City Monument – Ghalib’s Tomb, Nizamuddin Basti
The poet’s place.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Opened from sunrise to sunset, the mausoleum of Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan Ghalib usually remains empty. His rectangular tomb chamber is in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, a central Delhi village named after a Sufi saint who lived here in the 14th century and whose shrine forms the area’s central focus.
Mirza Ghalib died in extreme poverty in 1869. His verses and letters chronicled Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi, at a very delicate point in its history. The Mughal capital was destroyed by the British following the 1857 Uprising.
Ghalib was buried in the family graveyard of the nawabs of Loharu to whom he was related through his mother and also by his marriage.
Until a few years ago, the tomb was visible from an alley teeming with Sufi pilgrims, flower sellers, beggars and goats. It was restored in 2009 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with Archaeological Survey of India and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
Before the restoration, the boundary wall was not as high. Cats clambered down from the surrounding butcheries to snooze beside the poet’s tomb.
Today, the cats are not seen. The street sounds seem to come from far. It is difficult to believe that this is the final resting ground of a man whose poetry continues to command a large following in the popular culture.
The restored courtyard is paved with red sandstone, white marble inlays and ornamental patterns. A Ghalib couplet is inscribed on a marble slab in Urdu as well as in Hindi and English translations.
When nothing was, then God was there,
Had nothing been, God would have been;
My being has defeated me
Had I not been, what would have been
Half-a-dozen graves are clustered at one corner of the courtyard. One of these tombs is believed to be of Ghalib’s father-in-law, Mirza Ilahi Bakhsh.
Inside the grave chamber, sunlight enters through marble screens. A rare visitor might leave behind an offering of rose petals. The tombstone has an inscription in Arabic and Persian:
A hai’yii ya qaiyuum
Rashk-e-’Urfi va fakhr-e-Talib murd Asadullah Khan Ghalib murd
Kal maiN Gham-o-andoh meN baa khaatir-e-maHzuuN
Tha turbat-e-ustaad pe baiTha hua Ghamnaak
Dekha jo mujhe fikr meN taareeKh ke, Majruuh
Haatif ne kahaa ganj-e-ma’ani hai tah-e-Khaak
[The Alive, The Eternal
The envy of Urfi and the pride of Talib has died, Asadullah Khan Ghalib has died,
Yesterday in sadness and mourning, grief-afflicted too,
I sat by the Master’s grave with sorrow profound
Seeing me thinking of a tareekh, Majruuh,
A heavenly voice said, “Treasury of meanings is under the ground]
[Translated into English by Vasmi Abidi]
Where Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Time Sunrise to sunset Nearest Metro Station Khan Market/Jangpura
1. Here you are
3. The disappeared neighbourhood
4. The world of living
5. A detail
6. Sleep well, Ghalib
7. Now, wake up
8. Ghalib lives on
9. Ghalib’s people