Wayfaring Review : A Journey Beyond the Baggage of Pronouns In the tradition of Hafez, Rumi and Al Arabi – Djelloul Marbrook


I have been absent from blogging since long for various personal reasons. Once the issues are resolved I’ll try to be regular. Meanwhile please keep showing love on my personal Instagram page. That’s where all the action is right now. 

This is the pre launch book review of my second book Wayfaring.  The website on which it was published is not working and many of my readers missed this exceptional piece of writing. 

Djelloul Marbrook is a friend and editor-in-chief of The Arabesques Review Magazine where the review was first published.

I am sharing this with permission from the writer.

Originally from Algeria, Djelloul now lives in the USA. An exceptional poet, writer, he’s someone I look up to as a student learning the craft of writing. I feel very honoured that he took time out to read and write such a glorious review for a book very close to my heart.

 Here is the full review:

A Journey Beyond the Baggage of Pronouns,In the tradition of Hafez, Rumi and Al Arabi

(Wayfaring Tikuli, Leaky Boot Press, UK, 134pp, $12.70)

You is the crucial word in this riverine collection of poems. In their often apostrophic poise they recall Louis Malle’s Phantom India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_India), the 1969 film that memorably traces the bloodstream of the subcontinent.

When a poet says the I word once too often poems become forests of girders, obstructing our vision. But the poet Tikuli uses the word to stir the elements of nostalgia, melancholy and fragility until all are ennobled. That is the role of the word in her alchemical project. 

Those three elements in the wrong hands smudge the past, blur it, but in the right hands, in Tikuli’s hands, Wayfaring (https://www.amazon.com/Wayfaring-Tikuli/dp/1909849545) becomes a singular act of recollection, reminding us that the unrecollected life is a job left undone, a mission unaccomplished, a task reneged. 

I see him, I see him

standing there, a body trapped in soul, 

always watching

the memories and the rubble of our home….

the poet says at the beginning of “Ghosts of War.” The I is not about her, it’s about activating an elixir, about taking us to a bombed, ruined mosque, to a ghost.  

Tikuli’s use of the pronoun you, the second person, is Sufic when it least seems so. The You of this device is the Sufi dervish’s Beloved. A man or a woman or a child or some other living thing may stand in for the Beloved, but the Beloved, who may be addressed erotically or casually or conversationally, is always that “cloud of unknowing,” that divine idea into which eventually we disappear.

The love poem of the dervish may pass society’s inspection as a tale or an ode or an elegy or a sensual adventure, but at heart it’s always a prayer, a participation in a holy, a celestial project. 

Tikuli is a skilled plein air painter; her palette of words is spare, meticulously chosen and applied in a variety of metrical patterns that, while not avant-garde, are modernist and reliable. The reader is never required to study her metrics; her focus is on the act of recollection and its requisite imperative. She has stories to tell, portraits to paint, ghosts to address, and issues to redress.

The impulse to call Wayfaring a stately transit from irregular ode to free-form ballade is checked by Tikuli’s eschewal of standard metric schemes and rhyme, and to claim that Wayfaring is nonetheless just such a transit, as I do, opens the door to a brief discussion of rhyme in modern poetry. 

End-rhyme bears with it, unlike internal rhyme, a kind of closure, and that closure is not in concert with the rush of cyber-age information and the inquiries that rush requires. End-rhyme, unless it’s handled with extraordinary subtlety, the kind Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Butler Yeats possessed, tends to trip up and shut down inquiry. That’s why Tikuli and other modernists so often dispense with it, preferring assonance and other devices. But that makes modern poetry difficult to characterize without a new poetics. 

In singing of exile, loss, remembrance, grief, journey, Tikuli often uses the pronoun you as Sufi and other mystic poets used thou, to address, to praise, to love, to mourn, but, above all, to open the door to what can be recollected, what can be salvaged, learned, what can be turned into light in the same way a solar lantern collects sunlight all day to illuminate night. Such a lantern must be placed, as these poems are, in a certain order to create a path. That’s why at the very end of Wayfaring the poet says:

….until the sun explodes in my room

separating the night from dark

naked, I wait somewhere between

a lighter shade of white

and a darker shade of black

Tikuli is one of poetry’s antidotes to the fatal, calamitous insistence on being right that besets so many societies. That insistence turns a blind eye and a blank mind to the distinctions she makes in this passage, and in so doing it menaces us. Tikuli offers the eternal aspiration of the dervish to make something in praise of the holy whole to which we belong.

One of Wayfaring‘s triumphs is to give us a collection that, like prayer beads, progresses not only to a way of responding to what befalls but a way of enhancing our observation of what we encounter. Wayfaring‘s strung poems integrate peripheral with head-on vision: the sidelong glance is not lost to central vision, and for that reason in her work we see through much better than human eyes, sometimes the way a circling hawk sees the inhabitants of a field or wood. But the poems don’t merely report, they imagine the songs of people and place. They move like a pavane from the forests of I to the seas of you to the heavens of they, no small feat for any poet. 

Consider the last five lines of her poem, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizamuddin_Auliya):

Two lovers completing each other

like reunited hemispheres.

It is this cosmos wherein exists

the inexpressible, visible only

to those with eyes which can see.

It’s the poet’s ambition to express the inexpressible. But to do that, ego must be divested. That’s at the heart of Sufism. It’s what the Sufi saint of the poem understood so indelibly. It’s what Hafez, Khayyam and Ibn al Arabi, among many others, understood. Finally, beyond the I, you and they is the holy of holies into which the wayfarer must disappear. None of the pronouns suffice, nor do our names and our possessions. 

Addressing the Beloved in poetry is rather like alchemy. To win the patronage of rulers, those coveters of wealth, the alchemists said they intended to transmute base metals into gold. But their real purpose, the best of them, was to ennoble the human soul by finding the elixirs that would ennoble the soul’s baser elements. That’s what is happening when poets like Khayyam and Hafez and Tikuli address you. This you is an elixir.

We wayfare to become the verb, to absolve ourselves of the profane pronouns and the nouns. Wayfaring is testament to this recognition.

                                                                         —Djelloul Marbrook

Delhi Monuments – Kharbooze / Kharbuze ka Gumbad


This is one of the prettiest and perhaps the smallest fluted domed pavilion in Delhi. Built in 14th century, during Tughlaq’s reign, the structure is known as Kharbooze ka gumbad.
The dome, carved from a single solid stone, resembles a half sliced muskmelon (kharbooza) hence the name.

