Home Sweet Home – Asmuddin Ansari’s House-Cum-Graveyard, Mehrauli
An unusual dwelling.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He has one of the most unique addresses in the city. He lives in a graveyard. Alone.
“This has been my home for 28 years,” mutters Asmuddin Ansari. In his mid-50s, he stays in a little cemetery tucked in one corner of the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, in south Delhi’s Mehrauli. This winter afternoon, Mr Ansari is sitting in a sunlit corner of the graveyard, silently staring upon the graves—some of which are more than 100 years old and some are more recent. “The latest burial took place four months ago,” he says, explaining that it isn’t a public graveyard, and is reserved for members of select families.
Dressed in a kurta pyjama, Mr Ansari now gets up and heads to his sleeping chamber, which seems to be a small medieval era arched ruin—Mehrauli is crammed with edifices dating to almost all eras. This chamber lies at one end of the graveyard. Inside, it’s a world of stone walls, of fluted columns and arches. A few household things are littered here and there—firewood, pans, detergent, a wall clock, a small mirror, a plastic surahi (pitcher), and a stone silbatta to grind onions, or make the chutney. A half-burnt candle is lying on the floor. A set of green chillies lies on a low wooden stool. A blanket and a mattress are rolled out on the floor. The arched openings of the chamber, that look to the graves outside, are currently covered with a bamboo screen through which the daylight appears like a mass of golden substance.
Mr Ansari doesn’t live completely unconnected from the rest of the world—he has a mobile, though it is of the old-fashioned kind, with which you can only send or receive SMS. He rarely uses the phone, and doesn’t know his own number.
Comfortably reclined on the mattress on the floor, he talks of how time passes for him, staying busy in the day, cleaning the graveyard, tending the plants beside the graves, and gazing at the earth and sky. “At night, there is ghup sannata (total silence).”
His wife and nine children live elsewhere in the city. “My earnings help them run the house,” he remarks, saying that he receives basic salary for being the cemetery’s khidmatgar (caretaker).
But, doesn’t he feel scared to live amid graves?
He shakes his head.
Has he ever come across a ghost or a djinn?
Mr Ansari looks amused. “I haven’t… there used to be many snakes, but they have left.”
He now gets up to show the site of the most recent burial.
The graveyard is his home