City Obituary – Ameer Dehlvi, Haji Hotel
The death of a poet.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His life was like a love poem. He himself was a poet, and a familiar face (and voice) at the Red Fort’s nighttime poetry mushaira, held every year on Republic Day. He died on Thursday night after a brief illness, aged 93.
Ameer Dehlvi belonged to the illustrious Old Delhi family that owns the landmark Haji Hotel, whose long balcony overlooks the 17th century Jama Masjid. Until the coronavirus pandemic disrupted everyone’s daily life, he would sit on this balcony everyday. A few decades before, the legendary singer Begum Akhtar — a frequent hotel guest during the 1960s — would sit there too, perfectly still, transfixed by the panoramic view of the Jama Masjid. One afternoon, years ago, Ameer Dehlvi waved towards the red sandstone monument and confessed to this reporter that “it inspires me to write.”
The poet’s grey beard, deep-set brown eyes, furrowed forehead, unhurried movements and sophisticated manners made him appear as remarkable and endangered as an elegant haveli in the cramped Walled City. He was a classic romantic. Although he lived with his brothers and their families in a Chawri Bazar mansion, he also had a small room in the family-run hotel where every afternoon, after lunch, he would close his eyes listening to old Hindi film songs. The fist-sized handheld Sony radio would be lying beside his pillow or on his chest. One afternoon, on waking up, he summoned the memories of his late wife Ayesha Khatoon: “She was from Kashmir and lived in Srinagar. I would visit her regularly. Her hair was golden; the shade of her eyes was somewhere between black and brown.” He first met Ayesha Khatoon when she and her then husband had booked a room in Haji Hotel. The husband was unwell. In those days, our poet was an “azad panchi (free bird),” and would pen verses at home, or sing his poems in the gardens. “Once, I was entering the hotel… she was leaning on the balcony… she saw me, I saw her… I began visiting the hotel daily. I seldom talked to her except to enquire about her husband’s health. After his death, we married.”
Ameer Dehlvi’s most prized possession was probably a slim hardbound book—his privately published collection of poems. To friends who didn’t understand Urdu, he would explain that the book’s title, Sharah-e-Jazbaat, meant “expression of sentiments.”
The poet’s final years did have moments of creative satisfactions and occasional laughter, but were largely permeated with grief. His two brothers passed within a space of twelve days during the second wave of coronavirus— Faiyazuddin from Covid, and Nasiruddin of old age. One brother and two sisters survive him, including the children and grandchildren of his siblings, one of whom, Dr Faraz, was caring for him in the hospital. His nephew Dr Suhail Qureshi, who was with him until the end, says that “even when Ameer Abba was no longer able to recognise his relatives who visited him in the hospital, he was still honouring requests to recite his couplets… perhaps poetry was embedded deep within his subconscious.”
Ameer Dehlvi was buried yesterday at the Dilli Gate graveyard. That long-ago afternoon, remembering his wife, he had recalled: “It was snowing heavily when we were burying her at the qabristan, in Srinagar.”