Ghalib's writings in his hand-written postcards, letters and pension papers. There are also dummies of delicious foods that Ghalib enjoyed, like, seekh kabab, shammi kabab, dahi, pasande, murg massalam, kofta, dal chana, karela, yakhni, maash ki dal, besani roti. Standing there in the museum one can just smell the aroma of all these mouth-watering gourmet dishes. Alongside are displayed a silver glass with intricate engravings, a silver bowl, a soup spoon and other pieces of cutlery which belonged to Ghalib. Even the clothes of Ghalib, his shoes and his walking stick are exhibited. Ghalib had a great passion for chess and gambling, this is evident by the display of Ghalib's personal chessboard made out of cloth with wooden pieces. One of the favourite pastimes of Ghalib was kite-flying. His charkhi, which is on display in the museum, bears testimony to him being a great patangbaaz. There have been artists, like Saadquin, Chagtai and Cpt. Sayyal who have illustrated his couplets in painting or in stone carvings some of which can be seen in the museum.

Ghalib's poetry has a resonance in the ideology to which the Academy pays homage, that is the syncretic tradition and the universal values of Indian culture. This is also one of the reasons for the Academy taking up the work of promotion of Urdu. The erstwhile founding secretary of the Academy, Zahir Naqvi Sahib calls Urdu the only `secular' language of India. Scholars from different religious and lingual affiliations, such as, Malik Ram, Prithvi Chand, Khwaja Ahmed Farooqui, Qazi Abdul Wadood, were closely associated with the Academy at one time or the other. Anees Siddiqui, the teacher of advanced calligraphy at the Academy, uses both theological pieces and secular poetical verses to impart his art. Its been a constant endeavour on the part of the Academy to collaborate with institutions with similar undertakings, for the continuance and prospering of these multifarious literary activities. However, the financial problems which had affected Ghalib all his life seems to be the bane of Ghalib Academy also. The state of the Ghalib Academy may be best described in these words:

Darmandagi me 'Ghalib', kuchh ban pade to janu,

Jab rishta begirah tha, nakhun girah kusha tha.

(Ghalib! I'll appreciate it if someone were to help me in my own distress now.

When there were no knots to undo, my own fingers were strong enough to do so)

In want of funds it is unable to carry out all its ideals to fruition and as far as Ghalib is concerned the work remains incomplete. As a result, the work has been slow but nevertheless significant. Ghalib Academy with its tireless devotion to its cause of familiarizing people with the works of the great poet and bringing them together on one platform has, in Shamim Haider's view who is the librarian at the Ghalib Academy, succeeded in creating a niche for itself and it is extremely popular and respected, even abroad.