City Hangout – Ghalib Academy, H. Nizamuddin Basti
A poetic corner.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Devoted to Delhi’s great poet Mirza Ghalib, it has a museum and a library. Its auditorium regularly hosts gatherings of Urdu poets — sometimes they arrive dressed in old-world costumes of sherwanis, achkans and topis.
Ghalib Academy in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti was opened by the then President Zakir Husain in 1969. It showcases the world of a poet whose life, letters and poems chronicled a turbulent period of Delhi’s history — when the Mughal capital was shifting its allegiance towards the British.
The makeshift bookstall at the entrance sells poetry in hardbound editions.
In the auditorium, a sentimental portrait of the city’s 19th century poet is made to face the stage, as if it is just another bearded face in the audience.
The museum on the first floor has black and white photos of Shahjahanabad’s old havelis and neighbourhoods, as well as portraits of eminent Delhiwallas, some of whom were contemporaries of Ghalib. The exhibits include Mughal-era coins and dresses. The stone replicas of dishes such as mash ki dal and yakhani looks repulsive. A couple of yellowed letters kept inside a glass case bear stamps with Ghalib on them.
The delightful library on the top floor has ten thousand books in Urdu and Persian. One book is published by London-based Institute of Third World Art and Literature. The archived newspaper clippings deal with existential themes (‘Did Ghalib die of diabetes?’ Indian Express, January 22, 1969). A few shelves have books in Hindi, Russian and English — some of them shelter silverfish. The Hindi translations of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and Homer’s war poem Illiad are stacked together; Iran in the Service of World Peace lies beside Stories from Women Writers of Israel.
The library doesn’t have a membership system but anyone can come in to read. It has cubicles for solitary reading. These cabins are very dusty and their windows look out on Ghalib’s tomb.
Where Ghalib Academy, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Time 10 am to 6 pm Nearest Metro Station Jangpura/Pragiti Maidan
Dead poet’s society