Delhi has its fair share of fluted domes including the one in Makhdumi Mosque, Fatehpuri Mosque, Mir Taqi’s Tomb in Golf Club enclosure, Teen Burj in Mohammadpur village, Madhi Masjid, Mehrauli, Bahaul Lodi’s Tomb and a few more. 

No authentic evidence is available to justify the claim of its association with Sufi saint Kabir-ud-din Aulia. The saint’s grave (Lal Gumbad) is just a stone’s throw away  from this structure hence the presumption.

It could very well be a tomb of some other person or part of a bigger structure. The structure has a miniature chatri made of grey stone that stands on four pillars on  a small octagonal base with a diameter of 2 m.  The dome is precariously balanced on the top. One can see a chamber like opening below the base in some vintage photographs. It’s blocked by the stones now. Only an excavation around the area may perhaps give some answers to this quirky structure’s past.

 I was lucky to get access to Kharbooze ka Gumbad and take close-up of the structure with the permission from the Principal of the school in whose compound the structure lies now.  The ruling by Apex court prohibited any construction within 100 meter radius of a protected heritage site. The school was built in 1982 as per some sources so it was already operating when the ruling came. Not that it is an excuse to encroach. Now it seems there has been an amendment again lifting the ban and allowing construction of public infrastructure within 100 meters of monuments protected by ASI . It could spell disaster for the remaining built heritage. Already hundreds are lost to encroachment and unauthorized construction. 

Delhi is dotted with such lesser known monuments. Where ever you look you are bound to find some architectural marvel. Most of these, which are not on the tourist map, go unnoticed and most of the time  aren’t cared for.  This area of Sadhana Enclave, Panchsheel , Shaikh Sarai, Soami Nagar and Savitri Nagar are rich in such nondescript structures. Not many stop and wonder their architectural presence and historical importance of the mosques, tombs, enclosures of Tughlaq and Lodi periods that are littered all over the place, hemmed in from most sides, in the chaotic, congested bylanes of urban Delhi. They don’t find a place in guide books or get tagged on Google maps. Orphaned, they stand there as a mute testimony to the glorious days of Delhi Sultanate.

INTACH Delhi chapter is looking after the restoration aspect of this structure along with 18 others. The smaller monuments like this one need greater care as they are prone to getting destroyed. Being inside a Montessori school premises has thankfully saved  this one from vandalism. INTACH has been restoring  many relatively unknown monuments every year and turned the fate of a large number of them. 

I think it is a collective responsibility of the the organizations meant to protect these structures and of the public to look after them in the midst of bureaucratic, financial and other challenges that come in the way. A constructive engagement between MCD and residents welfare associations, the public-private partnership and involvement of corporates can help protect the heritage structures from vandalism and pilfering to some extent that is if they get rid of their temperamental aversion towards conservation and restoration of our heritage. 

Having said that one fact that remains undeniable is that uneven attention is given to the built heritage of the city. We have lost enormous history due to our apathy especially the unprotected ones.  

I have digressed from my usual factual details about the monuments but not much information is available about Kharbuze ka Gumbad so I thought of sharing some thoughts in general. Will update the post as and when I get more information.

Recipe – UP Style Crushed Garlic Pickle


Crushed garlic pickle with whole garlic cloves in a mélange of spices is a typical UP style pickle perfect for winter. The heat and piquancy from crushed green chilies,  lemon n mustard seeds makes it delightfully flavourful. The other spices add to the flavor.
Pickles are an essential part of Indian meals and every region has their own special way of pickling. In fact, each household has some secret ingredients that make a particular pickle unique in its own way. This particular pickle recipe is from my extended family in Allahabad. Pickles can spruce up the simplest of meals plus homemade seasonal pickles are probiotic and good aid for digestion and if you are a garlic lover like me this will be a game changer pickle for you. You all know about the health benefits of garlic but I love
the way it enlivens any savory dish with its bold flavor. The beauty of this traditional  pickle is the use of both whole and crushed garlic pods. It’s meaty and crunchy at the same time. So here is the heirloom recipe of desi lahsun ka achar from Uttar Pradesh. I learned it from my cousin’s wife who lives in Allahabad. It is a boon to have parents from two different states and communities. There is a wealth of heirloom recipes one can learn.
Read the entire recipe before beginning. 
Ingredients :
250 gm – Garlic pods ( pealed)
50 gm – Fresh Ginger root  (pealed)
8-10 – Fresh Green Chilies
2 pinches ( 1/4 tsp) – Asafoitida
1/2 tsp – Turmeric Powder
1 tsp – Kalaunji (nigella seeds)
1 tsp – Fenugreek seeds
1 tsp – Coriander seeds
1 tsp – Fennel seeds
1 tsp – Ajwain ( bishops seeds)
1 tsp – Cumin seeds
Juice of 2 Lemons ( keep the squeezed lemon aside)
Plain salt as required
Black Salt as required
200 gm -Mustard oil + 4 Tbsp
Method :
Collect all the ingredients at one place along with a dry clean glass jar to keep the pickle. Remember to keep your hands and all the utensils clean and dry. This will ensure the longevity of the pickle.
Select unblemished Garlic bulbs with pods of medium thickness. Peal them and keep aside.
Dry roast all the whole spices on low heat one by one till they become fragrant and remove in a plate. You can dry roast together too but I prefer to do separately. Slow roasted spices give the pickle its unique flavor which isn’t possible if you use them unroasted.
Once done let it cool completely and then grind 3/4 of the whole spices coarsely in a grinder. The remaining whole spices we will add as it is. Keep aside both the ground and whole spices.
Now, in the same jar coarsely grind 3/4 of the garlic pods along with the green chilies. use the chilies as per your heat thresh hold and make sure they don’t overpower the taste of garlic. We won’t use red chili powder in this pickle. Rest of the garlic pods will go whole in the pickle. This mixing of both the crushed and whole garlic enhances the taste.
Grate the fresh ginger root and keep aside. You can omit ginger if you wish. I know a few who do not prefer it in this pickle.
Once you juice the two lemons, cut the squeezed lemons in small pieces. throw away the seeds. Keep aside. Adding these small juicy lemon pieces will add the tangy flavor to the pickle. I make it without the pieces too but it brings a variety in taste with every bite if you add these.
Once everything is ready, keep a kadhai or wok on high flame and add the oil. Let it heat up nicely and smoke. This is important. Now, lower the flame to minimum. Take out 3-4 tbsp of oil and keep aside.
Add asafoetida and ground garlic, green chili mixture. Stir properly and then add the whole garlic pods too. Mix well and fry it properly on low heat. Keep stirring so that it
doesn’t stick to the wok or burns.
Add the grated ginger and stir properly.
Add turmeric powder, salt and stir. Salt will help it to soften and roast well. All these things like salt, oil, lemon help in preservation and this pickle can last minimum for an year but as it is considered heat generating so eat it in winter time only. 
The garlic soaks up the oil so don’t worry about the quantity. Mustard oil is good for health too especially in winters.
Once the mixture gets nicely roasted and gives out a sondha aroma it will begin to release the oil. At this point add the ground spices. Adjust the amount as per the garlic mixture. Don’t add too much. Add the whole spices too and mix well. 
Stir for a few minutes then add the lemon pieces and mix well. Add black salt at
this point. Be careful of adding both the salts. The plain salt should be less than black salt.
Now add the lemon juice and mix well. We don’t have to fry the mixture now. Just a few stirs and we are done.
Turn off the heat and remove the kadhai or wok on the counter to cool. It must cool completely before bottling.
Once the achaar is cooled spoon it in clean dry airtight glass jars. Add a little bit of the
reserved oil on top and close the lid tightly.
Keep it in sun for 4-5 days. Shake the bottle occasionally so that the ingredients mix well.
The pickle will be ready to eat after sunning. Enjoy it with bhakri or as an accompaniment to any main course.
Always use clean, dry spoon to take out the pickle for serving.
Let me know if you make this. Make your own pickles at home. They are much more healthy and nutritious than the market bought which are laden with too much oil, salt and preservatives.

