City Landmark - Abdul Sattar's Stairway, Pahari Imli

City Landmark – Abdul Sattar’s Stairway, Pahari Imli

City Landmark - Abdul Sattar's Stairway, Pahari Imli

Scholar’s book.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Forty stairs of stone link the second-storey house to the lane below, down the hilly slopes of Pahari Imli. That lane comes out on a busy main street, onto which also come out many streets of the Walled City.

This staircase was Abdul Sattar’s connection to the labyrinthine world of his beloved Purani Dillli. Every day, the Old Delhi scholar would go down to reunite with the Walled City’s gallis and kuchas, its havelis and libraries, its timelessness and transformation, its beauty and chaos. Sometimes, he would be dressed in traditional white kurta-pajama, sometimes he would be in a brown three-piece suit (with a French-style beret). He would spend hours with friends, chatting about literature, history, politics, and society. Later at night, he would jot down his impressions in a notebook, always in long hand, with one of the many ink pens from his ink pen collection.

Abdul Sattar had been working on a book for many decades. As he grew old and became frailer, he would stubbornly walk down these steep stairs, to find “material” for his book. He was giving final touches to its draft when he died, one year ago, in the same book-lined room where he was born 78 years before.

This cold afternoon, on these stairs, his son Shahnawaz is sitting beside wife Umama. She is holding Abdul Sattar’s first and only book—Naamwaran-e-Dilli, meaning the Illustrious People of Old Delhi. The couple published it some months ago, with editorial assistance from the late scholar’s scholar-friends.

Produced in a Kucha Chelan printing house, the book profiles forty people of Delhi’s past and present, including scholars, saints, writers, and poets. Written in Urdu, it begins with sufi poet Mirzā Mazhar Jān-i Jānān Shaheed, whose shrine lies a few streets away from Abdul Sattar’s house, and ends with Haji Faiyazuddin, Old Delhi’s eminent much-loved citizen and Abdul Sattar’s close friend, who died during the Covid’s second wave.

After posing for a portrait, the son and his wife climb the stairs back to their home, returning to Abdul Sattar’s study. It is filled with the hundreds of books he collected in his lifetime, and is now richer with the addition of one more—his own.