Through the eyes of an old friend, R.V. Smith illustrates the timeline of Delhi’s great poets
Emran was a handsome boy with a baby face, long hair and almost feminine manners, so much so that on a moonlit night one could mistake him for a teenaged girl waiting for a lover under a tamarind tree. No wonder men were attracted to him and sometimes made his life miserable. But over the years Emran changed. He started wearing a black kurta and matching pyjamas or tehmet (lungi) and frequenting the shrines of saints in Delhi as, though semi-literate, he was drawn towards Sufism. He would talk about them in a sonorous voice imbued with devotion. But when the mood seized him he would go looking for the mazars or mausoleums of Urdu poets.
The ones often visited by him were those of Mir Dard, Hakim Momin Khan Momin and religious reformer Shah Walihullah. Dard is buried in the cemetery on Mir Dard Road, opposite the Khooni Darwaza. Emran used to walk there from Kucha Chelan, behind the main Daryaganj street, where he lived at the shop of his cousin, Sultan, a carpenter who made expensive furniture. Momin’s grave, saved from demolition, is in Katra Mehdian, behind J. P. Hospital but one could not trace the tomb of Alexander Heatherley “Azad”.
It was friendship with Emran that made one accompany him to some of these venerated spots, including the vacant tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Khwaja Mir Dard (1719-1785) was probably a courtier of Mohammed Shah. Like his ancestor, Khwaja Bahauddin Nakshabandi, he was drawn to mysticism. Besides poetry, he also composed khayals, thumries and dhrupads. When Nadir Shah invaded Delhi in 1739, Dard, despite repeated requests, refused to move to the Red Fort from his ancestral house near the present Baraf Khana in Paharganj. He later built a house in Kucha Chelan, where he settled. His younger brother, Mir Asar, wrote Masnavi-Khab-O-Khyal which, according to Dr. Muhammad Sadiq, author of History of Urdu Literature, was a monologue to an imagined mistress that verges on pornography and ranks with the risqué works of Chaucer, Boccaccio and Ovid. Mir Asar was a Delhiwallah out and out. Mazhar Jan Janan (1700-1781) was attached to Aurangzeb’s court and Emran off and on went to his mazar near Madarsa Shabul Khair, close to the Jama Masjid. Mazhar was a pioneer poet who met a tragic end as he was shot by a zealot. Despite lingering on for two days, he did not disclose the name of his assailant, who was later identified.
Emran was very good at repeating dialogues from Hindi film classics like Yahudi, Yahudi ki Beti, Mughal-e-Azam and Anarkali. He mimicked the voice of Sohrab Modi to perfection, “Tumhara khoon khoon, hamara khoon pani hai” was his favourite. He was also infatuated with the work of Mir Ghulam Hasan, born in Delhi in 1727, the son of a poetaster whom, Dr. Sadiq says, the poet Sauda satirized in one of his memorable works. Mir Hasan migrated to Faizabad with his father, Mir Zahik, where he was patronized by Mirza Nawazish Ali Khan, son of Salar Jang-Bahadur, and died in Lucknow in 1786.
Mir Hasan’s “Masnavi-Sihir-ul-o-Bayan” is the story of the son of the mythical king of Sandaldip, who was born in the king’s declining years and at the age of 12 was abducted by a fairy. Having fallen in love with him, the fairy gave him a magic horse and “during one of his jaunts on it, he himself falls in love with Princess Badr-e-Munir. Betrayed by a demon, he is cast into a well in the Caucasus mountains, from where he is rescued by Najm-un-Nisa, daughter of the (royal) minister who, having donned the dress of a jogan (woman mendicant) saves him by charming the son of the King of Jinns. The prince and the princess are reunited and Najm-un-Nisa weds Firoz Shah, the Jinnee Prince”. This is the version recorded by Dr. Sadiq but Emran had his own take on it.
Mir Taqi Mir, though greatly devoted to Delhi, did not die here, nor at his birthplace Agra, but in Lucknow in 1810. So also Sauda, his rival, who wrote a famous elegy on Delhi. Having been born in Kabul in 1713, Sauda came with his father to Delhi, who eventually died in the city. But somehow Emran was on the side of Mir who, like him, had to leave Agra in shame after an affair with a relative.
Emran was under the impression that both were buried in Delhi. It is sad to note that Mir’s mazar was destroyed when a city railway station was built over it. Momin Khan Momin Emran quoted with ease, especially the lines “Tum mere pas hote ho goya / jab koi doosra nahin hota”. Strange as it might seem, Momin predicted his own death in verse, saying that he would fall and break his limbs and die in agony. This is what happened in 1851 and people like Emran visited his grave to see their future in visions. Mirza Ghalib’s tomb in Nizamuddin draws budding poets who get their kalaam (poetry) blessed by keeping it on his grave.
Hasrat Mohani (1875-1951) who moved from Ballimaran during the freedom struggle to the mosque opposite Parliament House, before becoming an M.P., was a great lover of the female form (particularly wind–blown tresses). But he left Delhi to die in Mohaan, at Unnao. His ghazal “Chupke Chupke”, immortalised by Ghulam Ali, gives an idea of his mindset, which fascinated Emran. Ustad Daagh Dehlvi died in Hyderabad in 1905 and his pupil, Muztar, lamented “Ek Daagh tha so woh bhi tau Muztar guzar gaya / Baqi raha hai kaun ab Hindostan mein”.
Emran’s claim to have known Benjamin Montrose Muztar is unbelievable since the poet died long ago in Allahabad. He did visit Hali’s grave in Panipat for sure, though his story of Mohammad Husain Azad’s spying mission on behalf of the Punjab Intelligence Department in British times to Bokhara and Khiv was embellished with a lot of gossip. Azad did not die in Delhi like his idol Zauq, whose mazar Emran visited before Partition, after which it was demolished and a latrine built over it. But now a memorial to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ustad has been erected on the spot in Paharganj. Emran couldn’t have known about it as he died earlier. One misses him as he first introduced this scribe to Delhi’s poetic heritage.