India

Date night at the Dargah?

Nizamuddin_MG_4469January 23, 2013

In retrospect, perhaps there would have been more romantic places to take Chris for our first real date night in India than a neighborhood mosque.

We had come to watch the Sufi religious men dance, a must-see for Delhi that supposedly happens every Thursday evening at dusk in Nizamuddin.

I’d been waiting for months for Will’s level comfort with our housekeeper to coincide with the darkest days of winter, hoping that if we rushed over to the mosque right after work we could watch the dances at nightfall and be home before Will’s bedtime. My plan may have worked, had I not accidentally chosen to visit on the same day as Milad Un Nabi, the day celebrated by Indian Muslims especially as the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

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There was a palpable whiff of celebration in the air. After aimlessly wandering the Basti, a neighborhood where tourists come for guided tours of a rather colorful but easy-on-the-eyes version of poverty, we wandered bare-foot through a seemingly endless maze of smooth marble hallways past whole families of beggars and vendors selling religious trinkets by the glow of naked lightbulbs. We found out later that while we were exploring, our driver passed the time warily watching parades of drugged-up teenagers danced around the car and “exercise with large stones”–thus ensuring that the night would be remembered as a very interesting experience for everyone involved.

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We entered the central courtyard of the dargah (the term used for Sufi mosques, if I’m not mistaken) to find it packed beyond room for navigation as families and friends greeted one another excitedly, men handed out bags of sweets to anyone whose hand could reach them, and young women snapped photos on their cell phones, wanting to capture the mosque lit up with lights and green flags and the overhead grids of silver tinsel that I’ve begun to associate with celebrations here in Delhi. Standing out amongst the revelers we saw small pockets of white foreigners in make-shift head coverings all looking around as bewildered as we were, as if to say “ummm am I in the right place?”

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The atmosphere was nothing short of amazing. Joyful and jubilant and generous. There were smiling people everywhere we looked, sharing their food and their space with whomever happened to be sitting down next to them on the woven mats covering the ground. A group of earnest looking young men pressed English-language booklets into our hands, urging us to convert but darted off happily when we handed them the strings of roses we bought accidentally at the entrance to the dargah.

After a few minutes of hopeless wandering, trying to find the dancing Sufis, we finally sat down and hoped that they might magically appear before we’d have to leave to make our 7:30 curfew.

They didn’t. Who knows, we may have missed them by mere minutes or they may not have danced last night. Maybe next time.

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Either way, you can tell its a couple’s first night out sans child in awhile when, given alternatives, they instead spend a large portion of that night out helping a pack of roving children pick the English letters out of a prayer book.

A few more photos from the evening below. The light was low so most of my shots came out blurry and/or grainy, but I hope they give at least a tiny taste of the lovely atmosphere at the dargah. Looking back at the shots I took outside the dargah, it occurs to me that perhaps I was a little bit hungry…

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11 thoughts on “Date night at the Dargah?

  1. What beautiful pictures. I am constantly amazed at your ability to take so many people shots. Do you usually ask people to take their picture, or do you just snap away, or is it a combination? Part of the problem in El Salvador is security, and I’m not usually among “real” Salvadorans, nor would I necessarily want to take my camera out in certain sections of town. But part of it is just that I’m shy.

    On an unrelated note, San Salvador’s first Indian restaurant opened recently and it is SO GOOD! Apparently the chefs are from Punjab and the food is like legit Indian food, or so says my friend who was at Mumbai for his last post. Kail and I went once before and are going back for our “date night” tonight!

    • The “people shots” thing is a great question that keeps coming up. I guess I would say I take a very “amateur” approach to pictures of people. Professional street photographers talk about the need to blend in and be inconspicuous and “get the shot” before people notice. As for me, I figure I’ll never be inconspicuous–at least not here. So I use that to my advantage instead. I try to smile and make conversation and I keep my camera in full view so that people know its there and can react however they are most comfortable with. I’ve had people move out of my frame and I’ve also had people ask me not to take their picture and I always comply and make sure they can tell that I’m not shooting. I try to make sure I’m treating everyone around me as people rather than shooting subjects and I often that I’m more comfortable doing this in places just a tiny bit off the touristy path. Sometimes in touristy areas I feel like people are so used to “performing” for tourists and, unless they are true artists or performers, that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable shooting.

      The other thing to keep in mind is that you guys only ever see the pictures that I actually take. There are plenty of times when I’m in a place or a neighborhood or a setting where I just don’t feel comfortable taking photos. Maybe people just seem shy, maybe things seem sensitive, maybe I’m just feeling shy. Whatever the reason, there are many, many amazing photo ops that I simply never take advantage of.

      The night at the dargah the atmosphere was so lively and there were soooo many other people taking photos that I felt comfortable snapping away as well. Generally speaking, the more cameras I see in the hands of people who look like they “belong” to the place, the more I’ll shoot with abandon because it seems permissible to do so but there are many, many other times I go out around town and my camera stays stowed away in my bag for the entire trip.

      • Thanks for answering my question! I guess it is just something I will have to get comfortable with and play by ear depending on where I am (which is what I usually do, and my ear usually says do not bring your camera, for it will get stolen). I never thought about the fact that you probably do a lot more things than what you post about on your blog (haha) and perhaps don’t take pictures.

      • Different places are different. I find that I can talk to people here in a way that might not be possible where u are and if I can have a chat, I can usually take a picture so it might also just be a symptom of place!

  2. Gorgeous pics Dani!! I am not as daring to try the very local scene on a date night….. I probably should! Then again I don’t love the local fare but it would probably be very lively….

  3. Wow. Amazing shots. I can almost hear the sounds! This is photo journalist quality, and a dang good photo journalist at that.

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