The street leading up to Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, bathed in the faint orange glow of naked light bulbs, had all the trappings of a sleepy village fair. Shops lined either side of the street. Pictures of Mecca, gilded within garish golden coloured frames, were on sale along with the glossy posters of the dreamy Alpine villages of Switzerland. An old man tried to convince an interested devotee to buy one of his waterproof watches lying at the bottom of a red, water-filled tub.
The perfume seller tempted me with the sweet scent of his exotic collection of Itar - perfumes extracted from flower petals, but I walked on. My purpose was to pay respects to the Dargah – the enshrined tomb – of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the much loved Sufi Saint of the Chishti order who lived in Delhi during the 13th and the 14th century.
Beggars – legless, handless, eyeless – squatting on either side had narrowed the path further. The women among them were modestly wrapped in light blue or black burqas, while the men flaunted their muddy white skullcaps.
A crowd had gathered in front of a huge stall manned by pleasant looking fat figures. I pushed my way into the swarm of sweating men smelling of garlic cloves and raw goat meat, only to see hundreds of skull caps on display: some woven in golden threads, some shining with the glitter of black velvet, some made of variously coloured fabrics, some standing out in their red woolen individuality, and many were simply the common-place white-netted varieties.
It was so humid that even fish could have swum in the air. Sweating profusely as I made my way up the street, I was alarmed to see a sudden wave of people crashing out from a building ahead. It was the world headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat – a conservative Islamic organization with a worldwide following, which has resolved to bring spiritual awakening to Muslims with the slogan 'Aye Musalmano! Musalman bano' (O Muslims! Be Muslims).
The crowd that came out of the Tablighi complex consisted of men. Greetings of As-Salaam-Alaikum were tossed around. Hugs were shared. Shoulders were kissed. Smiles were exchanged. Some continually moved their fingers through their thick, long, flowing, red-hennaed beards.
From this gathering of Tablighi Jamatis, a gracious old man with a snow white beard, dressed in a salwar-kameeze of soft looking muslin cloth, so delicate I feared it would tear off merely on touch, moved toward a group of beggars and patiently distributed one rupee coins to each of them. A slight smile playing on his lips, the kind man betrayed no suggestion of acting out a charity.