How unfortunate is Zafar that for his burial,— A translation by the author of an Urdu verse of dubious provenance, commonly attributed to the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar, but possibly written by Muztar Khairabadi.
He could not get two yards of land among friends.
Usman Bhai, born c 1942, became “Aanun” sometime in 1985. This renaming at the ripe age of forty-three happened organically. Usman became Aanun with the first, innocent lisping calls of three-year-old Muneeza.
Muneeza was the first child of Hilal Ahmed. Plump, little, rosy-cheeked Muneeza, babbled in a manner where all words began with the “aleph” or “a” sound. Initial consonants could be dropped while others would get garbled. Her father’s cigarettes were “iggettes”, dates or khajur were “ajur”, and Usman became “Aanun.”
The name stuck. At least among our extended family. It was at once endearing, respectful, and suitably diminutive.
I was born in an “Aanun” world, and only much later discovered that Aanun actually had a different name on record. That too, one from the mighty Arabic, and after one of the most important companions of the Prophet. Usman Ibn Affan had been one of the first followers of Muhammad and was among the earliest converts to Islam. He became the third caliph after Muhammed’s death.
Our father was no prophet, yet Aanun was his companion par excellence, a Man Friday, an inherited family servant, a retainer who had worked for us at least from the time of my grandfather, but possibly from the period of my great-grandfather.
And, indeed, Aanun was a man of the old-world order. Feudal as it were. Among the many orders that continue to exist and make comebacks in this country, far from Arabia. Ours was one such, in the great tradition of Shahjehanabad, the newest of the old cities of Delhi.
Aanun was its product and flagbearer. A Dilli-wallah to the core, claiming an ancestry of four hundred years in the city. Nothing very high up the order, but enough to be recognised as a shah-bu, the lingering “scent of the shahs.”
He had a beaming smile, with a mouth full of well-arranged (if yellowed) teeth, and a sharp aquiline nose. In his youth, Aanun had practised kushti or wrestling, and he would still practice pehelwani sometimes, wearing only the loincloth, a langot, a sight of mirth for us kids when we would stumble upon him exercising at his home. He retained his old-school bodybuilder’s physique, à la film star Dharmendra, into his middle age. Not for him the modern gym-ripped body. I always felt Aanun had Dharmendra’s looks too, although everyone else to whom I would mention this would laugh at me. They thought he looked more like the black-and-white Hindi cinema superman-style hero Dara Singh, who later played Hanuman on TV.
Aanun had a strong penchant for flying kites and would use our terrace as his base. He was a reasonably good kite-flier and would compete equally ferociously with the many kite-flying savants of his age, as well as the young guns of our locality, some of them barely seven years old. He tried to train me also, but Ammi absolutely forbade it. The roof was out of bounds in the Old Delhi world to the children of fearful mothers. A few kids ran off terraces chasing kites each year, not realizing where the parapet beneath their scampering feet ended with their eyes glued to the wavering kites in the evening skies.
While Aanun would cut many a kite away with his quick steering, what satisfied him most was looting others’ cut-away kites, reeling them in with his own, and stashing them away in one of our store rooms or kotharis. He would later sell these off in a big bunch to some mighty young bidder, usually right before Independence Day, when demand was highest. Some years, he would be heartbroken when the kites got wet because of seepage, or if a cat got to them.
Aanun did manage to teach us eagle-feeding from our terrace though. As I later discovered these too were really kites, the Indian Black Kites to be precise, but at that time they all belonged to the generic “cheel” for us. Cheap offal meat, mainly lung, would be bought, and then you had to play catch with yourself for a while, flinging the meat pieces high into the air, and shouting “aao”. Soon, you’d have a flock of them congregating above you. Once the kites had arrived, barely a single piece of meat thrown into the sky would fall back on your terrace (or your neighbour’s). The few times one did fall down were when two or more kites would dive and fight mid-air for the same morsel and neither would emerge a winner.
Aanun’s strong physique would come in handy not just to fling this piece of flesh high into the sky, but also to massage my diabetic father’s aching muscles with mustard or Figaro olive oil, when the latter would be available from the market. On rarer occasions, he would be standing beside my father as he would get into an argument in the mohalla. One such occasion I remember was when Abbu went to try and reason with the imam of the masjid next door to lower the volume of the loudspeakers blaring the azan as my baby brother would wake up crying every day before dawn. Yes, yes, there is only one God, but must it be proclaimed so very loudly? – my baby brother, Muawwiz, seemed to protest with his wails. While the imam barely lowered the volume, the rumour in the locality went that Hilal Sahab was against delivering the azaan. I doubt Aanun’s presence had really helped either way. But he did seem to have quarrelled with those spreading such rumours in the area, and had given them a piece of his mind, “Right! Now you’ll teach Hilal Sahab the matters of faith! Do you know which family he hails from?”
