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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

Delhi Diary | Ather Farouqui

Friday 4 September 2020

by Ather Farouqui

‘Dilli 6’ is now the sanctuary for lower middle-class Muslim socialites, who, men and women alike, claim it their birth right to speak on behalf of the Muslims and on the history of Delhi simply because they live in the walled city. Some of them can speak a little English and they dress, particularly the ladies, differently from the bulk of the ladies of old Delhi....These days interest in the history and culture of old Delhi is both academic, in a way it never was before, and fashionable. Historians, literary historians, pseudo historians of social media and the general public with pretensions to learning alike are showing interest in Dilli-i Marhoom or Hazrat-i Dehli.

NOT SO LONG AGO, PEOPLE USED TO GO TO THE OLD CITY OF DELHI called ‘DILLI 6’ to buy raw fish and chicken. It was also a favourite destination for those who wanted to purchase books of Urdu fiction or poetry. A major part of the fish and chicken market has now been shifted to Ghazipur. Shops at Urdu Bazar earlier stocking Urdu fiction and poetry now mostly sell Islamic literature and have a turnover in crores in the bargain. Sale of literary books in the open market is otherwise close to nil. Speeches of Zakir Naik and his ilk are blaring loudly on the microphone in Urdu Bazar in front of the main gate of Jama Masjid.

Delicious and reasonable non-vegetarian food is still available at roadside khaumchas. The clientele of the expensive restaurants in the area consists mostly of non-Muslims and foreigners. For this reason, the so-called Mughlai dishes (a distorted version of Mongol and never used till the time of Bahdaur Shah Zafar; the descendants of Chengiz Khan preferred to call themselves Chagtais. British used it as Mogul) bear a heavily Punjabi stamp and are quite mild, mainly in consideration of the tender constitutions of foreign customers. It is a matter of enquiry as to when Muslims accepted it in its Persianised form adding ’h’ with ’g’ in the word.

Buffalo meat is invariably mixed, of course with exceptional shrewdness and experience, with mutton in every restaurant of Jama Masjid, irrespective of its reputation. It is a different matter that without buffalo meat many dishes aren’t so tasty and once buffalo meat and mutton are mixed, the taste increases manifold like in a cocktail. Due to WhatsApp University, buffalo meat and cow meat are commonly conflated together as the same category of beef! 

After crossing Chawri Bazar, a stationery retail market, one reaches Gali Kashmiriyan via Hauz Qazi. The area broadly known as Bazar Sitaram has a Nehru-family connection, being where the maternal house of Kamla Nehru is located. The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, came here as a bridegroom with his baarat in 1916 but hardly anyone knows of the importance of the building. Incidentally, Ms Indira Gandhi and, following in her footsteps, her successors in the Nehru-Gandhi clan never took any interest in it despite the fact that Ms Gandhi was very close to her mother. I spent almost two hours to spot a gentleman in his 80s at Gali Kashmiriyan who could indicate the direction to Haksar Haveli popularly known as Haksar ki Haveli, which he claimed was the place belonging to Nehru’s in-laws. His information was obviously wrong. Ironically I could not locate Kamla Nehru’s house on 8 July, and put the project in abeyance till after Corona sahib died.

Haksar Haveli was in fact not Kamla Nehru’s maternal home. It was at some distance in the same area. Haksar Haveli was the ancestral house of P. N Haksar, the de facto prime minister of India between 1969 and 1974, though he was technically the secretary of Ms Indira Gandhi. Haksar’s father’s cousins were the famous Pundit Brothers of Connaught Place. After change of ownership many a time since the 1960s when the Haksar family sold the property, it is predictably now owned by a property dealer.

 where the maternal house of Kamla Nehru is located. The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, came here as a bridegroom with his baarat in 1916 but hardly anyone knows of the importance of the building. Incidentally, Ms Indira Gandhi and, following in her footsteps, her successors in the Nehru-Gandhi clan never took any interest in it despite the fact that Ms Gandhi was very close to her mother. I spent almost two hours to spot a gentleman in his 80s at Gali Kashmiriyan who could indicate the direction to Haksar Haveli popularly known as Haksar ki Haveli, which he claimed was the place belonging to Nehru’s in-laws. His information was obviously wrong. Ironically I could not locate Kamla Nehru’s house on 8 July, and put the project in abeyance till after Corona sahib died.

Gali Kashmiriyan was also the home of the late Gulzar [Zutshi] Dehlavi, of course, a Kashmiri Pundit who died on 12 June 2020 at Kailash Hospital in Noida, a satellite town and part of the National Capital Region. To confirm the date, I spoke to his son Mr Anup Zutshi on phone on 5 July 2020. Mr Anup Zutshi ironically had no idea at all about who Kamla Nehru was!

