‘Ancestry’ seems such an exhilarating word. You read it or think of it or hear it, and it often makes your heart yearn for your forefathers, as fond memories fill up the space in your mind and your heart begins to sink in with the realization that you are a living soul that once was a part of someone else – someone, who now may or may not, be alive.

Hotel Naaz, a short documentary about a hospitality destination of the same name strategically located in Jama Masjid, is a letter to a deceased grandfather from his granddaughter. The Jama Masjid area – whose streets you will always find awake with the honking of cars and scooters, ringing bells of cycle-rickshaws, slurping of tea early in the morning and munching of some bread pakoras and samosas, clattering of utensils as restaurants prepare themselves to serve their customers as folks bump into each other on their way to their places of work or hurry to make it in time for their prayers inside the mosque –  is one of the top tourist attractions in Delhi, cream of the crop being the mosque itself. Naturally, an ideal place is required for travellers and those on business to feel at home when in the city.

Among such places is the Naaz Hotel, established by Mohammad Hussain sahab in January, 1959. The film begins with a brief introduction by Fayazuddin sahab, also known as Haji miyan, the owner of the hotel, on how 6 to 8 decades ago there were hardly any hotels in Delhi and on the history of the friendship between Hindus and Muslims, and then you hear a soft voice talking in the background, agile yet heavy with emotions. As it turns out – the voice belongs to the granddaughter (also one of the core makers of this documentary) of Hussain sahab, Yusra Hasan. It wasn’t until this moment that the fact was acknowledged but when it did, I instantly knew how special the next twenty minutes were going to be. A warm smile crept onto my face and it lasted longer than I thought it would. 

Naaz hotel hasn’t only been a home to travellers, but also its staff members and sometimes their families, too. The former manager, Ashraf Ali sahab, practically grew up here and staring into the distance, he recalls how he used to ride his tricycle in the lobbies and also study here. One striking fact he made us aware of is that qawwals (Sufi singers) and artists as big as M.F. Hussain have also stayed at Naaz Hotel.

As Yusra aapi (sister) continues to write in her notebook to her grandfather, remembering him, she says that she can “almost hear the qawwals who stayed here”, but fears that she’s beginning to forget what her grandfather sounded like. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sense the dread in her voice as she affirms her horror. It hit me with a pang of pain in my chest and I stopped to think, “Am I going to forget how my grandparents sound like too, one day?” But I didn’t let this thought break the flow of the film, I somehow curbed the shivers that had gone down my spine and pressed on “play”.

Moving on, there is a montage of pictures from Yusra aapi’s childhood; with her grandfather, cousins, uncles and other family members. It was hard to make out where she was in the photographs but I have to say, beautiful genes run in her family! She goes on talking to her daadu and says that through her interactions with the people who have known her grandfather, who familiarized her with his own youth, his interests and how he came up with the idea of doing business in hotels, she’s getting to know more about him. She not only sees him just as “daadu” anymore, but now also as “Mohammad Hussain”. A man has many identities – he’s a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a colleague or an employer etc., and this project became the course for a granddaughter to get an insight into the life of the person she claims to not have been very close with, but certainly misses a lot.

The camera then shifts to Mr. Danish Hasan, son of Mohammad Hussain sahab and father of Yusra Hasan. A very earnest Yusra aapi tells her daadu that his son is just like him; not very good at expressing his emotions, and then asks him a question, “Why are you men like this?” This was another moment where I had to take a pause and breathe. Isn’t the question relevant to what the conception is about males expressing themselves? There is a desperate need to ponder upon this, we need to ask ourselves why it’s so bizarre, or “feminine” for that matter, for boys to cry when they’re hurt or for men to discuss what they’re stressed about? It’s a profound question…take a break from reading this, and think about it, or think about it afterwards.

My most favourite part of the documentary was the moment when Yusra aapi’s four year old nephew (whom I personally know) sneaked up on her, after which she picked him up and the two affectionately grinned at each other and it was the most pure thing I had seen in a long time. The changing background music is so well chosen that it literally brought tears to my eyes when I saw the two playing. In this one moment, there were three generations standing together; Yusra aapi’s father and uncle, herself and her nephew, talking about a member of their fourth generation.

Just the thought of it warms my heart immensely as I write this. I’m confident that I’m not the only one.

As Mr. Danish and his brother, Mr. Adil, sit together reminiscing about their father, sharing jokes about how terrified people sometimes were of him and how he was very particular about the way his hotel was managed, I can only imagine how proud they feel today of the legacy their father has left behind, a legacy that now gets to be shared with the world through none other than his own granddaughter.

The adhaan (call to prayer) in the background was music to my ears, as it always is.

The curiosity about why the hotel was named “Naaz” made Yusra aapi get in touch with the youngest brother of Mohammad Hussain sahab from London, who explains how the inspiration for this name was their sister, Nazma, and here my eyes watered again. Imagine the amount of love the brothers would have had for their sister. The beauty of some relationships simply leave you dazed, don’t they?

Towards the end, we get a glimpse of the magnificent Jama Masjid that is the view from Naaz Hotel. The song “Yeh Zindagi Ke Mele” by Mohammad Rafi plays in the background as the camera takes us back to the restless streets of Chandni Chowk. The song, just like every other tune in the documentary, is perfect and fits well with what I think is one of its themes – death is inevitable, and we all die alone. What remains, however, is the heritage and memories we leave behind.

I’ll end here with Yusra aapi’s last words in her letter to her daadu, “Naaz, it speaks of you,” and I’m sure you can’t convince her otherwise.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here