Bulbul-e-Chisht: The Nightengale of Chisht

The qawwal party sits just in front the wall that divides the compound of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah from his disciple Amir Khusro’s. But that night, the first night I am at Nizamuddin, I am unaware that Khurso lies buried just next door. The crowd of pilgrims stands and sits in a U in front of the party. Two harmoniums, one dholak, two lead and two backup vocalists and four or five chorus members. The air of informality that typifies even the most “westernized” qawwali “concert” surges pretty freely around here. Chorus members and vocalists get and leave for chores, for chatting with an acquaintance and rejoin the singing. A few minutes into the start there is already a pile of rupees on the floor in front of the harmoniums. Periodically someone walks over into the clearing in the middle and deposits some more money. Wonder how much they make in an evening…I can’t help but have a materialistic thought in that atmosphere saturated with spirit. But even as i think that, the action itself, the act of showering money on the qawwal (and sometime this is literally done, at moments of great spiritual passion or ecstacy) shatters the dichotomy between the spiritual and the material. It is not hidden, a fee received in some quiet room or corridor by the “manager” of the concert hall, or a direct deposit into the bank account, but blatantly overt. It symbolizes the community support that would typically sustain the qawwal. Of course I wouldn’t be surprised if today we depart somewhat from this ideal.

The qawwals face the inner sanctum and just in front of it stands a chap whose job is to energetically clear thronging mobs away from the clearing, perhaps so as not to occlude the qawwal’s view of their pir, in whose service they sing every night. I am squatting on my haunches, the rain is still pattering on the tarpaulin that covers us, but it seems to be abating some what. This night there seems to be a team of reporters from some TV program here. About 10 minutes into the singing they begin setting up a large camera. Next to them sits a group of white people in Indian clothes, a medium-sized bearded man seems to be the “leader”. He has on with a fine cap and jacket with a kurta and khaki trousers. These are the only people sitting on a rug. Oh by the way, if you are patiently reading through this description, I should have said earlier, just to the previous post and click on the movie link. Its a far more pleasant way of learning the same things!

I stay on till the end of the singing. It lasts about an hour. It is a little past 9pm and the rain has stopped. They start wrapping up, someone takes on the job of collecting all the money to which I have also added my 50 rupees. I loiter around waiting to see if I can speak to one of the lead vocalists whose voice has mesmerized me. The pilgrims are dispersing. I go up to Ghulam Hasnain Nizami, for that is his name (ji, mera naam Ghulam Hasnain Nizami hai). He hands me his business card. It says “bulbul-e-chisht ke khitab se nawaze gaye” (Bestowed with the title, nightengale of Chisht). Hazrat Nizamuddin was from Chisht.

On my way back I take the same route, the back door through which I have come. Emerging from the bowels of the watery corridor, I collect my sandals from the keeper at the door. What should I give you? Whatever you think appropriate. I hand him five rupees and head out into the gulli lined with dhabas on either side. Now that the dargah and its atmosphere it behind, I am face to face with a more mundane question. How do I get back to the hostel? Its almost 9:30pm. I am staying in a part of town thats mostly offices. I ask a random autowallah on the main road, ITO chalenge? (Will you go to the ITO?) I am not hoping for much, but I am unprepared for the Delhi brand of candor. Sawal hi nahi! (Out of the question!) I am taken aback but I think I smile. Pressing on I gather quickly that more queries will only elicit variants of the above answer. But I needn’t worry. I have responded to a call from Hazrat saheb. He will see me home. I start walking in search of a bus stop. A few inquiries on the street land me in front of one. And lo! The first bus to come is my bus. In Delhi, the bus conductors often sit by the pedestrian-side window (usually the first or the last seat) and shout out the stops that the bus will be making (ITO, Jama Masjid, Lal Qilla, Chandni Chowk…and so on). So one only has to keep ones ears open for one’s stop and then hop on.

(to be concluded)


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