City Hangout – Batla House Qabristan, Near Jamia Millia Islamia University
Midnight in the graveyard.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is midnight. People here are sleeping. They have been asleep for a long time, though some have closed their eyes more recently than others. You can tell that by the fresh earth heaped upon their resting place.
This is the vast Batla House Qabristan in south Delhi, next to Jamia Millia Islamia University. No stars are twinkling in the smoggy black sky, but tonight’s perfectly round white moon is shining like a frangipani in bloom. Its milky glow is falling discreetly upon the headstones, which are jutting out of the graveyard messy and uneven, like an infant’s growing teeth. The moonshine is illuminating the graves gently, turning their mud-covered surface to something more solid-like, as if they were some kind of rocks peculiar to the uninhabited lunar landscape. The graveyard is spread across a succession of slopes, with only a few portions lit up with electric lamps. A great majority of the graves remain unseen in the absence of light—they are decipherable only because they are darker than the imperfect darkness around them. Many of the gravestones are inscribed with the names of their dead. Due to the overlapping darkness and light, some words are visible, and some are not.
The first instinct on entering any cemetry tends to be of reverence towards the dead. On coming across a recent grave, one might fleetingly think of the buried person’s loved ones, whose grief is still new. Additionally, in such a place, the inevitability of one’s own erasure hits home with a new limpidity.
It is a different experience, however, to visit a graveyard in a moony night such as this. With not even a bird or a squirrel to be spotted, the entire place is lying in absolute stillness, like a landscape painting in which nothing moves but which nevertheless moves the senses through its mute panorama.
Just across the walls of the graveyard stands the Jamia Millia Islamia Metro station. The train service has stopped for the day but parts of the station are lit up in blinding white. The bulky edifice appears like a neighbouring planet, too remote to reach. Suddenly, along the graveyard’s dusty pathway, appears a man in black pathan suit. He is speaking loudly into his mobile phone, ranting about the “servant problem.” Meanwhile, the moon is blocked by a lazily drifting cloud. It reappears moments later.
The other world