City Monument – Karbala Graveyard, BK Dutt Colony
The gloomy getaway.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The graveyard is dead. The last person was buried in 1985. Karbala, the Shiite burial ground in BK Dutt Colony, central Delhi, is reserved exclusively for the funeral of tazias, the ritual coffins of Imam Husain Ibn Ali, the prophet’s grandson. Every year on the 10th day of Muharram, Shiite mourners from Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli and Nizamuddin gather here to commemorate the martyrdom of Husain, who was killed in a battle at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq.
Named after the town where Husain was buried, the Karbala ground is brown and arid; the graves, few and far from each other, appear like half-marooned ships in a placid ocean. Some tombs are covered with green, red or blue tasseled silk; others are bare and broken. One grave, next to a dead tree, is cracked into halves. Another has a sapling growing out from it.
The graveyard is not as woody as the nearby Lodhi Garden but it has eucalyptus, sheesham, keekar, jamun and palm trees. Most look lifeless but that is deceptive. On closely examining a tree, its unclothed branches drooping down resignedly, The Delhi Walla discovered new leaves.
The boisterous life in the graveyard is that of peacocks. They run across the ground, perch on the graves, stand by the trees and frequently call out to each other. Sometimes neighbourhood boys enter the compound and mimic the sound of peacocks.
A portion of the graveyard is developed into a nursery. The enclosure wall was built in the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (1759-1806). At the center of the ground is the tomb of Maha Khanum, the emperor’s wife. It’s a square building, painted light green. Inside, a staircase goes down to a vaulted chamber, which has a marble grave. The tomb’s entrance has a water cooler. When I was there, there was no water. Close by is the open-air tomb of retired Supreme Court Justice Syed Murtaza Fazal Ali, the last man to be buried in Karbala. The grave has large white tiles and is surrounded by Ashoka trees. The cloth that covers the tombstone has bricks resting on its four corners so that it doesn’t fly off during windy days, leaving the grave exposed to elements.
In the evening, the graveyard fills up with the haunting cry of birds as they fly across the sky, returning to their nests. Afterward, the solitariness gets severe. The traffic sound on the adjacent Aurobindo Road and Jor Bagh Road fails to bridge the isolation. Sitting by a grave, it is difficult to believe that the living world’s landmarks, like India Habitat Center, are a short walk away. As the sky blackens, there is a sinking feeling that the world is ending. The illusion could compromise your sanity. Leave before it gets too late.
Where The entrance on Jor Bagh road is usually locked but enter through BK Dutt Colony Time 8 am to 8 pm Nearest metro station Jor Bagh
All alone (Maha Khanum’s tomb)
Drenched in despair
Such is death
In the end, we are all alone
The last tomb
Wish you sad dreams