Tamam’s caravansarai blog entries:
caravansarai: an inn, usually with a large courtyard, for the overnight accommodation of caravans
a guesthouse in Delhi
The whole thing was a hair away from being canceled by order of the High Court of India. Shabda and I had flown to India to host and offer workshops to our 74 travel companions before the Hazrat Inayat Khan 80th URS (Wedding Celebration, as the death anniversary is called). If that sounds like a logistical nightmare, it wasn’t. The visit went smoothly thanks to a brilliant organizational team. We stayed at our favorite guesthouse, where the two of us always stay, and this time the owners turned over the entire hotel (and three others) to our group. They went so far as to create a meeting hall and dining area on the lawn outside. Pale lavender cloth was stretched over bamboo scaffolding. The final touch was a carpet of white sheets pulled tightly over a dozen rugs and secured to cover the lawn. The entire front yard and driveway of the guesthouse vanished! We walked out the front door into a glowing pavilion decorated with shadows of outside leaves and birds, as morning light fell on the walls. A shiny green vine wound up an inside tree. For evening, light bars illuminated the white ceiling. A small sound system appeared and a few chairs. Shabda stood in the center with his guitar, Gayan with his djembe (African drum). The travelers circled up, familiar faces and new ones, the India celebration team, seventy-four strong.
We sang zikr and engaged in Dances of Universal Peace. Every morning an early music class was offered. Our Tibetan teacher gave a talk. He had such a good time he came back and gave another one. Breakfast and dinner appeared in the side room on white tables cloths paired with white canvas covered chairs. We ate naan and mixed vege with dahl and rice, raita and butter chicken. We drank chai and told each other stories, planned quick trips to the tailor and Cottage Emporium. We laughed a lot.
Our program was ambitious and full-out. We were host to several hundred more Europeans, Americans, and Indians who felt the connection to Hazrat Inayat Khan, the Chisti Sufi classical musician who brought the Message to the West in 1910. We were here to celebrate. Shabda had designed a three-day classical music program. My favorite event was Shri Bahauddin Dagar playing rudra veena accompanied by the pakawaj drum late into the night. Because I am studying the drum, I listened closely to the pakawaj with its refined and haunting tones. It seemed to play deep inside my body. There were eight master musician concerts in two days. The day of the big celebration, the Dargha was packed with people. For the first time in 80 years, women led the procession, carrying the tomb cloth from one tomb to another – Taj Inayat, Zuleikha and myself and other women joined in.
A week later, the remaining five of us were invited to the beautiful home of the Hemant and Nalini Ahuja, owners of our guest house. Nalini Ahuja offered us a spectacular meal. We were joined by her daughter, Namita, the one who facilitated the tent, the group accommodation, and created the menus. They were there every day to check on how the staff performed.
As we sat down to pre-dinner refreshments a remarkable story unfolded. It seems that the High Court recently handed down an order to limit the sprawl of shops and businesses through the residential neighborhoods in New Delhi. Unlike America, where such new laws apply to new licensing, sparing the old legal contracts, the government appointed officials began to target shops and small hotels and guesthouses that had been in existence for decades, for closure – with just a few hours notice. Never mind that it was peak tourist season in Delhi and rooms were at a tremendous shortage.
On January 24th, while Shabda and I were in the air on our way to India, Hemant received notice that our guesthouse was targeted to be sealed within 24 hours! As President of The Association of guesthouses for New Delhi he was the one in the hot seat. What would happen to the hotel, and the other guesthouses we used? Where would the 74 people stay? Delhi hotels are as expensive now as those in San Francisco.
Hemant went on, “The Secretary of the association even had his own guesthouse sealed. We removed the computers and important things from the office, preparing for the worst. The other owners were calling, distraught. They told him, ‘We can do nothing, help us. They just come and seal!’ ”
“We were all so nervous,” said Namita. The story continued. Hemant swung into action. Armed with the sarai (as in caravan sarai) documents which granted him permission to run a guesthouse, issued by the government in 1980, he went to see the officials in the afternoon.
Nothing was said about this the entire time we stayed at the hotel. Now each of us sat there contemplating how the URS festivities could never have manifested without our home base, or for that matter, housing – in the oh-so-tight tourist room market. It was unthinkable. Pleading his case, demonstrating his constant goodwill and sound business practice, and an appeal on what to do with the 74 people arriving who had made reservations nearly a year ago and had paid their stay in full in advance, finally the High court relented asking that appropriate taxes be paid (hmm, taxes or bribes?). He paid ten and-a-half laks (about $25,000), and was back in business. He saved the guesthouse from closure on the day we arrived! He also saved the two other small hotels we used.
“I had so much faith that it would turn out well”, he told us.