Kali Gajar Ka Halwa |Black Carrot Halwa


 

It is an established fact that carrot halwa is the quintessential winter dessert in North India at least. Usually everyone makes the red carrot halwa, loaded with the goodness of juicy winter carrots, ghee (a good fat), and dry fruits but I absolutely love the black carrot halwa since my childhood. More than the red and the exotic white one which is sold only at Shirin Bhawan, Chandini Chawk, Old Delhi. In Allahabad, Lucknow and nearby areas it was made in many households on regular basis and was one of the top picks for the winter wedding season. It was also part of the Royal Awadhi cuisine.

In Delhi, the safed gajar ka halwa ruled until the red one came and dominated the market after the partition.

Even though it a specialty of Eastern UP, very few shops make and sell it. Kali gajar is not really black but of deep violet hue like the beetroot and is used in Punjab for the preparation of the delicious kanji, a mustard, ginger powder and rock salt-laced tingling appetizer. Interestingly this deep purple variety of carrot is the original carrot.

This traditional gajar halwa is one of the top ones in the lost recipes / delicacies of Indian cuisines. The richness of ghee helps in absorption of fat soluble vitamins in the pigments. Black carrot is rich in flavonoids and Antioxidant anthocyanins among other things. They are considered to be warming in nature and extremely healthy so the halwa was eaten as a tonic to boost the immunity. The halwa is less sweet than the red carrot and has a unique taste and flavor that you need to cultivate and once you do it will become one of your top choices.

For years I made this delicious exactly as I made the red carrot halwa and thought that the astringent taste was part of the package but then as few years back I came across Sangeeta Khanna’s recipe on her blog. I was surprised to know the reason for the strange taste and how the black carrots mask the sweetness of the milk unlike the sweet red ones when cooked in full fat milk. So I learned how to get rid of the problem. It was a game changer for the dish I so love. So, the recipe I am sharing is originally hers and you can find it HERE too.

The Kali Gajar Halwa is rich in ghee ( clarified butter) which is essential for the absorption of fat soluble nutrients of the pigment. So, do make this mouth watering dish before the season for black carrots is over.

Ingredients:

1 kg cleaned peeled and grated black carrots
1 Liter full fat milk reduced to make about 200 gm rabdi like thick consistency)
200 gm sugar
60 gm (2-3 tbsp) ghee or a little more
chopped nuts, raisins for garnish (I usually prefer it without any add-ons)

Method:

Wash, wipe, peel and grate the carrots and keep aside. I usually use a plastic bag over my hands while grating as the pigment is hard to wash off. Be careful of it staining your clothes etc.

( Side note -My aunt used to say one should always use straight carrots and not the deformed twisted ones. I asked her the reason and she gave some popular story about the root resembling the phallic shape and considered aphrodisiac.)  😀 

Take the full fat whole milk in a thick bottom pan and bring it to boil. Now, reduce heat and let it evaporate and thicken while you prepare the carrots. Keep stirring now and then. I absolutely detest khoya or mawa so never use it. It also changes the original subtle taste which is a complete no no. No shortcuts to good food.

Heat a broad thick bottom pan or wok  on medium flame and generously smear it with ghee. The wok must be large enough to comfortably contain all the grated carrot.

Slid in the grated carrots and stir vigorously for five minutes or till the carrots wilt and reduce. Now, tun the flame to medium and keep stirring. The beautiful flavors will get locked in as the carrots get a little seared. They will get a glorious sheen when this happens.

Once the grated carrot reduces in volume and becomes shiny soft you can mash it a little to get a smooth texture or leave it as it is for that authentic granular texture. I don’t mash the carrots as it is the shredded texture that gives the dish its character.

Add the sugar and mix well. Keep stirring and cooking till all the water released from adding the sugar evaporates. The mixture will become glazed and shine.

By now the milk would have reduced to the required consistency. Stir and scrape all the thick malai from the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat and remove it from stove. Add the thick evaporated milk to the carrot mixture and mix well. The milk will take on the gorgeous purple hue of the carrots and the kitchen will become fragrant with the aroma and the halwa won’t get the .astringent taste either.

Cook till all the ingredients come together in a mass. The mixture will usually leave the sides. Roast it a little more and remove from heat. 

Garnish with chopped blanched almonds, raisins etc if you desire. The halwa is best served hot.

I can assure you that you will definitely go for another helping.  Do let me know if you prepare this.

