Opposite the magnificent
Humayuns 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 mans 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 dont 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
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 dont even have to tell him whats
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 todays 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
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. Its a way of life being threatened by the
inroads of commerce and sheer numbers. Lets hope the unequal
battle is won by history.