City Faith - Shab-e-Barat Night, Panj Peeran Graveyard

City Faith – Shab-e-Barat Night, Panj Peeran Graveyard

Living with the dead.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The midnight moon is shining upon the land beneath, but the land has its own lights.

On this night of Shab-e-Barat, a special occasion in the Islamic calendar (commemorated about a week ago), the dead in the city’s graveyards are being visited by their living relatives, as is the tradition. The Panj Peeran Qabristan—graveyard of the five gurus—in central Delhi, beside Lodhi Crematorium, is also packed with hundreds of citizens pacing up and down the ubar-khabar mud tracks. The sights are surreal, dream-like, truly unforgettable. Some graves are crowded with people, but some have only a single visitor. Some graves are lit with a dozen candles, but others have just one. A few have none.

On a grassy wedge of land free of graves, a cluster of silent people are sitting patiently as food is served from a giant deg. Steps away, a family has settled down around the rose-strewn grave of a loved one, taking out home-made meethi rotis from a knotted cloth bundle. Elsewhere, a man is standing alone, the shadows of surrounding keekar trees intersecting on his silhouetted figure. Three teenagers are sitting around a mound of fresh earth, not caring that their denim pants are covered in the graveyard dust.

The inscription on some of the gravestones suggest that they might not receive any visitor during the long night, for they belong to people who might not have family or friends in Delhi. Such as the four-year-old grave of Amina Abdirahman Maow, described on the gravestone as a native of Mogadishu in Somalia. The grave of Storai Mohebzada Fazle Rahman too is without light or flowers—the inscription describes him as a dweller of Kabul in Afghanistan.

Three years ago, the elderly Suhana Begum, a homeless woman living near this graveyard, was discovered dead on the street where she would usually sit. She lies buried somewhere amid these graves. Since Suhana Begum used to say that she had no one in the world, it is possible that her unmarked resting place might not be visited this special night.

PS: A few nights later, the Panj Peeran graveyard is immersed in its customary darkness, with barely anyone around, evoking a familiar feel of melancholy, mystery and fear that cemeteries exude at night.