When I was still younger, maybe five, Aanun gave me my first taste of the might of a subcontinental river. He took me walking, for long periods sitting astride his broad shoulders, from our Ballimaran house to the Old Jamuna Iron Bridge. From its middle, I looked down to the then still-powerful and relatively cleaner Jamuna. Aanun pointed out the cones bobbing up and down to me as “jonk”, a word I later discovered was used to refer to most molluscs, with or without shells. But back then, to my fantasy-filled imagination, these were blood-sucking tikes who could come in Leviathan size in this monstrous body of water. It was probably the first practical dip into my curious, pre-Discovery Channel but post-Oxford Children’s Encyclopaedia mental ocean.
Urdu was not just Aanun’s mother-father tongue, but the creation of his ancestors. And it remained his primary and almost only language, as he was a dropout from middle school. While one could have a less elegant mother tongue, his was singularly coloured by inherited wit and imbibed choice swear words from the karkhandari zubaan, the industrial tongue, of the post-Partition immigrants from Western Uttar Pradesh. Language had become a strange creole of refined inheritance and bastardized and decadent degeneracy. While on some occasions his speech had the rough quality of the karkhandari, on other occasions, even the tap and water supply had respectful verb forms used for them, as when he’d declare that the municipal water supply was on as “nal aa rahe the” – literally, “the taps were coming.” He also spoke to us kids with utmost courtesy and delicacy at my father’s behest, and we were always referred to by the honorific pronoun “aap”.
I often wondered why he was so attached to my Abbu. In theory, Aanun was our house servant and got his two meals from my mother’s dastarkhwaan. But his salary always remained a measly pittance, even though he alternated between butler, errand-boy, chef, dishwasher, nanny, guard, doorkeeper, kind uncle, playmate, storyteller, masseur, native informant, local gossip, cleaner, strongman, companion, junk-and-scrap gatherer-seller, pre-digital bill-payer, electrician, plumber, carpenter – and apprentice to these last three, when my father would choose to don these hats in the house.
He had relatives. Many siblings even. But he wouldn’t deign to look at their faces. My mother informed me that his mother had remarried when his father had died and since then he had never gone back to his family. Instead, he had come to work for ours. Aanun had wavered in and out of employment with us in the initial phase, sometimes getting into a construction business using the small inheritance from his father. He would work as a sub-sub-contractor for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to build latrines.
Amidst all this flux, one part of his family that he was in touch with, surprisingly, was his uncle’s, even as he didn’t speak to his mother all her remaining years or ever to his siblings. Or perhaps, it shouldn’t be so surprising after all. Aanun was in love with his first cousin, Aamna, a perfectly permissible (although discouraged) sentiment in Islam, and most desirable in many Old Delhi families. And sometime around when he was 30, and Aamna 25, he managed to convince her to marry him. For Aanun, this was a teenage dream come true.
Aanun moved in with his new wife into a capacious two-bedroom apartment in Gali Babbu Khan. Romance was now consummated in marital bliss which had found its perfect abode. The building was, like many Old Delhi homes, a much larger house that had been divided many times over its long life into smaller and still smaller apartments with a room or two to each, very rarely more. These would often comprise the living quarters of large families. Narrow winding corridors on each floor led to haphazardly laid-out lodgings. Aanun’s house was quite easily accessible and capacious as these houses go, with just the couple to live there, especially as it had a small open terrace to add to the two rooms.
This house was in stark contrast to the small kothri he had spent the last many years living on his own. The only advantage this last accommodation had was that it was on the same landing as the doorstep of his then-cousin and now-wife. And now, of course, they were to share their bed in this new capacious home, for happily ever after.
Sadly, this was not to be. The love that had driven Aanun all along was not returned. Aamna, his wife, had married him following tradition, the insistence of his father’s indomitable will, and for the money Aanun’s sub-sub-contractorship with the government was bringing in. But margins were thin, especially when you were so far down the food chain. And as the greed of officials grew evermore, there was only so much more grey sand Aanun could mix with the cement, unless the latrines were to sink into the ground along with the shit. Either his contracts or the latrines had to give way. As a man of moderate principles and some accountability that he felt towards Allah, Aanun gave up the contracts.
