A remarkable and intimate story of a centuries-old Indian connection to the ancient city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Eight hundred years ago Baba Farid, the great Sufi saint of the chisti order, visited Jerusalem, freshly wrested back for Islam from the crusaders by Saladin and meditated there for forty days in an underground room. Later, an Indian hospice was born through a waqf endowment around that room and has welcomed Indian pilgrims-and soldiers-to Jerusalem ever since. For close to a century, through the tumultuous years of the British mandate, the second world war, the birth of Israel and the ensuing decades of conflict, the hospice has been looked after by an Indian family-first by Sheikh Nazir Hasan Ansari, a police inspectors son from Saharanpur and then by his eldest son Sheikh Munir Ansari.
Following in the tradition of literary travellers such as Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, Navtej Sarna wanders through the timeless narrow lanes of old Jerusalem, sifting through fact and fable to tease out the unique story of the Indian hospice and the Ansari family. What starts off as a personal conversation becomes a deeply researched but lightly told account that weaves historical narrative with telling personal detail.