City Home – Late Scholar Abdul Sattar’s Room, Pahari Imli
The room lives on.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is gone, lying buried in Dilli Gate cemetry, but his packed bookshelves are in their appointed places. His mattress and pillows, too. The angle the afternoon sunlight is making thorough the terrace-facing window is also same as before. The Ajanta wall clock is continuing to tick.
This is the room-cum-study of scholar Abdul Sattar in Old Delhi’s Pahari Imli. He passed away four months ago, aged 78, leaving behind children, grandchildren, and hundreds of books in Urdu and English. A reader, writer and a collector, Abdul Sattar was born in this room, and in this room he died.
The family has made conscious efforts to let the room remain as it were during his life. Only one thing has changed, says the son. “We gave away the small TV.” It was bought by Abdul Sattar in 1997 from Chawla Electronics in Daryaganj. Whatever tiny space the TV occupied has been hijacked by his books. Many of these well-preserved volumes are on the most obscure aspects of the Walled City, a few are so rare that it is impossible to find them elsewhere. No wonder then that the Pahari Imli scholar was frequently visited by writers, historians and academics. His study had become a thinking traveller’s must-visit Old Delhi destination. A few drop-ins would even borrow a book or two. (Some of these people would later respond to Abdul Sattar’s graciousness by mentioning him in the acknowledgment of their books.)
The room still receives visitors curious about the scholar’s library. The other day a professor arrived from a “posh” university in Haryana. The family however doesn’t loan the books “except to those whom we have known for years, and trust them to return Abbu’s books.” About a year ago, Abdul Sattar had filled a carton of fifty beloved volumes to be donated to a library, in the memory of a close friend. He had those books handsomely bound in leather as a gesture of respect for the library users.
It’s now five. The family settles down for chai in Abdul Sattar’s room. Everyday he waited for the evening chai at this exact hour.