City Obituary – Old Delhi’s Urdu Poet Rauf Raza is Dead, Gali Mem Walli
End of a world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It began like just another winter morning. Urdu poet Rauf Raza woke up at six, performed his ablution, and offered the fajra prayer–at home though usually he would always go out to Masjid Syyed Rifai, the neighborhood mosque. Later, he briefly stepped inside his son’s bedroom to switch on the water pump and then he went to the kitchen to make tea for himself and his wife. Everyone else was still sleeping. Soon afterwards he started to feel uneasy. The end came with a massive heart attack at half past eight.
Mr Raza, whose poetry documented the gentle ironies of contemporary life, died on 2 December 2016, aged 62. He resided in Old Delhi’s Gali Mem Walli, a cramped alley named after an English woman about whom not much is known. Mr Raza was often spotted at night with a few of the Walled City’s fellow poets at Suleman Tea Stall in Chitli Qabar Chowk (The Delhi Walla wrote about those gatherings here). He also hosted poet friends in his drawing room. His book-lined bedroom was his private place to read and write. Mr Raza’s ashtray and his last packet of beedis are still lying on his writing table–he always smoked Howarah beedi (see photo 8 below).
Although he lived for poetry, Mr Raza supported his family by working as an interior decorator. His only book, Dastken Meri, a collection of his poems, was published in 1991 by Roman Publications in Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate.
A frequent participant in poetry gatherings, Mr Raza recited his compositions in a modest but wry, engaging style–his performances can be watched on YouTube. Every morning and evening he posted a poem on Facebook.
“If only someone can tell me that the last few days are nothing but a bad dream and that he is alive,” says Muhammed Azhar, Mr Raza’s nephew.
“You sensed his poetic sensibilities in his conversations,” says Ahmed Arshi, his other nephew. “They were laced with multiple meanings.”
One of Mr Raza’s much-loved poems fleetingly touched upon the idea of death:
Achhi hai baarish,
Lekin chhat pe kabutar hai.
Mein kaise mar sakta hoon,
Itna karza mujh par hai.
[Good it’s raining,
But there’s a pigeon on the roof.
How can I die,
When I’m burdened with so much debt.]
The principal place of verse in Mr Raza’s life might be sensed from this verse by him:
Khuda se milne ki arazoo thi,
Woh bandgi thi.
Khuda ko mehsoos kar raha hoon,
Yeh shayari hain.
[That desire to meet God,
Was a prayer.
The act of feeling God,
Mr Raza was born on 18 April, 1954, in Amroha, a nearby town north-east of Delhi. He is survived by his wife, Sarvat Anjum, four daughters Adeeba Khanam, Faiqa Naaz, Shahla Saba, Bushra Raza, one son, Ahmad Kamran, and nine grandchildren.
Mr Raza’s funeral prayer was performed at Dai Walli mosque in Tiraha Bairam Khan. He was buried in Dilli Gate graveyard.
The world of Rauf Raza