Young at 106: Mirza Changezi, the grand old man of Delhi’s Walled City

Naseem Mirza Changezi, who had found a safe house for Bhagat Singh, talks about how Delhi has transformed, his sweetheart and love for newspapers
Naseem Mirza Changezi, who had found a safe house for Bhagat Singh, talks about how Delhi has transformed, his sweetheart and love for newspapers(Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times)
Naseem Mirza Changezi, who had found a safe house for Bhagat Singh, talks about how Delhi has transformed, his sweetheart and love for newspapers(Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times)
Updated on May 29, 2016 07:09 AM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

The sun is hanging low on the horizon, lending an orange hue to the sky above a nondescript haveli in the Walled City. Black and white family portraits adorn the walls of the haveli’s arched courtyard painted in soft green. A dusty chandelier hangs from the high ceiling. Throaty cooing of pigeons and the soft whir of the ceiling fan rotating slowly are the only sounds one can hear inside the haveli located at the end of a long, winding narrow street.

Naseem Mirza Changezi, 106 — perhaps Delhi’s oldest man alive — has known this space for far too long now. He seems engrossed in a conversation with it as he stares into space like a man in deep meditation — and he is in no mood to talk. He has had fever for the past few days and has just come back after seeing a doctor at a neighbourhood clinic.

Changezi breaks his deep silence when he hears the name of Bhagat Singh. He straightens himself, taking support from the wall, and speaks. His voice betrays none of the tremulousness that comes with old age. “He was like my brother and often visited this house. In early 1929, he was in Delhi with the intention of throwing a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly, and wanted me to help him hide. I tried to dissuade him but he would not listen to me… I went into hiding in Gwalior after he carried out his mission,” says Changezi.

Soon, it becomes obvious that age has neither dulled Changezi’s memory nor his enthusiasm for life. He describes the events of 1929 like a master storyteller. “A Congress leader had sent Bhagat Singh to see me. I found him a safe house in Daryaganj where he stayed in the guise of a Brahmin. He would walk to the assembly every day for reconnaissance and held meetings with us at Feroz Shah Kotla,” says Changezi, who had joined the freedom movement when he was a student at the Anglo-Arabic School near Ajmeri Gate. Changezi was involved with both the revolutionaries and the non-violent Swaraj movement.

As the conversation shifts from the past to the present, a deep disappointment takes over his wrinkled visage. “Earlier we were ruled by the viceroys, now our democratically elected rulers too behave like maharajas; they are utterly incompetent and do not know how to rule,” says Changezi.

Read: Facebook: The new platform for Hindi literature

His life has spanned several momentous events in Indian and world history — the First World War, Jallianwala Bagh massacre, arrival of the Simon Commission, Namak Satyagraha, Khilafat movement, the making of New Delhi, Second World War, Quit India Movement, Independence and Partition.

Today, apart from ‘opportunistic politics,’ what pains him the most is the loss of his home – the city of Shahjahanabad. Changezi’s family shifted to Delhi from Agra with the Mughal emperor Shahjahan. He blames the decline of the Walled City on the “new rulers”.

“Look what they have done to this great city. The city that once had broad streets, grand havelis with fountains and gardens has become such a filthy and chaotic place. I find it hard to negotiate my way when I go for a walk in the morning and evening,” he says.

“The roads and streets where I walked and played have changed beyond recognition. It’s hard to believe this is the city I was born and brought up in.”

The British ran the city more efficiently, he says, as he pops a few pills the doctor had prescribed. “I know the irony of a freedom fighter saying this.”

Changezi is aware that he could be the oldest man alive in Delhi. He says discipline has made such a long life journey possible. “Eat less, sleep less, and talk less,” he says, adding, “And go for morning and evening walks every day.” The last time Changezi visited a doctor was about two years back. “I hate falling ill because that means missing my walks,” he says. He gets up at 4 am and goes to bed by 9 pm. He generally has desi ghee halwa and one puri for breakfast and two chapattis and seasonal vegetables cooked with mutton for lunch and dinner. “I have followed this daily schedule since I was 11 years old,” he says.

Changezi is happy he has managed to hold on to life for so long but he misses his friends and the familiar faces on the streets of Walled City.

