City Faith – Laddu Shah’s Dargah, GB Road
A historically unimportant sufi shrine.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
An obscure sufi shrine, the dargah of Imam Ullah Shah urf Laddu Shah Baba consist of a small dark chamber. Situated in GB Road, Delhi’s red light district, the dargah’s walls are laid with white tiles; so is the tomb. A few tiles are painted with flowers. The dome is decked with broken tiles in shades of blue, white and green. The walls have calendars; one has a picture of Mecca, with the Holy Quran at the forefront. A framed poster shows Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque.
The shrine is built around the trunk of a neem tree, which after emerging from the roof, multiplies into a towering network of leafy branches. The chamber has two arched entrances. The one strung with a striped curtain is the principal doorway. The other is locked with an iron gate, outside which grows a sadabahar tree. Its leaves enter into the gate’s square openings and bend towards Laddu Shah’s tomb. Flies buzz on the floor.
A door in the chamber’s sidewall opens into a larger room. This is the family quarter of the dargah’s caretaker, Muhammed Ikram. He runs a tea stall, next to the shrine. The family has four women: Mr Ikram’s mother, his sister, wife and daughter. Their room has a gas range, a refrigerator and a sewing machine. “We sew our own clothes,” says Rukkayya Begum, the mother. Ms Nadira, the sister, says, “People of all faith comes to pray at the dargah; Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.” She points to a slab outside, which informs that the tiles were laid by Mool Chand Sharma, a Hindu trader from Punjab, in gratitude for the fulfillment of his wishes. Pointing to a dusty chandelier on the roof, Ms Nadira says that a Hindu shopkeeper had installed it.
The women are unaware about Laddu Shah’s life. The Delhi Walla calls up author Sadia Dehlvi who is writing a book on Delhi’s sufi shrines. She says, “I’m unaware of this dargah. Historically, it cannot be an important shrine.” I turn to Mr Ikram who is at the tea stall. “My father knew about the baba,” he says. But the father died in 2002; he lies buried in a graveyard near Dilli Gate.
Every year in mid-August, the dargah celebrates the Urs, or the death anniversary, of its saint. A goat is sacrificed. For three days, qawwalis are offered, and khichdi is served free to visitors.
Unlike most sufi shrines, Laddu Shah’s dargah is only partially serene. The honking of the scooters, the cry of the vendors, and the yelling of the sex workers never recede. The outside world is glimpsed by sitting on the dargah’s floor. Cars, bikes and rickshaws follow one after another in irregular intervals. Across the road, in kotha no. 67, sex workers stand on their second-floor balconies, calling out to the men on the street.
“Do these women visit the shrine?” I ask Rukkayya Begum. “Yes, they also come,” she says. “They offer flowers, drop a few coins in the donation box, pray and leave. We don’t talk to them.”
Where 461/238, GB Road Time 8 am to 7 pm Nearest Metro Station New Delhi railway station Note Be careful for the area swarms with knife-yielding pimps; it’s not a good idea for women to visit alone
Laddu Shah’s unknown story
The caretaker’s daughter
The Neem tree
The caretaker Muhammed Ikram’s tea stall
The world of GB Road