A loss of income accompanied the loss of lucrative government employment, and with the loss of both emerged big cracks in the newly married home. If for the want of a nail, a war could be lost, the loss of an income was certainly not a trivial matter. Aamna Bi was illiterate. She knew little besides a few surahs of the Qur’an by rote to recite to Allah, and hoarding the gold jewellery that was a necessary offering in the services of Mammon. Pleasures of the flesh or matters of the heart had never mattered. Her father no longer saw the point in having lost his domestic help, his own wife having passed away many years ago. Luckily, Aamna Bi had no issue yet, and he had none besides her.
Summons were soon sent. The pretext was Aanun’s uncle and father-in-law’s illness. Aamna Bi packed her bags with the jewellery and clothes Aanun had showered on her and came back to her place of childhood familiarity. When even after a year Aamna Bi showed no signs of returning to her marital home, despite the father’s two-day recovery, Aanun moved back to his old kothari along with his transistor radio, which in later years would be accompanied by a black and white TV, both to fit snugly on the wall-mounted shelves. He sublet the larger flat to make some money on the side.
But Aamna Bi filed for divorce soon, asking for the return of a self-declared dowry and maintenance, after what she declared was an abusive marriage. He had little money left to pay off any alimony claims really, having spent much on the wedding and the down payment for the bigger flat in the pagdi system where he remained a tenant but had to pay a big transfer amount. With no wife and little money, Aanun (still officially and unofficially Usman Bhai) returned to work for my grandfather at his school.
Our family occupation had been education for over a century already. While for most of his brothers, it had meant the adoption of the theological mantle, my grandfather had moved to secular nation-building since Independence. Run with moderate means, with a low fee accepted from Old Delhi’s Partition-and-poverty-struck populace, the school nonetheless required help, albeit proportionately low-paid, and so always had a place for a man such as Aanun – dedicated, resourceful, a man of the (local) world, but nonetheless modest and strong.
My father, a fashionable college dropout, widely-acknowledged Sanjeev Kumar lookalike, with a Java bike between his legs, the reach of Delhi in his grasp, and Old Delhi society at his feet (I am told), of course, needed a companion – a Watson to his Sherlock, a Robin to his Batman, a Birbal to his Akbar.
Aanun (still Usman Bhai, remember?) was a dapper assistant-friend. With fashionable bell bottoms, jackets and blazers bought from the used-and-thrown-by-Whites clothes market at Meena Bazar next to Jama Masjid, where his uncle had a shop selling “previously-loved” clothes, Aanun was always perfectly turned out for a bike jaunt to Mehrauli.
One such ride to Mehrauli gave birth to a famous anecdote of my father’s. Three bikes were out on that expedition, two ridden by his two close friends with Aanun riding pillion behind him on the third. When Fardeen Uncle went riding in fast and furious at the intersection on the still lonely roads right before the monument, he was only to come out of it with a long slide, grazing his leg badly. Rafi Uncle riding close in chase followed suit.
Abbu, who was furthest behind, had already seen the others fall to their miseries, and rode in much slower, gingerly crossing what appeared to be an oil slick, traversing it safely without a fall. But just as the bike neared the end of the spill, Aanun decided it was time to celebrate the triumph. Standing up from the moving bike in jubilation, he planted his feet firmly on the ground, sending Abbu and his bike in a dizzying tailspin to yet another pitiful fall. Covered in muck, all three friends stared at him in amazement as Aanun yahooed waving his hands in the air in dry-cleaned and starched celebration, shouting: “main bach gaya, main bach gaya, I am safe”. “La haula wala quwwat,” shouted the rest of the party in unison. Guffaws and curses followed each other.
In other situations, he fought alongside Abbu in the locality; on a few occasions, he fought on Abbu’s behalf in his absence; but perhaps more frequently he fought against him. Sometimes they would have a loud argument over something trivial and he would leave, threatening never to return. After three-four days, he would walk in sheepishly, and begin helping out with chores in the house as if nothing had changed.
By this time my father had married my mother who had extended a permanent invitation to Aanun to have his two meals a day with us. While in my grandfather’s time, he had only worked at the school, now his butlership and Man Fridayness extended to our home.
