The death of an age.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
S.M. Yunus Jaffery, Delhi’s great Persian scholar, died on 29 August 2016. He was 86. He breathed his last at 4.25 am, the day after a tumor surgery, in Delhi’s Apollo Hospital.
Mr Jaffrey, who never married, remained friends with an Iranian woman called Manizheh. He had first met her years ago during a study trip to that country. They had fallen in love but could not be united due to various reasons.
The central figure in his Old Delhi mansion in the congested Ganj Mir Khan, Mr Jaffrey’s world was peopled with his nephews and nieces, and their families.
Mr Jaffrey had retired as the head of the Persian department at Delhi University’s Zakir Husain College where he maintained a scholar’s room until recently. An erudite scholar, he was a specialist on the 17th century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. He had translated the letters of poet Muhammad Iqbal from Urdu to Persian. He had also co-edited and annotated the Persian translation of the Ramayan. Two of Mr Jaffery’s books—on Persian literature in India, and on Tabrizi—were published in Iran. Four others were published by the Iran Culture House in New Delhi.
Mr Jaffery had also written short stories in Urdu and Hindi. As an authority on Mughal-era Delhi’s Persian heritage, his home was a mecca for foreign authors and research scholars. Author William Dalrymple devoted a chapter to Mr Jaffery in his award winning travelogue City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1993).
“This is so sad!” Mr Dalrymple told me in an -email. “I loved that man, and with his passing a chapter of Shahjahanabad’s history closes. My son Sammy was his last pupil, I think, and is off to Isfahan University tomorrow to complete his Persian studies- entirely inspired by Dr Jaffery. So right up to the end he remained the inspirational figure he has always been-a keeper of Old Delhi’s flame and one who ignited that fire in hundreds of others. We’ll all miss him so much.”
The Delhi Walla had written a long story on Mr Jaffrey here.
Mr Dalrymple once told me: “The Delhi that I wrote about in the City Of Djinns is the Delhi that Dr Jaffery showed me. He was a teacher who not only taught me Persian but also the history, culture, adab (courtesy) and traditions of Old Delhi, as he walked me through both the stories and the stones of the city. Just walking with him from Turkman Gate to Ajmeri Gate revealed a whole world—calligraphers, mystics, hijras, kabooter-baz—that would have remained almost invisible to me as an outsider.”
“Bhai Mian had lost the will to live,” says Mr Jaffrey’s nephew Sayed Mohd Naved Jafri, a translator-cum announcer of the Dari language at All India Radio. “Last November, his sister Ismat Jahan died in Karachi, Pakistan. A few months later in April, his brother Syed Yousuf Jaffrey passed away.”
Mr Jaffrey was eldest in the family. During the last few months of his life, he would often say that he no longer wanted to live. He also gave away most of his books.
He has been buried in Dilli Gate Qabristan, the cemetery that is also the final address of his father and grandfather.
The Shah of Persia