There are three kinds of graffiti in Delhi – one needs to be preserved, the second prevented and the third encouraged
Graffiti is plural for graffito and is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “a piece of writing or drawing, scribbled, scratched or sprayed on a surface”. This piece is about all the three kinds of graffiti as seen on the walls of Delhi. There are other kinds of graffiti that use visuals or language that one prefers to avoid and we will not talk about those for that may lead to the raising the collective moral heckles of those whose sentiments are easily hurt.
We will begin with writing, go on to the scratched and conclude with the painted and sprayed kinds of graffiti. The first, and to my mind one of the finest examples of the traditional art of graffiti, can be found in an unnamed mausoleum inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
To reach this graffiti you will have to enter the Mehrauli Archaeological Park from the GandhakkiBaoli side. After crossing an ancient and now encroached upon mosque and a few houses to your left, you will be in front of a large square structure surmounted by a dome. The ruin dates back to the Sultanate period. Enter the structure and you will notice that the central arch (Mehrab) on the western side is blocked; this is to indicate the direction of Mecca for visitors, who might want to pray for the soul of the departed.
On one of my visits I saw some Persian poetry written on this central Mehrab, the person who wrote it had obviously come prepared. He had a fine hand; he could have been a trained calligrapher. Part of the first line, written in bold strokes with a reed pen and in Indian ink, was still legible as was part of the second line, written in smaller and less well formed strokes. I copied the words that I could read and took them to the Persian scholar Dr. Akhlaq Ahmad Aahan who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University. I showed him the words and he said this is most likely the poetry of Sheikh Hafiz Sheerazi.
The complete couplet is:
Dar Namazam Kham-e-abroo-e-tau bayaadaayad
Haalati raft keMehraabbaFaryaadaamad
A very rough almost verbatim translation would be:
As I stood (facing the arch) for prayer, I remembered the arch of your brow
Things came to such a pass that the Arch (of the mosque) came pleading before me
This is subversive Sufi poetry at its best and the graffiti artist knew what he was doing, to write this couplet from one of the greatest poets of Persian and to write it on the arch, that functioned as the qibla, is so well founded in the tradition of graffiti that one begins to wonder if graffiti too, like so many other great things have its origin in the east.
The example of the scratched graffiti that we present here is taken from the mosque and baoli popularly known as RajonkiBaoli from the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The structures commissioned in 1516 by Daulat Khan, a noble in the court of Sikander Lodi, came to be called RajonkiBaoli because a group of masons (Raj-Mistris) had begun to live inside the mosque in the early 20 century. The graffito is taken from Daulat Khan’s mosque and will come in the category of ‘Scratching’. The text is written in a bad hand and the content “JitenderJyoti Romeo” has no meaning except the obvious.
From Hafiz Sheerazi to Romeo, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The third example of graffiti that we bring for you, from near Shivalik, near Malviya Nagar, in South Delhi is the latest addition to street art in Delhi and is something that needs to be encouraged. This is modern graffiti and our civic authorities will do a lot of good to the city to allot the drab and colourless government walls to these artists and let them paint without fear of being hauled up under the “Bengal Act” on defacement of public property. Right now these creative young people are forced to work surreptitiously like guerrilla squads using names like Daku, Rane, Zeb Star, Rush and Treble.
We also need to develop a policy that helps us protect the first kind of graffiti because this graffiti is now part of history; to prevent the vandalism of the second variety; and to encourage the third kind and hope that Delhi will soon become the ‘Centre of Graffiti’.