Fishing was another pastime that Aanun shared with my father, even after his marriage. The Okhla Barrage was still clean enough for fish to thrive in and get caught on a fishing line. This leisurely fun was had till about the mid-eighties.
And as we three siblings were born, with my sister giving birth to “Aanun”, Aanun began to shower us with love. My sister was Abbu’s darling daughter, but I was the first grandson in the house, and greatly pampered by my Dadi, who was still alive, and by Aanun. The one memory I have of my grandmother is of her feeding me rusks dunked in milk which seemed like a delicacy then, but were probably the best food for her toothless mouth. Aanun’s special treats for me in my initial years, offered in the privacy of his kothari, a few paces from the doorstep of his separated wife, were dry bataashe with aalu and chhole inside, without the tangy or spicy jaljeera that would make them proper paani ke bataashe or gol-gappe. My spice tolerance as a child was rather low.
Aanun’s divorce case went on and on, as is the wont of our courts. This one grew a long tail or trail at Tis Hazari Court and Aanun wished to take me along for some sightseeing here too, but Ammi forbid it once more. Lawyers were Satan’s agents, courts the very dens of vices.
In about a decade, Aanun’s separated wife managed to win divorce and damages, but Aanun filed an appeal at the “Harry Court,” as he’d call it.
Enough years went by for my younger brother to not just be born, but also be allowed to wander off on scorching Delhi afternoons with Aanun, when it would be time for my parents’ siesta, my sister to be on the phone and for me to be glued to an Enid Blyton book in my bed. On one such afternoon, Aanun showed Muawwiz a picture of himself carrying his wife in his arms. It was from their wedding night when he had carried Aamna Bi up two flights of stairs to their bedroom, in customary fashion.
Muawwiz had come back and, much to the mirth of us older siblings, filled us in on the picture he had seen and the song Aanun had sung to him while showing it: “sajan re jhoot mat bolo/Khuda ke paas jaana hai/na haathi hai, na ghoda hai/wahaan paidal hi jaana hai…” (Don’t lie, my dear lover/ we must go to God soon/ there’s no horse, nor elephant/ we must get there on foot). Just the thought of this older, sombre man, singing romantic songs and carrying a woman in his arms was incredibly hilarious to us older siblings, even as my younger brother with a young child’s innocence had received and transmitted this experience with the docile pleasure that is only possible to certain gullible children.
My sister and I on the other hand were habituated to find much mirth around Aanun. Till a few years earlier, he used to pick us up from the school bus stop and bring us home. This short journey, on rickshaw or foot, would be filled with many escapades and hysterical incidents which were recounted amidst much laughter. One such occasion was when on a hot summer afternoon, we were on our way home through Maliwara, “the gardeners’ street”. Aapa, as I called my sister, and I were racing ahead and Aanun was huffing and puffing to play catchup while carrying our two schoolbags on his shoulders. We zipped through the swarming crowd, snaking through the crowded street full of vegetable sellers, saree hawkers and buyers, jewel smiths, chaat-pakori and other snack epicures, and the occasional pariah dog, sometimes going as far as to surge ahead through a tall man’s legs, if there was no other space available for our tiny forms.
Just as we were making good ground, Aapa had a narrow escape when a motorbike emerged from the teeming crowd and accelerated into the small space afforded it in a narrow gap, and nearly ran over my small but older sister. It was no wonder that she was nicknamed “Munni”, literally “young or small one” by her friends, which was also diminutive for Muneeza. Jumping out of the bike’s way, she skidded from trying to put the brakes on her own sprint, mildly scraping a knee.
At this point, Aanun caught up with us, as I was helping Aapa to her feet. He took the scene in and immediately began scolding us from right where he was, across the twelve-foot-wide street. Just as we were bracing up for an earful, an unexpected scene began to unravel in front of us. Aanun had barely begun shouting when the cow that was standing behind him raised its tail. The pandit-ji passing by immediately knew what the bovine was about, and bowing his head, lunged forward to get a wet handful to sanctify his head with a sprinkle. But even as we gazed on rivetted, Aanun continued, unaware of the drama behind him. It was only when the ever-increasing parabola from the gau maata reached his pajama, and when he felt its wet warmth that his five-times-a-day-namaz-offering-self allowed him to interrupt his harangue at our daily misdemeanours with a loud “astaghfirullah”.
Both of us were in splits. Staying on our feet became nigh impossible as we bent over, holding on to each other for support. This pissed off Aanun even more as he now began shouting at us for laughing away but not warning him in time. His pajama was wet with cow urine, and our cheeks were with tears and drool of laughter.
