So last night there was a sort of cocktail party/dinner to launch the Bookaroo experience. Members of the press were there, including one of the sponsors of Bookaroo, and it was held on a rooftop veranda/restaurant with the cool night air and occasional fireworks in the area–such a contrast from the night before!

All sorts of people from all over the world were there, really quite an impressive lineup!

And I thought it was just lovely.

They started with drinks and waiters came around with little hors d’oevres and I thought that was dinner, because so many events in the West, yup, those little snackie things ARE dinner!

But no, like I said before, they really know how to eat here! The real dinner was served later, and it was sumptuous to say the least!

But enough about food. Suffice to say it was fabulous, right down to the dessert (which I did partake of) some yummy yummy gulab jamuns and vanilla ice cream!

So I was schmoozing, talking to some wonderful people including a tall Norwegian named Ulf (which means wolf), such a charming man! He was one of the party of us who went to the Nizamuddin area.

Ooh, I should backtrack and talk about that experience a bit!

Nizamuddin was some sort of Muslim saint or something, I’m not really sure. The people who were going just talked about what an experience it was, where there were these men who sang ‘songs’, nasheeds, and if you know anything about the famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, you’ll get what I’m talking about!

I’m game for almost anything, so I went along.

The area was very cramped, very old and quite dirty!

There were sinuous streets lined with vendors, and lots and lots of beggars flaunting their deformities and holding out their hands.

The place was packed!

We wove through all these alleyways, and bazaars and as we got closer to the shrine of Nizamuddin (where he’s buried) there were more and more beggars and more and more of the vendors were selling plates of funeral offerings: red roses and little white flowers, probably jasmine or a flower called motia but I didn’t buy any.

I’ve never found any reason to put flowers on a grave, it’s not like the dead can smell them.

Frankly, I’d rather spend that money on the living.

So as we got closer to the shrine, the people found a guy who’d keep their shoes (you can’t wear shoes in there) but I took out a bag and put my shoes in it, thinking I’d carry them in with me.

The others warned me to just keep mine with the others but I wouldn’t listen, thinking there was nothing wrong with carrying my shoes.

Needless to say they were right.

It was so cute to see how very respectful the people in our party were. There was a Swedish author, I think that was her (I’ve met so many people now I’m getting a bit mixed up) but she was watching so respectfully and had even covered her hair with a shawl.

We got to the inner sanctum where there were crowds gathered and some men sitting facing the shrine singing qawwalis, drumming and singing in a group.

Ladies were sitting towards the left so we sat down and watched and listened while men went into the grave area to pay their respects, women weren’t allowed in there.

I kept looking at the marble latticework, really beautiful! And I listened carefully to the songs so that I could understand them.

You can think of them as sort of an Islamic equivalent of Southern Baptist type gospel music. I had to laugh out loud when the guy sang something about a miracle that would turn all the people listening there into “Muselmaan” (Muslims).

Talk about Evengelical!!!

Things got really heated up when a guy came forward and gave the singers some rupee notes! It’s funny how the sound of the singing raised up in decibels.

Oh it did bring back memories!

My older sister, when she was alive, would put on a tape of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and lip sync to one of his qawali tunes with my nephew, her son, who was about eight years old at the time. She would use one of her accordian files, you know the kind that bankers use, working it like a sort of accordian instrument that the singers use and my nephew would put on a fake beard and the two would put on quite the show!


These men reminded me of that, only of course they were the real thing.

One of my companions said that there were women behind the marble lattices, praying, and some were having some sort of fits. And again I remembered the Southern Baptist type of gatherings and the speaking in tongues. I wouldn’t be surprised.

They were starting to serve the free food when began leaving. Poor people were lined up for rice and meat, cauldrons full of it (that is one nice thing they do!) We left after a little while and as we were winding our way back through the narrow streets among all the beggars lining the way, some very vocal and pleading, there was an old lady, just quietly sitting on the side. She wasn’t that ragged, and she didn’t say anything, didn’t even hardly hold out her hand, she looked actually quite dignified, and yet somehow to me she seemed all the more desperate.

First I passed her by. I didn’t want to take out my wallet there.

But then something made me turn back and I pulled out a bill, didn’t even know what denomination it was, and just gave it to her.

Then more came after me.

Another woman, pleading pleading, and something made me give her something too.

But then it seemed a professional beggar caught sight of me, and oh she would not stop.

She trailed after me like a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe, wheedling wheedling, saying, “Sister, I’ve got children at home who are hungry… Sister, God will reward you. blah blah blah”

And yet it was way too rehearsed and somehow I couldn’t believe a word she said. I told her, “Nai, nai, aunty.” But she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

All the way out to the rendezvous point she followed me and one of the organizers, this lovely lady named Jo, said, “You want me to stand with my back to her.” Because she just wouldn’t stop.

And I explained how I couldn’t resist giving the old lady some money, and Jo only nodded, “I know, I know.” She completely understood. And she told me how she supported the local charities but had learned not to give to street beggars like that.

In some ways it was quite embarrassing.

But the people I was with where lovely and understanding!

Eventually, finally the woman left, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I still don’t regret giving it to the women I did give it to. And part of me wonders if I did right ignoring the last one.

I just wish you could tell who was truly needy.

Really India is such a land of extremes: extreme wealth and extreme poverty!