Gulzar Dehlavi was not only a poet but epitomized the city’s celebrated Ganga Jamuni culture as well. In the early 1980s, Gulzar Dehlavi moved to Kailash Colony and from there to Noida, his penultimate abode where he recently died at the age of 93! For sure Urdu and Dilli will not be able to produce another Gulzar Dehlavi.

These days interest in the history and culture of old Delhi is both academic, in a way it never was before, and fashionable. Historians, literary historians, pseudo historians of social media and the general public with pretensions to learning alike are showing interest in Dilli-i Marhoom or Hazrat-i Dehli.

THE METRO HAS MADE ACCESS TO THIS DENSE POPULATED AREA FAR easier, with a station near the crowded Hauz Qazi Chowk. Just 500 yards away, the Hamdard Dawakhana, facing Qasimjan Street of Ghalib, still operates, but next door the Shama Dawakhana, as it was popularly known for half a century, has no customers. The offices of Shama magazine on Asif Ali Road too have closed down. Though Shama Dawakhana has acquired a new owner, with its ‘modern’ and more ‘scientific’ name New Shama Unani Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., too has failed to attract customers, at least in Dilli 6.

The families running both these establishments used to live in Chanakyapuri at one time, but I have no idea of their present whereabouts except that of the daughter of one with a newly acquired interest in religion and tasawwuf.

Shama Unani Laboratories was established in or around 1968 by Hafiz Mohammad Yusuf Dehlavi, a member of the Punjabi Saudargaran community whose business sense would have beaten that of the best of Marwari businessmen. It was profitable till about 1977 but never a money spinner for the Group in comparison with the Urdu crossword Shama Adabi Mu’amma that appeared monthly in Shama and through which the group made a killing. According to an old ITO denizen, from 1955 till about 1967 or so Shama Adabi Moamma accounted for more than half the income of the group. The group also ran a film distribution business for a while but were soon muscled out by a couple of Marwari establishments, experienced hands in the business.

The house of the owners of Shama has been purchased by an admirer of Ms Mayawati to gift it to this modern Dalit icon, I am told by a reliable source.

Hamdard is still a name in Unani medicine but infighting in the family gives indication of its future, though the family is running Hamdard University by the name of Jamia Hamdard on the lines of a private institution quite well.

Shama Dawakhana and the Shama group of publications, as already stated, have folded up. At one time, the group used to publish a wide variety of magazines. Apart from the eponymous Urdu film magazine, Shama, there was Sushma in Hindi, Bano, a magazine for women, and Khilona for children. Shabistan was a digest loosely on the pattern of Readers Digest and Mujrim a monthly devoted to detective fiction. Aaina was a magazine different from all other publications of Shama but it never became popular and soon went out of circulation after its ambitious editor Zoe Ansari flew off to Moscow for a few decades—cashing in on his loyalty to the CPI—for earning roubles. He did a number of landmark translations of Russian classics into Urdu before he finally landed in Bombay as professor and head of department of Russian studies and stayed there till his death.

A big chunk of Shama’s revenues used to come, however, from Shama Dawakhana, which used to advertise Viagra-type aphrodisiacs, which it promised to deliver at your doorstep anywhere in the world! All publications of the Shama group, however, were family magazines and were to be seen in every Urdu-speaking Muslim house until the 1980s despite carrying advertisements of such medicines.

Urdu journalism as a whole, in fact, survived on revenues earned from advertisements of such dispensaries for a long time. Post partition, these advertisements were the basis of the economy of Urdu publications, especially weekly newspapers which generally had no other advertisements. A lot of modern-day research on post-partition Muslim India not only in India but in the West as well is based on all kinds of Urdu newspapers and magazines. I know a few such scholars including a noted German scholar whose focus is on Shama too for understanding of the social behaviour of Muslims after Partition. One wonders what impression these scholars will get about the potential of the manhood of Muslim society after delving into the archives of these newspapers and magazines, all of which, without exception carry ads for vitality increasing medicines. To be crude, they might conclude that a majority of Muslim men were impotent owing to depression of Partition, and their generations are those of bastards. One can imagine the popularity this finding will have among the students of India’s fast-growing WhatsApp University!

Perhaps a family dispute, whose reasons I am completely unaware of, was responsible for the next generation of owners, the Dehlavi brothers, failing to keep in touch with changing times.

Ghalib’s haweli, adjacent to a mosque at Ballimaran, was a coal-selling tall until the 1990s, and the way an Urdu poet described it was: Jo Dil ka haal hai wahi Dilli ka haal hai.

Ghalib wouldn’t have minded. After all he said:

مسجد کے زیر سایہ اک گھر بنا لیا ہے

یہ بندۂ کمینہ ہم سایۂ خدا ہے

Masjid ke zere saya ek ghar bana liya hai,

Yeh banda-i kamina humsaya-e Khuda hai

(I have set up home and hearth in the shadow of the mosque and now this wretched creature has become a fellow traveller of the helpless Almighty.)

