Photo Essay – Purani Dilli on a High

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Purani Dilli on a High

Allah is closer to Old Delhi rooftops.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

One afternoon I went knocking around houses at Matia Mahal in Old Delhi asking the residents, “May I please climb to your rooftop?” I was refused. Folks thought I was crazy. But I had my reason. I wanted to see how Jama Masjid looks from rooftops.

While thak-thaking around, I met a paan-walla who claimed that his terrace faced Jama Masjid’s Gate no. 1. Bingo. We became fast friends and after discussing girls, sex and politics, I asked him, “Can I see Dilli from your terrace?”

The guy grew somber. He had women in the house and I was a man.

I walked ahead hoping to find a women-less home.

Finally I met Mr Uzair Ahmad. Within five minutes I knew everything about him: studying at Daryaganj’s Somerville School; mad about Shah Rukh Khan; ‘happy birthday’ on June 7th; and his favorite dish – ammi’s masala dosa. Now the real thing: Mr Ahmad’s chhat (rooftop) is the highest in Old Delhi.

Obviously, he became my latest best friend.

Mr Ahmad was nice. He invited me in, took me up in an in-house elevator(!), and there we were: at Old Delhi’s top-altitude terrace.

Mashallah, Kya scene tha!

The world was below us. A few terraces away stood the stony Jama Masjid, looking lonely amidt the concrete of Delhi’s unplanned modern architecture. Beyond it the golden dome of Gurdwara Seesganj. On the right, Red Fort. Backside: the Connaught Place skyscrapers. Down: Old Delhi people carrying on with domestic lives in their courtyards.

I got distracted by the last.

My naked eyes watched the purdah women of these courtyards. A veiled lady who was kneeling down by her balcony darted inside the instant she spotted me. While a few chhats away, a kabutar-baaz (the pigeon man) went on hurrrruuuing his pigeons. The kabutars would flutter their wings, fly away, soar up in the sky, and come back on the kabutar-baaz‘s roof. In silence.

Pity Mr Ahmad. He had spent all his life in this house and so was immune to its rooftop views. Instead of swooning like me, he cried out to his friends – Sameer and Gullu. They were sunbathing on a lower rooftop. On another terrace, Mr Ahmad’s cousins continued flying their kites. In silence.

It was all so otherworldly, like being in a Himalayan hill resort. The city noise had faded to a distant hum. The air had grown thinner, cooler. And Jama Masjid was just an arm-length’s away. Almost.

Yes, Allah is closer to Old Delhi rooftops.

Not long after we came down. Back where we belonged. A little further from the God.

You may also enjoy such views Just tap-tap on doors and request to be escorted to the rooftop. Be patient. Someone will agree.

Rooftop paradise, with Mr Ahmad

Purani Dilli on a High

Jama Masjid!

Purani Dilli on a High

So close!

Purani Dilli on a High

Sameer and Gullu, Mr Ahmad’s friends

Purani Dilli on a High

Dilli’s kite runner?

Purani Dilli on a High

City getaway

Purani Dilli on a High

Hello birdies

Purani Dilli on a High

Our kabutar-baaz

Purani Dilli on a High

Can you spot Seesganj?

Purani Dilli on a High

Leave her alone

Purani Dilli on a High