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Den of the dead poet's society.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
No taverns here. This is a dreary site for an institute focusing on the life and works of wine-loving Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. Bang opposite the Ghalib Academy stands the joyless headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Islamic organization that preaches extreme austerity. Boozing is unthinkable there.
More uninspiring is the alley teeming with Ghalib-illiterates: unemployed boys, burqa-clad beggars and hundreds of pilgrims on their way to the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah. Not many care to stop by Ghalib Academy, or his lonely tomb next door.
If you do venture inside, the first impression could be gloomy: paan-stained walls, corner cobwebs, broken walls, and hardly any visitor. The place looks as haunted as any sarkari foundation. Except that it is a private institute that was set up to promote Urdu poetry by Hakim Abdul Hamid of the Hamdard group.
Inaugurated by President Dr. Zakir Hussain in 1969, Ghalib Academy receives no funding from the government. Dr. Aqil Ahmad, the institute secretary since 1989, do not betray any bitterness as he reveals that the academy runs on a yearly budget of around only Rs. 20 lakhs (perhaps that's why there is no air-conditioner in the auditorium).
But look at the brighter side: 200 seats in the auditorium, around 10, 000 books in the library (its free!), and a wonderful museum on the second floor that showcases kaftans, caps, kebabs, and portraits of the poet's life and times. An art gallery with paintings by M F Hussain, Anis Farooqi, and Satish Gujralis is an added bonus. The academy also publishes books on Ghalib in English, Hindi, and of course Urdu (Diwan-e-Ghalib is the evergreen bestseller). A computerized calligraphy training center claim to turn you into an expert in Urdu typing through "exhaustive lab practice and very low fees."
It is the library that is most enchanting with its Urdu periodicals, old Godrej typewriter, and musty smell. Here you browse the books or simply pour over thousands of archived newspaper clippings on Ghalib (Did Ghalib die of diabetes? Indian Express, January 22, 1969).
It's truly a wonderful world inside Ghalib Academy. Sad so few Delhi wallas care to hop in. No, don't pity Ghalib. It's our loss.
Where Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin Ph 24351098 website ghalibacademy.org
It's our loss