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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Reinterpreting texts: A poem led me to a saint

In the first of a new series on reinterpreting texts, visual and literary, photographer Adil Hasan follows Octavio Paz to the Nizamuddin dargah.

Written by Adil Hasan | New Delhi |
Updated: July 5, 2015 1:00:04 am
Photographer Adil Hasan follows Octavio Paz to the Nizamuddin dargah Photographer Adil Hasan follows Octavio Paz to the Nizamuddin dargah

In the first of a new series on reinterpreting texts, visual and literary, photographer Adil Hasan follows Octavio Paz to the Nizamuddin dargah

Trees heavy with birds hold
the afternoon up with their hands.
Arches and patios. A tank of water,
poison green, between red walls.
A corridor leads to the sanctuary:
beggars, flowers, leprosy, marble.
Tombs, two names, their stories:
Nizam Uddin, the wandering theologian,
Amir Khusru, the parrot’s tongue.
The saint and the poet. A grim
star sprouts from a cupola.
Slime sparkles in the pool.
Amir Khusru, parrot or mockingbird:
the two halves of each moment,
muddy sorrow, voice of light.
Syllables, wandering fires,
vagabond architectures:
every poem is time, and burns.

The Tomb of Amir Khusru,
Octavio Paz

A few months ago, to celebrate the centenary year of the Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, the Cervantes Institute in New Delhi asked me to respond, photographically, to his poetry. They chose The Tomb of Amir Khusru.

My reaction to the poem is more to Amir Khusru and Nizamuddin Aulia, than Paz’s poem itself; the glimpses of a beautiful relationship that we see, hear and remember through his writings, and the memories mirrored deep in our culture. Paz’s verse is extremely visual — he describes his own wanderings through the alleys of Nizamuddin dargah. When he was in Delhi as the Mexican ambassador to India, he wrote of his encounters with the regulars there, and interspersed with these lines, he talks of two men, their camaraderie, their jugalbandi, and their destiny together.

If truth be told, I traced a fragile thread from my childhood to Paz’s poem. Khusru’s poetry and qawwali about Nizammuddin Aulia used to resonate and echo through the rooms and corridors of my parents’ home, where my brother and I grew up. Almost everything that I knew about the pir was because of Khusru’s dedication and love. The rose from my parents’ home and the dargah musician in my photographs, talk to to me about the dance between the spiritual and the physical, about the duality of love.

As a child I never understood the essence of Sufism — of writing about your spiritual guide and guru in the masculine, and about yourself in the feminine. I thought it to be childish playfulness. In my teens, I pictured youthful camaraderie. And later, growing up, I wondered if they were, perhaps, blurring the lines between a spiritual and a physical relationship.

Paz’s poem gave me an opportunity to inspect, and later, to introspect. To dance around the shadows, explore the sights and sounds of dargahs and mosques. It led me to wonder if, perhaps, spiritual relations could also transcend to physical ones.

Adil Hasan is a Delhi-based photographer. His photobook When Abba Was Ill was published in 2014

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