Mission Delhi – Sikander Aaquil, New Palam Vihar, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Can a building contractor write poems?
Here’s Sikander Aaquil of Gurgaon. “You will not believe but it’s true that my business helps refine my poetic sensibilities,” says the gentleman. Looking dapper in a crisp white pathan suit and a grey jacket, the poet explains how his daily interactions with construction labourers, for instance, takes him “closer to the hard realities of migrant life.”
Mr Aaquil has been living with his family in a bungalow in New Palam Vihar for more than 20 years. This NCR suburb still partly has the appearance of a village. It is surrounded by farm fields teeming with a fresh crop of cauliflowers.
Looking at the distant high-rises from the window of his first-floor library, Mr Aaquil talks of the house he earlier inhabited in the locality after moving from home-town Saharanpur, UP. “There was a large orchard just behind our first house… it had guava and neem trees.”
Today, a highway runs through that orchard and a “multi-storey” is to soon come up in the place of fruit trees. The poet reveals it all in a matter-of-fact tone that seems to accept the changing realities without any breast-beating.
While New Palam Vihar’s “extraordinary greenery” and “mazdoor” (construction workers) forms an important theme of his ghazals, the soft-spoken contractor confesses he often gets fresh ideas during journeys to hillside towns. “I especially like brooding by rivers… a few days ago I was in Dehradun and happened to chance upon a little stream… I sat there thinking about kudrat (nature) and God.”
Mr Aaquil composed a ghazal about the experience following his return from the trip. He says he always writes on his laptop “because I have a rod in my arm… had a car accident… don’t find it easy to write with pen and paper.”
Passionate about the works of Mirza Ghalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the building contractor wonders how those legends would have engaged with the present-day NCR. “Faiz might have been writing shayiris on the lives of the construction workers… while Ghalib would certainly have been inspired by many wine shops and bars, some of which are more blingy than the best jewellery shops.”
It must be admitted that Mr Aaquil, like Ghalib, is partial towards red wine. He also has a soft corner for single malt whiskey. “You tend to lose touch with your creative instincts as you involve yourself with your family and professional duties but ‘sharab’ brings you closer to your muse and you are able to compose better verses.”
In 2008, Mr Aaquil published his first poetry collection, ‘Ek Makaan ki Khwaaish Hai’, or ‘Desiring a House’—just the words, you might think, to expect from a man who makes and sells houses for a living.
The poet chuckles.
[This is the 182nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The poet of the suburbs