Mission Delhi – Muhammed Naeem Khan, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His face exudes immense calm, and sitting beside him is somewhat relaxing. He has the vibes of a fakir, an ascetic, which is nothing surprising when you know that he spends his days sitting in one of the courtyards of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s sufi shrine, in central Delhi.
“I’ve been a khidmatgar in the dargah for decades,” says Muhammed Naeem Khan, referring to himself as a server of the shrine. It is a pleasantly cool evening. The worst part of winter is gone. The brilliantly blue sky has receded into hues of darkness. Mr Khan is sitting by a grave, alone. The shrine houses the grave of the aforementioned mystic as well as of other historical figures, famous and obscure, including a Mughal emperor.
Lighting up a beedi, Mr Khan recalls his past—“when we were seven brothers and three sisters… now we are two brothers and two sisters.” In his 60s, he says that his father was from Amroha in UP, and worked in Delhi as a cook in the bungalow of a certain “Mr Kelly”, who lived in what was then known as Aurangzeb Road. “Father lived here in the ‘basti’, and cycled to work every day”—by basti, he means the village surrounding this shrine.
Pondering on how he ended as a shrine server, or khidmatgar, Mr Khan confesses that he had no idea that this is what he would become. The circumstances pushed him in this direction. “Father died when I was in the 10th standard.” The loss forced him and his brothers to immediately launch into an active working life, and to give up all hopes of education. Mr Khan worked for many years in a local meat shop, but later, when his six sons began earning for themselves, he gave up his job and started spending more time in the shrine—his home is very close. He would take care of select visitors, and receive token money from the shrine’s caretakers for his services. “This money is important… my children are very caring but I don’t want to depend on them,” he says in a voice so full of kindness that it feels like being offered a piece of blanket in the sharpest cold.
But it’s almost seven in the evening, and Mr Khan arrived in the dargah some 12 hours ago. He shall now walk back home, a few lanes away, to wife, Aamna Khatoon.
[This is the 396th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Fakir with family