City Moment – Poet Ameer Dehlvi’s Post-Pacemaker Life, Chawri Bazar
A poet’s heart.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Walled City of Old Delhi was home to great poet Ghalib. More than a century after his death, the historic quarter continues to nurture a few men (and, in one instance at least, a woman) so passionate about poetry that they might as well believe that poems are enough to cure any ailment.
One such sophisticate is poet Ameer Dehlvi—tall, handsome and very frail. He is 90, and one is naturally inclined to worry for him in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, it has proved to be particularly fatal to the elderly. One thing to fear in particular: getting some other illness that might necessitate to leave the sanctuary of home for a visit to the hospital, and risking one’s safety over the expedition.
This is exactly what happened to Mr Dehlvi.
“Late last month Ameer Abba suffered a complete heart block, a disturbance in the rhythm of the heart,” explained his nephew Suhail Qureshi, an oncologist, in a phone text. He explains that the poet had to be transported to the Holy Family hospital for emergency surgery. A permanent pacemaker was inserted into his chest. “That hospital is thirteen kilometers from home but the roads were empty because of the lockdown, and we were able to reach in twenty minutes.”
The surgery lasted for one hour. All went well during Mr Dehlvi’s three-day stay in the hospital, except that his loud chatty voice would often startle the fellow patients. Nevertheless, the poet is so charming and affectionate that to nobody’s surprise he won many hearts — no pun intended here. He would cheer up everybody in the ICU and ended up becoming friend with other patients as well as with members of the nursing staff.
Now Mr Dehlvi is back to the isolation of his Chawri Bazar house. An old-fashioned dwelling with a open courtyard in the middle, it harbours four generations of Mr Dehlvi’s family, numbering to more than 30 people. He is the second eldest among six brothers. His wife lies buried in distant Kashmir.
In the BC (before corona) era, Mr Dehllvi would spend his days in the family-run hotel near Jama Masjid, where he could be seen intently gazing upon the crowd from the hotel balcony. He would also listen to songs on his old radio, or read poetry, if not write a ghazal or two himself.
The prolonged lockdown might have made him yearn for the street life, but the heightened frailty after a major health scare makes him more inclined to rest at home. He still reads the Urdu newspapers, and often talks to friends on phone. Many a times, nephew Suhail says, “Ameer Abba” can be heard reciting verses from the Qur’an while in bed (a Hafiz, he can read the entire book from memory).
“This being the month of Ramzan, Ameer Abba prays for everyone’s well-being and often thanks God for giving him a fresh lease of life,” says Suhail.
One thing Mr Dehlvi is particularly disconcerted about is that he hasn’t been able to get his beard trimmed. A nephew did try to shape it with a trimmer but the poet is used to the able hands of local barber Shakeel. And there is no knowing of when the barbers will be allowed to work again.
One evening, the gracious poet agrees to a brief interview on WhatsApp video with The Delhi Walla. He is sitting in his bedroom, dressed in white. Soon after resuming the major updates of his new life with a pacemaker, Mr Dehlvi breaks into the impromptu recitation of a shaiyree he wrote recently. His face is suddenly animated with intense feelings, and glows with hints of good health. Watching and hearing him gives a sense of beauty and relief and privilege. It is a moment to cherish in times future.
It’s all a matter of the heart