Delhi Monuments – Lal Gumbad


 

Wandering around Delhi you may come across many pieces of history now forgotten and lost to time. One such lesser visited monument is the Tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya known as Lal Gumbad. Oblivious to the hustle bustle around it the elegant building stands in a gated walled complex in utter neglect. Though it is in comparatively good state the other structures that lay scattered in the ground around it are a repository of decay.

Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya is believed to belong to the Chishti Silsila. The Sufi saints were known for their piety and simplicity and never had such grand tombs of marble and sandstone built over their graves. Mostly they were modest enclosures, usually open from the sides. It is believed that Kabiruddin was a disciple of Sufi saint Roshan Chirag Delhi, who was the spiritual successor of the world-renowned Nizamuddin Auliya.

Most of the saints of Chisti order were buried in open grounds and later chatris wee built over the graves. Many other graves, wall mosques would come up around the saint’s grave over a period of time. This particular tomb is not just grand as a structure it has ornate walls, pierced jaali screens, and, according to the local lore, gold filial atop the dome which is thought have been stolen centuries ago. And yet, the plaque inside the tomb ascribes it to the saint. There are many theories about the structure and one such says that it was built by Firoz Tughlaq for himself but later given for the Sufi saint’s burial.

Situated in Sadhna Enclave, Malviya Nagar, this sandstone structure of Tughlaq period is known as Lal Gumbad though it doesn’t have a red dome. How it acquired the name is a mystery. It does have sloping red sandstone walls. The somewhat pointed and not so round dome used to be white but has blackened over the period of time.

If you look at the structure it resembles a mini fort rather than a saint’s Dargah. In appearance it reminds one of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’s tomb, albeit this tall square structure is a poor replica of it. Built in 1397, it is a typical example of Tughlaq architecture. The structure stands on a raised plinth and has sturdy sloping walls covered with strips of dressed red sandstone that turn slightly inwards as they go up. The Tughlaq tombs had walls with thick base making it easy for the single dome to sit properly atop the squat building. The plastered conical dome springing from the low octagonal drum of this tomb is strikingly different than other Tughlaq era tombs.

On the North and South side walls one can see mihrabs with ornate sandstone jaalis. The west wall exterior is plain from outside but has a deeply recessed arch inside. One can see lotus bud motifs in marble on the arches that have false decorative pillars below them. The Eastern archway is elaborately carved and as one enters the damp, dark funerary chamber one comes across nine graves. The grave of a male in the center is a somber one. One can see a lot of lotus bud ornamentation in marble inside, very typical of Khilji period in my opinion, though I am not an expert. The great wooden door is kept locked mostly to prevent worshiping I guess.

The tomb is also known as Rakabala gumbad due to the story that rakhabs were fixed on the western slopping wall to steal the gold finial.

The exquisite domed gateway is now gone and so have the enclosure walls. The whole place, except the main tomb, looks more ruinous than what it was even say 10 months back. Not that the tomb of Hazrat Shaikh Kabir-ud-din Aulia is in perfect condition. The massive wooden door is charred from below due to the burning of incense sticks, earthen lamps etc. Overgrowth has taken over many of the dilapidated structures there. Encroachments and sheer neglect has caused the eastern gateway to become dilapidated. Its floor has eroded and is in dire need of repair.

The other domed structure in the complex is filthy and smells disgusting. I think it also acts as a store. I couldn’t approach the wall next to it as there was garbage of all sorts, broken glass and an overgrowth of low thorny bushes. Why aren’t the concerned authorities maintaining this place? Going by the photographs of last 5-6 years things have just deteriorated. The way things are going we will lose most of the lesser known monuments due to sheer neglect and apathy. I think all these gated monuments should be ticketed. It will definitely improve the situation.

There are several scattered graves and remains of at least five wall mosques in the enclosed area around the tomb. All of these belong to Lodi period. The most prominent one is located to the west of Lal Gumbad. Here, there are recessed arches on the western prayer wall and two short walls returning on the North and South too contain arches. One can see some fading incised plasterwork depicting floral motifs as well as geometrical shapes on the main qanati (wall) masjid.

There is a platform in front of the wall with a single grave. The corners of the western wall are strengthened by circular bastions. Two other mosques have three mihrabs and a third one has a single mihrab.

Everything is surrounded by weeds and grass. It is remarkable how these structures have withstood the ravages of time. Nothing much is known about who is buried in these graves. Perhaps people who were close to the saint.

Many locals were lounging around the grassy patches that cover some of the space in the complex. No tourists were there and according to the local boys hardly any visit the place as it is infested with bad elements mainly gamblers and addicts. I could feel the piercing gaze of young men who were killing time there.

The 620-year-old tomb, one of the finest pre-mughal structures and the ruins around it are dying a slow death. There is a dire need to preserve Delhi’s built heritage.

As I walked around the unkempt but manicured grounds that once formed the fourth city of Delhi- Jahanpanah, founded by Muhammad Bin Tuglaq, I thought about the times we live in and the ruinous state of affairs that have marred the social fabric of our country once known to be secular and tolerant. In retrospective these abandoned ruins seemed calming to the senses.

Unfortunately I missed out photographing some important aspects of the place. I will update the post when I click a few more pictures.

Meanwhile do take time out and visit these exquisite yet unknown remnants of our cultural and architectural heritage.

Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Makhdum Sabzwari Mosque


I always wanted to visit this very beautiful and intriguing mosque and Dargah of lesser known saint Hazrat Makhdum Sabzwari in upmarket Mayfair Gardens next to Hauz Khas enclave. The late 15th century mosque and tomb complex stands west to the ruined walls of Siri.

One look and you’re in awe of the simple yet majestic structure set in a serene lush garden. This is another of the invisible, forgotten structures from late Tughlaq period (built after Taimur’s invasion of Delhi in 1398). The massiveness of the construction, slopping sturdy exterior walls, squat domes, rows of unornamented pillars, all show the simplicity and austerity of Tughlaq style of architecture.

