Mission Delhi – Ameer Dehlvi, Haaji Hotel
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They say that time assuages. But poet Ameer Dehlvi continues to be in mourning. “I’m not able to find myself these days,” he says, as his voice chokes up.
Mr Dehlvi lost three brothers in swift succession—one of them to Covid. “Haji Faiyazuddin died on 28th April, Nasiruddin, the eldest, died on 10th May, Nawab Moinuddin died last year.” They were six brothers. Two survive.
In his early 90s, the Urdu verse-composer has just stepped inside his family-owned hotel in Old Delhi. Until the coronavirus arrived early last year, Mr Dehlvi would be sighted daily in the hotel. While his brother, the late Haji Faiyazuddin, administered the longtime establishment from a stately desk in the balcony, “Ameer Bhai” would snuggle into the so-called “manager’s room,” penning poems or lying on the bed, and listening to old Hindi film songs in the radio that he would place by his pillow. His wife, whom he first met as a guest in the hotel, lies buried in Kashmir.
This pandemic-era morning, Mr Dehlvi is back in the “manager’s room,” a rare occurrence. The world about him is still humming along the familiar way, and yet things are different: Haji Faiyazuddin’s place in the balcony is taken over by his gracious younger brother, Razi Zahoor Qureshi, a retired physician. The street that the balcony overlooks is, as always, clogged with pedestrians tossing cuss words at each other.
Can poetry help the poet come to terms with his great losses? He lowers his head, raises his arm and says: “Yaad rakha tumhe marte dam tak, aur karta bhi kya marne wala (I remembered you till my last breath, what else could a dying man do).” In another instant, he says—“Manzil bhi nazar aaye toh manzil se gujar jaoon (Even if I see my destination, I will pass by it stealthily).”
The poet sits down on the bed, looks thoughtful, gets up, and opens the small window—it faces the Jama Masjid. He closes it moments later. Keeping his hand on his heart, he mutters as if talking to himself, “Where was I a year back? Where have I reached today?”
His voice trembles.
“All I want is to be always able to exchange salam-dua with friends.”
Mr Dehlvi talks of the love, care and respect accorded to him by his joint family in their Chawri Bazar mansion, of which he is now the senior-most patriarch. He reveals he is contributing towards a book—its subject is one of his late brothers. “The title is Haji (Faiyazuddin) Mian ki Taarif,” he says, the voice again chokes up.
[This is the 425th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Poet in grief