City Hangout – February Light, Hazrat Sarmad Shahid Sufi Shrine
Stones of light.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The wall and the floor are covered with bright constellations — little stars and comets. But stretch as much as you can, fly as high as you want, you won’t be able to pluck them. These are shards of light. Rather, scattered reflections of the midday glare.
This short period of the year is a most delicate time in Delhi’s annual calendar. The winter has almost ended. The brutal summer will soon begin. A few people are starting to wear sleeveless “half” sweaters, as if unable to decide between the two seasons as they overlap. Now is the time to fully enjoy daylight, which might be getting uncomfortably warmer but remains friendly. One of the places where you can engage with this daylight in its most playful and artistic avatar is in Old Delhi – at the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Sarmad Shahid, outside Jama Masjid’s gate No. 2.
This afternoon, the dargah’s west-facing wall feels light, letting the breeze in. It primarily comprises a screen of marble, arrayed with tiny perforations through which daylight streams into the chamber. Because of the peculiar construct of the screen, the light is falling on an adjacent wall and on the floor, and it is spreading out like large silver splashes. The chamber contains the graves of two mystics, separated by a neem tree. The street outside is packed with shoppers, but the shrine is empty, and, curiously, the bazaar’s noise is barely discernible from inside.
It is an ideal moment for a visitor to sit on the shrine’s floor and admire the daylight from a new perspective. It is not an easy thing to do. Daylight is easily taken for granted and barely noticeable as an element in its own right. But here, it is distilled into a myriad of bright shapes and becomes more consistent — more accessible. Meanwhile, the world outside the marble screen isn’t clearly visible. All that the senses perceive, from certain angles, is the blinding white glare.
And now a visitor enters, offers his prayers and stands by the marble screen. The light falls on him, too, drawing on his T-shirt and bare arms shining patterns of slender shapes, like drops of light trickling down his body.
As time passes, the afternoon slowly turns into twilight, and the silvery shapes turn into golden ones.
Engaging with light