City Landmark – Nizam, the Last of the Pankhawallas, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah
The last of the fan-bearers.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Talk of dying professions.
A case in point are those industrious pankhawallas who fan heat-stricken pilgrims at Sufi shrines in summer.
Not long ago the Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah could count on no less than four of these gentlemen. But now this 14th century shrine in central Delhi has only one pankhawalla still plying his ancient trade.
Probably in his late 30s, Nizam rarely speaks, choosing to do most of the talk through his eyes. It is always a delightful experience to watch his face dissolving into an infectious smile as soon as you make an eye-contact with him.
His actual pankha consists of a green silken cloth tied to a bamboo pole; he wields it the way stadium crowds flaunt the national flag at cricket matches. Most devotees are downright grateful for the unexpected breeze, instinctively handing over small change to Nizam. (He never asks for money, though.)
With his scraggly beard, Nizam is reminiscent of someone straight out of Mughal-era Delhi. Through the help of the shrine’s fakirs, The Delhi Walla did manage to learn that Nizam hails from Allahabad. But is there a family? One is not sure. His meals consist of free langar food distributed daily at the shrine — and he sleeps in the courtyard.
Visit the dargah any evening and you will inevitably spot the earnest Nizam, for at some point he is bound to wander towards you with his pankha. His ‘hand-made’ breeze not only makes for a beautiful moment in this difficult city, but his presence also keeps alive the memories of the remaining three absent pankha wallas — Baba Pankha Walle, Moosa and Habibullah — who, too, kept alive this tradition.
ps: Just last evening it was happily discovered that Habibullah, who had been away for months, is back in action.
A living landmark