[Reader-list] settlement at hzt nizamuddin basti

naveid pasha naveid at rediffmail.com
Sun Jun 27 14:43:55 IST 2004

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        Settlement at Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti 

He’s not like another dhobi who you will see around your colony. Curly shoulder length hair, eyes filled with kajal and a slight hint of lipstick, he surely does stand out in his gali. As we approach him he gives us a sideways glance and smiles in a shy-coy way that shows that he is quite used to such attention. He tells us that his name is Mohammed  Kasim that he has been living in the basti for the past fifteen years. 

Are you a resident of Delhi? 
No, I came to Delhi with this woman who I used to call aunty. I was in Calcutta when she told me that she was coming to Delhi, I got really excited and decided to come with her. But I am not a Bengali, I am from Bihar. 

Where do u live? 
I live close by. 
[We noticed that he hardly made any eye contact while talking. Even though he was friendly he was quite shy] 

Does your family live with u? 
No my family keeps visiting me but they don’t live here. My father is not like me, he is a respectable man. 

So u live alone? 
No no, I live with other people who are also living away from their families. We keep each other company. All of us work in the basti it self. None of us have married till now. 

Where exactly in the basti do u live? 
My house is quite close by. 
[He seemed hesitant about telling us his exact address and so we didn’t push too hard. Throughout our conversation Kasim kept doing his ironing and avoiding eye contact] 

What kind of people do you get to interact with in the basti? 
Well, every body here is very nice to me. It is a very peaceful place. All my friends are Muslims. 

Why? [ we ask him surprised at this quite strange declaration] 
Well u see there are mostly Muslims around this place and I hardly ever go out of the basti so the chances of my making new friends is almost nil. 

How come u don’t go out of the basti, don’t u need to go out to shop for things which u dont get here? 
No I never go out. I never get the time to go anywhere. Plus there is a weekly bazaar, which is set up every Monday where u can buy all kinds of things. 

Where exactly is the bazaar set up? 
At Alvi Chawk, there is a maidan there. 

Are there any advantages of having a shop in Hzt Nizamuddin Basti? 
Yes, it’s a nice place and the business is good. Also I’ve been living here for so many years and therefore I know the people here. 

Do you ever visit the dargah? 
Yes I do sometimes. I go there, offer fatiyah and come back. 

Are u a mureed of the chishtiya silsila? 
No no, I am a follower of tabliq-e-jamat. I visit the marqaz very often. 
[we later discovered that there was a sort of divide between the people who believed in sufism and those who were followers of the jamats. The former frequented the dargah often while the latter visited the marqaz to meet the jamatis. After our short tete-a-tete with Kasim we took his leave and promised to come back to meet him again to which he replied that we would always find him there.] 

As we started moving towards the dargah, past the shops selling rose petals and meat and restaurants with people asking us if we wanted to pay some money to feed the poor beggars sitting outside in circles, we came across a small dimly lit shop filled with small books with titles in urdu. An old man sat in the shop that was more like a tall shelf with books lined up till the ceiling. He wore thick spectacles and had a slight moustache. 
He told us that he had been running the shop for the past twenty years. 

Do u live in Nizamuddin basti? 
No I live in Old Delhi, I used to be a government servant and after retirement I opened this shop here. [He answered promptly almost demanding that we treat him like a man of stature] I come here every day at one o’ clock and leave at eight. 

What changes have u seen in the basti over the past twenty years? 
Nothing much has changed except that the population has almost doubled and a lot more shops have opened up. Earlier there used to be just three-four shops very close to the entrance to the dargah. 

What kind of changes do u see in the basti during the time of urs? 
Well thousands of people visit the basti to pay homage to the dargah. They come from all over the country but that doesn’t affect the sales of my shop. The shops selling flowers and incense sticks do a lot of good business during urs but not me. [ Even though he sounded sad about the sale of his books not being good during the festive season he obviously took a lot of pride in his small book shop.] 

What kind of books does u sell? 
I mostly have religious books. 

Do u also sell books on sufism? 
No not on sufism. These books mostly contain stories from the holy Quran. 

What are the advantages of having a shop in this basti, wouldn’t it be more convenient for u to open a shop in old Delhi, where u live? 
I could have opened a shop at urdu bazaar in old Delhi but there is a bigger market for religious books here. People come to old Delhi to buy literary books but here the whole environment is different. These books are in demand here. These kinds of books have a selected readership and cannot be sold everywhere. 
[ By this time a small crowd had gathered around us which made our interviewee more confident. He was even more charged up now to show everyone that he belonged to a different league altogether and was not like the rest of the shopkeepers around.] 

Do u know anything about the monuments in the basti? 
There are a lot of monuments here, which are of great historical importance. A lot of them belong to the mughal period. The government has started taking good care of them now under Jagmohan sahib. Earlier they had been neglected but now they have been cleaned. 

Do u believe in the mystical powers of the dargah? 
Yes I do. I go there often to offer fatyah but I am not a mureed there. 

We thanked this respectable old man for his time and left him to his work. 

Seemi Pasha 

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