This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on January 23, 2011 (pg.6).
We almost miss the narrow entrance to the Haji Ali Dargah hidden amongst the many stalls. Actually, that is not really the entrance to the dargah itself; it is the entrance to the only path that leads to it. The path has stalls selling flowers and sweets to be offered at the dargah on one side, and beggars with unimaginable physical deformities lined up on the other side. It is nearly 4.30 in the evening and we (a friend who is visiting from Delhi and I) have joined the many people making their way to the dargah. For both of us, this is our first visit to the Haji Ali Dargah.
Just outside the main entrance to the dargah, we pick up some flowers and sweets from one of the stalls and join the separate queue for women. The din, the crowds and the organised chaos that is normally associated with such places vanish when we enter the dargah. Inside, it is quiet and peaceful and when our turn comes, we make our offerings, say our prayers and move to one side.
My friend wishes to take some photographs of the dargah, but we are not sure if it is allowed. Though there are no signs stating otherwise, we are still hesitant to take out our cameras. A caretaker at the dargah notices the cameras around our necks and our indecision, and mimes that it is alright to take photos.
Afterwards, we take a walk around the dargah and notice that it is crumbling away and in dire need of some serious repairs. We also notice some construction work being carried out in the rear portion of the dargah. A peek into the curtained off portions reveal a lot of marble and inlay work in progress. A security guy chases us away when we attempt to photograph that.
The area behind the dargah is the real big surprise. It is like a picnic area with families and couples perched on the rocks and munching away on chips and what not and photographers offering services of that perfect and instant photographs against the backdrop of the dargah. In the midst of all this are also people who had managed to find a quiet spot and were praying or meditating.
Visits to such places are always refreshing in a very different way. Though I am aware that the dargah attracts people from all faiths, it is surprising to see that an overwhelming majority of the visitors are non-Muslims. Somehow, at that moment, it does not matter whether they are at the dargah out of curiosity or faith—it is just heartening to see the mixed crowd peacefully co-existing, relaxing and even praying together.
It’s good to keep my cynicism in check and for hope to flower. 🙂
Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.