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Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah - Delhi

Opposite the magnificent Humayun’s tomb on the outskirts of the historic Indraprastha, an ensemble of medieval riches awaits you. The place is Hazart Nizamuddin, and the basti (settlement) which came up around the dargah (shrine) is where the Sufi Saint rests in peace.

Every year an ‘Urs’ is held to celebrate the memory of one whose mysticism was not esoteric. This is the reason why the common masses then and now call him the Mahboob-e-llahi (beloved of the Gods). Sufi saints were people away from it all-not a whiff of worldly pressures polluted their khanquahs (place of learning and repose). Not that Mahboob-e-llahi was an exception to this Sufi tradition of isolation, but such been the power of his philosophy, its democratic pull, that he was ingrained in the hearts of the people.

History is full of ironies. Here is the legend of a saint who was ‘discovered’ by his most illustrious disciple, poet-philosopher Amir Khusrau. It is the oral tradition in history which has helped in imparting to Nizamuddin Aulia this aura. The old timers in the basti, which today is surrounded by a concrete jungle, have inherited this oral tradition handed to them though generation.

Of course, it is the dargah which beckons you when enter the rather deceptively long lane running to it. As you see it from the Mathura road side, the staid building of the Nizamuddin police station tells you that modernization has touched the basti. But mercifully, the police station is perhaps the only eyesore, which will greet you. Hundreds of eateries to the left and the white marble Masjid (mosque) on the right combine to restore the romance of the ‘old’ effectively and quickly.

The Prima Donna among the eateries is the Karim Nemat Kada, the modern variant of the celebrated Karim Hotel located in Old Delhi. Karim, of course, is for those who can afford to indulge themselves once in a while. But for those on a smaller budget innumerable ‘hotels’ serve delicious meals like the Jama Masjid area. You can buy a stomach-filling meal for as little as Rs.3/-. The highlight of this poor man’s paradise is nihari – a kind of residue of meat leftovers, bone juices etc which are cooked over low heat for a minimum of six hours and eaten with kulchas a kind of bread. The therapeutic propensities of the concoction make it ideal for those convalescing after a long illness.

But you don’t go to Nizamuddin for its eateries alone. During the heady days of the Urs, which is a festival of mausiqui (music) more than anything else, well known and not so well known qawwals (singers of qawalis) display their vocal talents for one whole week. In contrast to the rabid commercialism which has infected the genre outside this world of naatia and Sufi Kalaam, (sufi songs and music) the qawwalis here are imbued with a long spiritual tradition extolling the divine graces of saint unseen.

In the heart of the basti, is the Ghalib Academy, the venue of seminars and mushairas (poetry reading) year round. The academy boasts of an impressive library. It is no geographical coincidence that the Academy is where it is, but a conscious implant.

The dargah is visited by at least 1000 people daily right through the year. It is one of the better preserved monuments in the city, and credit must be given to those nameless officials of the Archaeological Survey of India who are charged with the responsibility of maintaining it.

This is the area termed Nizamuddin (East). Across the road the immediate attraction is the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khankhana, a medieval poet-philosopher whose message of universal brotherhood presaged the Bhakti movement. The tomb is surrounded by wide open spaces and marvelous Mughal architecture.

For those into Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine, Nizamuddin West has an unexpected treat. It is the seat of Hakim Nirgun, whose fame extends far beyond the rather decrepit geographical surroundings of his ‘clinic’.

The Hakim is a man of few words. After all, Unani medicine rests on the premise that your pulse says it all. You don’t even have to tell him what’s wrong with you, he will go ahead and prescribe the medicine.

It is the lure of such unpredictable riches which will ensure that having once gone to Nizamuddin, you will like to go there again. The difference between Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin, in terms of ambience, is the difference between Shahjanabad and Indraprastha. In today’s context, even as the walled city, with its fabled lanes and serpentine bylanes retains a certain old world charm about it which Nizamuddin has not. After all, it was designed with the dargahin mind – the basti was an afterthought.

It is perhaps because of this history that today, the unsuspecting visitor may reduce Hazart Nizamuddin to just the name rather than the basti. But try feeling the depth of belonging of the basti-wallahs (inhabitants of the basti) to the basti and its Mahboob-e-llahi.

In the event, the discriminating visitor will ultimately empathise with those who are somewhat desperately trying to keep their tryst with what is, sadly, a dying culture. It’s a way of life being threatened by the inroads of commerce and sheer numbers. Let’s hope the unequal battle is won by history.

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