Wednesday, October 25, 2006

eid mubarak

Monday Morning. Phone call. Strange Number.
- Hello?
- Salaam Aleikum.
Strange voice. And Salaam Aleikum could be said by people speaking a whole variety of languages. But my instinctive, immediate reaction was to switch to Hindustani.
- Aap kaun bol rahe hain?
- Oh, this must be a wrong number, I thought you were my friend. Sorry for the mistake.
- No problem.
Then suddenly
- Aapka naam kya hai?
- Ji, mera naam Anand hai.
- Achcha Anand bhai, Eid Mubarak.
The voice was warm with laughter.
- Aapko bhi Eid Mubarak. Khuda Hafiz.

I kept the phone down, smiling. Diwali had luckily been on a weekend, but there was nothing here, at least in this part of town, to suggest Eid being celebrated. Except on Chapati Mystery. So the strange coincidence of a wrong number turning out to be a hamzabaan felt good, very good. Like the universe was conspiring to wish me or something, which is a good feeling.

Last Eid (and Diwali) were a few days after the Delhi bomb blasts, and what I wrote about Eid then never went on to the blog. Now seems to be a good time to do so. But before that, a link to Vikings meeting Arabs in the eight century world. Dude.

I’m excited. Excited enough to ask other people along for an insomniac evening. It’s a Thursday night AND its Chand Raat, the night the Eid ka Chand is finally sighted. Nizamuddin basti should be an endless sea of sensation, light and noise and grilling meat…

While walking in from Nizamuddin West, we pass a couple, blind beggar being led by semi blind wife. Behen ki Lund, he says, we should have stood near the dargah.

Business hasn’t been that good. On Chand Raat? That’s not very promising.

A little before midnight and it’s sort of quiet. Five minutes after we enter my favourite restaurant, Nasir Iqbal, we’re the only people there. Cops on the road outside.

- It’s chand raat today, right? Where is the raunaq?

- There were lots of people here till eleven, but now everyone’s gone home to prepare for tomorrow… and since the bombs there have been a lot of check posts put up here. That has made a big difference.

We walk in towards the dargah, with all the shops on the way winding down. There’s one person calling out to sell us rose petals, just one offer of sevaiyan. Inside the dargah it’s emptier than I have ever seen it. The sound of water dripping from a hose is the loudest sound, as the huge marble courtyard is cleaned for tomorrow’s prayers. A few people sitting around the mazaar praying. The cats out, prowling around the edges, looking for food, disappearing like ghosts through medieval crevices. We hear the faint strains of qawwali. We barge into the house of Nizami Bandhu, qawwals, and are graciously allowed to sit in on a late night riyaaz.

They live in the many arched basement of a sixteenth century tomb, with kickass acoustics. They’re practicing for an upcoming tour of the United States. The regular rhythm guy still hasn’t got his visa. The last session is played back on a mobile phone. The next qawwali is taken up.

- Let’s create some mahaul. Atmosphere.

Voices blend in soulful, sonorous, sorrow. Not good enough, apparently.

- It’s difficult to do after a haadsa like that. Incident. Happening.

I am haunted by the song but it feels like a paraphrase – Mujhe chain se jeene ki ijaazat de de… Allow me to live in peace… O Lord?

It’s a song about Madina. City, in Arabic. This city? All cities?

They sing Kabir. Practise winds down around one. Tea is called for, family gathers around. We’re part of it all. The laugther, the camaraderie, the fun. Of course you have to stay for tea, you can’t leave. No one’s going to sleep tonight anyway…

We finally leave after one thirty. The basti seems so much livelier than when we came in. We eat insanely tasty phirni at one forty five in the morning. Our Eid is already mubarak.

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