City List – The Ghalibians, Ghalib Academy
People of Ghalib’s world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A long beard. A pointed Turki topi. That’s Ghalib, the illustrated portrait that adorns the cover of his poetry books.
Many of us might not have read the city’s great 19th century poet (1797-1869) due to unfamiliarity with classical Urdu and Persian but Ghalib’s spirit is so omnipresent in Delhi’s ambiance that he seems a part of our everyday life.
But what about the people who influenced Ghalib’s life and times? Who were the early scholars who laid the foundation of his literary reputation? How did they look like?
It’s very easy to find all these answers. You don’t even have to get your hands dirty in smelly dust-covered libraries. Just arrive at the Ghalib Academy in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti in Central Delhi, and climb straight to a hall on the third floor marked ‘Museum.’
Most days there’s hardly a soul here. The door usually remains locked. The staffers open it on request. The curtained hall is quaintly charming, with reproductions of the dresses of Ghalib’s era, and even of his favourite dishes. It is the walls that are most revealing. They are decked with portraits of Ghalib’s contemporary poets and writers, as well as of later scholars on Ghalib. (Alas, no women among them.) Some of these gentlemen are attired in traditional shervani, others are in western dresses.
One evening the academy’s secretary, Aqil Ahmad, gave the story behind each of these faces, many of which are also a window to a Delhi that once was.
Here’s the gallery of the Ghalibians, presented in the order as arranged on the wall.
1. Qazi Abdul Wadood. 1897-1970. Literary critic and researcher on Ghalib. Works include Aasar-e-Ghalib. From Patna.
2. Maulana Ghulam Rasool Mehr. 1893-1971. Scholar of Ghalib’s letters. Also an expert on Muhammed Iqbal. Authored Khutoot-e- Ghalib. From Lahore.
3. Aziz Lakhnavi. Born in 1880, year of death not known. Poet of classical ghazals. Inspired many later poets such as Josh Malihabadi. From Lucknow.
4. Abdul Rahman Bijnori. 1885-1918. Critic. He famously said that Hindustan has produced two Ilhami Kitabein (divine books)—Ved-e-Muqaddas (the Vedas), and Diwan-e-Ghalib (collection of Ghalib’s ghazals). His book Mahasin-e-Kalam-e-Ghalib analysed the poet’s oeuvre by comparing it to his counterparts in the western literature. From Bijnore.
5. Malik Ram. 1906-1992. Ghalib’s biographer. Authored Zikr-e-Ghalib. From Delhi.
6. Sheikh Muhammad Ikram. 1908-1973. Historian of Ghalib’s time. Authored Aab-e-Kausar and Ghalib Nama. From Lahore.
7. Maulavi Mahesh Parshad. Died in 1951. Scholar of Ghalib’s letters. From Benares.
8. Niyaz Fatehpuri. 1884-1966. Critic and writer. Authored Mushkilat-e-Ghalib. From Fatehpur.
9. Abdur Rahman Chughtai. 1899-1975. Artist. Drew paintings inspired from Ghalib’s poetry. From Lahore.
10. Master Ramchandra Dehlvi. 1821-1880. Maths teacher in the historic Delhi College. Ghalib’s contemporary. Also edited literary journals.
11. Dr Yusuf Husain Khan. 1902-1979. Younger brother of President Zakir Hussain. Wrote many books on Ghalib. From Hyderabad.
12. Professor Khwaja Ahmad Farooqi. 1917-1985. Founder of the Department of Urdu in Delhi University. From Delhi.
13. Mohammad Husain Azad. 1832-1910. Writer, poet. Authored Aab-e-Hayat, first major critical book on Urdu with brief sketches of writers and poets. From Delhi.
14. Khwaja Haider Ali Aatish. 1776-1846. Poet. Contemporary of Ghalib. From Lucknow.
15. Dabeer Lakhnavi. 1805-1875. Poet. Contemporary of Ghalib. From Lucknow.
16. Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali. 1837-1914. Ghalib’s first biographer. Authored Yadgar-e- Ghalib. From Panipat.
17. Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq. 1789-1854. Court poet of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Ghalib’s bitter rival. From Delhi.
18. Nazeer Akbarabadi. 1740-1820. Poet. Ghalib was familiar with his work. From Agra.
19. Jalal Lakhnavi. 1831-1909. Poet. Contemporary of Ghalib. From Lucknow.
20. Maulana Nazir Ahmad. 1836-1912. First Urdu Novelist. Books include Mirat-ul-Uroos, a tale of two sisters. From Delhi.
21. Mir Mehdi Majrooh. 1833-1903. Poet. Ghalib’s shagird (disciple). From Delhi.
22. Ameer Minai. 1828-1900. Poet. Contemporary of Ghalib. From Lucknow.
23. Nasikh. 1787-1838. Poet. His work inspired Ghalib. From Lucknow.
24. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. 1817-1898. Scholar and founder of Aligarh Muslim University. He translated Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th century document on emperor Akbar’s administration, from Persian to Urdu, and urged Ghalib to write a foreword. The poet famously reprimanded Khan for wasting his talents on “dead past.” From Delhi.
Meet the Ghalibians