City Life – Mirza Ghalib’s Love Signs, Ghalib Academy
Chairs of heart.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is evening and ghazal singer Athar Hussain Khan is rendering ‘Chupke Chupke’ to a packed audience. The Delhi Walla is at Ghalib Academy in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti. The front row glitterati in the auditorium include Urdu poet and short story writer Nigar Azim. The great 19th century poet Mirza Ghalib, after whom the institution is named, is also present—as a painting.
The balcony, however, is empty. In fact, it mostly remains without people even during the most coveted poetry sessions that are frequently hosted here to celebrate Ghalib’s legacy.
I soon discover that my impression about the balcony was an illusion. These vacant seats are souvenirs to the memories of all those lovers who spent hours here as poet after poet recited Urdu verses on the stage downstairs.
The chairs have a story to tell. They are scrawled with romantic graffiti.
Take this: A.K. loves Aiman.
Another seat simply displays a name—Komal. Does this woman know that she has been immortalized on this spot by her admirer?
One chair proclaims–Girlfriend of Imdad Chair. Scrawled in a blue fountain pen, the words are drawn so thickly and artistically that they almost look like a calligraphic inscription.
Inevitably, I also spot a heart with an arrow.
Many of us might be repelled by such sights. Some of our great monuments are defaced with such scribbles. (So are the trees in many of our public gardens.)
And now, one must live with the vandalism on Ghalib Academy’s seats.
Good for Ghalib that he died way back in 1869. We must be thankful that the lovers have not yet invaded his hauntingly beautiful graffiti-less marble tomb that is located just next to the academy.
However, if Ghalib were alive, what he would have made of these love seats?
I call up poet Jawed Niyazi for his views. In his 30s, he lives in Old Delhi’s Kucha Rohilla Khan and he has often read his poetry at Ghalib Academy. “Shayri mohabbat hai,” he tells me. Poetry is love. Mr Niyazi says, “The people who wrote these messages were in love. They do not know hate. Poetry emerges from these kinds of sentiments. Ghalib would have understood their feelings.”
Mr Niyazi explains if Ghalib happened to have been composing poetry in our time, he would have been delighted to see these love seats in an auditorium named after him and—who knows–he would have even crafted verses on these very seats.
Feeling comforted on hearing these words, I gladly settle down on a chair marked, Jyoti, I love you.
As I get up on the conclusion of the concert, my eyes fall on the seat to our left. It displays no declaration of love. Instead, it shows a crude drawing of… how to put it, a penis (see last picture below).
What would have Ghalib said to that?
Love in all its signs