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Eid Mubarak: Singing the tunes of the Walled City

Amid the revelry of Ramzan is the musical tradition of waking up people for the morning meal, which catches the ears like a melody.

delhi Updated: Jun 05, 2019 12:38 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Ramzan,Ramadan,Old Delhi
Jama Masjid in Old Delhi is a sight to behold during the month of Ramzan, and on the day of Eid. (Photo: Gokul VS/HT)

There is something about Old Delhi that draws one in, time and again. Congested lanes, perennial crowds and open markets notwithstanding, the Walled City has drawn many a local and international explorers. And this inherent charm is multiplied during the holy month of Ramzan. Fairy lights and culinary delights, festoons and lanterns, and an overall sense of collective revelry take over the place. Amid all this is the musical tradition of waking up people for sehri — the morning meal — that catches the ears. Here, we dig in to these hidden treasures, and speak to women who manage a household, cook meals for sehri and iftar, go to work while observing rozas, without breaking a sweat.

The traditional Naat singers

The tradition of Naat is carried in the alleys of Old Delhi, where the caravan of singers makes their presence felt every morning. ( Photo: Gokul VS/HT )

Fourty-four year old Fareed Ahmed has been singing naats for around 20 years. Naat, sung in the praise of the Prophet, is similar to the bhakti geet tradition prevalent among Hindus. “Naat padhna ek ustad-shagird rivaaz hai. Subah sehri ke waqt naat gaate hue jaate hain, logo ko uthaate hue. Jaise mandir mein bhajan-kirtan hote hain, vaise hi yeh naat hote hain (Singing naat is a tradition passed on to us from our teachers. It’s sung at the time of the morning meal, to wake people up),” says Ahmed. He hails from Delhi and holds a regular daytime job. Along with five others, he sets out around 1.30am everyday, to navigate the bylanes of Old Delhi.

“Logo ko bahut pasand aata hai, aur kabhi agar hum nahi jaate, toh bahut se log bolte hain ki humari taraf kyu nahi aa rahe (People like to wake up listening to our music, and on days when we are unable to make it to their neighbourhood, they inquire about our absence),” he adds.

Wake up, it’s time for sehri

Nadeem Sehriwala goes door-to-door, waking up people for sehri — the morning meal. ( Photo: Gokul VS/HT )

Locally known as the sehriwale baba, there are people who take it upon themselves to make sure that people wake up on time for Sehri. They go door-to-door, knocking and announcing names of individuals who inhabit those houses. This tradition has been carried forward from the time of the Mughals, when there were no alarms. While there are sirens and regular announcements from the neighbourhood mosques, the Walled City cannot do without the personal connect that these babas have established over the years. Nadeem Sehriwala, who works at a car workshop during the day, diligently presents himself in Chitli Qabar Bazar shortly after midnight. The 28-year-old has been doing his duty for the last 15 years. On Eid, people give him Eidi for the work he does during Ramzan. “My grandfather would take me with him when he would be out on his rounds. That’s how I got into it. It is a very fulfilling experience for me. Awaaz itni tagdi honi chahiye ki paanchve manzil tak jaaye (Our voice should be such impactful that even those living on the fifth floor should be able to hear),” he says. To prepare his throat for this task, he gargles, drinks tea and chews on lozenges. He goes around twice in an interval of thirty minutes — the first also gives a chance to the women to prepare food, and the second time around they can begin eating.

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First Published: Jun 05, 2019 12:37 IST