“They are long dead. Perhaps this is a price one has to pay for longevity,” he says with a sense of melancholy. As he begins to get gloomy, Changezi’s son Sikander Mirza, 60, sitting by his side all this while, reminds him of his days as a hockey player and his trip to Mumbai in the late 1930s.

Read: ‘Art for everyone’: Delhi turns into a canvas for street artists

The mention of Mumbai, then Bombay, brings a tinge of light in Changezi’s faded eyes and memories of a romance. It was in Mumbai he fell in love with a Parsi girl.

“I was quite good looking but shy. She was extremely pretty and belonged to an aristocratic family of Mumbai. We spent days walking along the beach, and she took me to meet her mother. She did not want me to return to Delhi. But I had to return and lost touch with her,” says Changezi as his wife, Amna Khanam, 90, smiles.

Changezi, who calls himself a pucca Dilliwalla, shares his fascination with Connaught Place. He would buy his blazers and get his shirts stitched at the new market built for the British elite. “While tailors in Chandni Chowk only charged six annas, those in CP charged six rupees for stitching a shirt. But I and many of my friends preferred Connaught Place. No tailor in the Walled City could match their perfection,” says Changezi.

“There were a few things that we in the Walled City could learn from those who lived in New Delhi, which came up before me. I used to walk from Delhi Gate to Mehrauli every day and then this new city came up.”

Changezi likes to keep abreast with the latest developments. He reads two Urdu and two English newspapers every day. News on TV doesn’t appeal to him. “TV news is meant to entertain and not inform. At times I watch hockey on TV.”

It’s 8 pm and time for his dinner. “I believe in talking less, but today I

have broken my rule,” he says, as we take his leave.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Credit (ANI)

    '...not for dogs': Delhi athletes on IAS officer closing stadium to walk dog

    Athletes reportedly forced to finish training early and leave Delhi's Thyagraj Stadium - so IAS officers Sanjeev Khirwar and Rinku Dugga could walk their dog - have criticised the misuse of government property meant for sportspersons. On Thursday the Indian Express said athletes training at the Delhi government-run facility were being forced to finish training early so Khirwar could walk his dog inside the grounds. Khirwar told the Express allegations against him were 'absolutely incorrect'.

  • Syed Shahnawaz Hussain. (PTI)

    Bihar Cabinet approves industrial promotion policy for textiles, leather

    The Bihar Cabinet on Thursday approved a policy to promote textile and leather industries in the state through incentives such as subsidies. State industries minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said those setting up textile and leather or related units will get capital investment subsidy up to 10 crore and power at 2 per unit under the Bihar Industrial Investment Promotion Policy (Textiles and Leather) Policy.

  • Former chief minister Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, the president of the KPCC, have locked horns as they try to overshadow each other to be the top contender for the post of chief minister, if the party manages to win the election next year. (PTI image)

    Siddaramaiah: No 'political ties' between Cong, JDS for RS, 2023 Assembly poll

    Senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah on Thursday ruled out any "political relationship" between his party and the JD(S) either during the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls or the 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka. His statement gains significance, as none of the three parties has an adequate number of votes to win the fourth Rajya Sabha seat from the State Assembly. The last date of filing nominations is May 31.

  • Ashok Chandna (Twitter)

    Rajasthan minister targets bureaucrat, seeks to be relieved of his duties

    Rajasthan minister Ashok Chandna has sought to be relieved of his duties while calling chief minister Ashok Gehlot's principal secretary Kuldeep Ranka as the “minister of all departments”. In a tweet in Hindi on Thursday, Chandna said, “Honourable chief minister, I have a personal request for you…relieve me of this dishonourable ministerial post. The charge of all my departments should be given to Kuldeep Ranka because he is the minister of all departments. Thank you.”

  • Police said that Shoaib, the woman's lover, is a businessman from Meerut and Vinit Goswami, the contract killer, has three criminal cases registered against him in Uttar Pradesh. (GETTY IMAGES.)

    After 25 years of marriage, wife pays killer 6 lakh to murder husband

    Deputy commissioner of police (central) Shweta Chauhan said the investigators checked over 500 videos of CCTV footage from the area, and examined more than 100 people. Of these, some were identified as suspects and technical surveillance was launched against them, based on which the three were arrested on Thursday, she added.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, May 27, 2022