Article: A Pakistani in Delhi
by Yusra Hayat
Yusra Hayat from Pakistan captures the essence of Delhi in this article which originally appeared in Youlin Magazine (A Cultural Journal)
At first glance, Delhi stares at you with unfaltering pride: a city that is an assortment of centuries-old human experiences, told and untold stories, kept and un-kept promises, love and heartbreaks. It’s a city that defies a simple categorization and absorbs a plethora of cultures, identities, religions and communities, and yet remains distinctly itself.
I say this with a great deal of certainty because as I stepped into this heterogeneous urban center, I was struck by the peaceful coexistence of the multiple communities and their values in the sunny narrow lanes and streets of Chandni Chowk bazaar. The market, much like Dilli Haat, with ethnic items from all over India, was filled with shops of all sizes selling sarees with zari work, leather shoes, jewelry and appetizing foods including parathas, spicy bhajia pao, meaty tandoori momos and deep-fried sweet delicacies like jalebis.
Amidst this busy market stood Delhi’s most famous mosque, the Jama Masjid. Constructed with red sandstone, it has a black-and-white marble floor that keeps the prayer area cool despite the high temperature in the city. The management provided long, loose blue and white gowns for foreign tourists who were not dressed according to religious custom. This enabled them to tour and witness the beauty of the place while keeping its sanctity intact.
A few blocks away from this mosque lay one of the oldest Jain temples of Delhi, the Jain Laal Mandir. The temple had a narrow staircase leading up to the prayer room where almost all the deities were placed on a high platform engraved in the walls, surrounded by offerings of rice and sweets from devotees.
The presence of a Christian Central Church and a Sikh Gurdwara, Ganj Sahib, on the same street, buttresses the stance that this region is culturally harmonious.
Opposite the Jain Lal Mandir stood the residence of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi; the Red Fort. It is the epitome of architectural grandeur that marks the Mughal reign in India: it consists of a mosque called Moti Masjid, several museums, a water channel called Nehr-e-Bahisht, a hall open for the public to conduct dialogues with the Emperor, called Diwan-i-Aam, a hall for private audiences called Diwan-i-Khaas, and British-constructed military barracks. The sheer size and meticulous detail in each pillar of the multiple buildings within the fort illustrates the majestic nature of Delhi’s royal history. Its Lahore Gate entrance leads to a variety of craft and souvenir stores that allowed visitors to take a piece of Delhi’s former glory and opulence with them.
Every corner of Delhi had a mesmerizing sight to offer. The Connaught Place, located in the newer part of the city, contained one of the most beautiful architectural structures – the Sikh Gurdwara called Bangla Sahib. This white and golden building had a separate room for shoe storage and a tiny water body at the base of the staircase, where people cleansed their feet before ascent out of duty and respect. A colorful exhibition about Sikh gurus and Sikh history graced the main courtyard of the gurdwara along with preparations for langar to feed the poor and needy. The inside of this breathtaking building was equally fascinating, with a rich gold and crimson interior.
The Nizamuddin Dargah Complex lured many Muslims and a fair share of people from other religious communities, as it housed the mausoleums of the great Sufi poet Nizamuddin Auliya, his successor Amir Khusrau, and Mughal princess Jahan Ara Begum. The main dargah was surrounded by congested lanes filled with cloth, handicraft sellers and florists. They were extremely persuasive shopkeepers, who would not let you pass by without spending a small amount of money on any of their sweet-smelling perfumes or other items on sale at the shrine. Since my visit took place during the Islamic month of Muharram, marsiyas and nohas were being sung at the Dargah to entertain visitors and supplicants, and to stay true to the spirit of the month.
I also had the good fortune of experiencing Southern Indian Kathak dances, as well as a rendition of Saadat Hasan Manto’s “Khol Do”, performed by the internationally renowned Kathakali dancer, Maya Krishna Rao. The latter played the role of Sakina’s father, Sirajuddin, from the story and captivated my attention immediately. The performance was spellbinding and extremely powerful, as the entire story was narrated and performed by Rao through detailed miniscule gestures made by her nails, hands, eyebrows, eyes, lips and facial muscles, and was supplemented by music, devoid of any lyrics.
From the latest models of luxury cars to auto rickshaws, cycle buggies and an extremely well-developed Metro Bus line, from huge houses containing entire cricket fields to shanty towns and slums, from fine-dining and luxurious hotels to street vendors and dhabas, Delhi is a synthesis of a multitude of cultures, social classes and backgrounds. It is diverse, rich, and powerfully capable of making you fall in love with it.
Yusra Hayat is a Dostoevsky lover and an English major graduate from LUMS. She tweets at hayat55y