City Series – Stones of Jama Masjid IV, Shahjahanabad
Delhi’s grand Friday mosque.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
As I am entering Jama Masjid, I recall the day I first viewed its Mecca-facing Western Wall.
I was walking down from Chawri Bazaar, which used to be a district of courtesans during the Mughal-era. Today, a substantial portion of it is a wholesale market for paper merchants who migrated to Delhi following the Partition.
In the evening, the traffic on the road consists of cycle rickshaws. In the early morning, the shops are closed and the bazaar is empty, save for the area’s daily-wage labourers. This is their home. Here, they sleep – on the pavements, or on their pull-carts. Here, they perform their toilette, and wash their clothes, which they hang from the electric cables to dry. Here, they also have their morning chai at the makeshift tea stalls.
The backyard of Jama Masjid stands like a mute witness to this hard life. Only its central dome is noticeable. Beyond lies what the eyes cannot see: the mosque’s courtyard, its eastern gateway, the dargah of Sarmad Shahid, and the Red Fort across Netaji Subhash Marg. Further beyond is the Yamuna.
That morning in Chawri Bazaar as I approached the mosque, I sensed as if it had detached itself from its surroundings. As if it wished to go back to the time when it was raised.
French novelist Marcel Proust wrote that the past is hidden somewhere beyond the reach of intellect. That it lies embedded in some material object, and that it depends on chance whether or not we come upon this object.
I’m stepping into the mosque.
Can I find the vanished Shahjhanabad in the stones of Jama Masjid?
Jama Masjid as experienced from Chawri Bazaar