A Dergah in Manhattan

Amitav Ghosh | May 5, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)

 

Yesterday I went to a Brazilian restaurant in lower Manhattan, to dine with a friend from Goa, Vivek Menezes. The restaurant was called ‘Churrascaria Tribeca’ and it was housed in a spectacular space, with high ceilings and panelled walls. It was an apt setting for the meal, which turned out to be a kind of performance. Every few minutes waiters would appear, brandishing enormous skewers of grilled meat. Using machetes, they would slice off paper thin cuts and drop them on our plates. Vivek, who had spent two months in Brazil during the Earth Summit, told me that this kind of meal is known as a ‘rodizio’. It was spectacular – both the food and the performance.

Afterwards as we were strolling down the street, it struck us that the site of the Twin Towers was only a few minutes walk away. The site has of course been a centre of renewed activity of late, because of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

As we were walking down the street, an unexpected sound brought us to a halt. Could it be? Yes, it was – a qawwali! We looked around and found that the music was emanating from an ordinary looking town-house. The windows were shuttered, but peering through the cracks we saw that a group of Qawwals was performing inside.

We went to the door: written on it were the words ‘Dergah al-Farah’. Evidently the inconspicuous little house served as a mosque and a meeting place for Sufis. A poster was taped to the door. It said:

 

‘Wednesday May 4, 2011

The Shahi Qawwals from Ajmer Sharif (India)

Concert by the Chishty Sufi Sema Ensemble’

 

Scrawled across the poster were the words: ‘Sold Out’. Undeterred, we tried the knob and the door opened. A bearded young man said: ‘Do you have tickets?’

‘No. But we would love to stay.’

He smiled: ‘Okay, come on in.’

The room was not large, the usual parlour floor of the New York town-house, but with Koranic inscriptions on the white walls. The Qawwals were seated on the floor, in the middle. Listening raptly was a small but intent audience – New Yorkers of all sorts, white, black, and brown; young and old; women, men and children; dread-lock sporting Asians and trim young lawyers. Everyone was transported by the music.

The evening ended with a rousing invocation of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: many a time have I heard the like at Khwaja Nizamuddin’s dargah in Delhi.

We learnt later that this particular Dergah had been founded by a Turkish order – the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order – and that it is a community of dervishes from the Halveti-Jerrahi Tariqat (the dergah has an excellent website: http://www.nurashkijerrahi.org/main.htm).

When we stepped outside again the headlines and the news seemed very far removed from where we were.

The real is sometimes the best kind of fantasy. The tragedy is that all too often people find ways of making their fantasies real.


2 Responses to “A Dergah in Manhattan”

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  1. Comment by Karima Vargas BushnellMay 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm   Reply

    So glad you found the dergah and the Nur Ashki Jerrahis! You describe the experience wonderfully – this is a kind of paradise on earth. (We have a small, affiliated circle here in Minnesota.) May everyone be blessed, without exception!

  2. Comment by Reshma Patel — May 7, 2011 at 12:51 am   Reply

    Thank you so much for your post. I went tonight for the second show and the experience was every bit as amazing as your description. All these years in NYC and never knew there was a dergah here.

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