Culture & Society

Poetry: 'Ghalib Ki Haveli', A Tribute To Mirza Ghalib

Sekhar Banerjee writes a two-part poem which seeks to capture the shifting perspectives of Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli at Ballimaran and the emotions of a common Indian who grew up listening to Ghalib’s verses though popular media.

Mirza Ghalib Ki Haveli: One of the two original manuscripts preserved and displayed

Hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya par yaad aata hai

Woh har ek baat pe kehna ke yoon hota toh kya hota.

- Mirza Ghalib

An afternoon in Ballimaran-I

We do what we need to do on a day like this when
all ittar-shop lowers the sky near its precincts and
they make Ballimaran a universe where a rickshaw
loses its way like a spacecraft nearing a vortex full
of broken pieces of the afternoon sun, the shadow
of the minarets, the diphthong of the azaan, smell
of treated leather, half-burnt thick milk, splintered
Urdu-jubaan, scent of dry berries; the narrow alley
sucks it all and grabs every twang of the broken glass
shards of the bangles left in the ancient bangle shops
and you look up and down for a trace of an entrance
to a puzzle that hides itself in the maze of dissimilar
shadows of ghazals, hearths, warehouses, memoirs and
new houses for guests and you examine every face for a
trace of a verse written by Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan
when he was residing here at Galli Qasim Jan.

An afternoon in Ballimaran-II

This is time when the sky turns into a field
of wheat on embers when Mirza Sahib readies
for an outing for fresh air at Chandni chowk.
Stray lines of new couplets still loop his mind
since last night when he returned from a verse
event in Naya Dilli. It was a good session
of verses and Mirza recited some old couplets
which are still so popular that everyone hummed,
clapped and shouted. But the money is always low
for poets and researchers in this great land
where verses are chanted and played and sang
and hummed in every god-damned instance.
No one, without any institution or a patron saint,
can hold life in one’s own hands to make a dent
anywhere and cannot do much beyond attending
seminars, doing some far-fetched guest-lectures
or odd jobs or do provisional research on annual grant
while gloomily counting every single rupee
for the impending future that stands like a claimant.
Mirza Sahib surveys the two and half rooms in the
Haveli and sighs. He could never manage finances
well; the money he earns is still not enough for the
rent and the food – let alone other provisions to scale
the layers of existence which he always prefers because
he believes in a layered life – of a kite in a gale, a silver
spoon in a daawat, a private symbol on a kerchief,
a mendicant with a field diary, a darkness stitched
with chandeliers and a sunny day with a perfumed lull.
He instructed his rented Haveli’s private security guard
to bring a rickshaw to the ancient wooden ingress.
Mirza Ghalib desires a visit to Chandni Chowk
for a whiff of fresh evening air tangled with spices
and roam the streets with an unfinished couplet stuck
in his head. He would return only when Dilli is all lit-up.

(Sekhar Banerjee is a Pushcart Award (2021) and Best of the Net (2023) nominated poet.  His work has been published in Stand Magazine, Indian Literature, Arkana, The Bitter Oleander, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Lake, Madras Courier, Outlook, The Wire, The Bangalore Review, Kitaab and elsewhere. He is a former Press Secretary to the Governor, West Bengal. He lives in Kolkata, India.)