Friday, May 23, 2008

Dead souls

The Nizamuddin basti in Delhi, it is said, has come up on and around what was once a massive graveyard. The Khwaja’s dargah with the tombs of Aamir Khusro and Jehanara Begum are the most visited and there are many other graves and tombs of important Mughal official surviving in various states of disrepair. Most of the unknown and unimportant graves are gone though – eaten up by the growing urban village. A few survive, slowly crumbling, appearing suddenly in a clearing through the crowded, narrow lanes of the basti.

There is Ghalib’s tiny, unassuming tomb. Almost perpetually locked unless you can find the care taker to open the gates. It’s the same with the gorgeous structure of Chausath Khamba, the tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, a Mughal official and son of Akbar’s Prime Minister Atgah Khan. The pure marble structure is very different from the usual sandstone architecture of Delhi and is a strange oasis of white in the middle of chaotic, colorful Nizamuddin. It’s under the ASI but all that means is that the structure is kept under lock and key. Maintenance and restoration seem to be too much to ask for.

Atgah Khan is buried in Nizamuddin too - in a most gorgeous structure that for some reason brought back memories of Agra Fort. The tomb is crumbling and falling apart, on the ceiling you can just make out wonderful arabesque patterns that must have been vibrant red and blue and one time but are now fading into the red sandstone.

In the midst of the dead is also the Ghalib Academy – trying to keep a dying language alive. In the academy library old men from the basti spend their afternoon read the Urdu newspapers. I made my way through rows and rows and rows of books slowly, painstakingly reading aloud their titles from the Nasta`liq script much to the librarian’s amusement.

After an afternoon spent among ruins of people, buildings, languages I caught an auto back to Khan Market only to alight in the middle of a mad crowd of cars and yuppies and frenetic cosmopolitan commercialism. It couldn’t have been a more different world.

*I am not in Delhi anymore and have missed out on the crazy rains. Quite amazing that it is raining there - in May! Real life has been well, unfortunately, weighing on me a bit too much and I have decided to deal with that by burrying myself in photographs and memories of distant places. Also - I really want to go on vacation. Gah.


Fabian said...

Bas? One line and you start posting pronto? Pushover!

Kidding. Not to be stopping.

Also, I suspect the problem with the ASI is the same as with many government organisations - lack of serious funding, lack of talented and enthusiastic people joining it due to lack of any incentive, etc. Pity.

lekhni said...

Lovely pictures. It's a pity that the ASI, like the Basti itself, is in a different age. Why don't they start charging admission to these sites and use the revenue for maintenance?

chica said...

The pictures are beautiful. I wish organizations would tap into student resources and help them do projects which could help such monuments. It would help both the students and the org's.

Alok said...

Nice and lovely photographs.. cliched I know but may be you are not cynical and take it as encouragement. hehe..

anyway more seriously, your comment about Urdu being a "dying language" reminded me of this article I was forwarded to recently. A postal stamp was issued to commemorate the Urdu poet Majaz but the image on the stamp insinuated that he was a religious muslim while he was actually an agnostic.. Naqvi is pretty good on how language is subsumed under a larger religious and communal identity in India and how it has harmed Urdu... he also talks about the sorry state of tombs of other Urdu poets.

there was also an excellent discussion on the hindi blog mohalla. start from below if you find it interesting...

the title made me think it was about the Russian novel... have you read it? It is one of the funniest novels ever!

Szerelem said...

fabian: pushover I am. I have never really heard good things about the ASI in general but I guess what you say is true.

lekhni: Well, that is an idea but there so, so many monuments in Delhi (let's not even talk about India!) that it would be really impossible to actually have and enforce some kind of visiting fee. In some ways Delhi reminds me of Rome because there is ome ancient monument at every street corner almost and I do understand that it would be really, really impossible to maintain all without proper funding and infrastructure. The Aga Khan foundation - which did an amazing job with Humayun's Tomb - has now taken up a project in Nizamuddin so it'll be interesting to see what happens now.

chica: Thanks. Though I'm not really sure schools kids these days would be very enthusiastic about old ruined buildings...but worth a shot for sure, I would think.

Alok: Oh come on - I dont even know why think I am so cynical!!Thanks for both the articles - they are really good. And I do totally agree with Naqvi. It's interesting that the Ghalib Academy in Nizamuddin is right opposite the very conservative Tablighi Jamaat's centre. I keep wondering what they think of the Museum in the academy which shows Ghalib with his favourtie nautch girl, and his wine glasses etc.

No I haven't read Dead Souls but I will get to it - at some point :P
I have been struggling with The Master and Margarita - I think you really love it, no? - and it's really brilliant but not the best read when you have a hundred thousand things weighing on you!!

km said...

Beautiful pics. Thanks for posting these.

//Struggling with Master and Margarita? It was a struggle for me to put it down!

Alok said...

yeah i know... more than just free time it is the peace of mind and lots of spare mental energy you need to read and then be able to think. Both in short supply alas. and it gets worse as you grow up and are saddled with responsibilities and decisions.

The Master and Margarita is also a huge favourite of mine... Dead Souls is also written in a similar vein - fanciful (not fantastic) satire.

Madhuri said...

Really nice pics, and a journey into a broken past.Made me think of 'Rings of Saturn'.I have often felt guilty that even after living in Delhi for a few years, I never explored its historical pieces.

chandni said...

lovely post

I think u should moveback to delhi :D

then i'll pile on and come with you to all these places!

Szerelem said...

km: Thanks. Oh I think the book is really great but there's too much happening and I am being forced to keep putting it down. Which is not good, I think, because it's the kind of book you'd want to finish at once. Putting it aside - gah I keep loosing track.

alok: Oh agree totally. It's ridiculous the random nonsense that keeps weighing on my mind. And the worst thing is it can't even be helped.

madhuri: thanks :) I think I would probably not have explored Delhi as much had I been living there either. We get complacent about our cities.

chandni: hehehe :D Ok next time we should plan a trip around Delhi

hideindisguise said...

I was goin to ask you if you were still inDelhi..and I read the small text :)...rains?! has'nt rained since I have been here :(...and Nizammudin- some how when ever I think of Delhi, I think of Nizammudin..

小小彬 said...