Durbaan-e-Mazaar-e-Ghalib (The Gatekeeper of Ghalib’s Grave)

(This is the last blog entry on the matter of graves! Actually these entries sum up the famous graves I have visited, apart from Emily Dickinson’s, which is just a five minute walk from where I live in Amherst, Massachusetts.). Check out this blog for a picture and translation of the inscription on Ghalib’s tombstone. (Added July 12, 2008)

हुए मरके हम जो रुसवा हुए क्यों न गर्क-ए- दरया
न कहीं जनाज़ा उठता न कहीं मजार होता।

ہوے مرکے ہم جو رسوہ ہوے کیوں نہ گرک دریہ
نہ کہیں جنازہ اٹھتہ نہ کہیں مزار ہوت

hue marke ham jo rusva hue kyun na gark-e-darya
na kaheen janaazaa utthata na kaheen mazaar hota

The shame I endured after death, why did I not drown in the sea?
There would have been no funeral, nor a grave to be seen.

While Khusro is certain that his beloved will come to his grave (see previous entry), Ghalib, in his shame, wishes for no grave at all. He seems in this verse to reiterate Alexander Pope’s conclusion, albeit in a more sombre mood, “steal from the world and not a stone tell where I lie.” Except, in true ghazal tradition he writes after his death, from the other world. Oh, such shame have I endured here (on the day of judgment? in heaven? hell?), why did I not disappear into the sea, without a trace, with no grave to be a home wherein to wait for qayamat, the day of judgment.

But let us not confuse Ghalib the poet with the “I” in the verse. After all the “poet in the poem” rule, poetry as personal statement, does not seem to apply to the traditional ghazal, where the poet dies only to be resurrected in the next verse and often expresses contradictory sentiments not only in different ghazals but in different verses of the same ghazal (since the ghazal unlike the sonnet or other poetic forms inn English, has no requirement of thematic unity for its couplets).

In fact Ghalib’s grave, far from being reviled or shamed as the lover’s in the verse was, is rather an honored place of visit in Delhi. The grave is next to the Ghalib Institute (or the Ghalib Academy, one of the two) only a stone’s throw from Nizamuddin Dargah. I went there at night and the resplendence of the dargah didn’t quite make it to Ghalib, so the surroundings were rather dark. There is a small fenced compound just off the side of the gully, at one end of which is a small structure, a hut almost, of stone. At first I did not even notice the broad, in English, Hindi and Urdu, that proclaimed this to be the grave. When I did see it, I noticed that the only entry into the compound was gated and padlocked. It was past 8:30pm and I assumed this meant that the site was closed for the day. I looked around. There were several men selling flowers to those who wished to visit Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah. On a whim I asked a flower-seller if this (pointing to the silhouetted structure behind him) was Ghalib’s grave. Yes, he said. Can I see it from up close? I asked. Sure, he replied, to my surprise. Ask that gentleman over there, he said pointing to an old man in a kurta and lungi, sitting by the roadside. Intrigued, I approached the man and asked, Ghalib ki mazaar dikhaenge? Will you show me Ghalib’s grave? Haan zaroor, he said. Absolutely. Getting up, he fished out a key from his pocket and walked over to the padlocked gate. I followed, strangely elated. Opening the gate, he led me. There turned out to be several graves there, right next to each other. Ghalib’s was inside the stone structure visible from the road. Out in the open, next to it were some others. The old man, now in the role, not of gatekeeper, but of guide, pointed to them and mentioned the names of the people buried there. I am afraid I remember them no longer. I lingered in front of Ghalib for a while, imagining the remains (whatever is left after a hundred and fifty years) that lay underneath. The moon shone on the stone, on the inscription in stone above the little entrance, but there wasn’t enough light to read. Dust thou art, to dust returnest. All those verses that leap off the printed page, that stay in your memory after reading them or hearing them just once, all came from a brain that is now scattered in the very soil beneath my feet. But Ghalib, conceited though he was (kehte hain ke Ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur, they say no one expresses like Ghalib does), may have disagreed with me. The verses did not come from his brain, they came from nothingness, from the hidden, the ghaib, in Urdu.

Aate hain ghaib se yeh mazzami khayaal mein
Ghalib sareer-e-khamah navaa-e-sarosh hai
These themes, they comes from the hidden
Ghalib, the scribbling of the pen, is the whisper of an angel

Anyhow, the guide waited patiently as I dreamed. On the short walk across the compound back to the gate, I asked him if he worked for the Ghalib Institute next door. Nahin, unse hamaara koi lena dena nahin, he said (I have nothing to do with them). I placed a ten rupee note into his hand and thanked him. I never discovered how he came upon this job, or what else he did by way of earning a living. I regret now, not asking him more questions. But mystery has its place too doesn’t it? Let not the “will to truth” sully everything in life.


2 thoughts on “Durbaan-e-Mazaar-e-Ghalib (The Gatekeeper of Ghalib’s Grave)

  1. Boss, Ten Rupees! Really! You’re from America. Ten Rupees! Waah! No wonder you write about Schumacher, Gandhi and other such haters of the Indian. What? You were worried if you gave hundred Rs. the fellow would immediately marry an underage girl and spend the rest of the money on drugs and meat?Sir, please save yourself before it is too late!


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