The shaded green patches of Bagh-e-Bedil across Purana Qila effectively beat the heat on Mathura Road. Families on their weekly outings, couples looking for personal spaces and petty hawkers at the garden may not be aware of the poet who lies buried here. Yet, the last resting place of Abdul-Qadir Bedil may make most legendary poets, who made this city their home, envious.
Also known as Bedil Dehlavi (1642-1720), the poet believed to be buried here—some scholars don’t agree that this is his resting place—was a famous Tajik poet of his time who wrote in Persian and lived in the old city. In fact, in Afghanistan, there’s a school dedicated to studying only Bedil’s poetry—Bedil Shinasi (Bedil studies). The maintenance of his grave and the garden surrounding it is thanks to the 2006 visit of Emomali Rahmanov, the Tajikistan President who had expressed his wish to visit the tomb.
Contrast the ambience of Bagh-e-Bedil with that of the last resting place of Delhi’s very own master of verse Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq (1789-1854), the poet laureate of the Mughal court. Tucked away in one of the dingy bylanes of Paharganj, there’s nothing about the place that does justice to the stature of the great Urdu poet. Though the public toilet that had come up at the place was demolished a few years ago at the direction of the Supreme Court, there’s no proper signboard at the Mazar-e-Zauq. Worse, if one manages to reach the place located near Kadam Sharif, chances are that it would be locked with no Archaeological Survey of India staff around to open the gates. So, one is left with no choice but to peep in to see Zauq’s poetry inscribed on marble slabs and overgrown grass around his grave. Considering Zauq lived in Nabi Karim, there hasn’t been much effort to identify his house either.
Fortunately, that’s not the case with Mirza Ghalib’s house. Local residents helpfully guide tourists to his haveli in Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk. A contemporary of Zauq, Ghalib’s name is synonymous with Urdu poetry. The haveli, having turned into a coal store, was acquired by the Delhi Government in December 1999. Restoration work exposed the Mughal Lakhouri bricks on walls and arches, sandstone flooring and a chajja in the courtyard. But the ugly signboards and the filth outside are definitely not a fitting backdrop to the haveli. Perhaps the house of Ghalib’s wife met with a better fate, having been converted into a girls’ school. The poet’s tomb in the Nizamuddin complex is fairly well-maintained, though one wonders if he would have liked the noise and squalor that one needs to negotiate with in order to reach the place. Perhaps he would have just recited a couplet from one of his popular ghazals, “na kabhi janaza uthta, na kahin mazar hota”.
Delhi, a political hotbed since ages, has also provided patronage to artistes and men of letters. The last of the great classical poets of Sanskrit, Panditraj Jagannath, originally from Andhra Pradesh, found patrons in Mughal rulers Jahangir and Shah Jahan and an able disciple in Dara Shikoh. The Mughal court was also frequented by Urdu poets Sauda and Mir.
Earlier, poet, musician and Sufi scholar Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) had found a patron in Slave ruler Balban and a guru in Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusrau composed in Persian, Arabic and Hindavi, and was also the heir to the spiritual legacy of Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusrau’s tomb, near that of the saint, is a venerated site today. In fact, his status is much more than that of any ordinary poet. In the true Sufi tradition, Khusrau’s poetry transcended religious barriers and many later poets tried to emulate him. The tradition continues in the gatherings that take place every Thursday evening at his tomb.
As the melting pot of different cultures, the city found its voice in the verses of its poets— be it Hindi poet Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan (a contemporary of Mughal emperor Akbar) or Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) whose verses echoed the cries of distress of a city plundered by the Afghan troops of Ahmad Shah Abdali.
One such poet, Momin, a rival of Ghalib, lies buried near the parking area near Maulana Azad Medical College. A great favourite of Begum Akhtar (her rendition of the poet’s woh jo hum mein tum me qarar tha is considered one of her best), Momin (1800-1851), a hakim or physician by profession, may not mind his grave being in the vicinity of a premier medical college. But surely, a poet who was recognised as a genius by none less than Ghalib deserves something much better than his resting place being intruded by cycles and cars. Is it enough food for thought for the government bodies and organisations celebrating World Poetry Day on March 21?