The dead poet’s society.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One of the principal pilgrimages of poetry lovers in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan lies in Delhi–the tomb of Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil.
A 17th century Persian poet of Delhi, Bedil was the inspiration of Mirza Ghalib. Delhi’s great egostical poet, Ghalib had great esteem for Bedil. He once wrote:
Tarz-e-bedil mein rekhta kehna
Asadullah Khan, qayaamat hai
(to adopt Bedil’s style in Urdu
is an extraordinary feat, O Asad!)
Venerated by Muhamamd Iqbal, Bedil was also a beloved poet of the assassinated Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Masood.
The Delhi Walla is told that Bedil commands a cult following in parts of Central Asia. There are Bedil extremists in Samarkand. His poems are recited in the tea houses of Bukhara. He is passionately discussed in Dushanbe streets.
In today’s Delhi, Bedil lies dead. His tomb lies in one corner of a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) garden near Purana Qila.
In her book Mystical Dimensions of Islam, author Annemarie Schimmel wrote:
… Bedil (d. 1721), the lonely poet whose humble tomb in Delhi does not reflect the influence his poetry had upon Afghan and Central Asian, mainly Tajik, literature. Bedil, though not a practising member of any order, was steeped in the traditions of mystical Islam. His numerous mathwanis deal with philosophical and mystical problems and show a remarkable dynamism along with dark hopelessness. His favourite word is shikast, “broken, break” — an attitude the mystics had always favoured for describing their hearts’ state. Bedil’s works of mixed poetry and prose, and his lyrics, offer the reader severe technical difficulties. The vocabulary, the conceits, the whole structure of his thought is unusual, but extremely attractive.
Bedil’s name on the DDA signboard is partially hidden by Peepal leaves. A pathway leads to an elevated grass-covered ground where several unknown graves are draped in colourful chaadars. At the center is Bedil’s tomb, painted in green and white. Exposed to elements on all sides, it is surrounded by trees and bushes.
In the book Ruba’iyat of Bedil, Bedil’s translator Paul Smith wrote:
Mirza Abdul-Qader Bedil (1644-1721) is one of the most respected poets of the East. In the early 17th century, his family moved from Balkh in Afghanistan to India, to live under Mughal rule. He was born and educated near Patna. In later life he spent time travelling and visiting ancestral lands. His writings in Persian are extensive, being one of the creators of the ‘Indian style’. He had complicated views on the nature of God, heavily influenced by the Sufis. Bedil’s 16 books of poetry contain nearly 147,000 couplets with over 3600 poems that are ruba’is. He is now considered a great later master of this form.
Bedil’s humorous side is on display in Sadia Dehlvi’s book The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi:
Having witnessed the last phase of Shahjahan’s reign, Bedil recorded significant details of Aurangzeb’s religiosity. As a concession to the rising power of the clergy, Aurangzeb encouraged long beards as a symbol of faith. Bedil retaliated that the age of ‘goats and bears’ had arrived. He admonished the Mullah, saying that long beards would block their entry into heaven for nothing aesthetically offensive would be accepted there.
You must come here even if you don’t know your Bedil (like me). Sit beside his tomb and soak in some of the essence of this great poet. But, of course, nothing’s better than reading him.