Here is a text from the Online Gallery of British Library :

“Durgah (‘Shrine’) Mukhdoom (‘literally a Servant’) Subzwaree (‘title taken from the place of birth’) Saheb. The individual whose shrine is here represented was a native of the town of Subz in the Province of Kish, and was a person of uncommon talent. When he had acquired as much learning as his birth place could furnish him with, he proceeded to Shiraz and Bokhara, where he pursued
[The tomb and adjacent mosque of Makhdum Sabzavari.]
his studies in medicine and other branches of service and literature to a perfection which entitled him to diplomas. Hence he came to Hindoostan during the reign of Sultan (‘Emperor’) Alaoodeen(‘Glory of the Faith’) Khiljie (‘name of tribe or family’), who reigned AD 1295 in quest of religious characters & on arrival at Dehlie became a disciple of Huzrut Sultan ool Mushayek Nizam Odeen Owleea (Page 40 [f. 43v]) under whom he practised so rigid a discipline as to induce his Master to nominate him to the succession of the Priesthood held by himself. He did not, however, survive to receive the honor having demised about AD 1325 two years previous to the death of the Saint. The Mausoleum and Mosque which are seen in the drawing were erected by his children.” (LINK)

The use of indigenous motifs and style at some places in the structures make it a unique link between the early puritan architecture and more inclusive one of the later dynasties of Sayyids and Lodis.

Sadly, except from Thursdays, barely anyone visits this place despite its unique features. On Thursdays a few devout people come to pray and seek the blessings from the saint. Not much is known about Makhdum Sahib. Some say he came from Sabswar in Central Asia.

There is a board telling you that it is an ASI protected monument but no other information is available. This mosque reminds me of Shah Alam’s tomb and mosque enclosure (late 14th c.). Both have low enclosing walls and similar mosque and tomb.

The gateway to the complex is made of rubble masonry. There are four small niches flanking a large Temple-Style entrance arch comprised of carved rectangular slabs and pillars. Under the arch is a beautiful carved corbelled gateway leading to the courtyard. A very important feature of the gateway is the unusual and beautiful fluted ribbed dome. The gateway allows access to the northern side of the mosque. The entrance to the steps leading to the roof is locked. There is a balcony with cells too. The grilled gates of the cells are a latest addition.

The structure is a beautiful example of intermingling of Indian and Central Asian architecture comprising of architectural brilliance of both the styles. Some of the unique features of this architectural style are elaborately decorated and embellished arches and domes. Teachings from the Holy Quran, various floral patterns and the Buddhist and Hindu motifs were widely used in decorations. We see some of that in this complex too.

I find the ‘indo- Islamic’ term a misnomer but that is my personal view point. There is nothing called Islamic or Hindu architecture apart from what the British fed everyone to create a feeling of ”otherness’. The architecture that’s called Islamic is from Central Asia and the Hindu is actually the Indian architecture.

I believe that architecture during those times wasn’t really Hindu or Islamic and the motifs were designed as per the aesthetic sense rather than religious one. This is a debate for some other time. The use of common motifs in temples and mosques or tombs etc speaks highly about the vivid imagination of builders and designers of these buildings. The successful bringing together of different design features as a whole is a fine example of the ganga- jamuni tehzeeb. It is interesting that we see a diverse intermingling of Indian, Persian, Buddhist, Jain style of architecture. I am sorry for digressing but it is a point I had to make. Architecture has No Religion.

Back in Sabzwari Mosque, the spacious courtyard is lined on three sides by pillared cloisters that form the part of the mosque. It is a seven bay mosque that has squat domes over the central and the corner bays giving the structure a solid, sturdy look.

The most intriguing feature of the mosque is the concept of “enclosed space”. One can see the sahn defined by iwans on three sides. This gives the sense of both openness and closeness at the same time. The iwans on the western (Mecca facing) wall are more prominent. One can also see circular buttresses on the corners of the western wall.

The building is constructed of rubble masonry coated with plaster. The pillars of the arched openings are made of hard compact granite roughly chiseled into squared rectangular blocks. The western facade also has two slender turret-like structures on either side of the main dome and one on each of the ends.

There are no minarets for the muezzin to summon for the prayer and an interesting thing to note here is that the two step mimbar of pulpit, to the right side of the Qibla wall, is placed behind a pillar. It is a small mosque so it served its authoritarian purpose.

The arches, pillars, the red sandstone dripstones, the architraves and brackets speak of the gentle intermingling of the two architectural styles. The external walls of the iwans and the vaulted insides of the domes have delicate plaster ornamentation and medallions.

There were 18 medallions in total out of which twelve have the word ‘Allah’ inscribed on them while six others have floral designs. This beautiful structure has survived the ravages of more than five centuries but the sharpness of lines chiseled in plaster look exquisite even today. A few medallions, plaster ornamentation, painted decorations have got destroyed over the period of time especially due to neglect and vandalism.

A unique feature is the presence of two medallions that have hexagram in them with the word Allah in the middle. The hexagram is surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist ‘infinity knots’ or the ‘endless knots’.

Delhi has a lot of mosques and tombs with hexagram as a decorative geometrical symbol. I’ll try and do a story on it too.

Hexagram has been used in Islamic ornamentation on almost all ancient structures from tombs to mosques. It has been extensively used in Indian and other architectural styles, cultural beliefs too with different connotations. It is also a potent symbol of astronomy, science and mathematics. I think the early Armenians were the first to use it in 3rd millennium BC.

The infinity knot or the endless/eternal knot is an auspicious symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhism’s endless knot motif is incorporated in some of other monuments in Delhi too perhaps to depict the concept of infinite powers of one eternal God or an inter-twining of wisdom and compassion. Also, there was a spread of this branch of Buddhism in Delhi since the time of King Ashoka so we do see the symbols from it incorporated in many later structures.

There are two narrow domes hujras or cells on either side of the open pillared cloisters, which probably served as secluded chambers for performing austerities or meditation. One of them still has remnants of an intricate red sandstone jaali (lattice-work).

 

Facing this mosque is a walled graveyard. The focal point is the pavilion tomb of the saint himself. Built on a raised platform, it is a twelve-pillared structure that originally had jali screens (screen with ornamental patterns) held between the pillars. (see the British Library Link above)

 

The pillars are arranged to support a set of beams that in turn support an octagonal drum, on which sits the squat dome. At the corners formed between the square and the octagonal drum on the roof are four decorative minarets. A chhajja (projecting cover supported on brackets) runs all along the outer periphery of the pavilion. Medallions bearing the name Allah are studded into the kangura pattern.

