One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The cat is observing him. Syed Ameen Meer Dehlvi is helping his wife make tea. The Delhi Walla is standing outside their kitchen. The second-floor house, adjacent to Chandni Mahal police station, looks to the rooftops of Shahjahanabad. It is morning. The neighbors are still sleeping on their terraces.
Mr Dehlvi, 77, is talking to his wife in a low voice. Turning to me, he says, “We have two cats… ,” and pointing to his wife, he adds, “she is Tahira. Three of our six daughters are married. All my five sons except the youngest are living elsewhere with their wives. My fath…”
Mr Dehlvi’s wife interrupts him, saying sternly, “Give me sugar.” Mr Dehlvi whispers something to her. She says, laughing, “Allah, there is no peace in this world.” Her husband again turns to me, saying, “My father died in 1970. We buried him at the graveyard behind Maulana Azad Medical College. He was in the army during the British era but later rebelled against them. I haven’t been to his gra…”
The tea is coming to a boil. Tahira asks Mr Dehlvi to get two cups from an upper shelf.
Handing them to her, he says, “I lived for many years in Mecca selling sandalwood from India. It was there I got into the habit of writing daily. Initially, I kept a diary. Each night I made a note of things like what I ate and what I did during the day.”
Suddenly, Mr Dehlvi shoots out of the kitchen. Without saying a word, he crosses the terrace and disappears into a room, emerging after a moment with two slim hardbound Urdu language books. “Look, this is my second book. It is on Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya,” he says referring to Delhi’s 14th century Sufi saint. “The first… here it is… it is on the (Sufi) shrine of Ajmer. See, it has photos too.”
The books are published by a printing press in Shahjahanabad.
“Next Friday I am going to a dargah near Bombay to do research for my next book.”
Mr Dehlvi’s wife summons him with an authoritative voice.
Tea is ready.
“While you have tea,” says Mr Dehlvi. “I will go out to get the newspaper.”
Watching him walk down the stairs, Tahira says, “Do you really need to go to Bombay?”
He does not respond.
She says, “What is the point of writing books? Why don’t you stay at home and make meals for me? I am tired of cooking.”
Not looking up at her, Mr Dehlvi continues to walk down the stairs, and says softly, as if talking to himself, “As long as I am alive, I will continue to write.”
Tahira shakes her head, saying, “I will talk to you some other day.”
[This is the 57th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
You look like a writer, Mr Dehlvi
Up the stairs
Mr Dehlvi’s first book
Thinking of your new book, Mr Dehlvi?
Portrait of a marriage