Wednesday, June 13, 2007

City Secrets – The Stock Market Sufi of Fatima Mai’s Dargah

Business propositions made in a unique shrine dedicated to a woman.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The sarcophagus chamber of many sufi shrines in this city is barred to women. So it is pleasantly surprising to discover a dargah dedicated to a woman. But Fatima Mai's shrine, nestled amidst the Soviet-style residential blocks of Kaka Nagar, lacks the mood – no narrow streets, slaughterhouses or kebab stalls. The area residents remain unaware of it. Even William Dalrymple skipped it in his City of Djinns.

Outside, house maids were coyly flirting with big-car drivers. Inside, the marble floor, the whitewashed walls, the copies of the Quran, and the green chaadar on the grave together tried to compensate for the indifferent locale. Suddenly a sunken-cheeked man with a scraggy beard appeared - like an apparition. Claiming to be the caretaker, he complained about the shortage of pilgrims.

"Who was Fatima Mai and why did she come to be venerated as a sufi?", I asked. I only knew she lived during the time of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Delhi's more tourist-friendly sufi saint. Himself ignorant, the caretaker frowned before going out to sit under a neem tree. Alone again, I desperately tried to feel soulful. But the tomb, revamped only a few years ago, was too DDA-esque to secrete any mystic sensuality. Bored, I stepped out to find the caretaker fiddling with his Motorola mobile phone. He looked up and shrieked that a djinn was standing beside me. (What an amusing spectacle it was!)

After calming himself, he offered a taveez that would make me rich enough to buy a flat in Kaka Nagar (I can't, of course, since the government owns all of it). But maybe I looked interested, so he asked me to bring 5 kg mustard oil, 8m of black thread, 1 kg rasgullas and a 100 rupee chaadar for the Mai's tomb. The sufi's stock market spirituality was exasperating. He also wanted a 50-rupee Idea cellular card as the taveez payment. I rolled my eyes and left, the Mai's secret remaining a secret.

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