The grave’s plaster has fallen off exposing the bricks beneath. I saw some swastikas drawns with red roli powder on one of its sides. Some flower offerings lay there along with a blackened earthen diya. A mazar such as this has a religious significance unlike the maqbara such as in Humayun’s or Safdarjung tombs.

The most interesting feature of the tomb are the remains of intricate cerulean shamsas on the crest of the dome and lintels for which both incised and painted plaster has been used. One can see it in a painting made by Mazhar Khan for Metcalfe’s Imperial Delhi, Dehlie Diary, online gallery of British Library.

Painting was one of the more common forms of decoration in medieval structures. Possibly because it could be used extensively and did not require the hard physical labour or the large expenses that went into stone work. Unfortunately it doesn’t withstand the passage of years well because of its fragility and here is an example of that but despite that, lots of medieval monuments in Delhi (especially tombs) are home to some beautifully ornate painting.

There are several other graves, some with inscriptions, scattered around the main structure. Most of them are in dilapidated state. These must be the graves of either the saint’s disciples or family members.

A few people were resting under the trees in the rolling park around the structure but mostly it was the crows, squirrels and a solitary Hornbill that had come to experience the tranquil surroundings of this forlorn complex.

I made another visit to the complex a few days later and spent time exploring the gardens.  Usually one finds a peacock or two there but that day it was deserted. I remembered the summer of the Laburnum and how pretty it would look with its delicate flowers carpeted on the emerald green grass.

I am still trying to learn more about this mosque and Dargah and I will update the post in case I come across some interesting facts.

I think I have covered almost all the lesser known monuments in and around Hauz Khas. I have two more interesting posts on Delhi wanderings coming up so stay tuned.

 

Delhi Monuments – Ambling through Green Park – Barakhamba And Biran Ka Gumbad


During the fifteenth century Delhi had such a large number of tombs and other monuments that it became difficult to keep up with them . The area around Hauz Khas, Green Park and its surrounding localities are dotted with such beautiful but forgotten buildings. Only a handful have found a place in the tourist map rest are just scattered around inconsequential and insignificant to the history and to city folks who pass by them without even giving a glance. Though in recent years ASI has given many of them a facelift but still they don’t attract the attention they should. Heritage  for us has become a liability rather than a matter of pride. Thankfully these particular set of  structures are at least free of encroachment and it better condition many of their counterparts.

Barahkhamba 

Close to the two picturesque gumtis stands a massive yet magnificent Barah Khamba or twelve pillared domed structure though, unlike the three other structures in the city with the same name, this one doesn’t seem to have the twelve pillars or columns. The name is misleading but it is clearly a Lodi period tomb with all the characteristics of that architectural style. Like most of the tombs around it nothing much is known about who is buried here or who commissioned or built it.

The structure stands in the middle of a small well maintained garden patch with two minor yet interesting structures near it. The impressive domed square building is supported by pillars of different girth and the corner ones seem like solid buttressed walls though from inside one can count the twelve columns with walled spaces between a few. The building had cenotaph inside which has long since fallen to the ravages of time but there are still numerous graves in the compound shaded with heavy tree branches. All four sides of the building have three arched entrances. These arched entrances are embedded in a wider arched depression giving the structure a massive look. Set on a mound the structure stands on a 2 feet six inches plinth with a hemispherical dome on top. One can imagine the barren walls of its interior with engravings of some other embellishments.

Two very interesting structures stand close to the structure – a single worn out bastion which seems as if it may have been part of some other structure but looks totally out of place now and a square structure with an alcove / niche that may have been used to light an earthen lamp as the stories say but I feel it may have probably held a horizontal beam or something. Perhaps there were one each at all the four corners. We will never know the mysteries these orphaned structures hold. There is a dried up well too in the compound.

Overall the place carries an aura of mystery and desolation. Not many people spot it in one glace through the thick trees and high walls and grills and those who do somehow prefer the serene and lush green patches of the other smaller structures opposite the road. I didn’t see any caretaker or guard but a roadside vendor said he is usually around somewhere but doesn’t know anything about the building and in any case not many are curious to know what lies beneath in the graves. One day everything will turn into a ruin. Even these big sprawling houses will crumble perhaps even before the ancient structures he said and glanced around the changing landscape of the city with sad eyes.  I bought a dona of chaat from him and walked away reflecting on his wise words.

Biran Ka Gumbad 

Right opposite the main Green Park market is another nondescript tomb that hardly anyone visits. Earlier there was a small entrance from the Agrasen Park but now one has to go to the narrow lane to access the monument. Sandwiched between a row of houses and a park it is totally disconnected from public view and easy to miss. The patch of greenery that surrounds it is smaller than previous ones I visited. Perhaps the reason to have a separate entrance was to stop encroachment and that seems to have worked.

As one ambles around these lanes of old kharera village one can see why Delhi became a necropolis in times of Sayyids and Lodis. The number of nondescript tombs and graves is ridiculously high. Some of these are octagonal or square and others like a pavilion or chattri.

Biran ka Gumbad means ‘Brother’s Dome’, perhaps an indication towards the nearby Dadi -Poti tombs but all these names are locally given. No authentic historical documentation is there about the identity of these various tombs. They all remain uninscribed and unclaimed. The rubble built design is similar to Dadi ka Gumbad except for the absence of arched openings flanking the and the archways embedded in the sides and the mihrab.

It is a massive 13 meters x 13 meters structure built in typical Lodi style. As you climb the seven steps your thoughts wander to the seven ancient cities of Delhi and their remnants scattered all around the present metropolis. The Afghans ruled over Delhi from 1451 to 1526 as Lodhi Dynasty. 500 plus years of ancient footprints and these tombs, a testimonial to that time. 

 

Inside the high ceiling single chamber there is a ruined remains of a cenotaph.  At one time perhaps it had beautiful incised and plastered medallions and remnants of painted decorations but most is lost now. The exterior is decorated with arched niches arranged in a row giving it an impression of double storeyed building.

There is a remaining strip of ornamentation here and there along the exterior walls.

In the compound there is a dried up well which is about 10-15 feet deep.

There is nothing spectacular about the structure and yet it draws your attention to come and explore, perhaps run your fingers along the stones and feel the heartbeats of a million stories. Gaze at it for sometime and you automatically feel drawn to it.

Most of the time the place is deserted. The caretaker said not many people visit it and those who do hardly stop for more than ten minutes. At night the tomb is lit up like all the others in the vicinity but I doubt if anyone gives it even a glance.

