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Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg

By Maaz Bin Bilal 

after ‘Campo Dei Fiori’

Delhi’s own Fleet Street
bookended by the
Delhi Gate
and
the
Indian Tax Office
(till recently), now
at that corner
there’s only
the heads of
Chartered Accountants
and
Delhi Police—
whose motto is
service, justice and peace.

‘Brave King’ Zafar was a poet and the last monarch of Hindostan and Delhi. Exiled to Rangoon, unfortunate that he could not find two yards of land to be buried in his city.

Close to the Mughal City Gate lies the older acropolis, the Kotla of Ferozshah—the (Tughlaq) sovereign who did not inflict epic-cruelty—with its mosque full of jinns[1], rainy lovers’ ruins, a locked up baoli[2], whose steps no longer bear any feet. Instead people clamber up in a frenzy to the seats of the arena next door, where victories turn into defeat, foreign cricketers cannot breathe, a dead politician’s claim vying with the long-deceased monarchs’ reach.[3]

Next is Ambedkar Stadium, I used to play football here in the Delhi League. The equalising sport where all bodies meet. The Parsi Anjuman is across the street, there’s lively chatter at its fine eatery, at its fire temple they pray for the asleep.

Up the street is the medical college, MAMCee, the nation’s best doctors are busy dissecting flesh fresh from cadavers coming in from other sanatoriums in the vicinity. Much of the land here is said to be reclaimed from the dead, and yet, Mehdiyan Qabristan(the graveyard) lies nearby, keeper of the great poet, Momin, who was Ghalib’s envy: “You are with me, when/then, there is nobody;” and also my father, two grandfathers, two grandmothers, grand-uncle, grand-aunt, cousins, friends, and more family.

Opposite the college stands in the middle of the street, a monument unremarked, unnoticed, unremarkable, unglanced. Colloquially called Khooni Darwaza, the Bloody Gate, because

in 1857
it bore
(so goes the lore)
the heads of the sons
of the ‘Brave King’.

This too was locked up after a medical student, a girl, in 2002 was grabbed and raped inside its four walls.

On its other side is the Martyr’s Park. I forget to whom this one is a homage.

And then begin the foundations of the pillar fourth. Our times Expressed and Heralded here by hacks Pioneering new truths, holding forth. They take their lunch breaks at the kulcha[4] carts, and smoke ciggies outside the CCD, and drink whiskey-soda and rum-n-coke later over at the Press Club in Lutyen’s Delhi. But just behind the press offices lies another cemetery, the Delhi Gate Jadid Qabristan[5]—filled to the brim in this vanished spring by the animal plague that laid so many low. Oh, my dear aunt, this was no time or way to go, in a wooden box for a coffin, unseen by family and kin. Some deaths make the news, keep us afloat. But too many the hacks no longer report. Newspapers now run advertisement agencies, catering to the new masters that be.

“The Ganga is a hearse,” sings a bard.[6]

The Poet King is dead, the pillars of his street are crumbling, will only poets bear witness?

                                                            Long live poetry/veracity!

[1] Also romanized as djinn or anglicized as genie (with the broader meaning of spirit or demon, depending on source) – are supernatural creatures in early pre-Islamic Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology.

[2] A baoli is a reservoir in which water can be stored. It is also a source of ground water.

[3] The Ferozshah Kotla stadium was renamed Arun Jaitley Stadium after the former Finance Minister and Delhi Cricket Association Head on 12 September 2019. The cricket ground according to the Cricket Board of India may still be called Ferozshah Kotla Ground. An India Sri Lanka cricket match at this stadium had to be halted multiple time in December 2017, when the visiting cricketer kept feeling sick because of the high levels of pollution in Delhi.

[4] A small, round Indian bread made from flour, milk, and butter, typically stuffed with meat or vegetables.

[5] Graveyard.

[6] Parul Khakhar, a Gujarati poet, wrote the iconic poem of the second wave of COVID deaths in India, “Shav Vahini Ganga” when there were corpses of the dead floating in the holy North-Indian river.

Photo: Vasudevan Srinivasan

Bio:
Maaz Bin Bilal
‘s first collection of poems Ghazalnama: Poems from Delhi, Belfast, and Urdu was shortlisted for the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2020. His translation of Mirza Ghalib’s long poem on Banaras, Chiragh-e-Dair, is forthcoming from Penguin in 2022. He teaches at O. P. Jindal Global University.

***

For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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