Mission Delhi – Aqil Ahmad, Ghalib Academy
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He arrived in Delhi years ago with just two sets of clothing and a much-thumbed paperback dealing with Urdu literature.
Forty years later, poetry critic Aqil Ahmad has authored 10 books on literary criticism — while serving as long-time secretary of the Ghalib Academy, promoting the 19th-century poet Mirza Ghalib.
For all this success, Mr Ahmad has certain reservations. This afternoon, he is speculating whimsically about the practical aspects of life.
“To start with, I have got no house of my own,” he smiles dimly, between sips of sugary black tea. Instead, he lives in a flat allotted to him by the Academy.
“Look at it this way. Millions migrate to Delhi with almost nothing, but then they set up roots, build houses, buy property…. I couldn’t do those things.” When he retires, he would also be leaving the cost-free dwelling.
“What then? Should I just go back to my ancestral village? But my family and I are too used to a life in the city… ”
Mr Ahmad, 58, makes it clear that the pursuit of wealth never figured in his life plan.
“When I was a young PhD student I decided to opt for a life of reading and writing, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. No regrets.”
He once traveled abroad during the course of his scholarly pursuits. “I went to Karachi in 1986 to research for my thesis on poet Josh Malihabadi.”
Since the Academy itself has no official retirement age, its secretary hopes to work for many more years. “Maybe I will have the flat until then.”
[This is the 169th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A house for Mr Ahmad