Aanun’s attire had indeed changed with the years. As he crossed fifty, the earlier perfectly-ironed bell bottoms and dog-eared bush-shirts gave way to terrycot kurta pajamas that were much easier to maintain. To begin, the matched pairs were sky-blue, grey, cream, and white, but very soon had all become a well-washed muddy, pale grey. This colour, in fact, is my dominant memory of Aanun.
The change of clothes had no effect on his heart though and he continued to serve and love with undying devotion. He would be with us as we went to buy goats for Baqrah Eid or would hold up the frame as my father would nail in the shed for the goats in our central courtyard (for what would in time become our dining room).
Time, of course, was taking its toll on all of us.
One late summer night, my diabetic, kingsize-Gold-Flake-chain-smoking Abbu died in his sleep of what the doctor told us was a silent heart attack, ironically soon after going to bed upon having watched Die Hard 2 at my fourteen-year-old self’s insistence. Fourteen, as I was to later find out from an expat poet-psychoanalyst, is possibly the toughest age for a boy to lose his father. Still, I was told by an aunt on the morning after my father’s death that I was now to be the man of the house. As if losing Abbu wasn’t painful enough, I was now buried under a mountain of unwarranted yet socially ascribed and subsequently self-cultivated responsibility.
In effect, Ammi continued to run the school, just as she already had in Abbu’s time, and also to cook for us as she always did. The only difference was that for the first four months right after Abbu’s death, during her iddat, the isolation and mourning period, I saw her wear a burqa for the first and only time. She promptly took it off once the iddat was over and never touched it again. Aanun continued with outdoor chores and many inside the house too. The latter included waking me up and giving me breakfast once I started going to college as Ammi would already have left for work by the time I would wish to wake up. I was a spoilt Indian middle-class boy, who was not expected to ever cook. By this time I had assumed much more authority, perhaps from imagining myself to be the man of the house, and would often scold Aanun for no greater cause than an overcooked egg.
He wasn’t living with us at this time too though, and he never did. He slept in his kothari, close to the doorstep of his separated wife, who wanted a divorce and whom he refused to let go. Nature or God were to agree with neither.
Very soon after my father’s demise, Aamna Khatoon was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and passed away in a matter of weeks. She met her maker as a married woman without having actually met her husband in over two decades.
Aanun continued with us as I had always seen, but only lording it all the more over the other workers at the school, particularly the rickshaw-wallah and odd-job-man cum peon, Zaheer Bhai. Even with my father around, this had been a hierarchical chain of command, which was nonetheless competitive, often compared by others in jest to the famed saas-bahu or mother- and daughter-in-law rivalry. After Abbu, it only became more tattle-tale and ludicrous, going as far as Aanun recovering and passing on Zaheer Bhai’s stash of hash to Ammi, proof of his much-maligned habit, his lat and aib. It didn’t lead immediately to much more than a long and resounding scolding of Zaheer Bhai from my mother, and I guess the one-time pecuniary loss of his stash. But it left behind much bad blood, scores to be settled, acrimony and distaste. We are told, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown but Aanun wore his jauntily. The maids who worked at the school or at home were cowed into subservience through the hearsay of his modus operandi.
Yet, such was the trust in his probity that the family had developed over time that even Abbu’s businessman cousin from Ludhiana trusted Aanun to receive his somewhat large sums of money from the hawala guys in Kucha Ghashiram and to bring them to our home for safekeeping. Chachu would later pick it up when he would come to Delhi and stay with us (our home had always been their personal Delhi inn). Aanun picked up their money a few times until one time he happened to lose it on his way back to our house. Our uncle got very angry and accused Aanun of theft. We trusted Aanun implicitly and believed that either the packet of money would have dropped out of his loose kurta pocket or that he had been pickpocketed. The uncle stopped visiting us.
Gradually, and surprisingly, our economic situation improved after Abbu’s demise. Over time, more and more parents of Shahjehanabad, particularly from the closer vicinity of the school, had seemed to take to Ammi’s efficient administrative and genial public-dealing style, more than my father’s stern strictness, and wanted their wards to be admitted here. And with greater enrolment, there was now more moolah to spend.
