Monday, 14 April 2014

POV: The Disciples of Mehboob-Ilahi

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The Disciples of Mehboob-Ilahi is a gallery of monochrome candid photographs made at the shrine of a Sufi saint.

One of my favorite street photography haunts in Delhi is the area known as Nizzam Uddin (West) where stands the shrine of one of the world's most famous Sufi saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 - 1325). A Sufi saint of the Chishti Order in the Indian Subcontinent; he established an order that sought to draw close to God through renunciation of the world and service to humanity.

Raza Rumi in his book "Delhi By Heart" describes the settlement of Nizzam Uddin as "the quintessential Muslim ghetto of today's India. Congested, unkempt and stinking in parts, it retains a medieval air." 

It is medieval, and perhaps it is the reason why I make it a must-stop whenever I am in his capital city. Over the years, I've seen Delhi modernize itself, with flyovers, gleaming international and national hotels, wide avenues, colorful billboards hawking the most modern of appliances...but Nizzam Uddin stubbornly resists all these. Modernity in Nizzam Uddin is measured by the number of cellphone ringtones based on the Muslim call to prayer, and the app that shows the direction of Mecca.

I imagine it's the time warp experience I feel when I first enter the area from Mathura Road...right next to the police station....that attracts me to it. It's certainly not faith or belief as I have none of either, but it's certainly a visual (and perhaps cultural) transfusion that takes over my senses. I enter a photographic "zone" during which I am totally immersed in the visual patterns that emerge in the to and fro of the people who come to pay their respects to the saint. It's not only the saint who's buried there, but it's also where the poet Amir Khusrau and princess Jahanara Begum both rest.

It is here where the essence of Sufism was postulated by one of Nizzam Uddin's disciples; Abdel Quddus Gangoh who wrote this:

"why this meaningless talk about the believer,
the kafir, the obedient, the sinner,
the rightly guided, the misdirected, the Muslim,
the pious, the infidel, the fire worshipper?
All are like beads in a rosary."*

Sheikh Gangoh wouldn't have found much acceptance for his admonishment these days.


*Delhi By Heart. Raza Rumi