City Monument – Ruined Graveyard, Deer Park
Here lie the unknown.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It has been raining on and off for the past few days, and the graves have gone mossy. The stoney ground is green and slippery too. But this evening, the sky has suddenly cleared up and the setting sun has immersed half of these dozen graves into a funnel of golden glow. The remaining half is sheltered within a cocoon of damp darkness.
It might be one of the capital’s most beautiful cemeteries, and it is also very little known. You will rarely locate it in guidebooks though it is easily accessible, tucked within Deer Park in south Delhi.
The graveyard is sandwiched between a Lodhi-era dome called Bagh-I-Alam and a ruined wall-mosque from the same period, circa 15th century. In fact, the graves almost seem to be a part of the mosque. They are within a few steps of the mosque’s Mecca-facing mihrab (niche), making one wonder just where the devotees of the old times would find a space to gather and offer prayers. Perhaps the graves came up long after the mosque fell into disuse.
The graveyard too has fallen out of use.
Today this place feels like an abandoned courtyard that happens to be littered with forgotten tombs.
A fallen tree is covering a part of the mosque, its densely leaved branches reaching over to a few graves. A black dog is sleeping beside a gravestone, half smothered by tree leaves and wild overgrown grass. Sometimes rustling sounds are suddenly emerging from within this impenetrable greens. Can there be snakes?
The fear, the anticipation of unseen life has cloaked the space with thrill and suspense, and also with a sense of remoteness, as if you had strayed far from the assured bustle of city life (though Safdarjung Enclave is just ten minutes walk).
You can spend hours examining each of these graves. They are exquisitely beautiful in their dilapidation. Nobody knows whose resting places they are, but in a way they evoke more feeling than ordinary graves. The stones on the graves lie cracked, the patterns of designs on them have faded at places, and the calligraphies are disjointed. On one grave, the inscriptions, possibly in Persian or perhaps Arabic, are missing in many parts—making the writing appear like a secret code that could be cracked only by those in the know. Indeed, the slow irregular damage borne by the centuries of exposure to the elements has made the graves look like the heavily annotated pages of a much-thumbed poetry book.
It’s almost sunset now and the evening walkers—elderly men in knickers and face masks—are walking past without a glance. Their casual neglect intensifies the cemetery’s isolation.
And yet the graveyard is actually crowded—it is teeming with makodas, large black ants, purposefully buzzing about the tombstones, covering the floor in great number of rows as if it were a bustling metropolis of their own.
The park closes after sunset and one does wonder what it would feel like to experience this secretive forgotten graveyard at midnight.
A secretive world