It is sad and I am reminded of these lines by William Henry Davis,

” What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

 

Do go visit these forgotten relics of the time by. I have covered most of the monuments in this area. Today there is another adventure awaiting.

Stay tuned for it to reveal itself.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling through Green Park – Choti Gumti And Sakri Gumti


The area around old kharera village (now Hauz Khas) is dotted with many big and small monuments. Camouflaged by large trees and posh houses these structures stand as a silent testimonial to time gone by. Usually set in a small garden plot they offer a place to to the locals to step out of their hurried routines and pause a little.

It is interesting that during the 14th-15th century reign of Sayyid and Lodi’s the city construction was limited to tombs and mosques. They lacked resources and Sikander Lodi shifted his capital to Agra thus further restricting the building of new structures in Delhi. So, the construction of grand forts, palaces, cities that the early Sultanate rulers did practically came to a halt during early-14th to mid-17th centuries except a few exceptions and there. Interestingly the Sayyid, Lodhi and Mughal rulers and nobles chose Delhi as a resting place for their loved ones so slowly in that period Delhi turned into a sort of necropolis.

It is strange that most of these mosques and tombs, except a few large ones, remain unsung even after their recent beautification. The illumination of these structures by ASI hasn’t helped much in promotion as people barely pause to look at them.

Apart from the tombs and mosques there are a few other small structures like Sakri Gumti that could have been part of a larger complex of buildings or perhaps a gateway albeit a strange one.

I explored the cluster of Lodi era structures – Choti Gumti (Small Domed Building), Sakri Gumti (Narrow Domed Building), Barakhamba (Twelve-pillared Building) and Biran ka Gumbad during my wanderings around the Hauz Khas / Green Park area, part of the city of Siri, the third capital of Delhi Sultanate.

All these structures lie in close proximity of each other and to the Hauz Khas group of monuments. The two Gumtis are separated from each other by a road that ambles into the posh Hauz Khas Enclave, Green Park and leads to HKV.

Choti Gumti 

This petite Lodi period (AD 1451-1526) structure stands gracefully in a small garden patch.  The cubical little mausoleum is perfectly proportioned and has small decorative alcoves.  It measures 15 square inches and is built with rubble masonry and then plastered like all the other structures of this period. There are numerous pointed arches of the embossed rectangular facades on all the sides.  A semicircular dome crowned with a blooming lotus finial adorns the structure.

The kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation) and the hints of tiny minarets emerging from the corners of the octagonal drum (base) of the dome make it a pretty little building.

The Choti Gumti is a tomb and a single grave of an unknown person lies in its forgotten dark interiors that are closed to the public eyes. There is a narrow entrance with steps leading to the upper level where one can go around the dome and get a bird’s eye view of the area but that too was inaccessible. I came to know that there is a painted medallion on the ceiling. I will try and get access in a few days. 🙂

I sat to rest on an empty bench watching the men enjoying their siesta and soaking the early winter sun. A group of young girls chatted animatedly as the walked around inspecting the structure. The pigeons sat on the dome obliviously to life around them.  A young lad served tea to two workers eating their lunch on the grassy patch. I had to cover a few more places and the sight of food was making me hungry so I decided to leave. The barricaded garden has a shop on a far side corner and a makeshift entrance made for the convenience of the shopkeeper I guess. I took that exit and crossed the road to Sakri Gumti and Barah Khamba opposite its gate.

Sakri Gumti  

Set in the center of a small well maintained barricaded garden stands a mysterious narrow structure built of rubble masonry. Sakri Gumti is another lesser known Lodi era monument.

As there is no grave inside we know it is not a tomb. In fact there are entrance arches on all its four faces making it look more like a gateway but a gateway to what we don’t know. Also, there is a half broken rubble wall running along its eastern side, originally it would have perhaps blocked one of its entrances but as I looked closely there seemed one side of a smaller arch entrance in that too right in front of the entrance of the main structure. The wall is broken from that point. One can see a small window too.  Who built the wall and why we do not know. The ornamented arches and windows on the exterior wall give it a semblance of two-storyed building.  The short dome rests on a relatively high drum. A row of kanguras similar to ones around the roof’s vertical expanse surround the dome. I didn’t step inside but will go another time and update on how it looks. On the exterior wall there are some roughly carved patterns embossed here and there.  Otherwise there is no other ornamentation.

Even though the structure is very intriguing not many people visit it. I just saw one gentleman lunching quietly on a nearby bench under a tree shade. There was no guard or caretaker in sight.

These little gems are an integral part of the urban layout of Delhi. They stand there tenaciously holding on to life as the city around them evolves at maddening speed.

Stop by sometime to pause and reflect on this heritage of Delhi that mostly doesn’t get its due.

 

  

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Darwesh Shah Mosque


At the outskirts of the ancient city of Siri stands a lesser known Lodi era wall mosque dedicated to Darwesh Shah whose identity is unknown. As we know, Darwesh Shah is a honorific, not a name. The DDA park in which the mosque is located is technically in Gautam Nagar next to Gulmohar Park but I am including it in my Hauz Khas trail. The Muhammadi Wali Masjid, the mosque of Darwesh Shah, the Nili Masjid, and the Idgah, all located in close proximity to each other, testify to the fact that the vicinity of Siri was an important location for religious and other significant structures.

The Lodi dynasty contributed immensely to the architectural heritage of the city. They were the last rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. A large number of tombs, mosques, gardens were commissioned during there reign and are splendid examples of late Sultanate architecture. Most of the structures that find mention in Delhi’s built heritage are in Lodhi Garden, the rest are scattered across the city and mostly remain unknown and unsung.

We have no information a  to who built this particular mosque but the legends has it that six centuries ago, the Sufi saint once asked a group of six boys if they would buy the kingdom of Delhi for 2,000 tankas (currency used in the 12th century by Turkish Sultans). One of the boys, Bahlol Lodhi, agreed and was blessed by the Holy man. His friends mocked him for being “a fool” but Bahlol said it was not the case, that if the saint’s words were true, he would gain a kingdom, and if they weren’t, he did the right thing by giving the saint what he desired.

We can see how true his words were as Bahlol Lodi  became the founder of the dynasty that bore his name and ruled over Delhi Sultanate for 75 years from 1451 to 1526.

