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Of memorials past and future

When you visit the home of Mirza Ghalib in Ballimaran, preserved for posterity as a Heritage Building (proudly announced on a plaque outside), the last thing you expect is a few mops propped up against some of his finest poetry. On the walls, apart from a garish painting of Ghalib with a hookah and a pen, there is his poetry, postage stamps issued in his honour both in India and Pakistan and some other memorabilia. Haveli Mirza Ghalib on Qasim Jaan Street is where the poet spent the last years of his life from 1860 to 1869.



A surly security guard removed the mops which had left a blackish stain on the framed verses and he tried to rub it off making it worse. Next to the mops and below another photo is a tap with a blue bucket below - I wasn’t sure if they were recreating a home with its practicalities or it was just plain shoddiness. But wait... now I can understand, perhaps the haveli anticipated the Cleanliness Drive or Swachata Abhiyan of the Central government.

Next to the haveli, its ceiling and arches are for some reason festooned with reddish curtains, is a phone booth but the street possibly retains some of its old character. A man with black pointed shoes, sat near the entrance cheerfully singing “main shayar to nahin” (I am not a poet…) from a famous Bollywood film, a rather inappropriate song to sing in the house of a man remembered most for his verses of love and longing. He didn’t know more than the first two lines so it continued like a refrain for the entire time I was inside.

When I left the security guard asked me for some money - I asked him why? He couldn’t even ensure the place was clean. Ghalib had foreseen this perhaps in another context. “Koi Viraani Si Viraani Hai, Dasht ko dekh ke ghar yaad aya”(translated as I wonder if there is any wilderness more desolate than this, and then I remembered another of the kind- the home I had left behind). Still a memorial to a great man whose poetry lives in the hearts of many, who don’t need this tackiness to remember him by.



On the trail of memorials, Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar should have send a chill down your spine and your hair should stand on end as you enter the narrow corridor through which on April 13, 1919 Brigadier General Reginald Dyer marshalled his troops for a massacre. Instead, you are horrified for other reasons. The walls with bullet holes make a scenic background for selfies or people posing for pictures, and one man was washing himself thoroughly with soap in the water tap, meant, I presume, for drinking purposes. Inside the museum, loud film music blared from a transistor, destroying any vestiges of solemnity.



But I have an idea for a future memorial – titled Passing Out. It will be grim and send a chill down your spine, mostly due to the high altitude. That’s at Rohtang Pass, near Manali which was once a beautiful hill station. The annual tourist invasion of the Pass ensures that no one goes anywhere and cars are stuck for ten to 12 hours on the winding road from Manali to Madhi and Rohtang. Having survived one such journey on my way to Spiti Valley for a story recently, I saw cars stationed at close intervals all along the route, and instead of the clear mountain air, there is the stench of diesel which doesn’t leave you even after Manali. Tourists seemed to thrive, walking up the hillside while their cars idled in despair. They were in readiness wearing fur coats and “snow suits” in preparation for the chilly weather at Madhi and above. Don’t be surprised if on the edge of the road in the middle of nowhere you see thick animal pelt fur coats on a makeshift pole(I hope they are fake), on rent or rows of colourful dungarees. Waterfalls on the way were full of people – yes, all posing for selfies or pictures and even in the Manali market, the main activity was photography - of each other’s faces. The idea of cars glinting in the sun, unmoving for hours, could make for great installation art, no? In the post fossil fuel era which is not far away. It’s already there if you want to catch it before the season ends.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 5:04:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-free-for-all/article6506821.ece

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