City Home – Kue Wala Ghar, Chawri Bazar
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The sunlight falling on the tall blue walls quivers softly, making the concrete look liquefied. The staircase to the roof is crisscrossing upwards into a series of landings. And the sehen, the courtyard below, is marooned in shantih.
This house in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar belongs to one of its most eminent families. Around, the market is noisy, crowded and chaotic, but the house feels far from this agitation.
Until 50 years ago, any letter reaching this residence wouldn’t mention Chawri Bazar. Houses had no number either. In the old days, the address written on the letter would tend to start with what is nowadays written last. This was the old postal address of the house:
Shah Bulla ka Bar
Mir Ashiq ka Kucha
Kuey wala Ghar
Pahuch kar Hafiz Zahooruddin ko mile
The first line of this poetic address identifies the letter’s destination as a sheher, the city, and then gives the sheher’s name. In Urdu, the Walled City is called Dehli, not Dilli or Delhi.
The second line of the address refers to a bar, or banyan tree, which stood near the house. It was believed to be connected to a mystic called Shah Bulla, who either lived under that tree, or had his grave under it. A tram stop stood by this banyan—Old Delhi had trams until the 1960s. The tree continues to exist.
The third line of the address refers to the kucha, an alley traditionally inhabited by people having the same occupation. This kucha is named after Ashiq Ali, a noble living in the neighbourhood at the turn of the 19th century.
The fourth line of the address refers to it as the house with a kuan, or well. Legend has it that during the troubles of the 1857 uprising against the British, scores of Walled City residents threw their valuables into this well. The kuan was later closed. The site of the kuan lies beside a staircase within the house.
The fifth line of the address refers to the recipient. The line would always begin with “pahuch kar,” meaning that when the letter finally reaches the locality, as mentioned in the preceding lines, it has to be handed to the recipient. The said recipient here is Hafiz Zahooruddin, the grandson of Munshi Turab Ali, who was the mutawali of the great Jama Masjid. His descendants administer the landmark Haji Hotel that faces the Jama.
The house is presently inhabited by Hafiz Zahooruddin’s youngest son, Razi Zahoor Qureshi, a doctor, and his wife, Safia, a doctor. They live with their son, Suhail, also a doctor, and his wife, Saima, a doctor as well. This afternoon, the elderly couple poses with a black and white portrait of Hafiz Zahooruddin, and a recreation of their old address in handwritten Urdu.