A board, hanging by the side of the entrance, proclaimed 'Ladies are not allowed inside.' Consequently, they were sitting around the walls of the outer chamber, reciting prayers, murmuring verses, and struggling to peek inside for a look at the grave. But it was the scene in the courtyard that captivated my senses. Being a Thursday, it was a night for the weekly Qawwali, devotional music of the Sufi mystics, said to be created by the poet Khusro.
At least a hundred men and women were sitting around a team of Qawwals, the singers, who were more than ten in number.
Beetle-nut juice coloured the black teeth of the Chief Singer a bright red. His assistants looked more like street goons than Sufi mystics. A fat-cheeked child, not more than four years of age, sat by the Chief Singer's side. On the opposite side was a group of pretty girls. One of them had dark skin, sharp lips, a long shapely nose, and a shrewd smile. Beside them sat a pair of western tourists, their white skin and embarrassed faces making them stand out from the rest of us.
The Chief started fiddling around with his harmonium. A middle-aged man behind him tried his hands on a tabla and a dholak. All of us were silent and expectant. Next to the plump child sat a boy in a white kurta, its neck embroidered with mango-shaped designs. His black skullcap was decorated with a string of white pearls.
After a few adjustments, last moment eye signals, and secret nods among the Qawwals, the Chief started singing. His voice was low pitched, his head jerked with the rhythm of his still undefined tune, and his eyes danced with the lusty logic of the lyrics.
Gradually, one at the time, the rest of the men picked up the Qawwali. Soon they were singing in chorus with the Chief's voice being the most prominent. Sweat shone on their foreheads, which were bobbing in unison. Their smiles and mock frowns, in league with the mood of the words, infected us with a sober momentum.
Naksha tera dilkash hai
Soorat teri pyaari hai
O mere Khwaza Nizamuddin
O mere Mehboob-e-Ilahi
[O my loving Lord
You looks have won my heart
Your look beautiful
O My Nizamuddin
O my loving Lord]
Short-lived bubbles of eager joy started surfacing inside my being. A sheet of communal delight had enveloped us all. The foreigners seemed at home. A thin unshaven boy with long hair stopped fiddling with his cell phone. But not all partook of the magic. Two men standing against a wall remained busy performing prayers. The singer with the black skullcap had yawned secretly like a thief. Even I was momentarily alarmed as I looked down at the two bags of books I had with me and noticed my copy of The Satanic Verses threatening to expose itself. Lest somebody be offended, I quickly topped it with my hardbound first edition of The Complete Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.