Ug raha hai dar-o-deewar se sabzah Ghalib
Hum bayabaan mein hein aur ghar mein bahar aai hai.
Dilapidated with plantation are the walls of my house Ghalib
They say what a scene but for me it is no more than a forest glib
We stood in front of the wall on which these words were written, in a courtyard once resonating with couplets and ghazals and the aroma of Ghalib’s favourite mangoes and shaami kababs. The gentleman next to us read out the Urdu script from the tomes displayed inside glass boxes.
Ye kahaan ki dosti hai ke bane hain dost naaseh
Laughing out loud he looked at us and said “Wah Ghalib saab wah! Who needs friends who are only giving us advice and pious lectures? Friends are those on whose shoulders we can weep and who can comfort us!”
That stumped me for a minute. Is that what this line meant? I had heard this ghazal in Chitra Singh’s honey-soaked voice many times but this gentleman from London, in the alleys of Ballimaran, standing inside Mirza Ghalib’s haveli, suddenly made me look at friendship anew.
As the rickshaw flew through the sudden shower, I looked up at the sky above criss-crossed with a tangle of electric cables and through them glimpses of balconies – propped on brackets, carved years ago.
The need to walk those streets was overwhelming. So we bought an umbrella and strolled through Chawri Bazaar, marveling at the ritual of daily business going on over wedding cards and cups of sweet tea. Mithaiwallahs sat tasting their own recipes of khurchan and at a street corner in Paranthewali galli we sat and talked about old inland letters over kachauri.
“Madam! Spicy?” called out the masala shopkeepers at Khari Baoli. I whipped off my Ray-Ban shades in a futile attempt to encourage hindi conversation with me. And in front of Chunnamal ki Haveli at Katra Neel we looked at photographs of its courtyards and inner rooms on the internet on my phone.
Past the domes of Jama Masjid and at the corner of Chippi Wada, we browsed in an antique store where covered in dust were painted portraits of Rabindranath Tagore from 1951 and paan containers in filigreed metal boxes fit for a royal.
I stood at the doorstep of the shop and listened to the Bhojpuri conversation of the workman in the shop across, speaking on his cellphone while his mates cooked rotis and a curry in battered aluminium pots. The twilight of Chandni Chowk and the strains of A.R. Rahman’s “Rehna tu, hai jaisa tu, thoda sa dard tu, thoda sukun” merged with the cowdust hour of a village in Bihar and we went off in search of a cup of tea for ourselves.