At least he has not been asked to vacate his penultimate abode, though he would hardly have been interested in making his gosha a national heritage property, which is what it now is having finally been converted into a museum.

Sanctuary for Muslim Socialites.

‘Dilli 6’ is now a sanctuary for lower middle-class socialites, who—men and women alike—claim it their birthright to speak on behalf of the Muslims and on the history of Delhi simply because they live in the walled city. Some of them can speak a little English and the women dress differently from the bulk of the ladies of old Delhi.

This reminds me of a meeting with a lady at her house in old Delhi.

SHE HAD THEN JUST STARTED RUNNIING A CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE Imam OF Jama Masjid, which incidentally helped her get some publicity with police protection as immediate dividends in her adventurous career. Roaming around with a security guard is certainly a status symbol in India in general, and in a Muslim ghetto, it is something of extraordinary importance for psychological reasons of the Muslim mindset which is obsessed with power after losing it in 1857. She is originally from a lower middle-class family of Uttar Pradesh and has undergone basic primary and secondary level schooling before going to one of the worst provincial universities of the state for tertiary education. She has no idea of old Delhi traditions or any sense of its history or culture, let alone a sense of belongingness. She is completely blank when it comes to theology too. She does not know any Urdu and can hardly speak English of the kind that can gain her entry into the English-speaking Delhi elite circles, so chose Hindi for her modus operandi. She was married into an established family of Dilli 6. We happened to get talking about George Fernandes in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots and I mentioned his estranged wife, Leila Kabir, who had deserted him long back. (A few years before his death, it was reported in the media that the socialist lion of yesteryears had Alzheimer’s and his property of Rs 25 plus crore was up for grabs. At this point she and her son decided to ‘look after him’ and were then locked in an unseemly dispute with his brothers and ‘friend’ Jaya Jaitely who was only interested in George’s political legacy—an admixture of conviction, ideology, opportunism and, of course, shame.)

The lady expressed her ignorance about Leila Kabir. I told her that Leila was Humayun Kabir’s daughter. The lady then asked who Humayun Kabir was. With surprise turning to irritation, I told her that Humayun Kabir was the person with whose help Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had penned India Wins Freedom. The lady’s next query was what India Wins Freedom was all about. I changed the conversation because it is not considered civil if a woman feels any degree of discomfort in a discussion for whatever reasons. I didn’t want to embarrass her further but the lady felt offended. She then started holding forth on Maulana Azad, the Independence struggle and the establishment of Pakistan. Other people were hesitant, but I mustered the courage to ask her who her source of information was. Confidently, she claimed that the Maulana Azad had shared these insights with Khaalu Fazlu and he, in turn, had passed them on to her before his death when she came to Delhi as a bride. Everyone wondered who this Khaalu Fazlu was. She disclosed that he was related to her husband and was a peon in the Ministry of External Affairs during the Maulana’s time! ‘But Maulana Azad was Education Minister and not Foreign Minister’, someone, of course not I, ventured to say. ‘How could that be?’ roared the lady. ‘The Maulana established the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which is under the MEA, and I have benefited from the ICCR in more ways than one.’

She had for years been writing a regular column on Muslims and gender issues of Muslim women for a Hindi monthly.... known for its ‘Hindi-style’ progressivism. Once Taslima Nasreen agreed to write for the same monthly and on the same issues, the Old Delhi lady lost out her column to her. She is also a regular visitor to Muslim countries as an authority (!) on Indian Muslim Women.

The lady can occasionally be seen on television debates on Muslims. She used to be quite a regular on Ravish Kumar’s show, holding forth on Muslims and Muslim women in particular, a subject she certainly knows nothing about. More than once I have watched her on a panel with Faizan Mustafa on legal issues related to Muslim women.

It is certainly not the fault of Ravish Kumar but that of his research team. Ravish himself has established his secular, intellectual and humanitarian credentials and must be considered above question. A famous Majrooh Sultanpuri couplet comes to mind in this context:

دہر میں مجروحؔ کوئی جاوداں مضموں کہاں

میں جسے چھوتا گیا وہ جاوداں بنتا گیا

दह्र में ‘मजरूह’ कोई जाविदाँ मज़मूँ कहाँ,

मैं जिसे छूता गया वो जाविदाँ बनता गया

(Nothing on earth is imperishable O Majrooh!

Yet whatever I touched became imperishable.)

Majrooh was concerned with making any pedestrian idea immortal with his poetic treatment. Taking liberties with it, it fits Ravish’s Muslims intellectuals like a glove:

مسلموں میں اب کوئی دانا کہاں باقی رویشؔ

میں جسے چھوتا گیا وہ نکتہ داں بنتا گیا

मुस्लिमों में अब कोई दाना कहाँ बाक़ी ‘रवीश’

मैं जिसे छूता गया वो नुक्त:दाँ बनता गया

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