Delhi: Bedil's Garden

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Abdul Qadir Bedil’s grave

Bedils Garden, Delhi; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

The Times of India, July 26, 2011,

Kim Arora

Hidden in a park in heart of city, Persian poet’s grave lies forgotten

A short walk away from Pragati Maidan, opposite the Matka Peer Dargah, a green structure peeps from behind the trees. A yellow board near the entrance reads ‘Bagh-e-Bedil’. It’s only when one walks towards the gateless structure, with twigs, leaves and empty potato wafer bags crunching under one’s feet, that one realizes it has something to do with a celebrated poet of yore whose name was Abdul Qadir Bedil.

Five tablets in different languages near the structure say nothing about the era that the poet belonged to. They, however, talk about his “profound”, “exalted” and “celestial” verses, and how Emomalii Rahmon, president of the Republic of Tajikistan, set the tablets there in 2006.

Bedil’s garden is a forlorn one.

A celebrated Persian poet of the 17th century, his grave lies forgotten on the Mathura Road today. A 1970 gazette of Delhi declares the place to be a “religious structure over 700 years old”. Visitors are few and far between. The odd visitor comes primarily to pray at the nearby grave of Khwaja Nooruddin. There are another 30 graves tucked away in various corners of the garden. Much of the garden is in a shambles; many graves are without headstones. Caretaker Mohammed Abul Fazl Misbah, a resident of Old Delhi’s Hauz Qazi area, has a hard time keeping vandals and trespassers at bay. Cleaners, hired by Misbah, visit the overgrown, un-pruned “bagh” twice a week. Even though it is not ASI-protected, the grave is in good shape.

Born in Azimabad (now Patna), Bedil (1644-1720) was attached to the court of Mughal prince Mohammad Azam. He was of Chagatai-Turk descent. Scholars believe that Bedil, who mostly wrote ghazals and rubayees, was in the same league as Ghalib. “He was a forward thinking philosopher-poet, at par with Ghalib, Iqbal and Tagore. But he never got the same recognition as the other three. Even in his birthplace Patna, hardly anyone has heard of him,” laments Alireza Ghazveh, director of Anjumane-Bedil, an organization that holds monthly seminars on the poet in Delhi and other cities.

Professor Qamar Ghaffar maintains that Bedil receives more academic attention abroad than in India. “But thanks to various translations in the past five years, there is an increased interest in Bedil here,” says Ghaffar, head of department, Persian, Jamia Milia Islamia University.

The poet still enjoys huge popularity in Central Asia, and particularly in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “In Central Asia, even if you ask an illiterate person, he will refer to him as ‘Bedil saheb’. That’s the kind of respect he commands,” he says.

Bedil influenced other poets of his time like Mukhlis, Muhammad Panah Qabil Kashmiri, Amanat Rai Amanat and most importantly, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. In his book, Evaluation of Ghalib’s Persian Poetry, Dr Waris Kirmani writes Bedil’s suggestive poetry reinvented old metaphors with difficult phraseology. Perhaps that’s what prompted Ghalib to say, “Tarz-e-Bedil mein rekhta kehna, Asadullah Khan qayamat hai” (It is indeed an onerous task to compose a poem in the manner of Bedil).

There’s a view that Bedil’s remains were taken to Khwaja Rawash in Afghanistan at some point in time. However, some experts insist that the actual remains of the poet lie underneath the concrete of Mathura Road. “Bedil used to have a house here. He built his grave before he died. The British built a road over it. Around the time when we got independence, some members of the Afghan community built a monument for him here,” says Ghazveh.

There’s no debate, however, on the fact that Bedil’s poetry is utterly contemporary and extremely relevant to the times. Says Ghaffar, “He was a humanitarian poet. With all the strife in the world, his poetry needs to be resurrected.”

His living proof by Abdul Qadir Bedil

The eternal mysteries, following wisdom’s lead, brought forth the human form as their living proof. As long as the drop hadn’t emerged from the sea, the ocean didn’t notice the depths of its splendour.

(Translated by David and Sabrineh Fideler from Persian)

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