City Obituary – Muhammed Aijaz ‘Chickenwale’, 1963-2020
The passing of a time.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In most places these days, the news of a death spreads through WhatsApp and Facebook. But in Old Delhi, pasting a handwritten note on a public wall continues to be the preferred practice to circulate this kind of sad occurrence.
On Wednesday morning, the meat shop near Rangrez Wali Masjid didn’t open. Instead, the passersby found a piece of paper taped on the metal shutters. It was handwritten in black ink and in Urdu, and it read: “Bhai Aijaz Chickenwale passed away last evening and his final journey will begin at 11 am today.”
Muhammed Aijaz ‘Chickenwale’ died of heart failure, aged 56. He was an integral feature of this corner of the Walled City. Every morning he would be seen sitting cross-legged in his little shop, beside his chopping block and butcher’s knife, with chickens cooped up in metal cages. His son, Muhammed Shariq, would be perched quietly behind him. And atop the stacks of chicken cages would stand in all its dignity his immortal “murga”, his one animal that could never die—a giant wooden rooster that he had received as a gift from a friend some years ago.
Like many other shopkeepers in the area, Mr Aijaz was a friendly man, and locals on their way to Turkman Gate or Dilli Gate would often stop by to gossip with him for a few minutes. Mr Aijaz would remain seated in his shop, and the acquaintance would continue to stand on the narrow street during this brief chitchat—while the rest of the crowd would circulate about them like a motion blur.
One would also come across such small town scenes in the pages of an RK Narayan novel.
Mr Aijaz had been running a paan shop for about three decades but turned it into a chicken meat shop five years ago, on the urgings of his ambitious son who saw no future in paan. Since then he came to be known as Bhai Aijaz Chickenwale.
On Tuesday evening, some time after the Isha prayers, Mr Aijaz closed the shop at its usual hour and started walking home, in Ganj Meer Khan neighbourhood behind Delite Cinema. By the time he reached Gali Sooiwallan, he was feeling uneasy enough to decide to stop at his brother’s home there. Soon afterwards, he collapsed. Doctor Mukhtar, the area’s popular medical practitioner, pronounced him dead. His family quickly took him to a nearby hospital that gave the same verdict.
The following afternoon Mr Aijaz was buried at his father’s grave in Dilli Gate Qabristan. This sprawling cemetry, near ITO crossing, is the final home of many Old Delhi dwellers, including many people with distinct professions who came to be known as ‘wale’ such as Vaseem Hornwale and Jameel Ahmed Fishwale. The funeral procession consisted of twenty mourners who dutifully exercised the precepts of physical distancing to minimise the risks of catching coronavirus.
Mr Aijaz is survived by his wife, Rukhsana Begum, and the aforementioned son, Muhammed Shaqir. In his early 20s, he was seen in his masked face walking the market lanes the morning after his father’s death, stopping acquaintances to inform them of the news. He says he will reopen the chicken shop on Sunday. It will then be his turn to be known as “Chickenwale”.