Thursday, April 28, 2011

Visiting Memory Lanes of History

Winter was setting in Delhi as it welcomed the morning fog, the sun rays searching for a way to seep through the mist, after a two month long rigorous schedule during my internship, I finally got the chance to explore the city and this time my destination was Nizamuddin Basti and areas around that place.

After getting down at Pragati Maidan Metro station, I took a bus to Nizamuddin which is presently a cluster of Muslim dwellings but breathes a rich historical past. It is in these narrow lanes of the slums that Islamic architecture, traditions and culture flourished but lost in the humdrum of times. But thanks to a revival project being carried out by Aga Khan Trust in collaboration with Archeological Survey of India, that the history of this place is again coming to life. It is through the initiative of the trust that a heritage walk around the area covering important landmarks was organized.
I along with five others entered the basti through a low arch into a snake-like lane called the Phoolonwali Gali. This is the only gateway surviving from the original wall that once enclosed the whole settlement. Phoolonwali Gali was a flower market during the 14th century Khalji dynasty and was said to be the largest flower market in the world. Lost amidst the walls of buildings the only evidence of this once upon a time bazaar is a 10 feet tall iron gate. As we walked further, the basti had some or the other trivia to share. Coming across graves and tombs after every two steps, the fact lies behind it is that according to Islam, you don’t need a specific area to bury your loved ones. Instead the graves are dug beside their houses to keep the dead man’s soul near to themselves.

As we searched our way through the winding narrow roads, the next stop was the dargah of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order International who promoted Sufi as an attainment of spirituality across Europe and America. Although the dargah was situated in the middle of the bazaar, everything was quiet and it seemed time had frozen for an instant inside the shrine. I stood inside looking at the sleeping tomb and felt a certain spiritual bliss! Coming back from the short-lived trance to reality, we headed towards Kalan Mosque, also known as Black Mosque. Surrounded by high walls, from the entrance of the mosque one could see the illusioned paralleled pillars standing in a file. Once we entered the mosque, students chanting Koran verses in the madrasa inside can be heard. The mosque is said to be 600 years old and was built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the 14th century Sultanate ruler.

Markets inside the basti looked like they are framed according to the bazaars of Arabian Night stories. Shops selling groceries, jewellery, sandalwood, meswak sticks, itar and soorma. Hawkers shouting prices in order to sell their wares and cloth and burqa-clad women bargaining while hidden under their veils. As I pass through the busy market, it reminds me of a poem by Sarojini Naidu where she says-

What do you sell O ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed.

Turbans of crimson and silver,

Tunics of purple brocade,

Mirror with panels of amber,

Daggers with handle of jade.

The next destination reached inside the citadel was the Urs Mahal which houses the famous Chausanth Khamba tomb built by Mirza Aziz Koka who served under emperor Jehangir, the tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s family, Ataga Khan’s tomb and the tomb of the reknowned Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib. The open courtyard of the well is used to celebrate the Urs i.e. the birthday of the 14th century sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Facing the courtyard is the beautiful Mughal structure of Chausanth Khamba. Even though the pillar count comes to only it’s half, the structure is named after its sixty four pillars that support the roof which looks flat from outside but are dome-shaped from the interior. There are ten tombs inside the monument, two of which belong to Aziz Koka and his wife. The stoned jaali bring in sun rays forming beautiful reflections in the shiny marble flooring.

Next to it is Emperor Akbar’s Prime Minister Ataga Khan’s tomb which depicts a unique blend of Islamic and Indian art. The intricate Persian carvings on the walls of the tomb have been erased in due course of time leaving patches of it at some places. The tomb faces the Nizamuddin’s shrine which is situated in the direction of Mecca.

