Taufiq Qureshi. Have you heard about him? Well, I was fortunate enough to meet him in person very recently. No, I don’t talk of the Indian classical musician Taufiq Qureshi. Instead, I am talking about Taufiq Qureshi Mohammad- a ten year old guide. This little boy in pink shirt and green sweater has a lisp and I almost mistook his name for “toffee” but that is worth the sweetness in his story. Taufiq means the ability or opportunity to achieve success and this comes handy with education, knowledge and passion. Knowledge and education are yet to embrace him, but passion is what he beholds.
As I stand with my family in front of the Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri he approaches us and asks us if we need a guide. We stood there half astonished, half doubtedly. Astonished about a child his age being confident about showing us around while my nine year old cousin is still being taught the basic manners and he still got nothing! Well, being a resident at Delhi and facing and hearing about crimes such as pick pocketing each day- the doubt part is obvious. Anyhow, the child urges us to take him along and says he would charge whatever we feel like giving him- rupees 10, 50- whatever! Does he really need the money or is it something else? I ask him if he goes to school. He does. He studied in 5th standard during the day and comes at the Buland Darwaza around 3pm everyday after school. He spend weekends there itself. “But why?” I ask him. To which he replies ‘Bas ese he madam ji, mujhe acha lagta hai yaha, muje acha guide banna hai ek din ( no reason mam, I like it here, I want to be a good guide one day)’. His dreams are different from the ones the kids in metro cities babble about. Astronaut, pilot, engineer, doctor, artist, scientist, model, designer or guide- I don’t know which are realistic or unrealistic, which are better which are worse. All I know is that these are innocent and tender dreams influenced by a difference of situations off course.
As we move forward he brings the horse shoes adorned on the massive gate to our notice which were otherwise being ignored by the designer’s mind. ‘These are for good luck, madam ji’ he educates me. The monument itself is magnificent and has a story of its own, but somehow it is Taufiq whose story tickles not just my brain but also my heart. As we move forward we come across a wall pointing at which Taufiq remarks that Anarkali was punished there. It is a plain grey wall in front of the graves that belong to Akbar’s descendants. Taufiq elucidates that Akbar’s family members rest in peace beneath those graves. Listening to this my 9 year old cousin asks, ‘Are they all dead? All of them?’. He goes through this bewilderment at the thought of loss of an entire family. He is too young to know about adversities that life has knocking on its door but he isn’t naive enough to be unaware of emotions and belonging. Anyhow, the guide replies with a sense of wisdom and a bit of indifference in his tone, ‘ Nahi. Abhi kuch zinda hai (No. A few are still alive)’.
Taufiq further leads us to the mosque. He ushers all of us inside but remains outside himself. Doesn’t this little fellow has prayers to offer? Doesn’t he wish for fancy toys? Inside the mosque a man continuously asks people to leave offerings (materialistic) for baba. Religious places- they all are the same! We return our white caps as we step out of the mosque and find my 19 year old brother cherishing the Sufi music being played right in front of the mosque. He chose to stay outside and listen to serenity over the shenanigans of worshipping and all the unwanted squalor religions invite. Meanwhile, Taufiq was joined by his little friend Faisal who was 9 years old. I asked the same question to Faisal that did he go to school and with great pride and confidence he replied, ‘Everyday, madam ji’. The two boys are friends but competitors too. Competition does start early in life! Taufiq tells us that there are 84 doors and 200 minars. As my 19 year old brother asks him what comes next Taufiq fails to count and I am obliged to ponder if the lessons at his school are being taught well? Does Taufiq prefer learning in the open neglecting what books and institutions have to offer him?
Taufiq draws our attention towards a chandelier which looked familiar. He then adds that this is the larger version of the one at the Taj Mahal. At one of the gates with honeycomb my father questions Taufiq about the bees frivolously. He fails to answer. My father remarks how will you become a good guide Taufiq if you won’t be able to answer what people ask you! This rings a bell in his head. He digs deeper, applies logic and unknowingly knows it all.
As we reach the central face Taufiq points at the religious harmony appreciated by Akbar and my father elaborates about Hinduism, Islam and Din-i Ilahi. A professional guide dealing with a group of foreigners stood beside us. Glancing at him Taufiq got on his feet in an envious manner and he took cues from his senior. He taught us to take a selfie that could include all the family members along with the dome at the central face. Now Taufiq sounded a bit different- professional to be specific. The tour to Buland Darwaza ended and Taufiq took us down the flight of steps after we collected our shoes from the shoe counter run by his colleagues. Our next destination was the Jodha Bai’s Palace which was adjacent to the Victory Gate. Impressed by the little guide we asked him to accompany us to the next destination but he refused due to the fear if police. The policemen often harass these children at such monuments. Anyhow, he dropped us till the entrance if the palace. My father tipped him and my brother handed him a pen from the set of embellished pens he had just bought from another child outside. I hope that someday education helps Taufiq and he could focus on his childhood lessons and not just the survival necessasities. Several thousands of children redeem with their mirth everyday in unusual ways in order to let the ends meet. The sight is always heart touching and beautiful, but do they provoke any thoughts in your mind?