With no proper directions, reaching Zauq’s memorial in a Paharganj alleyway is not easy

This is not a usual day. After making endless enquiries at various offices, with a range of people, for days together, one is finally able to visit the tomb of Zauq, the revered name in Urdu poetry along with Mir Taqi Mir, Momin and Ghalib. Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim Zauq’s tomb is one of those least known sites in Delhi. To the untrained, Zauq and Ghalib adorned the Delhi court of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Born in 1789, he passed away four years before India’s First War of Independence and now lies buried in long and winding alleys of Multani Danda, a crowded Muslim settlement in Paharganj.

Finding the whereabouts, one soon realised, is just one of the problems. Nobody knows about this place in Paharganj or Dargah Kadam Sharif, its nearest landmark.

While approaching the tomb, the lanes keep getting narrower at every turn. Because of the rising brick structures, the bylanes have an eerie quality of appearing dingy despite the sun riding high on this hot and humid August afternoon. Very much like it is not-so-distant and yet so far. The mind goes to the tomb of Zauq’s contemporary Ghalib. The surroundings of his tomb in Nizamuddin Basti are also not well maintained and are lined with scores of florists trying to make a fast buck from a visitor. Although well known, Ghalib’s tomb is manned by a lone security guard and all the self-styled guides and florists are more than willing to take you to Nizammuddin Auliya’s dargah, not Ghalib’s tomb. As for Zauq, his resting place does not become visible until one is few steps away from it.

Upon reaching the entrance, one surprisingly finds it bolted from inside. The monument attendant, Surendra Kumar, opens the door on request. The small tomb complex is fortunately clean and the walls tend to converge when you move towards the grave. Saving the grave, which is in marble, the whole structure is in red sandstone. The path leading to the centre is flanked by a neatly maintained garden. The walls are dotted with marble plates displaying Zauq’s poetry. Sandstone tiles, a few mattresses and a bucket meant for watering the plants, lie scattered here and there. Within minutes of our meeting, Kumar spits out his bucket of woes. “Garbage is the real problem here. People from the surrounding buildings throw polythene bags and trash from their windows, which often lands up on the grave.”

Kumar almost always keeps the door closed as it is “a dangerous and notorious area.” He is the only monument attendant appointed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). He often has to report to his superiors at the ASI offices and police stations, leaving him with very little time to maintain the premises. The complete area of Multani Danda and its police administration is in the hands of the local musclemen, he says. The construction companies never let go of even a single opportunity to capitalise on this area. The ASI is powerless, he says, and in case of any complaints, it has to file it with the police, which in turn “is a mere puppet in the hands of the goons.”

Swapna Liddle, Co-Convener of INTACH’s Delhi Chapter, gives reasons for ASI’s ‘powerlessness’. “The ASI does not have (adequate) staff to devote to every single monument and that is why many monuments are under just one caretaker.” Public awareness is the only solution, she believes, although it is a long process. “In some cases, there are localities around the monument that are older than ASI itself.” While the law is quite strong, the rot has set in at the implementation level.

Back at Zauq’s tomb, Kumar points it is not called Mazaar-e-Zauq but Yadgar-e-Zauq, and thereby hangs a tale. Nobody knows the exact spot where he was buried, but we are quite sure that he lies somewhere in the immediate precincts (or so Kumar narrates). The place where we stand was a public lavatory a decade and a half back. ASI eventually acquired it from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), to build a memorial. Hence the name ‘Yadgar’, instead of ‘Mazaar’.

Barely 20 metres out of the place, the appearance and the skyline completely changes. One hits a fully commercial area, boasting of hypermarkets, ATMs, hotels, vehicles of all kinds and a teeming lot, leaving you wondering what is Zauq’s place in this crowd of seekers and their edifices.

How to reach

The tomb is at a walking distance from R.K. Ashram Marg Metro Station. Upon exiting from the Metro station, take a 10 minute walk on Chitragupta Road in the direction of D.B. Gupta Road. The roads are not well labelled and neither are the rickshaw pullers aware of the road names, but do not get intimidated!

Take a left turn towards D.B. Gupta Road the moment you see Punjab National Bank, which is at the turn itself. Walk for a few minutes and ask anybody (preferably a food stall owner) for Gali Number 6. Once inside, there are no directions per se. The alleyways branch out into narrower and narrower branches. So you’ll have to ask people for Yadgaar-e-Zauq and keep trying till you reach there.