Poems of Delhi-Series — A.J. Thomas

The Dogs of Ajitgarh

    (The Mutiny Memorial, the gothic tower built in Delhi to commemorate the 3000-odd English officers and men who were killed in suppressing the rebellion known as theFirst War of Independence of 1857, killing hundreds of thousands of the residents of the city and the rebel soldiers, stands a few metres uphill along the Ridge Road from the Hindu Rao Hospital (formerly Fraser House).

This is also the spot where Timur encamped and oversaw the slaughter of more than 100000 Delhiites over three days and nights in 1399. Fraser House which served as the command centre connected to the slaughter of several hundreds of thousands of Delhiites in two episodes five centuries apartalso feature in persistent ghost stories narrated by famed local raconteurs. The Mutiny Memorial was renamed Ajitgarh or the ‘Site of the Unvanquished’ by the Central Government on the 25th anniversary of Indian Independence in 1972, and a new plaque was installed, describing the ‘enemy’ mentioned in the original inscription by the British at the site, as ‘the freedom fighters and martyrs of India who fought bravely against the repressive colonial rule in the First War of Independence.’ I, along with my daughter and my niece, visited Ajitgarh and other nearby monuments in July 2016. The visit inspired the poem.)


Crushing a rebellion is the bounden duty of all power-centres.

Over the blood of the warriors of

The first War of Independence, was built

This Mutiny Memorial to celebrate the Company’s dead.


A mid-July afternoon. Post-lunch inertia-ridden

We trundle up the Ridge Road. The air

Dripping humid beneath the thick-summer green;

We swim up, breathing through our mouths.


Climbing up the base, we hardly make a round on the plinth,

When deep growls from the dark recess stop us.

Several pairs of glowing eyes flash. The first one stalks out

Menacingly, blocking our path, followed by another,

Then another, a couple more, in a convex arc formation:

Loath to brook history’s twist—Ajitgarh.


Sarmad Shaheed

(Recently I revisited the Juma Masjid area and Ballimaran, which inspired two poems. The first one is on the Martyr Sarmad who was executed by the Emperor Aurangazeb)

The king is naked, cried the innocent child.

Power is naked, the unsheathed sword.

Truth is naked too. Innocence can see it.

The two often clash in battle, sparks flying.

Sticking to nudity is the ultimate truth-speaking.

That’s what Sarmad did--the absolute unconformity,

Outside the frames of the established.

If Mansūr Al Hallāj declared ‘I am the Truth’ chanting Ana’l Haqq,

Sarmad did something similar, saying only the La Ilāha part of the kalimah

Leaving out illā-llāh, perhaps implying

‘There’s no God outside, but within oneself.’

Dazed by the unravelling, Aurangzeb had him beheaded

Outside the Eastern Gate of the Juma Masjid

Where the headless Sarmad danced on the steps

Carrying his head in his hands, before giving up the ghost,

As the legend goes.

Standing on the very steps, I frame a picture of his Red Dargah below

With the Quila-e Mualla, -- or, the Exalted Fortress which was eventually reduced to

The simple Lal Quila to suit the latter-day reality of total decrepitude--

Looming in the skyline behind.


Ghalib’s Haveli in Ballimaran Road

In spite of being in Delhi for the last 22 years, I was visiting Ghalib’s Haveli on Ballimaran Road, off Chandni Chowk, for the first time.


The timeless poet shares his home now

With a shop—never mind, faring better than many

Of Delhi’s beloved bards who upheld

The Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb,

And yet have left no earthly trace.

One can only gaze around at the relics of his life

With a lump rising to one’s throat.

Such exalted conceits, word-craft, humour;

Unbending sense of honour bruised by

History’s nasty turns. Perpetually in debt

Yet never perturbed in his angelic self.

Homeless, ever roaming in spirit, he’d have little value

For a majestic dwelling place like this.

He’d even forgive the garish facelift given

To his long-lived-in, one-time quarters.

He knows these, and the countless tomes churned out about him,

Are well-meaning attempts to keep his memory alive. He’d even forgive

This, my lame verse in his name.