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Delhiwale: Keeping the departed souls alive

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KD Singh was an iconic Delhi bookseller who passed away in 2014. The inscription reads: “Husband, Father, Grandfather & Bookman Extraordinaire.” Beneath runs a verse by poet Pablo Neruda: “When I close a book/ I open a life.”

This is one of the many benches in Delhi’s Sunder Nursery, set up as part of the park’s ‘Dedicate a Bench’ programme for citizens to raise a public memorial for their loved ones. Almost every such bench is inscribed with intensely personal odes, some illuminating a person’s world in just a few words. A few plaques, like that of KD Singh’s, include lines by poets.

One stretch in the park has benches remembering those who died very young, and they all happened to pass away in 2021, the year of the deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Aruna Rao (1989-2021), who was an “artist, colleague, friend — beloved by everyone who knew her.” Adarsh Srivastava (1985-2021) — “Those we love don’t go away, you still walk beside us everyday.”

A few steps away, under a banyan tree, lies a pair of benches in the memory of journalist Ashish Yechury (1986-2021), a.k.a “Beloved Biku”. The plaque on one of these two benches says: “You left us bereft but with much to discover of the seasons and the times captured by your camera, turn of phrase, and the quirky touch that remains forever you.”

A bench near the Sunder Burj monument bears a verse by Faiz Ahmed Faiz: “Guloñ meñ rañg bhare bād-e-nau-bahār chale/chale bhī aao ki gulshan kā kārobār chale.” The dedication is “in memory of our mother Jamila Majid Siddiqi.” Another bench, dedicated to Radharaman Prasad (1921-2016), has a verse by Kabir: “Moko Kahaan Dhoondhe Re Bande/Kahat Kabeer Suno Bhee Saadho.”

A particularly evocative plaque is on a lakeside bench dedicated to Vijay Tuli, who “kept looking for little pieces of his beloved Kashmir wherever he went. He would have found one here too”.

Close by, are two benches dedicated respectively to “intrepid journalist” Kanti Bhatt (1931-2019) whose “restless soul be at peace in this tranquil garden”, and his daughter Shakti Bhatt (1980-2007), whose plaque simply declares — “You are here.”

A similarly sparse plaque memorialises TMC Menon (1932-2019), with the words: “Those who walk must also rest.”

A most prominent memorial (teakwood) bench — barred from sitting because it is 200 years old — lies under a tamarind tree, next to the Garden Amphitheatre. It commemorates landscape architect professor M Shaheer “in gratitude for his design of Sunder Nursery.”

Some distance away, on the north side of Sunderwala Mahal, an elderly man in a hat walks by a bench. He pauses to read its plaque (see photo), dedicated to economist Isher Judge Ahluwalia — “Who loved Delhi and its parks.”



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