A deep dive into nostalgia

Author: 
Ashok Mathur

Ashok Mathur was born in 1969 in his ancestral house, an old haveli in the heart of Chandni Chowk, and brought up amidst the rich history of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi). He graduated from Delhi University and served as a non-working journalist in a leading media house in New Delhi.

A fifth-generation Dilliwala, Ashok now takes heritage and culture lovers on walks in the narrow by-lanes Old Delhi, sharing his knowledge about its lost lifestyles with students of history, sociology, anthropology and architecture.

The mind — it doesn't ask you for the time, place or date to ooze memories from its invisible alleys — it just flashes memories in front of your eyes in a second, leaving its impression for days, years and generations maybe, though sometimes you have to coax it and pray to it to churn out a desirable memory and the result is, you may fail.

I had been my father's barber for many of his last months that he had spent lying on his bed for health reasons, and shaving his beard brought both of us a typical pleasure; he felt relieved and clean and I felt myself like a great painter with the brush in my hand using his face a canvas for my creativity and precision, controlling it with utmost care, not allowing the soap and foam to spread beyond the margins while creating contours and shades on his face, his pores and his skin.

Today, when I squeezed the last bit of the shaving cream that I shared with my father, it brought to life many memories spanning several years. I could see his silhouette in my mind's eye while I over foamed myself shaving, standing in front of our wash basin in the aangan where I had seen him doing the same, almost every day without fail, since my childhood.

 
The courtyard of Ashok Mathur's haveli in Nai Sarak, Chandni Chowk.

The courtyard of Ashok Mathur's haveli in Nai Sarak, Chandni Chowk.

Even on Sundays, he didn't allow himself to be lazy and not shave his beard, a habit that unfortunately I didn’t inherit.

Today, I stand in front of the many mirrors of my memories that are showing me the past, the present and the future. Time, that squeezes our lives exactly in the same way we've both squeezed the shaving cream from its tube, together.

 
Squeezing shaving cream from its tube.

Squeezing shaving cream from its tube.

My father, Shri Jagdish Behari Lal, was fondly called 'Dada' by many, including all his children.

It was 89 years and five months ago that he came from his heavenly abode, being born in the same room of the house where he passed away — a wish that I'm sure he kept within his heart as much as I do — to go to his last journey exactly from where he began it with his first breath.

Jagdish, a name that his father gave to him as his eldest son and fondly called him by all his life, was probably the dearest to his mother amongst the other siblings. He grew up into a mature son, taking care of all the younger ones as a father figure.

His simple and frugal lifestyle became a lesson for many.

Everyone that he came across, he made them feel like a family member; his charismatic appeal influenced all those who came in to contact with him, both personally and professionally.

He retired as a senior central government officer.

Today we bid him his last adieu as we place his ashes into the lap of the river Yamuna. As per tradition, we should have taken them for immersion in the holy river Ganga. But it was destiny and presumably also his wish, that he wanted to be in the lap of Yamuna, the river that he always spoke of and revered as a consort of Lord Krishna.

The Yamuna is the source of life of mankind living in and around its banks since ages — a thought that would have come to his mind as a true Dilliwalla, I believe.

I imagine that his ashes would slowly merge and unify him with others in the family and friends who left before him; flowing into the river Ganges, and then into the sea, ultimately to be evaporated into the cosmos, where we all ultimately belong.

"Don't cry that it is all over, smile that it has been," was aptly put by a friend who wrote to me with all the warmth she had for him.

Keep blessing us and those you came across, Dada.

 

Ashok's father, the late Shri Jagdish Behari Lal (1930 – 2020), seated in the courtyard of his ancestral home in Chandni Chowk.

 
As the day dawns, a soft white light plays in the courtyard that is open to the sky.

As the day dawns, a soft white light plays in the courtyard that is open to the sky.

 
Early morning sunshine in the living room.

Early morning sunshine in the living room.

 
Decorative elements, both ancient and modern, dot the walls of the courtyard.

Decorative elements, both ancient and modern, dot the walls of the courtyard.

 
Potted plants and creepers soften the wrought iron of the wind chime while a bird cage and a lantern add whimsy.

Potted plants and creepers soften the wrought iron of the wind chime while a bird cage and a lantern add whimsy.

 
The view of the aangan from Ashok’s father’s room in the full afternoon sun.

The view of the aangan from Ashok’s father’s room in the full afternoon sun.

 
As night falls, lamps from an older era throw the courtyard into shadows.

As night falls, lamps from an older era throw the courtyard into shadows.

 
Ashok's daughters studies in an upstairs room.

Ashok's daughter studies in an upstairs room. A mattress on the stone floor and a water bottle complete her modest sleeping arrangements.

 
Ashok with his wife, Sangeeta, and his daughter, Shubhra.

Ashok with his wife, Sangeeta, and his daughter, Shubhra. In the background, the minarets of the Taj Mahal pierce the sky.

 

Ashok at Anand Bhavan, Allahabad, the ancestral house of India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. The photograph was taken on the occasion of Nehruji's first address to the newly independent nation from the Lal Qila in Old Delhi on 14th August, 1947.

Comments

Thanks to Subhashji for sending link to this nostalgic throwback to life in an old Haveli in Chandni Chowk For me it is possibly first time peek into such a Haveli and a some inside of life style of a Kayastha family. Website deserves kudos and more publicity for its objectives and achievements

Very good.

Very well written, Ashokji.

A very eloquent rememberance of 'Dada' and his love for 'Purani Dilli'.

I count mysef fortunate that I had met your father, though the occasions were rare.

PS: Lovely photos of your house.

While reading this, I can visualise everything, what a beautifully crafted piece this is.

Lovely write up!!!

Thank you all.. my sincere thanks to Sh. Subhash Mathur for having given space here, that takes my thoughts to more and many...

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.