Qawwali, a longing and memories of Nizamuddin

It’s very early on a Friday morning. I’m sitting alone in the office, reminiscing about the time I’ve spent at Delhi’s Nizamuddin dargah.

Through my laptop’s speakers, the Wadali Brothers remind me once again why I love qawwali and transport me to the shrine of the Sufi saint, where I fell in love with what I once called “prayer disguised as song.”

The Mumbai sky yesterday reminded me of an afternoon in August 2008, when I visited the dargah. Normally, there is qawwali at the dargah on Thursday evenings, but that Tuesday morning, as I walked in, the crests and troughs of a seasoned singing voice wafted across the courtyard. It was Gulam Hussain Sabri.

I sat mesmerised as he sang: Auron ko jo mila hai muqaddar se mila hai… Hum ko toh muqaddar bhi tere dum se mila hai…

A small crowd gathered, some circled the grave of Nizamuddin Auliya and lay flowers upon it, others tied strings to the marble mesh that demarcates the sanctum sanctorum, many lit joss sticks, everybody prayed.

And then, someone up there conjured up some magic.

As Sabri and his troupe sang, the clouds gathered, a wind blew and wall of water came down. I felt wonder and I felt cleansed.

Over the years, I have visited the dargah repeatedly, and I’ve always left feeling touched by something special.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve visited the shrine – an unusually long gap for me since I used to visit Delhi often for several years till the beginning of 2011, and would go to the dargah on virtually every visit.

The elders in my family say you visit a shrine only when the holy person resting there calls. I’m reminded of these lines in Sabri’s qawwali:

Jab girte hue maine tera naam liya hai,

Tab manzil ne wahi badh ke mujhe thaam liya hai…

I wish to visit Nizamuddin again. And I’m waiting for his call.

Gulam Hussain Sabri (centre) at the Nizamuddin dargah.