In-Roads, Life Positive Magazine, July 2003

Khwajaon ke khwaja….Rajaoan ke Raja (Saint of Saints, King of Kings)... the line from a qawwali reverberated in my heart as I checked in at a rest house, and headed straight for Mazar-e-sharif. It had only been a three hour journey from the pink city of Jaipur, but I felt drained as the fatigue of accumulated hopes, memories, regrets and yearnings caught on. I felt sure I had come to shed this luggage at Khwaja’s step. I walked through the narrow crowded lane of the bazaar, packed all at once with rickshaws, beggars, shops selling colorful lac bangles and bright pink and yellow offering cloth, guides vying to strike bargains, and pir babas walking barefoot till the tomb.

I continued walking, whiffing the scent of mysticism in the air, while a part of me stood still, watchful and waiting. Love indeed was pulling me forward through this noise, color and chaos. As my legs leapt forth near the well of this love, I knew I was thirsting. ‘A few moments more', I heard a whisper. Just then, taking a turn to the left, I spotted the tall green walls of the mosque smiling at me. Passing through the three doors that led to the shrine—the Nizam gate built by Nizam of Hyderabad in 1915 A.D., the Shah Jahani Darwaza built by Emperor Shah Jahan and the 75 ft high Buland Darwaza built by Ghyas-ud-din Khilji; I stepped into a courtyard paved with marble.

The inside of the complex was pure bustling activity, with still more shops selling flower offerings, and devout thronging the prayer area. Here, two huge degs (iron vessels wherein feasts are prepared) stood tall, where devouts threw in their valuables as offerings. As I moved further, it felt as though I was delving deeper into my own inner shrine, ecstatic with the soul stirring Sufi devotional singing in the backdrop. I sat near the Shahi qawwal mehfil (Sufi singers) alongside a cold white pillar that felt as alive as me, directly facing the lit tomb. I felt incredibly at ease amidst this strange gathering, as though I was in the house of my estranged father, in the lane of a long lost lover, or in the courtyard of a dear friend. It felt as though the singing was meant just for me, and while all eyes were set on Khwaja, while his were fixed on me!

On one side were we, caught up in the frills and fancies of worldly existence; and across was the Sufi fakir rid of all care. As the chai-walla did rounds amidst sleepy travelers, I sat in a trance-like state listening to verses of love. Of a sudden, reality grew dimmer. Sights became hazier. I stood up and started to move, feeling as light as a ghost. Suddenly a power current shot up my spine, signaling waves of sheer bliss. Tremors shook my being. For a few brief moments, I was. I just was, strangely transported to that point in time when I was without a name and form. Love indeed is strange! It gives you in one embrace what many a struggle oft fail to yield.

What more was in store, I wondered, as I prepared to enter the shrine; pushed, jostled and carried forward by those keen for that rare touch of blessing. In this enclosure, the saint’s presence was overwhelming. His throne, covered by a shawl of red petals and encircled by a silver wired mesh, was kissed fervently and frequently. Those gathered around it seemed like little children opening their hearts to one common father; yet there were palpable invisible veils between one person and the next, such that each confession was kept private. My exchange too went on sare aam chupke chupke! As I bowed to say my prayer, words betrayed me. Balloon of my calm burst. Emotion held behind the barricade of norm leapt forth, as fire over fuel. Like a child, stripped till my soul, I purged, not in the least self conscious as most others were doing just the same. I was raised by the khadim sitting nearby muttering his own prayers.

Light and relieved, I tried opening the wish-fulfilling thread I had tied sometime back on these pillars with hands full of want. It swung open as effortlessly as my wish had come true. This time I did not bring a thread to bind the pillars of this free one! I wonder if this wish granting business is just a clever ploy of the saint to tempt his children to visit him again and again, till they finally blend in the all pervading, blissful presence that he is. On the way back to through the bazaar, my gait was bouncy and my magically revived soul exuded the freshness of an year old. This time I noticed the color sprinkled around me, and softly uttered my thanks to the Khwaja Garib Nawaz!