City Landmark - Art Gallery, Ghalib Academy

City Landmark – Art Gallery, Ghalib Academy

Poetry intersecting with painting.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

He seems so far from the world of today, but Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan Ghalib died only 155 years ago, aged 72. This being the great poet’s death anniversary, it is sweet and proper to perform a haziri (pilgrimage) to his marble mazar (tomb) in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.

A panoramic view of the dainty monument can be glimpsed from an adjacent building. That multi-storey came into existence on Ghalib’s 100th death anniversary, and is devoted to his life and works. The singular thing, however, that makes Ghalib Academy one of Delhi’s most exclusive destinations is its rarely visited top-floor corridor, crammed with original Ghalib-inspired artworks painted by eminent artists like Reddappa Naidu, G. R. Santosh, Jagdish Swaminathan, Laxman Pai, Jayant Parikh, Nirode Mazumdar, Sadequain, and Ameena Ahuja. The highlight is a super-precious 1969 MF Husain, depicting the Ghalib couplet “Lutfe kharam-e saqi…” (see photo—Academy’s secretary Aqil Ahmad is pointing towards the Husain!). There is also a film poster of the 1954 classic Mirza Ghalib.

The remarkable gallery is accessed through an equally enchanting museum. Most days there’s hardly a soul. The door remains locked. The staffers open it on request. A homage to lost time, the walls of the museum are decked with rare portraits of Ghalib’s contemporaries, such as critic Qazi Abdul Wadood, scholar Maulana Ghulam Rasool Mehr, Ghalib biographer Malik Ram, and Master Ramchandra Dehlvi of the historic Delhi College.

While the glass cabinets bring alive the world of Ghalib in all its material wealth—coins, letters, books, along with plastic replicas of Ghalib’s beloved dishes (mash ki dal, mangoes, etc). The most evocative of these is a set of old dresses. Just reading aloud the names of these bhoole-bhisre costumes transport the visitor to a long-ago world of Ghalibian elegance—bar ka pajama, malmal ki gole halki topi, ooni kalidar pajama, mirzai, tang mori ka aarha pajama, sadri, neema aasteen, ghetli jooti, shaali roomal, angrakha, malmal ki topi, kulah papakh, qaba-choga, and reshmi lungi. A dress called “Khule aasteen ka alfigereban ka kurta” looks excessively fragile, as if made of air.

The library downstairs, on the second floor, is itself like a museum to the library of yesteryears—it still maintains the pre-computer style of card-cataloguing its thousands of books in Urdu and Persian. A row of reading cubicles overlook Ghalib’s tomb. From this vantage point, you may easily spot a grave lying right behind the tomb. It is of Umrao Begum, the poet’s wife.

Since this being Ghalib’s death anniversary, it is sweet and proper to conclude this dispatch with a sher he wrote on death:
maut kā ek din muayyan hai
niind kyuuñ raat bhar nahīñ aatī
(Death will come one day,
Why doesn’t sleep come at night).