Twenty-four days after a bomb blast killed a boy, life is not rolling along as usual in Mehrauli.
Out on the streets you sense little enthusiasm for Wednesday’s Phool Waalon ki Sair, a three-day festivity especially noted for its inter-religious character — it begins in a Muslim shrine and ends in a Hindu temple.
In Jahaz Mahal, a 16th century monument just across the bazaar, the naatak mandlis (theatre companies) should have started their rehearsals. Instead, it looks haunted.
“The buzz usually starts 15 days in advance,” says Anuj Khattar, owner of an electrical shop. “But this time you don’t feel Phool Waalo ki Sair is around.”
On the afternoon of September 27, Khattar’s father was one of the injured.
With his bandaged left leg resting on a low stool, Baldev Raj Khattar reads a newspaper. He betrays no bitterness.
“This procession celebrating both religions will prove no such divide (between Hindus and Muslims) has taken place,” says 58-year-old Thakkar who has lived all his life in Mehrauli.
It’s a sentiment shared by Deen Mohamamd whose saree showroom faces Thakkar’s store. “Look, on one side of this ghadda is a Hindu’s shop and on the other a Muslim’s,” Deen argues. “That means those terrorists had no religion.”
Many people repeated the argument that terrorism has no religion. Scratch deeper and fears and conspiracy theories surface. “After the blast, many have become fearful of Muslims,” says Bunti, a Khaki-dressed security guard.
Similarly, the old caretaker in Hijron ka Khanqah, a 15th century sufi spiritual retreat close to the blast site, whispers many Muslims were killed in the blast but their death was kept secret.
“Yet, I’ll pray both for Hindus, too during Phool Waalon ki Sair,” he says.
Interestingly, this festival has very sarkari origins. It started in the dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki during the dying years of the Mughal empire. Since then, barring a few years when the British stopped it, a chaddar decorated with flowers is offered on the shrine of Bakhtiyar Kaki; the next day a floral pankha is offered at the nearby Jogmaya temple.
Despite the lack of upbeat mood, the Dargah has dutifully started whitening its walls. Its eight in-house qawwals are also busy challenging the limits of their vocal chords. “There will be around 20 quintals of flowers from the Mehrauli and Chandni Chowk mandis,” promises Naseer Ahmed Hashmi, a dargah official.
At Jogmaya temple, however, this reporter was told by Nandu, the temple’s sevdar, “No special arrangement here, but come for the bhajans.”