City Hangout – Dilli Gate Graveyard, Near ITO
The Old Delhi underground.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
An archipelago of graves scattered in a sea of grass
This is as haunting as any graveyard, intensely evoking a sense of loss, impermanence, fragility and beauty.
Dilli Gate Qabristan in ITO has a deeper resonance than most other cemeteries though. Since 1924, it is the final home of thousands of Old Delhi’s Muslim dwellers. Every grave here is a reminder of a life spent in the gallis, kuchas, mohallas and bazars of the Walled City. Not that the historic area is bereft of graveyards (Mehndiyan, Chameliyan, Tikona, Punjabiuya, Khwaja Baqibillah) but most Walled City gentry is likely to trace the final home of their departed ones to this qabristan. Indeed, the place is like the who’s who directory of the Old Delhi that formerly was. Urdu poet Mushir Jhinjhianvi, who lived in Bazar Chitli Qabar, lies buried in one of these graves. So is Persian scholar Yunus Jaffery of Ganj Mir Khan. This is also the resting place of the legendary cook Kallu Nihariwale, and of Jameel Ahmed “Fish Waala”, as painted on the board beside his grave.
Perhaps the most poignant spot in the graveyard is a separate (small) “ahata”, or enclosure, for “still birth babies”.
This quiet afternoon, an idle gravedigger reveals that a funeral procession arrived this morning carrying a coffin from Pahari Ilmi. He waves his arm towards a freshly dug grave adorned with rose petals. Strolling through these graves is like studying a crumpled city map—almost every gravestone is marked with not only the name of its occupant but also with the name of the street in which he or she lived. The tombstone of Allah Rakkhi, wife of Mohammed Ibrahim, describes her as the resident of Gali Wazir Beg. Muhammed Usman who died on a jummeraat (Thursday night) was from Galli Sooiwallan.
In fact, the tombs in the cemetery are arranged as haphazardly as the houses in the Walled City. Some of the old graves are hidden within bushes. Pink bougainvillea creepers kneel over some of the graves. You also see black cats on the prowl, who move about the graves with friendliness, as if for them the dead continues to be alive.
A ground for the Walled City dwellers