City Life – Abdul Sattar’s Scholarly Pursuits, Pahari Imli
A scholar’s life.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The bookish pursuits of Old Delhi scholar Abdul Sattar are as steadfast as the coronavirus pandemic. Just this morning, the venerable gentleman put on his beret cap and N95 face mask and stepped out of his home in Pahari Imli to walk to Kucha Challan, a few lanes away, where he met the computer typist in charge of typing the manuscript of his book-in-progress.
“I’m compiling a collection of previously written profiles (by various authors) on the eminent personalities of Old Delhi,” says Mr Sattar, 77, sitting in his study. His sprawling house, filled with his children and his children’s children, is an amalgamation of many rooms (with a roof that, accessed by a series of staircases, shows a bird’s eye view of the Walled City). But this study is the elderly scholar’s true world. Here, he thinks, reads, writes, eats, meets visitors, and listens to old love songs at night – from a desktop computer on his writing table. Here, he sleeps as well. And here, he keeps his precious collection of ink pens collected from across the world over decades.
Restrained by the pandemic, Mr Sattar has drastically reduced his outdoor excursions. His morning trip to the typist was one of the rare occasions when he permitted his frail figure to walk down the steep stairs and emerge into the mostly maskless masses of the chaotic Shahjahanabad.
Already working on two other books, Mr Satttar decided to start this new project after coming across, in an Urdu Bazar bookstore, a yellowing volume on a centuries-old Sufi saint who lies buried in the Walled City. “Barely anybody remembers him today,” he says in a tone reminiscent of a college professor, although he is a retired government officer.
Remarking on the urgency of his venture, Mr Sattar says, “I hope this book on Old Delhi personalities will help to keep the memories of those people alive.” After gazing for a long time upon his house cats, Laali and Silky, Mr Sattar explains that he collected archival pieces on the chosen figures for the book from old and rare Urdu volumes.
He goes on to list some of the eminences who will appear. A few of these names are familiar, many aren’t. But by now, Mr Sattar has switched his talk to the other book he is working on. “Too much to be done,” he mutters, picking up the novel he has been reading these days – it’s the Urdu translation of Ahmad Ali’s classic Twilight in Delhi. With life as hectic as ever, Mr Sattar says he daily gets up at 8am and goes to sleep at 10.30pm. For now, it’s time for dinner – peas pulao.
In the pandemic, as hectic as ever