On his death in 1489 A.D., he had expanded the Sultanate to nearly twice of what it was in the beginning of his reign. However, there is no authentication of this story about the interaction between Bahlol and Darwesh Shah. It is believed that perhaps Bahlol commissioned this mosque to honor Darwesh Shah but there is no documentation of that. 

One can imagine the pastoral setting of the mosque as one stands there watching the play of shadows and light in the the current green expanse around it. The spread out canopies of old Keekar trees, the grassy patches, the walking paths, the gazebo and the quiet nestled in the stone walls of this ancient mosque.

For a long time this unimposing mosque lay in shambles since 1920, overgrown with bushes, shrubs and hidden by huge leafy trees. Neglect had resulted in the collapse of one portion of the mosque but INTACH gave it a commendable face lift in 2009 before the Commonwealth Games making it more accessible to public and restoring the remaining parts. The mosque got saved or else it would have got completely destroyed. The limestone plaster developed a patina over the period of time and now most of the mosque has got back its antiquarian look.

Though the entry to the upper platform is closed to public but one can walk around the structure to access its beauty. In a way it is good as it protects the remaining building and prevents encroachment and offering of prayers thus leading to further damage.

Made with rubble masonry this is a wall mosque, with a rectangular enclosure for graves that stands on a high platform.There are eleven of them but no one knows who is buried in these graves. There is a doorway and stairs at the north-east corner that lead to this raised platform. The prayer wall on the west and east side has a set of seven recessed mihrab arches of which the central one is emphasized with raised battlements. The North and South sides have five arches. The center of the west side wall that contains the mihrab is slightly projected from outside and is flanked by two tall minarets till the parapet level. The description is based on Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s observation.

One can observe different facets of this mosque as the shadows play on its walls or take a stroll in the park taking in the sights and sounds.

Sometimes a peacock will surprise you or you may spot some interesting bird keeping an eye on the joggers, workout enthusiasts sweating it out or the folks lazing around on the grassy patches or the benches.

I spotted an Oriental Magpie Robin perched near the mosque and a few other birds watching the sun go down. Phone photos don’t do justice to birds so I usually refrain from clicking. Some things need to be enjoyed with the naked eyes too.

I sat beneath the shade of a tree thinking about and the Darwesh, the reign of the Lodis, the unique stories of the bygone era that fill the city I love and the rapidly emerging patterns of the urban expanse choking the remaining few breaths of the ancient built heritage of Delhi. As I see the apathy of the other forgotten and endangered big and small monuments I feel glad to see this one at least breathing easy.

As the autumnal sun reached its peak I bid adieu to the Darwesh and made my way to some of the other tombs in the near vicinity. I will be covering a whole bunch of these ancient structures dotting this area.

Art, Flowers And Conversations


It’s been an year since Duets got published. I am working on the Hindi poetry book but there are some other priorities that have kept me busy. The search for home continues as I map the autumnal landscape of my city. finding solace under the vibrant Silk Floss trees in bloom or overriding the noxious Delhi air with the heady fragrance of Saptaparni in bloom.

Delhi landscape never ceases to surprise you with its abundant beauty despite of everything that’s wrong with the city.

Apart from the glorious blooms the recent illumination of the ancient monuments of Delhi by ASI is breathtaking. I especially love the magnificent Safdarjung Tomb but the Qutub Complex looks stunning too. Will do another post on this initiative later but sharing a few pictures.

Meanwhile as I do my art and take in the beauty of the city I love some of my work got published and  new much awaited review of Wayfaring came in.

Rhiti Chatterjee Bose, an excellent artist/writer and an old friend of mine interviewed me sometime back about my art journey.
Today it got published in Prākṛti, the page for visual arts on the website Samskriya which has different branches for social work, languages, Indian history. Feeling deeply humbled by this gesture. I owe it to all the artists I’m learning from including my son Aditya.
Here is something about who we are and our initiative, your support means a lot to us. Please share our page and help us bring various art forms and artists to the forefront. Do read the full interview on the website.

The program Prākṛti is aimed at finding, documenting and promoting all such fine arts and artists who have been carrying a huge knowledge in their memory through generations, and also, presenting in a way which can be perceived properly in today’s global world while keeping its originality intact and making the young minds aware of their proud legacy. In addition to this, the program is also about exercising the fusion/adaptation/localization of other forms of all fine arts developed in the other regions of the world.

Here is the Link to my interview and an excerpt :

“What influence has art had in your life?

For a long time, I’ve been struggling with issues, mentally, physically and emotionally. Art keeps me sane in hard times and at others, it helps me channelize my energy both negative and positive. I’m not saying it has cured me of everything but it certainly has helped me in focusing on the right stuff. Sometimes one doesn’t wish to write. Words have their own burden but colours are fluid. It’s a different sort of high, calm and serene.”
Another art related article found home in a website that posts views about Mental Health, society and  culture. Here I write about how art is helping me to cope with various issues I face in my daily struggle to live.
Here is the link – How I Use Art To Stay Sane  
Excerpt :
“Painting by hand lets me express all my anger, pain and anxiety and not feel frowned upon. My everyday painting ritual has helped me focus and gather loose ends to some extent. I won’t say it is the mother of all cures but it certainly is a grounding process for me. Creativity does wonderful positive things to the mind, body, and soul if you let it.”
You can follow my Instagram Page for more work.
In the poetry world things are progressing at their own pace. I was delighted to find an excellent review  of my book Wayfaring   in Jaggery – A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal. 
Shikhandin  is an exceptional poet fiction writer
Do get your copy if you haven’t read it. The book is available with all online book vendors worldwide
Here is the link to the review – Wayfaring By Tikuli  
And an Excerpt :
“The poet as a wanderer. This is what comes to mind when reading “Wayfaring” by Tikuli. Not as a wandering minstrel. Rather as one who collects snapshots of experiences and sketches of mental spaces, through seemingly aimless wanderings. Yet nowhere does Tikuli come across as footloose and fancy-free. Rather there is an oblique brooding quality to the poems.  The have history and landscapes running down their spines. And then there is protest, subtle, unobtrusive, but it is there. “
I will be continuing my series on Delhi Monuments now. Do look out for new posts.
Meanwhile, enjoy some fruits of love that my consistent effort brought. This is my first crop of bell peppers. Most are ready for harvesting. I am awaiting for other produce to show up.