Home Sweet Home – Shahnawaz Khan’s Rose Garden, Pahari Imli
A private paradise.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
All roses here are white, though some have a pale pink flush, as if a drop of blood had spread through their veins.
This is a private garden. What makes it unique is that it stands on one of Old Delhi’s highly perched rooftops, on the fourth floor, and gives a sweeping view of the historic quarter’s skyline.
Look there! That’s the dome of the great Jama Masjid.
And above your head, the Walled City’s ubiquitous paltu (pet) pigeons are crisscrossing their hyperlocal sky.
But strangely these views, so celebrated in stories and movies, doesn’t seem as fascinating as these commonplace potted roses. Indeed, these blossoms appear to encapsulate the very essence of the lives of the people living here. As for the flowers themselves, they must feel pretty special to be here, for the area is so cramped and crowded, so tree-less, that it is hard to imagine any flowery refuge in the vicinity.
This little rose garden was set up a decade ago by Shahnawaz Khan, an MCD (Municipal Council of Delhi) staffer, who lives with his family, composed of his father, sister, wife and children. He is in the office at the moment, and his sister Mahvish is leading the way to the rooftop escape in their home in Pahari Imli. The garden has more than just the roses. The metal jaali that shields the dangerously steep metallic staircase is covered with money plant vines. One side of the roof has tulsi plants, an aloe vera plant, and a madhumalti.
There’s a tiny lemon tree too, growing out of a pot, with dark green lemons hanging on it.
The house is reached from the street by a long flight of staircases. The roof of roses lies two floors above the main residence. Sitting here in the afternoon gives a sense of great isolation from the world. Neighbourhood life shows up sporadically—a woman is combing her long black hair on some adjacent roof, a goat is bleating on another one and an eagle is perched on a dish antenna. Flocks of birds are passing overhead frequently, their shadows momentarily crossing the surface of the roof.
Now, the silent Mahvish plucks a rose. Her hand is decorated with henna—“from a cousin’s wedding, a week ago.”
Truth be told, you won’t learn anything about her life from these perfectly ordinary roses, nor about the lives of the others inhabitants of this hauntingly beautiful mansion. And yet, somehow, the flowers bring you closer to their intimate world.