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Ghalib who? Agra forgets its cultural past

Sunday December 26, 2010 10:45:51 PM, Brij Khandelwal, IANS

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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 pointed out.

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.





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