Newspaper article International New York Times

Making Pleas within Ancient Walls

Newspaper article International New York Times

Making Pleas within Ancient Walls

Article excerpt

Thousands of people pour into a 14th-century castle in Delhi every Thursday to appeal to the djinn, or genies.

Those wishing to know the secret desires of the people of Delhi can find them here, in petitions pinned to the wall of a 14th- century castle, addressed to supernatural beings created of smokeless fire.

The thousands of people who pour into the castle, Feroz Shah Kotla, every Thursday hold a variety of views about the djinn, or genies, wish-fulfilling creatures described in Islamic cosmology.

There are those who believe that the djinn take the form of talking crows, or airborne fireballs, or bearded men in white robes. Some contend that they number 40,000 and that they have their own prime minister, or that they register their presence with a peculiar scent.

Everyone agrees that djinn are very fast readers, which is good, because by sunset on Thursdays, when the humans stream out onto Grand Trunk Road, they are drowning in paperwork.

"Oh Allah, my sister should never talk nonsense and should not answer back," reads one letter, left for a djinn known as Nanhe Miyan, or Little Mister.

A female applicant, after some prefatory flattery, asks the djinn to reduce the asking price on a neighbor's parcel of land, and to do something about her husband's disposition.

"Please seal his lips," the letter reads. "He spits dirty abuses. He should become gentle and stop consuming liquor. He wastes money like anything."

And so it goes. A woman, who estimates her age at 80, or perhaps 90, petitions the djinns for improvements in her "three nasty daughters-in-law."

A tailor visits when he is unable to complete an especially difficult dress, wondering why he calls himself a tailor at all. "When I go home, I find that I can make the dress," he said. "That happens because of the djinn."

Delhi has been reinvented so many times by so many colonial powers that it can be difficult to know where its heart is -- in the edifices left by the English, or the tombs of the Mughals. There is nothing so extraordinary about the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla, squeezed between a cricket stadium and the Ring Road, except perhaps that they have for survived for 700 years. …

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