Saturday, July 19, 2008

Narnia in Nizamudin

So I found Narnia in New Delhi. Well..kind of. More like the urban version.

The back-story is that I met a great friend at yoga class. Mira is a German student who is working for an NGO in New Delhi as well. It was great to meet someone who is sharing so many of the same experiences. She is working and living in a Muslim neighborhood called Nizamudin. She invited me over to take a tour guided by one of the students that she is teaching English to. Nizamudin was yet another mind-blowing New Delhi experience. It is an sort of village/neighborhood that seems almost entirely made up of alleyways that twist around ancient Muslim tombs, shrines and Mosques, all of which are in incredibly good condition.

Our tour guide had been trained by Mira's NGO to guide people through these winding streets to find these Muslim sights. The NGO is hoping this will help young people generate some income. I was more than happy to support. Mira had taken the tour 2 or 3 times before and was still just as enthused about going on it again. I can definitely understand why. Nizamudin is really fascinating.

While we wound our way through this village-like neighborhood, I couldn't help thinking that Nizamudin was a very convincing urban version of Narnia. When I stepped out of my tuk-tuk I was still a stone's throw away from sky-scraping highrises and traffic contested freeways, but in the Middle of Nizamudin it could have still been the 1600's under Mughal rule.

I thought it would bother me to walk around with a head scarf on, but it wasn't really that big of a deal. I wanted to be as respectful as possible and so a head scarf was definitely a must. It wasn't the head scarfs so much as the shrines that made me aware of being a woman in a Muslim holy place. Mira and I weren't aloud inside any of the shrines, but rather had to sit outside with all the other women.

The most incredible place we went was the Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. Again the stark contrasts: we stepped off the dirt streets filled with goats and stray dogs into at least a couple square blocks of sheer white marble. Our tour guide showed us one tomb at the very corner of this beautiful ancient complex that was sort of walled in, there were 3 beautiful white-marble graves with deliberately placed rotting pink flower petals on them, and a scraggly but determined little tree. Our tour guide explained that this was the grave of a daughter of Shahjahan, the man who commanded the construction of the Taj Mahal (he built the Taj as a 'monument to love' after the death of his wife Mumtaz). It was said that his daughter's dying wish was to be buried somewhere with green nature around her. Because Nizamudin no longer has much of any kind of green nature, they planted a tree next to her grave. People also leave flower petals to rot on top of the graves in hopes that the mud will someday grow grass on top of her tomb.

After our adventure, Mira and I found a local 'restaurant' that looked fairly sanitary. We had a blast. I am really hoping that she applies to the JHU graduate writing program so everyone back home can meet her.

On our way out of Nizamudin to meet my tuk-tuk, we decided to pop over to the giant pink Hindu temple on the edge of the neighborhood (just to be religiously well rounded). We were led by an adorable older woman who showed us around and chattered on in Hindi explaining each religious relic. She seemed charmed that we had stopped by and was completely unphased by the fact that we couldn't understand a word she was saying. Mira and I nodded along and admired each of the beautiful statues.

Other than that adventure, I have been desperately trying to pull the report on my research together. As I have told many people, it is excruciatingly hard to keep to one thesis but I am giving it my best shot.

I can't believe I am home in 10 days. AH! I'm already dreaming about the pint (or 3) of Ben and Jerry's I am going to eat.

much love everyone.
Oh!! I got skype! Email me if you have a skype name!
more soon,

p.s. I will post pictures from Nizaumdin above after this post. I am sorry to say that I couldn't take any pictures of the main Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. But I still got some great pics of other places.

1 comment:

mom said...

claire-- what a fabulous place to discover in Delhi---- love the photos. Keep working hard and we are counting the days...... xo