City Home - Arshad Fehmi’s Roof, Near Jama Masjid

City Home – Arshad Fehmi’s Roof, Near Jama Masjid

His morning walk.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

His iPhone’s pedometer reading is galloping as fast as a bullish stock market index—1.009 steps… 1,100…

Morning walk is daily life’s ordinary aspect. Businessman Arshad Fehmi’s 6 o’clock ritual is not so ordinary. For his morning walk unfolds on his sprawling roof, which overlooks an intimate and yet sweeping view of Old Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid.

“Purani Dilli is too noisy and crowded, but right now all is silence. See, the gali below is empty. The sky is also empty of pigeons. No kite-flier either.” The slender soft-spoken Arshad points out most Old Delhi wale are asleep for the moment. “Because people here go to bed very late at night.” He himself is an exception—he says goodnight to wife and son by 10pm.

Indeed, at this hour, Arshad is the only one to be seen across an array of Purani Dilli roofs. He slowly turns to gaze at the Mughal-era monument, his greying hair stirring lightly in the fresh breeze. “People come from across the world to see the Jama Masjid, I see it daily.” The privilege is partly due to accident of birth—his current house stands where his late father, the eminent scholar Shokat Ali Fehmi, who founded the legendary Din Dunia journal in 1921, had built the family’s original mansion.

Observing the Walled City from this high-altitude roof gives a privileged view of hundreds of roofs, but conveys no sense of the labyrinthine maze of the darkened streets underneath. These narrow streets are specially precious—for they are among the few walker-friendly places in the entire Delhi region. Even so, Old Delhi is no place for morning walkers. No truly spacious park exists. Those early birds who do get up for their morning walk are obliged to undertake it in nearby Rajghat. Arshad himself goes occasionally to Mahatma Gandhi’s garden-samadhi; it is just outside the Walled City on the banks of Yamuna. Nonetheless, he prefers his vast roof’s utmost solitariness. Here he experiences not only the panorama of his beloved Jama Masjid, but also the mystical smog-cloaked visions of the distant New Delhi landmarks–“That’s New Delhi railway station, that’s Lalit hotel, that’s Hindustan Times building on KG Marg…”

Arshad continues to take turns across the roof–from south to north, north to south–in silence, seriously. After a while, he again speaks. “Each morning when I come to the roof, I realise another day of my life is lost. But I’m still alive to see the start of one more day, and for that I feel thankful to God.”