City Hangout – Dargah Chai, Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Sufi Shrine
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is no accident that Emperor Humayun, Emperor Muhammed Shah Rangila, Princess Jahanara, poet Amir Khusro, and poet Mirza Ghalib are buried near to each other. They all are in close vicinity to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s grave. It is considered a privilege to get a resting place close to holy mystics, and Nizamuddin happens to be among the most beloved saints in Sufism. The area around his 14th century dargah is full of graves. Some of the aforementioned figures such as Rangila and Jahanara lie within the premises.
And this same reason makes Barkatullah’s establishment one of Delhi’s most special tea stalls. It stands within the gates of the dargah. Sitting at the stall gives a tantalisingly close view of the shrine’s marble dome. The courtyard where the dargah qawwals offer their music is a rose’s throw away. This morning, a lone qawwal’s singing is wafting over to the stall. Sometimes a chai drinker can hear the muffled cries of people possessed by djinns, who flail themselves in an adjacent marble enclosure.
The chai place has three benches. Owner Barkatullah, aka Salim Bhai, sits on his cooking gas cylinder. The counter is a table crammed with three glass jars respectively filled with zeera biscuits, coconut biscuits and rusks. Regulars include the shrine’s guards, fakirs, and the qawwals, who enjoy chai breaks by sitting around the graves in front of the stall (one of these graves has a tree growing out of it).
The owner lives with his family just behind the stall. This moment his little daughter Anaya is loitering by her papa’s side (see photo). Formerly a shop assistant in Lajpat Nagar, Barkatullah inherited the unique site as his residence from his nana who, he says, shifted here from Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate during the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947. Barkatullah opened the stall in 2001.
Naturally, the tea establishment’s location makes its tea redundant. The view becomes the entire point. Even so, the chai is delicious, and Barkatullah is liberal enough to customise it to an individual customer’s taste.
The stall opens early in the morning, after the door of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s “astana,” the grave chamber, opens for the day. The chamber closes at about 10 at night, as does the tea stall.
Chai with a view