City Monument – Unknown Grave, Mehrauli
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is like somebody’s dense handwritten journal lying open on the table, with a twig of leaves serving as bookmark.
This sculpted piece of marble, adorned with a tiny neem fragment that must have drifted down from the tree above, has to be one of Delhi’s most exquisite graves. It doesn’t belong to any sultan or famous fakir though — actually, it is difficult to ascertain who was buried here. Said to have been built centuries ago, the grave is ensconced in a nameless graveyard, no longer in use. The enclosure lies in a deserted corner of the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in South Delhi’s Mehrauli. You may find the place by looking for the neem tree with the giant trunk. Currently, a new-born black cat is living alone in a hollow inside the trunk.
The grave is a work of painstaking details, like one of those embroidery works executed on Lucknow’s most delicate chikan work kurtas. Floral patterns adorn the stone surface. Tracing the shapes of those flowers and vines with one’s finger is absorbing, though after a while one tends to lose one’s way across the dense maze of this stone garden.
“We don’t know who lie in these graves… their takhtiyan (tombstones) were lost long ago,” says a caretaker at the shrine.
The other principal embellishment to the grave is the calligraphy etched partly on its top and sides. If not familiar with the language, one cannot figure out their content. Even so, merely gazing upon the sharply drawn inscriptions is satisfying.
This afternoon the only foreign element on the marble surface is the aforementioned neem twig. It looks picturesque, as if a graveyard aesthete had placed it here purposefully.
Since the cemetery lies exposed to Delhi’s brutal heat and cold, large portions of the white grave have acquired a patina of discolouration. It also appears to be severely damaged. These missing portions of the worn-out stones add poignancy to the monument’s gracious imperfections.
Now monsoon clouds part ways and sunshine sneaks through, turning the grave into a latticework of light and shadows.
Resting in exquisiteness