City Life - Michael for Sunny, Paharganj Cemetry

City Life – Michael for Sunny, Paharganj Cemetry

Their 40-year-old bond.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Michael Marchant bends down by Sunny’s grave, holding a pack of marigolds he had brought some minutes ago this afternoon from florist Rajesh at the cemetery gateway. He suddenly lifts his arm to wave at Ram Kumar, the graveyard attendant walking towards Michael with a rag and a water bucket. They silently wash the winged angel installed atop the grave, working their way down, scraping off the hard encrusted dust from the tombstone. The grimy engraving gradually becomes decipherable. Some of the inscription’s black granite is lost, but the outlines of the alphabets remain.

A photographer from Zurich in Switzerland, Michael has been coming on-and-off to India for 40 years. Each time he is in Delhi, he faithfully visits Sunny’s grave in Paharganj’s Indian Christian Cemetery. “During my first visit to Delhi in the autumn of 1984, I was staying at the Vivek hotel in Paharganj, and one afternoon I walked into this cemetery, and stumbled into Sunny, discovering on his gravestone that we were born around the same time.”

Sunny, the gravestone reveals, was born in 1959, the year of Michael’s birth, and lived for only five months.

After adorning Sunny’s grave with the marigolds, Michael plops down on the dusty ground. The cemetery is empty except for its hundreds of graves, its hundreds of trees, and its handful of friendly dogs. “I like to think I’m living Sunny’s share of life as well.” Michael talks of Sunny as if they were long-time intimates. “When I sit beside him, I think about the things I have been able to do in my life, about the pleasures and experiences I have encountered in my beloved India… while Sunny lived too briefly.”

Michael draws out his mechanical German-made analog camera from a threadbare jungle-green Billingham bag, and methodically snaps portraits of Sunny’s grave from various perspectives. At one point, after the manner of early photographers, he covers his head, and covers his elaborate camera, with a red cloth. Some time later, he returns the camera to its made-in-England bag, and gets up to leave.

Flying back to Zurich in a week, Michael turns towards the cemetery’s exit, muttering, “See you, Sunny.”