Queen Harish feels nostalgic of a time she has never lived ... Nevertheless, her 21st century lifestyle reflects it, as much as these quotes by William Dalrymple in "The City of Djinns".
The trouble was that, unlike most other periods of
The Muraqqa' is a wonderfully gossipy account of
For all its humiliating decline, khan saw
"Every Thursday the courtyard of the Dargah is so full of visitors that it is difficult even to approach the place and touch it,' he writes. 'Pilgrims and ascetics come from countries and cities far and near to seek the fulfillment of their desires."
But when Khan goes on to describe the crowds a little more closely, this picture of a prayerful pilgrimage undergoes something of a transformation: "On seeing beautiful women carrying in their hands porcelain bottles of perfume, the crowds become uncontrollable …the ecstatic people move around as though being swept into a whirlpool…gradually the singers gather and the Mehfil (gathering) becomes gay. Men and beautiful women also join in. Pleasure seekers retire to the corners and find the privacy to enjoy their desired company."
If this sort of thing could take place at the most sacred shrine in
(At night) chandeliers of all kinds are hung so that the place dazzles like sunlight and overshadows the moon.
Hand in hand, the lovers roam the streets while (outside) the drunken and the debauched revel in all kinds of perversities. Group of windsome lads violate the faith of the believers with acts which are sufficient to shake the very roots of piety. There are beautiful faces as far as the eye can see. All around prevails a world of impiety and immorality. Both nobles and plebians quench the thirst of their lust here.
Having described the main shrines and Sufi festivals and mystics, khan goes on to list the city's secular personalities: the nobles, the musicians and the great femmes fatales. These figures range from Azam Khan, 'one of the chief nobles of the Empire' whose principal claim to fame is his vast harem and his insatiable appetites ('a pederast, he is also found of beautiful girls…whenever he is informed of the availability of a lad or a fine wench he endeavours to be the buyer'); through Taqi, 'one of the famous eunuchs and the ringleader of the conjurors of Hindustan' ('his house is the abode of delicate beauties, some as fair as the dawn while others are as dark as volatile passion'); to the great musicians such as the blind drummer Shah Nawaz who played his own stomach as if it was a tabla drum, or the disgusting Surkhi, a glutton who 'snorred and expectorated loudly' but whose horrible habits were overlooked by his hosts because of the unique beauty of his voice ('as melodious as a nightingale'), his brilliant mimicry and his ready wit.
Best of all were the dancers and courtesans –beautiful women like Ad Begum whose speciality was to appear naked at parties, but so cleverly painted that no one noticed:'she decorates her legs with beautiful drawnings in the style of pyjamas instead of actually wearing them; in place of the cuffs she draws flowers and petals in ink exactly as found in the finest cloth of Rum.'.
The most famous of the courteseans was Nur Bai, whose popularity was such that everynight the elephants of the great amirs completely blocked the narrow lanes outside her house.
Even the greatest nobles could only gain admittance by sending in presents of large sum of money: 'whosoever gets enamoured of her gets sucked into the whirlpool of her demands,' writes Dargah Quli Khan, 'and brings ruin upon himself and his house.
Many people have become paupers after their association with her but the pleasure of her company can only be had as long as one is in possession of riches to bestow on her.' Meeting Nur Bai was clearly one of the highlights of Khan's visit to
But if it was the courteseans that captured Dargah Quli Khan's imagination, his real admiration was reserved to the
'Although Hazeen (a Persian Sufi) leads a life of purity and charm, there is always a large crowd gathered in his house,' wrote Khan. 'In the evening, the courtyard of his house is swept and sprinkled with rosewater and colourful carpets are spread out on a raised platform. The great poets then start the recitation of their work. Hazeen's verses make the audience ecstatic and inspire them to polish their own skills.'
Other Mehfils, however, attracted crowds for non-literary reasons:
(The poet Miran) is humble, well-mannered and hospitable.(But) he is also a connoisseur in the art of attracting charming new faces… As a result Miran's Mehfils always attract the beautiful and their lovers. Dancers begin to assemble from morning onwards… A large number of pretty young lads are lured to the show including both Hindu and Muslim catamites. Good looking women gather in such large numbers that the mere sight of them appeases the appetite, although (of course) for the lecherous this does not suffice.
Khan was in
It is, of course, an image of the city very far removed from the way most
You can still find them in the dark gullies of the