Whispering Delhi's secrets... by the ear
R. V. Smith
THERE IS never a dull moment in the Walled City of Delhi. And what better time to roam in it than now, when the weather is turning balmy! The mohallas have a profusion of sights to cheer the mind. Sometimes a pretty face peeping out from a window makes you feel young at heart once again and sometimes a rude push and an exploitative jostle shocks you into action. Here one gives what one receives with a little more vigour.
By the time you have crossed a number of gullies you know how to deal with sudden situations that demand sudden retaliation. But remember not to push things too hard, for everything is a die and done here in passing -- no time to roll up sleeves and force an issue. Like the decadent Moghul prince, you say "Lalloo hai Beh" and walk on.
Want to spend a quiet afternoon away from it all? Step into Netaji Subhas Park, pick a clean bench preferably under a shady tree and wait till the ear-cleaner comes around. He wears a red turban from which stick out all sorts of pins and needles -- and he carries cotton too -- for making buds to clean the ears. Uninitiated foreigners take him for an acupuncture expert but old Delhiwallahs know him for what he is.
Strike a bargain if you can, but the best thing is to put off your fear of bad hygiene and allow the thin chap to take charge of you. He's not like Babban Nai who found a horn in the king's head, and unable to keep the secret, whispered it into a step well, where a drummer heard it and announced the discovery to the whole kingdom.
Just close your eyes and relax. Let the ear-cleaner do the talking. He is as gossipy as a barber. What he needs is a little encouragement to regale you with information which you wouldn't find in any news paper. "Lallan's wife has left him for a man who turned out to be a drug addict. She wants to come back now but he is determined to keep her out. His in-laws are offering him money to renovate his shop but Lallan is resisting the temptation to say `Yes'."
Who is Lallan? You don't bother to ask. A male chauvinistic pig maybe, or a man who has been cheated by someone. What difference does it make? You are only a disinterested listener, for a change.
Nod and he'll tell you another tale. We are a neglected lot now. But it was not always so. In the Badshahi - royal -- days we were in great demand and held in some esteem. And why not? Don't we hold the king's ear? If Lallan Bai was corrupting the young nobles, it was we who broke the news to His Majesty. If there was a conspiracy brewing in Badoo Khan's house we knew all about it and sometimes managed to warn the king in time before the queen lost her favourite maid. Sometimes there were more serious things -- like the heir apparent's plans to launch a rebellion with the help of ambitious officers of the court or a plot to poison the ruler. The ear-cleaner will tell you all about it.
Only let him talk. He has other tales to relate. Some places where his ancestors worked in the not-so-dim past have disappeared, many others are reduced to ruins but still stand in solitary grandeur like Salimgarh and the Zeenat Masjid of Daryaganj. This mosque is a figuratively sleeping, venerable princess of stone, magnanimous in the `burqa' that the years have woven for it. But where is the Raj Ghat Gate through which the `mutineers' from Meerut gained entry into the city? Sad to say it is no longer in existence but in its place is a passage, which flocks of goats, that feed across the Ring Road, use along with the goatherds and people taking a short cut to the city from the valedrome built during the Asian Games held in Indira Gandhi's time. The ear-cleaner suggests as much.
One can loiter at this entrance in the afternoon despite the dump that has come up because of the laziness of the sweepers who find it a most convenient place to pile up the refuse of the mohallas under their fiefdom. Couldn't a memorial be erected here for the benefit of the generations to come when this passage too would perhaps no longer be there? The thought process is yours -- not the ear-cleaners.
Beyond it is the shrine of a saint where the sepoys prayed for success. Now it's just a grave covered with a green cloth. There was a time when it was washed by the waters of the Yamuna, which have receded nearly a mile to make way for the road, carrying away with them memories of the boats that used to ferry the gallant swaras fighting against an autocratic foreign establishment. You ask the ear-cleaner about the anonymous saint and he'll tell you that.
Delhi abounds in pirs, both living and dead. The pirs are sufis who have renounced the world and made their abode in some vacant or out-of-the-way spot. But mureeds - devotees -- do get wind of such ascetics and follow them to seek favours or just to satisfy their curiosity.
Sometimes quacks masquerade as pirs and pretend to exorcise evil spirits. But such characters are found out sooner or later and forced to flee the wrath of those whom they have duped. But not so the genuine pir, who is lost in prayer and meditation and good works. After his death he achieves sainthood and is credited with miracles.
Dada Pir was one such divine who attained sainthood long ago, says the ear-cleaner, who eventually discloses his name, Jumman. Nobody seems to remember exactly when -- could have been in the 19th Century or even earlier. Jumman affirms that he is a miraculous saint who helps one to fulfil vows but is averse to his surroundings being polluted in anyway. The prefix dada denotes that he preceded several pirs to be revered as such.
People generally come on Thursday to seek favours at his shrine. They light joss sticks and candles or diyas -- earthernware lamps -- and distribute the sweet called batasha. Jumman informs that there is an old woman who has been praying at the shrine for over 30 years and thinks that not a leaf can stir without the saint's permission. By the time this yarn is over, it's time to pay, Jumman for services rendered and move on.
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