Dilli, Ishq aur Kahaniyaan- an afternoon with Asif Khan Dehlvi
Welcome To CitySpidey


Dilli, Ishq aur Kahaniyaan- an afternoon with Asif Khan Dehlvi

Asif refers to Delhi not as his mashooq but as a ‘buzurg’, someone who enriches his life with wisdom

Dilli, Ishq aur Kahaniyaan- an afternoon with Asif Khan Dehlvi

“Once upon a time, there lived a princess who never had to put her feet on the ground, a mild shehnai played to wake her up from her sleep, and her father was so rich that he could buy all the kingdoms in the world,” narrates Asif Khan Dehlvi, the wizard of words and a heritage enthusiast from Chirag Dilli..

I cut in to say, “But in modern times, the princess has to go to work, deal with a water-logged road, and if she wakes up too late, she would miss the metro train ride to her office.”

On an extremely humid day, we meet Asif Khan Dehlvi, 29, founder of a collective Delhi Karavan. Together, we brave the weather to talk about the importance of heritage and stories in a fast-moving capital. And we talk about a princess.

“But the story doesn’t end here, the princess was sad despite the world at her disposal. Her mother had passed away. From a young age, she had to face the responsibility of taking care of her siblings. The essence of this story is that no one in the world is untouched by pain, and the best consolation you can provide is that this too shall pass.”

Asif Khan tells stories as though he is revealing a deep secret. As he walks through the Mehrauli Archaeological park, he casually indulges in one story after another, he takes dramatic pauses and stops midway to look into the listener's eyes, it is in many ways a cinematic moment. Yet this is no movie, it is a man telling stories about the city he grew up in and whose part he has inextricably become.

Says he, "As a fact, all stories are true stories for when I say there is a giant standing in front of you, one feels that image, one lives through that experience at that time making them very real."

For Asif, stories are his passion, his destiny, and certainly, mankind’s last hope. Many of these stories emerge from Delhi’s rich heritage. A city that he refers to not as his ‘mashooq’ or beloved like many others but as ‘buzurg’, someone who enriches his life and indulges him with great wisdom and stories.

Credits: Delhi Karavan/Aliya Karavan

Delhi, the land of more than sixteen, not just seven cities brims with stories. Asif himself calls it ‘a library of never-ending tales’. His love for storytelling took the form of a heritage group called ‘Delhi Karavan’ in 2013. He makes his ‘musafirs’ appreciate the less heard or unusual tales that we certainly do not come across every day. These included stories such as the man who applies itar (scent) on the grave of prince Sher Khan (Khan Shaheed) in Mehrauli Archaeological park, the sad state of the tomb of Sultan Bahlol Lodi , the ‘marsiyas’ (sad songs) of Amir Khusro, and the forgotten djinns that once tread the city. The mysticism of this folklore brings many wanderers to his heritage walks. Sharing this Ilm (knowledge) and extending it among other travellers is his ‘khidmat’ (service) to the city and in his own words, the biggest form of worship.

Credits: Delhi Karavan/ Mustafa Naqvi

Growing up in Chirag Dilli, an old congested part of South Delhi with many old monuments in the neighbourhood, Asif found himself drawn to all fables, folklore, poems and travel stories. He was deeply moved by the mystical influence of the Sufi fakirs of Chiragh Delhi. He says that the title ‘Dehlvi’ in his name refers to the Sufi saint Nasiruddin Mahmud who was known as  Chiragh-e-Dehli ‘The Illuminated Lamp of Delhi’. He was named Chiragh Dehlvi by his master Nizzammuddin auliya. For Asif, the title 'Dehlvi' was given to him by his fellow friends/Musafirs. 

Asif believes that when we come back from a journey, we come back changed and with a bag full of stories. His tales, anecdotes and stories come from long journeys, both physical and internal, he emphasises. Asif says travel does not merely mean going away to far-off places but also listening to the silences of our soul. He believes if only we can travel both within and outside, can we unravel a few of the world’s hidden truths. 

While moving within the complex of the monument of Jamali Kamali in Mehrauli, Asif says, “When Khwaja Jamali Kamali was aked by a musafir, how does love leave its mark on a lover, Khwaja replied, the same way that an anaar, Jamun or falsa would leave its mark on white fabric.” It is ‘ishq’ that drives Asif in life. This ishq, he emphasizes does not mean worldly affection but a strong love for divinity.

Asif’s journey is not just limited to Delhi but Rajasthan and West Bengal. For him, the story of Dhola Maroo is as cherished as Heer- Ranjha. “Agar Dilli buzurg hai to Rajasthan Mohabbat”, he says. The above-mentioned cities have become like extensions of him, where he spends time with local people, becoming just like them. When not conducting heritage walks or telling stories, Asif also helps his friends train horses. 

As a heritage group founder, Asif says that the golden period for heritage in Delhi is not this but 2015-16 when Instagram was not this popular and when people's attention was more than 30 seconds. He believes that love and passion cannot be measured in popularity. The world in its current form is driven by money and fame, which has deprived passion of its purity.

Asif mentioned that his heritage group’s Delhi Karavan’s inactivity on the internet is not a mere coincidence but a deliberate choice made by him. He believes in recreating oral traditions of storytelling that the country once knew in all its richness.

“As a group, we want to recreate the time when stories were told in villages, by a passing traveller, over a jug of water, some jaggery and chana. We want to be the man waiting by that ‘lamp’ summoning people to share stories physically”

Currently, Asif is on the lookout for new locations and new stories in the city. He will resume with his heritage walks, after the approaching Eid-al-Adha.