The tomb of Mirza Ghalib built in marble and recently revived by Aga Khan Trust lies alone at the centre of a marble courtyard. The poet’s tomb gives life to one of his own couplets which says-

Unke dekhe se jo aati hai muh par raunak
Woh samajhtey hai ki beemar ka haal achha hai

The Nizamuddin journey wouldn’t have reached a better finality with a visit to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah. Even after 700 years since the death of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, people believe all their wishes would be fulfilled by the great saint. Hundreds of people from all religious backgrounds come here to pray, tie the wishing threads and to seek his blessings. There was a certain mystic energy around the place which forced me to sit there and meditate. Even after leaving the place, I came back to the shrine in the evening to experience qawwalis sung by sufi musicians. Nizamuddin believed in the power of music and poetry to be able to attain God. Continuing this tradition, every Thursday at 7pm, sufi musicians in and around the city gather and sing qawwalis. During the function, some eyes were getting wet, a few started dancing in trance and others like me were just lost in the performance.

With so many sights experienced at one go, Nizamuddin was like a kaleidoscope of different events happening at a same time. Being a part of the capital city, which is constantly trying to be the next Paris and New York, it was surprising to see one such place that was unaffected by this constant change. Entering the archway was like entering a time machine moving backwards. After the two hour journey, I felt an irresistible urge to go back to the time of Nizamuddin Auliya and be a part of that beautiful world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delhi as I see

My internship in Delhi has led me to travel 3 hrs in public transport and not in the luxurious confines of my car. It’s been 3 years that I have left Kolkata; the place where I have breathed the most wonderful times of my life but these 3 hrs has brought me closer to the city as ever. As in the morning bus no.717 covers the Qutub Minar which stands tall as the statue of liberty to the huge education centre Jawaharlal Nehru University. At times I take another route that leaves me to IIT, the dream college of millions of Indians. That’s a treat for the eyes early in the morning despite getting stuck in the traffic jams at office hours. Coming to the point of traffic jams, Delhi traffic jams are very different from the usual ones. The car doesn’t stop at a point but keeps on moving and it is interesting to see how the vehicles move through the winding roads in spite of the diversions due to the construction work going on since time immemorial. Delhi-ites are used to it. I wonder what will happen when all these diversions will not be there anymore. Roads would seem like runways as the eyes are so used to the usual narrow lanes. In the evening while coming back home I experience the other side of Delhi, the beauty of Delhi which tells the story of the growing city’s past, present and future. Siri Fort Auditorium, Lodhi Gardens, Dilli Haat, Indian Heritage Centre, Humayun Tomb, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan , Akashvani Bhavan till the point I reach Janpath where my Delhi darshan ends. What a sight it is! I marvel the wonderful city which I previously hated and think how wrong I was.
One fine day after coming back from office I went to Old Delhi and explored its magnificence. Delhi 6, contrary to the modern and developed avenues of New Delhi breaks all the stereotypes of Delhi being hep and happening. The ancient buildings, the narrow lanes, wires spreading here and there as if scars made on the surface of the sky, markets bustling with people, the pandemonium of sounds of vehicle horns and the loudspeakers crying the verses chanted by the Jama Masjid priest and the Red fort only spell of Delhi in historical times . No wonder despite so many malls and other commercial areas coming up and the government’s continuous efforts of changing Delhi into New York or Paris, filmmakers and authors capture this part of Delhi where development is only seen in the McDonalds outlet in Chandni Chowk (it does look very out of place). Old Delhi is the preserver of the heritage and the homogenous culture that is long lost in the web of changing times. Delhi is like a kaleidoscope, it may seem to be just a piece of glass but more you look deeper you can see its different colours and how they change from one part to another. Someone needs time to understand the complexities of this place although people are the easiest reflections that can be recognized in mirrors of time. Punjabis with their tales of show offs, Idli dosa and the chain of Annapurna hotels of the south Indians, Bengalis and their huge conversations in Bengali even if the third person cannot understand a word, UPites and their inclination towards hindi culture and literature, Northeasterns carrying all the latest fashion on the streets; Delhi has it all.

P.S. Had written in my other blog in 2009, check

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