This Sunday morning was no different. I looked at the picture on the dressing table as I had done each morning of each day this past year. Yamani glancing up at me, trying to keep her serious for the studio shot. The photographer had been mediocre, but got lucky with a rapid-fire shot. This one had caught her perfectly: the sheen of the long, lustrous tresses, eyes alight with mischief, her trademark half-smile. My wife, taken from me not twelve months ago by cancer.
I took a sip of the coffee. It tasted like mud. I let my gaze wander round our tiny flat. Books and papers strewn everywhere, stacks of computer printouts of every article on the disease I could lay my hands on. I had feverishly read and re-read every scrap I could find as days followed night-even as she sank and faded away in front of my eyes.
I swept the newspaper from the sofa, sat down and stared at the wall. Damp spread down from the roof terrace, peeling the cheap plaster, Splotches of green moss formed a mosaic on the wall that was once immaculate, decorated with vibrant murals that Yamani had brought from Rajasthan, The house was going to seed, taking me down with it.
The cell phone shrilled. I broke into a sudden sweat, my heart thumping. All those months waiting for the dreaded call from the hospital. And even now the body’s instinctive reaction hadn’t faded. The coffee had slopped onto the table when I had jerked my hand involuntarily. I placed the cup of the floor and picked up the phone.
“Chandra? Chandra, it’s me, Inspector Hassan.
Something’s turned up. You might want to come over.
Ä body. At the Qutub Minar. Come in by the main entrance to the complex.I’II leave word with my man at the gate.
I got out of my night clothes into a shirt and trousers, picked up my notebook and the small point-and-shoot Olympus. The stairwell of the flat opened into a little lane that led directly onto Chandni Chowk. Old Delhi slammed into me as I stepped onto the street. I waved down a passing auto rickshaw and shouted for the driver to hurry.
Soon. We were hurtling our way pas the crowds, heading south along the Red Fort, Across to my right the onion dome of the Jama Masjid loomed over a skyline pierced by multiple other minarets. Yamani used to teach history at Delhi University and had always been in love with this quarter-where the old and new danced in an ever-shifting cadence over the centuries. When we married, there was never any question that we would move into her pad just off Chandni Chowk. And so, a vegetarian South Indian journalist like me had found his true home in this seventeenth-century city of Shahjahanabad, founded by the Mughal emperor whose name it bears. And if it is a crowded, chaotic thoroughfare now. It was also once a fabled street of the East, a canalled way designed by Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara to reflect the light of the moon.