It was neither Eid nor Urs, but Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s abode in Delhi came alive in all its cultural magnificence for the yearly ‘Apni Basti Mela.’
Three years ago, at the completion of the restoration work of Humayun’s tomb, PM Manmohan Singh called for a Public-Private partnership to preserve the architectural heritage of the Nizamuddin area.
Aga Khan Trust, which had been a part of the former project, got roped in for this initiative too. Working on preservation of monuments here, the Trust realised that the locals are the ultimate caretakers of their heritage, and therefore, they must learn to value their history and identity as Nizamuddin Basti residents. Hence began the annual ‘Apni Basti Mela’ which saw its super successful third edition recently.
Archana Saad Akhtar, of Aga Khan Trust says, “Nizamuddin boasts of maximum number of medieval Islamic buildings in Delhi – at least 50 mosques, shrines, step-wells, gardens etc. Besides, it has been the birthplace of several cultural traditions in music, poetry, food, crafts and rituals. Yet today, we see Nizamuddin lost in the cosmopolitan environ of New Delhi.”
“Perceptions regarding this religion have also led to a ghetto mindset in the residents. To encourage residents of Nizamuddin and educate outsiders about its cultural richness, we have been hosting ‘Apni Basti Mela’ every year. We are glad that it is flowering into a thriving cultural festival now.”
Inaugurated by the Lt. Governor, the fest, this year included theatre, street plays, puppetry shows, film screenings, magic shows and qawwali performances at the iconic Chaunsath Khamba and Ghalib Academy. Besides, there were monument conservation workshops, Sufi walks and Nizamuddin walks too, conducted by youth of the area themselves.
The main attraction, though, remained the ‘Mela’ at the MCD park, which allowed residents to showcase their traditional work. Women sold diaries, cards, lamps, stoles etc. embroidered in the ‘Jali pattern’ usually seen in Islamic buildings. Then there were designs similar to the famous Aari work and resembling tile work seen at the Atgah Khan tomb.
Men held stalls of Itr (non-alcoholic perfume), wooden bangles and leather socks (used by Muslims during Wazoo) – all of these are made in Nizamuddin traditionally. Then there were health camps, sanitation awareness stalls, children’s books stalls etc. where a number of burqa clad women and children queued up.
As Mohammad Umer, a local and young project member said, “The Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative has changed our lives. Earlier, we used to feel sort of isolated, the area looked unclean and the general morale was down. Thanks to the sanitation and development drives in this project, we have found a new confidence in being residents of Nizamuddin.”
Another local Reshma Parveen adds, “In our community, women are generally not allowed to travel far and wide for work purposes, but this project has provided us local employment through embroidery work. It has made us believe that we can do so much for the society. We only need to open our eyes to the larger world.”