My Delhi 6 home: Requiem for a time of innocence

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 28, 2015 17:07 IST

The house I retain in Chandni Chowk isn't where I opened my eyes as a kid in the cradle. I was born elsewhere. Nestling in the quarters above one of the ancient street's many cloth markets--- colloquially called Katras--- are memories of my early childhood and sophomoric years.

Milk came those days from the Delhi Milk Scheme; Britannia bread was the staple at most breakfast tables. A popular meeting point for plebeian charcha over chai was Assa Ram's kiosk at the Ghanta Ghar Chowk. At times, poori-subzi from Koocha Ghasi Ram and Mathri-Halwa from Katra Neel made the fare richer.

That was the age of innocence, of people meeting without motives. Networking wasn't the norm. Neighbourhoods were a good place to be. It was there that I lived my bachelor years accentuated by rum-and-smoke stag parties, getting emotional over heartbreaks and professional struggles. Failures then were instructive; success a reason to strive.

It was to that abode I returned on being turned away by the woman I loved for being jobless. Her parting lines to my father in my presence were: "Please look after him as I meant the world to him." We are friends still and laugh about it. But it wasn't then a laughing matter. Not for me!

For these reasons and many more, it isn't just a brick and mortar property bequeathed to me by my father, who occupied it as a homeless, uprooted evacuee from Pakistan.

He was an impressive man: strikingly handsome to look at, tenacious, well-read in English, Urdu and Persian. He dabbled in poetry with the pen-name, Ashufta, which in Persian means an 'honourable romanticist.’

I checked the word's precise meaning with a friend in Lahore. For it was from that city Kesho Ram Ashufta got uprooted to set up home in Dilli-6.

My early recollections of what's Purani Dilli include a locked room bearing a brass plate with the name Ustad Daman, the Pakistani poet who mocked his country's military-rulers with those unforgettable lines: Pakistan vich moujan hi moujan, charon passey faujan hi faujan.

The room was opened when he came visiting us. It was in the private wing of a utensils factory my father had in Ballimaran's Gali Baboo Khan. He sold it in his lifetime after a paralytic stroke. Before tragedy brought bankruptcy, life was full of poetry and friendly banter.

A regular at those gatherings was Khan Ghazi Kabuli. Beard dyed in henna, he dressed up the way actor Pran did years later in Zanjeer. But I related him more with Bimal Roy's Kabuliwala so powerfully portrayed on-screen in the 1960s by Balraj Sahni. He'd sing on demand the evergreen number: Aiye mere pyare watan, aye merey bichdey chaman, tujhpey dil qurbaan.....

My biggest regret is that I never learnt Urdu from my dad. To make up for that perhaps, I retain as a requiem, an elegy, the place from where he left in 1992 on his final journey. It was no coincidence that he departed all too suddenly while I was on leave from my job as HT's correspondent in Pakistan.

In a long chat before he died, I told him about my visit to the Farooqui family in Lahore. We'd visit them often and so would they until the 1965 war. He was filled with joy to learn that the gifts and greeting cards he sent to them on Eid were part of their family collection.

My father rarely talked about himself. But he opened up in our last conversation, telling me about a green bedspread that stayed forever under the pillow on his bed. It was in that sheet, Mr Farooqui, his friend in Lahore, had wrapped and thrust in his hands a bundle of currency notes as he left the city, dodging rampaging mobs.

My Dilli 6 home is precious to me the way the green bedspread was to my dad. It's the storehouse of values I inherited. I cannot exchange it for money.

In a broader sense, we need to preserve the Delhi of yore. That's the core from which grew the metropolis. Right now, it’s a neglected parent; a run-down lane of memories, of recorded history. That's not the way to celebrate our past.

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