City Walk – Gali Wazir Beg, Old Delhi
The Old Delhi dictionary.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
So tough to dig into the backstories of Walled City gallis and kuchas. Take Kucha Bulaki Begum—who was this begum? Or take Galli Wazir Beg—who was he? Oh well, say salam-namaste to venerable Mirza Ayub Beg Saeedi aka Mirzaji. “Mirza Wazir Beg was my dada,” he says, sitting cross-legged in his study, on the first floor of his house in Gali Wazir Beg. Presenting a brief biography of his grandfather, Mirzaji enunciates in a stately voice the following details: “He was a clerk in the tehsildar’s office in (nearby) Chandni Mahal… he had arrived in Delhi as a young man from Allahabad… he later married Fayyazi Khannum, who belonged to an original Delhiwale family, from Galli Shehtara, near Ajmeri Gate.”
Mirzaji was born a year after Wazir Beg’s death in 1933. Speaking in a blend of Urdu, Hindi and English, the hospitable host is also fluent in Persian, and is a translator of old yellowing legal documents in the many courts of Delhi. This afternoon, he returned from an assignment in Tis Hazari Court.
Despite his advanced years, Mirzaji is a profile in fitness. The octogenarian’s back is as straight and upright as Jama Masjid’s western wall. “I have never used ainak (glasses)… I apply ainak-tod surma to my eyes twice daily, and read three newspapers everyday, following the minutest print with my naked eyes.”
A grid of nine alleys, the street acquired its identity when the man from whom it took its name was still alive. This house was built by Wazir Beg in 1930. It was spread across 1,000 gaz. Over the decades, as the family expanded, the house splintered into fragments. Mirzaji’s quarter, adorned with original doors and niches, commands a size of 150 gaz. “The rest of the house belongs to the families of my three late brothers.” Mirzaji himself shares his part of the mansion with three sons, each managing their own business—mobile phones, car headlights and ice cream/coffee respectively.
Mirzaji now recounts a legendary detail from the life of his late father, Wazir Beg’s fourth son. “My walid saheb Saeed Mirza, urf Babban Mian Chandiwale, was a sunar (goldsmith). He had a long moustache, and he was so stylish and handsome that he was invited to pose as a hookah-smoking Delhiwale noble in the Delhi tableaux of the Republic Day parade in 1950. He was dressed in a Jawahar cut kurta and aara (chooridar) pajama.”
Some minutes later, Mirzaji slowly descends the steep staircase of his home, steps out into the galli, walks past a building that once was inhabited by his grandmother (and is currently being demolished by a builder), follows a turning, and abruptly stops by a door. He unhooks the latch, and enters into a small courtyard. It is a relative’s residence. Towards the left corner of the door lies a tombstone. “That’s my dada, Mirza Wazir Beg.” Another grave is towards the facing corner. “That’s my dadi, Fayyazi Khannum.” Mirzaji now turns back, his walking stick tap-tapping along the galli bearing his grandfather’s name.
Of lived memories