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Feroz Shah Kotla
by Himali Singh Soin

As a young child, I was taken into thick forests on safari where I listened to the crickets and waited for that ominous rustle of leaves; I was put on a camel’s back to sway with its pendulumic rhythm in the deep desert dunes; I was left in castles to explore the secret drawers of kings, I climbed mountains and crouched in caves and swam in seas and fished in rivers and through all these adventures, I prayed.

I wasn’t given religion, but I was made to believe. In all my explorations, I met with several fairies. Some looked just the way I had imagined them in books—white and transparent with golden halos—but mostly they appeared in the form of lizards or frogs or moon-sensitive girls or tea-loving old ladies. Now, fairies haunt me wherever I go, even in cities: like people with an acute sense of smell, I had a strong sense of fairy.

So I journeyed to the Feroz Shah Kotla, not simply to linger, but purposefully, to seek the Djinns—a form of genie borne from smokeless fire that served as a medium between the earthly and Allah—that were rumored to have whispered between the pillars of its bat-ridden vaults. I instantly began sniffing about.

I wait for my muscles to twitch or my vision to blur. I stand at points in a cave that seem cooler than others, almost teasing the Djinns to possess me.

Feroz Shah Kotla is the ruin left of the city of Ferozabad, built in 1354 by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. It was in those courtyards that the king listened to the woes of his subjects. On one side is the thirteen-meter Asokan pillar, where the head Djinn is said to reside, and on another is a mosque, where even today, a large Muslim community of Delhi congregates to pray.

In the caves underneath the mosque, they bring their wishes, in the form of letters and coins, mimicking, almost, the practice of holding durbar with the king centuries ago. However, the letters today appear to take the form of contemporary bureaucratic complaint letters to the government.[1]

I reach the narrow passageways where the notes hang. Candles burn; the rest is darkness. But I cannot concentrate: hundreds—thousands—of bats hover mere inches above my head. I’m squeamish and wince.

Let me get this straight: in my fairy childhood, I was urged to seek the beauty in Everything (an apple with ugly brown holes in it only meant it was the tastiest of all, and thus the birds had gotten to it first), but when faced with the Sublime, all wisdom from the past and every anticipatory gesture of the future disappears; the Present becomes larger than life.

I writhed and crawled through the cave, unable now, to search for any Djinn, make any wishes, light any incense.

I run out towards the light, a promising sky releases my tensed muscles; I look up, and there sits a man in a white cap and a white shirt: the Caretaker.

He looks me in the eye and says, “Why do you look so troubled?”

“Eeeeeeeeeee. Oooooooooo,” I squirm.

“Just listen to them. Let them speak to you.”

“The Djinns?”

He smiled. 

“How do you see them?” I continued unabashedly.

“There are two ways of seeing (and sometimes this happens when your eyes are closed). If you have good eyes, you see good things. If you have bad eyes, you see bad things.

It was that simple.

And so I walked in, back through the passage, without a word, just like that.

This fairy was not contained in any single guise. The ruin, in all its legends, was a Djinn itself, as was the Caretaker, and all the bats—made visible only by the eyes you choose and the way you see.

-- Himali Singh Soin

[1] Anand Vivek Taneja, “Vanished Pirs and Absent Kings: Spirits, Saints and Stories around Delhi’s Medieval Monuments”; 5th August 2011, Intach, New Delhi.

Posted by Himali Singh Soin on 8/21/11

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