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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jawed Naqvi: Slumdog and still penniless

Visiting Ghalib’s haveli in Gali Qasimjan was a heartbreaking affair. It was past the visiting hours, but the tall wooden gates were still open with no one to guard the entrance. As I went in and pored over the facsimiles of the manuscripts once again, I noticed that in the list of the food items that Ghalib is thought to have liked, they had included various meats, kebabs, vegetables and the hookah. The Government of India was obviously too embarrassed to admit that Ghalib loved his drinks, and that he celebrated the tippler in dozens of his beautiful couplets.

The unnecessary censorship was not the only problem I noticed this time. A portly man, probably hurrying to the mosque, had no inhibition in urinating against the wall, followed by quick ablutions and a prompt departure. There is a telephone booth and a beauty parlour in the other half of the haveli. I complained to the owner about the man who had just defiled what is a sacred pilgrimage to millions of Ghalib fans from across the world. His reply was unnerving. People had to find somewhere to ease themselves, and so it was normal for passers-by to use the haveli as a makeshift toilet.

Returning to the mosque, I headed for its eastern wall, where a cluster of shops sell a range of things from heavy motors to old music. My favourite is shop number 256, where its owner has stored some of the oldest 78-rpm records. Gauharjan and Kamla Jharia are passé. He played an old Hindi film song from the 1950s whose music was composed by the legendary Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. But you would have to wade through squalor and human filth to reach there. If you have a sensitive nose, you can smell whiffs of crude heroin and hashish that little boys and girls are smoking. Right there, two young women — sisters as it turned out — were hurling unprintable abuses at each other. And a man nearby smiled indulgently.

I am told that nights in the slums are hell for the women and children alike. The day looks slightly better. For example, there was this policeman sitting by a metal detector to prevent terrorists from entering the Jama Masjid. Mir Anis will have to find a better welcome elsewhere.


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