The Red Fort And The Last Poet

Built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahān, in the mid-17th century (who also erected the Taj Mahal), the Red Fort, which came by its name from its 75 foot red sandstone walls, is one of Delhi’s most iconic monuments. The fort was designated an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

 A dog lazes by the Lahori Gate gate, which today is the primary entrance to the fort.

A dog lazes by the Lahori Gate gate, which today is the primary entrance to the fort.

The Red Fort housed the Mughal Emperors of India and their Courts from 1648 until 1857, when the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was exiled as a result of his participation of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the rule of the East India Trading Company. Following the surrender of Indian rebels, British forces executed or exiled all heirs to the emperor’s thrown. Zafar's two sons and grandson were shot nearby the Delhi Gate entrance of the Red Fort. The Red Fort has since become a symbol of Indian resistance against colonial powers and of national unity. Every year on Indian Independence Day (August 15), the Prime Minister delivers a nationally broadcast speech from the ramparts of the fort.

 Fort ramparts adjacent to the Delhi Gate around where Zafar's two sons and grandson were executed.

Fort ramparts adjacent to the Delhi Gate around where Zafar's two sons and grandson were executed.

 The Rang Mahal or the "Palace of Colours" was the most lavish of the royal apartments. It was used as a mess hall in 1957 after the British conquered the fort.

The Rang Mahal or the "Palace of Colours" was the most lavish of the royal apartments. It was used as a mess hall in 1957 after the British conquered the fort.

 Tourists walking towards the Diwani-i-Am, the historic hall of rulings of the Red Fort where the emperor would issue decrees from his thrown.

Tourists walking towards the Diwani-i-Am, the historic hall of rulings of the Red Fort where the emperor would issue decrees from his thrown.

 Three hundred years ago the Chatta Chowk Bazaar or Meena Bazaar, as it was also called, advertised the lavish industry of the Mungals to visitors as soon as they entered the Red Fort through the Lahori Gate gate.

Three hundred years ago the Chatta Chowk Bazaar or Meena Bazaar, as it was also called, advertised the lavish industry of the Mungals to visitors as soon as they entered the Red Fort through the Lahori Gate gate.

By the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s accession in 1837, the land of the Mughal empire barely extended past the Red Fort.  While the emperor retained some status as the titular head of Delhi, more disposed to perambulate the palace gardens and compose poetry than rule, the symbolic head of Delhi ruled over his symbolic kingdom by hosting prolific Urdu writers in his Court. Zafar himself is regarded as a consummate Urdu poet.

 The Mughal empire at its greatest extent (1707). By the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s accession in 1837, the land of the Mughal empire barely extended past the Red Fort. (Public domain image from wikipedia.)

The Mughal empire at its greatest extent (1707). By the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s accession in 1837, the land of the Mughal empire barely extended past the Red Fort. (Public domain image from wikipedia.)

In the this ghazal, composed by Zafar, one can sense the deep lament felt by the marginalized ruler as he presided over the vestigial court of the once-great Mogul empire.

Jee Neheim Lagta Ujrey Diyaar Mein

My heart has no repose in this despoiled land
Who has ever felt fulfilled in this futile world?

The nightingale complains about neither the sentinel nor the hunter
Fate has decreed imprisonment during the harvest of spring

Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere
What space for them is there in this besmirched heart?

Sitting on a branch of flowers, the nightingale rejoices
It has strewn thorns in the garden of my heart

I asked for a long life, I received four days
Two passed in desire, two in waiting.

The days of life are over, evening has fallen
I shall sleep, legs outstretched, in my tomb

How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial
Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.


(Source: “Jee Neheim Lagta Ujrey Diyaar Mein” Bahadur Shah Zafare — Poems. PoemHunter.com — The World Poetry Archive. Pub. 2012)