It was a queen’s promise that upon the release of her son from prison, she would present a ritual chadar cloth and a floral decoration at the holy dargah of Mehrauli. This procession and the offering of flowers that became an annual ritual for both Hindus and Muslims, came to be known as phool valon ki sair, or the festival of flower-sellers, and it continues to this day.
In the days of Bahadur Shah II, the festival took the form of an exuberant celebration, an experience that brought the city of Delhi alive. In a narrative that captures the delight that once filled the hearts of the people of the city, when they came together regardless of their religious diversities, Mirza Farhatullah Beg brings this experience to the reader.
Beg takes us through the Mehrauli that was. We travel with him from the mango-grove and the cascading waters of the Shamsi Talab, to the busy bazars glimmering with mirrors, chandeliers and lamps; from the sweet call of the peacock and papiha, and the gentle drizzle of Bhadon rain, to the songs of Tirmunhi Khanam and Dildar; from the fragrance of andarsas and suhals frying in the angithees to the aroma of kachoris and kebabs in the shops on the streets; from the flare of the dancers' pishwaz to the tinkle of her glass bangles … to the grand procession itself, accompanied by the dhol and shehnai, by wrestling matches, kite-flying competitions, and the magic of fireworks lighting up the sky—a spectacle that continued well past midnight.
A vivid portrayal of Delhi's picturesque and happy past, this story is also reminiscent of the love and faith that the King shared with his people. It is a portrayal the reader is sure to relish through Mohammed Zakir’s lucid yet evocative translation that ably retains the flavour of the Urdu original.
Mirza Farhatullah Beg (1883–1947) was born of Mughal stock in Delhi. Educated at the Dehli Madrassah, Hindu College and St. Stephen's College, Delhi, he was Director of Education in the State of Hyderabad. Later, he became the Registrar of the high court of Hyderabad. A renowned research scholar and a distinguished humorist, Beg's essays are marked by rich imagination and informality of style. His language is one of the best specimens of Urdu as spoken in Delhi. Steeped as he was in the medieval modes of culture and the lifestyle of Delhi, he saw beauty in them and sought to make them live for good through his writings.
Mohammed Zakir was born in Delhi and educated at St. Stephen’s College, Sri Ram College of Commerce and Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi. He retired as Professor of Urdu after four decades of service in the Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. His main interests have been translation, literary criticism and Urdu linguistics.
Bahadur Shah and the Festival of Flower-sellers