Friday, July 06, 2007

Nizamuddin 03: Political Economy - III

[NB: This is part of an ongoing series on the Nizamuddin locality of New Delhi. For a brief background, please read the prefatory note.]

[Continued from Part II]

Post-Ghiyasuddin, such threats receded into the past. Mohammad bin Tughlaq recognised Nizamuddin as a spiritual guide. After the death of the seer, subsequent rulers right up to the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar made it a practice to pay homage at his shrine. Nizamuddin, the locality, continued to prosper in other ways too. It established itself as a centre of piety, culture, learning and the arts. Many chose to be buried in the vicinity, notably emperor Humayun; Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan, the multifaceted genius - general, poet, astrologer, translator and food connoisseur; Ghalib, possibly the greatest Urdu poet ever; and Jahan Ara, the favourite daughter of emperor Shah Jahan.

It became one of the most important pilgrimage centres of the country. For one, it started attracting the devout on its own standing. Further, a tradition was established that pilgrims attending the Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer must also pay homage to the shrine of Nizamuddin Aulia.

A steady flow of pilgrims ensued over the centuries. Eight hundred years of political stability make for ideal conditions in which to incubate local commerce. Inevitably, an industry developed to care of pilgrims' needs. Nizamuddin gained, and sustains even now, a reputation for hotels, travel agencies, souvenir shops and, most important, food outlets!

And as with all pilgrim centres, most of these cater to the lower end of the market. Especially the eateries. Karim's forms possibly the sole exception, and endeavours to provide a fine dining experience in the true sense of the term.

Today, Nizamuddin offers you easily some of the best food deals in the city. Years and years' worth of competition has kept prices low and quality high. I have seen very few shops or kiosks lacking for customers. High turnovers usually means only fresh food is sold. (I'm not sure, but I think leftovers are usually turned over to the Dargah to feed the poor.) Certainly, in the twenty-odd years I've frequented the place, I don't recall even once getting an upset stomach from Nizamuddin food.

Some joints have jazzed themselves up to an extent. They feature coloured ceramic tiles on the walls; prices marginally raised (but still laughably low by Delhi standards) ; and soft-drink coolers strewn in the background. Others resist such trends. These range from the spartan-but-clean to the downright dingy. A few don't even run to concrete structures. They make do with a few rickety benches in thatched courtyards, and large steaming saucepans mounted on raised earthen platforms.

Whatever be the decor, ambience, or price range, one thing is for certain. Nizamuddin gives you an opportunity very few other places in the sub-continent can provide, the chance to bite into eight hundred years of unbroken tradition.



Amit Walambe said...

The Nizamuddin series has come out really nice. Well researched and very well written. Kudos! :)
- Amit