I finally got a computer in tenth standard. By my twelfth, we had an AC for the big room. But the AC alerted us to an acute new problem. That of smell. The smell of the sweat of an employee who had spent hours running chores for us but now would sit to eat with us at our dastarkhwaan or watch an old Hindi film on cable TV. What was to be done? In dire moments we would switch the channel to some English ones, with content we knew Aanun would have zero interest in, such as football. Or spray the room with a room freshener, and make a hue and cry about the foul smell and ask each other loudly where was it coming from? “Arey, Ammi, ye bad-bu kahan se aa rahi hai?” Aanun would wake up to our antipathy sooner or later and make his way either out of the room or away from the house as he would go back to lie down for a siesta under the small ceiling fan in his tiny, burning kothari. It was only big enough to allow him to lie down one way and not the other, with room dimensions of about ten feet by four feet. He had access to a shared bathroom.
It was here in this tiny single-cell abode that a few years later, my brother discovered him dead.
Rigor mortis had set in. His strong and always helpful and kind hands were reduced to misshapen claws. Some of his belongings, including the radio, had fallen over from the wall-mounted shelves. Aanun must have struggled amidst convulsions, probably dying from a massive and painful heart attack.
He died a day before my scheduled first return from my studies abroad, having cleared the end-of-first-year qualifiers of my advanced studies in the UK on a scholarship. Aanun had been very happy and proud of my achievements. He had told me over the phone just the previous day that he was going to host a big daawat on my return. He had just vacated the Gali Babbu Khan apartment and received the pagdi worth a few hundred thousand. He had already spoken to the best Old Delhi bawarchi, Hakeem, who was renowned for always playing hard to get and placed an order for biryani, qorma, roti, and zarda. He had also been inviting all our relatives, some of his friends, and even some bare acquaintances.
But later in the same day, he had gone incommunicado, for some 18 hours, which was completely unlike him. He left our home after lunch but had not turned up for dinner. My brother had phoned him, but he had not answered. Muawwiz had gone to bed thinking that Aanun must have dozed off while watching TV as he sometimes did. But when Aanun didn’t turn up the next morning even after breakfast time, and he was always an early riser and punctually offered the Fajr namaaz, my brother had first called Zaheer Bhai at the school to ask if Aanun had come in the day or if he had seen him last night. When Zaheer Bhai had replied in the negative, that is when Muawwiz had panicked and rushed to Aanun’s place. He had witnessed his father dying at eight. At twenty-one he was the first to behold Aanun’s corpse.
I had woken up late that morning as per my usual routine of many years. Academia had already turned me into a nocturnal creature. Having just cleared the qualifiers I could afford to be even lazier, and with my shopping and packing for home already completed, I was planning to lie in until my flight in the evening. The previous night’s party hadn’t helped either. I checked my phone, saw that it was past noon, and found a message from my sister asking me to call her on Skype. I assumed she had an addition to her shopping list for me and called her back a wee bit annoyed.
We connected and she began talking in an unusually calm manner asking me if I had packed everything and was all set to leave. I asked her about her newly-born son, and she said he was fine, cranky as ever. And then with the same equipoise, told me that Aanun had passed away in the night. With a five-and-a-half hour difference, it was already around 6 p in India. The funeral and burial had already taken place, and there was no point in me trying to catch an earlier flight.
I asked for more details of the death, who found the body and how, and of the funeral. I was stunned, to say the least, by the suddenness of it all, the narrow miss between my arrival and Aanun’s passing away. I asked of his grave, where was he buried?
My sister told me, “Delhi Gate Qabristan.” This is the large one behind the many famous newspaper offices in Delhi, including The Times of India.
“Not Mehdiyan?” – The quaint one behind Maulana Azad Medical College.
This was the first and only time my sister dithered on that call. “Ammi had said Delhi Gate was fine.”
Mehdiyan is our family graveyard. It is also the burial site of the great nineteenth-century Islamic reformist Shah Waliullah as well as of the memorable Urdu poet, Momin Khan Momin. These days many of the graves are also covered with laundry put out to dry by washermen.
None of this may have mattered to Aanun. But it did matter to me. My grandfather, grandmother, and my father lay here. Aanun who served them and theirs all his life was dead now but did not join them in death.
His siblings to whom he had never spoken, came soon to claim the money from the apartment that he had left behind in his trunk and perhaps used a small part of that money to put up a headstone and build a modest tomb upon his grave at Delhi Gate.
Mehdiyan had proved a few thousand rupees too dear for us.
Maaz Bin Bilal is a poet, translator, and academic. He is the author of Ghazalnama and the translator of The Sixth River and Temple Lamp.