City Life - Syed Nabi Ahmed‘s Telephone, Old Delhi

City Life – Syed Nabi Ahmed‘s Telephone, Old Delhi

City Life - Syed Nabi Ahmed‘s Telephone, Old Delhi

Life with a device.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Time passes. Call tunes change. For a long time a black rotary dial telephone graced exorcist Syed Nabi Ahmed’s chamber, here in in Old Delhi. He then replaced it three years ago with a modern landline. No longer was he obliged to use his finger to rotate the wheel, soon falling into the habit of pressing numbered buttons.

To tell you frankly, the old phone was more matchy-matchy with the world of Nabi Ahmed, the torchbearer of an old tradition. Through “jhar-phoonk” and “blessings,” he heals people “possessed by djinns and black magic.” The venerable gent inherited the legacy from his forefathers, and is passing it down to the next generation. His eldest son has started sharing some of his responsibilities, though right now the young man in white kurta-pajama is sitting outside by a flower stall.

Nabi Ahmad’s modern phone is placed exactly where the old phone was—beside his late brother’s black-and-white portrait. “My family of healers have been sitting on this spot since the time Jama Masjid came up.” The sandstone mosque across the street dates from the 17th century, while the chamber’s phone dates from the late 1990s, “when I was urged to get a telephone so that appointments with patients could be made in advance.” Consequently, Nabi Ahmad picked up his first phone—a second-hand Western Electric device—for 600 rupees from the next-door Meena Bazar. A lock was installed into the dial to prevent misuse.

While that phone continues to be functional, Nabi Ahmad removed it from the chamber “because it was an antique object and could be stolen.” The phone was dispatched to his “Jumna—paar” home in Kailash Nagar, where it lies idle like a mummified pharaoh. The next phone, acquired from Lajpat Rai market for 900 rupees, died months ago, prompting Nabi Ahmed to finally get a mobile phone. It is one of those old-fashioned “button wala” keypad devices with a strip of screen on the top that shows only the text messages. Holding it in his hands, Nabi Ahmad remarks that the mobile doesn’t give him the satisfaction of “the conversation undertaken over a landline.” Turning to the dysfunctional landline phone, he remarks: “This is now just for the show.”

Remembrance of phones past


City Life - Syed Nabi Ahmed‘s Telephone, Old Delhi


City Life - Syed Nabi Ahmed‘s Telephone, Old Delhi