When Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari a merchant from Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan, decided to stay in Mumbai in the 15th century, he forfeited his worldly possessions, became a devoted muslim and eventually, a saint. As such, he gathered a reputation and a following in Mumbai. His devotees respected his wish that he should be buried wherever his kaftan (dress) would rest, and it happened to be on a small mound of rocks just off the coast. A shrine was built, and later, a mosque was added. A causeway leads to the shrine, which can only be visited at low tide. When I arrive, an endless stream of people pass through the gate, where a sign says the causeway is open. It turns out that the rising tide is still far from flooding the causeway, and I join the crowd and make my way to the landmark shrine.
The minaret and small complex are reflected in the quiet waters of the bay. There are beggars everywhere: badly handicapped persons missing a leg, an arm, or more, lying on the ground, softly whispering or singing, with outstretched arms, looking at the passers-by for some change. Otherwise, a steady flow of mostly colourfully dressed Indians make their way across the causeway. When I come closer, I see how time and the saline winds have eaten away at the structure, which is crumbling in many parts. After passing through the entrance, I come to a small courtyard with a fountain, where people relax, chat, and laugh. This is not the solemn atmosphere I had expected. In fact, people from all walks of life and all faiths come here, not just to pay respect to the saint that is buried here, but also to escape the city.
After leaving my shoes behind, I enter the shrine proper, which has a separate entrance for women. Only recently, it was decided that women should be allowed to enter as well. Small mirrors embellish the ceiling, and when I step in, I am surrounded by muslims, their hands before their face, mumbling their prayers. This is the resting place of the saint, who is still revered more than 500 years after passing away. With my shoes again, I walk to the far side of the islet, where I find a multitude of Indians on the rocks. Playing, resting, chatting, nursing their kids, taking pictures. Some have stayed too long on the far boulders, and need to wade through the rising water to get back to the islet. With the sun sinking towards the horizon, I walk back on the causeway to the mainland, where I turn around once more for a view of the reflection of the shrine complex in the waters surrounding it.
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