Home Sweet Home – The Family Courtyard, Ganj Meer Khan
Biography of an aangan.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The little courtyard, or aangan, is placed in the big house as snugly as a nest in a tree. The aged mansion in old Delhi’s Ganj Meer Khan was built more than a hundred years ago on a private garden.
The house used to have just four rooms until the 1970s. As the family expanded, so did the private quarters to accommodate its new members. Today, there are 10 rooms with two additional floors, and each room is patterned after an independent household with its own kitchen and toilet. One such room belongs to Faridu Jaffery, his wife Shazia Zahid and their daughters Alisha and Alina.
Shazia, who is also Faridu’s cousin, grew up not far from this house and during her childhood she would come to play in the courtyard with other female cousins.
Inevitably, the couple has a wealth of courtyard memories.
“I would play langri tang, barfi (game, not the mithai) and kho-kho with Huma, Taimi, Shoeba, Kashifa, Nausheen,” recalls Shazia. Turning to her husband with mock anger, she adds, “Faridu was a naughty boy and would spoil our games.”
Shazia greatly loved the game of ghar-ghar. “We would boil small potatoes in toy pots on real fire and pretend to be mummies.”
Faridu would play cricket in the courtyard with his male cousins Sufian, Saad and Vaqas. “We also very often played school-school in which one of us would be a teacher, and the others would be students,” he says, amused.
On summer nights, the entire family slept in the courtyard, but only after the floor had been washed with a bucket of ice-cold water. “At that time, Delhi was still not so polluted and we could see thousands of stars lying down on the bed,” says Faridu.
In those summer evenings, the courtyard hosted another important ritual particular to that season — “We all would eat mangoes together after dinner,” remembers Shazia.
Faridu interjects, saying, “Dinner too was served in the courtyard with mombattis (candles) placed on the dastarkhan… imagine, these days people pay a fortune to have candle-light dinners in restaurants!”
The courtyard had a coal-fired angeethi built in one corner. In winter, it served as a fireside corner. In monsoon, it was used to roast the bhuttas.
The other courtyard fixtures included two giant matkas (pots) for cool drinking water. “We had a long-handled doungi to draw the water… it was of brass,” recalls Faridu.
As time passed, the courtyard started to shrink; parts of it gave way to new bathrooms and kitchens.
“My daughters don’t play in the aangan… that concept has gone,” regrets Shazia. “Children these days are only into mobile phones and TV.”
Neither do the grown-ups lounge in the courtyard any longer. “We all have our ACs, so we sit inside our rooms with the doors closed,” says Faridu resignedly, “and the aangan has become veeraana (desolate).”
Once upon a courtyard