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Delhiwale: A Persian scholar’s library, a year after his death

SM Yunus Jaffery’s personal space in the Walled City continues to hold his memory, with some cosmetic changes

delhi Updated: Sep 13, 2017 19:01 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
Delhiwale,Delhi news,SM Yunus Jaffery
Persian scholar SM Yunus Jaffery’s private library in his home in the Walled City neighbourhood of Ganj Mir Khan.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

What happens to a scholar’s books after his death?

We went one morning to Persian scholar SM Yunus Jaffery’s private library in his home in the Walled City neighbourhood of Ganj Mir Khan. This month commemorates his first death anniversary. He had died last September at the age of 86.

Mr Jaffery’s home — a private world of courtyards, terraces and balconies — shelters the families of his nephews. His books and papers occupy three rooms.

The late scholar had retired as the head of the Persian department at Delhi University’s Zakir Husain College and spent years immersed in reading and writing. Though he never married, he remained attached to a woman in Iran he had first met decades ago while pursuing a doctorate in Persian studies in that country.

“Bhaimian was a workaholic and did not want to die,” says Shazia Zahid, who is married to Mr Jaffery’s nephew Faridu and lives in one portion of the sprawling house. She is referring to Mr Jaffery in the affectionate way he was addressed by the family.

Ms Zahid, a designer, shared an intimate bond with Mr Jaffery, who, in fact, used her email address for his online correspondence with scholars and students spread across the world. He also spent a large part of the day in her part of the house, especially in the room from where she runs her designing company.

Ms Zahid walks over to the room behind her office space. Part of a wall is scrawled with an emotional letter addressed to Mr Jaffery —”Dada, I miss you. Please come back....” It’s written by Ms Zahid’s daughter, Alina.

“Bhaimian would save all his files on a desktop computer,” says Ms Zahid. “The desktop folders would have names such as ‘CorrespondenceaboutSaib’ and ‘Urdu-works’.”

A specialist on the 17th century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi, Mr Jaffery had translated the letters of poet Muhammad Iqbal from Urdu to Persian. He had co-edited and annotated the Persian translation of the Hindu epic Ramayan. Two of Mr Jaffery’s books — on Persian literature in India, and on Tabrizi—were published in Iran.

“It was my job to make prints of all the emails Bhaimian received,” says Ms Zahid. She takes us to Mr Jaffery’s study where he received visitors.

We have been here when Mr Jaffery was alive. It no longer looks like his place. The spot where his writing desk used to be has been taken over by an exercise bike. Neither can we see the familiar steel racks holding hefty Persian-English dictionaries—the bottom shelf used to have micro films of rare, old Persian books. They all have been shifted to a loft in the courtyard because of a termite scare. Many other books have been given away to Zakir Husain College and Iran Culture House.

The framed citation for the Farabi International Award, a literary prize given to Mr Jaffery by the Iranian government for Islamic and Iranian studies, is still on the mantelpiece.

We had been to Mr Jaffery’s home on the day of his burial, too. A grief-stricken Ms Zahid had then showed us a thick file containing letters written to Mr Jaffrey (one was from the University of Minnesota, dated 1985). She had also showed us a white refrigerator, where Mr Jaffery kept his pens. He was a collector of ink pens. “Every time his friend Ebba Koch came to visit him from Austria, he would ask her to bring him a new pen.”

Ms Koch, an art and architectural historian in the University of Vienna, had studied Persian under Mr Jaffery’s tutelage.

The scholar spent his last 22 days in hospital. Ms Zahid shows us a white sheet nestled between his medical reports. It has Mr Jaffery’s hospital-time scrawls. The top line reads: “Is Manizeh here.”

That was his woman friend from Iran.

First Published: Sep 13, 2017 17:05 IST