City Series – Crooks, Smackies & Whores, Stones of Jama Masjid V
Stories of Delhi’s grand mosque.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It stands stripped of its distractions. The pedestrian alley connecting Old Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar to Jama Masjid’s gate 2 was lined on both sides with open-air stalls selling Swiss sceneries, aluminum bowls, check lungis, ladies’ sandals, white kurtas, charmed amulets, plastic dolls and skull caps.
Those stalls have been purged and the lane is no longer congested.
A tea shop with two wooden benches, a sherbet stall managed by a child not more than 10-year-old, and four biryani joints — situated just outside the mosque — too have been purged. One of the biryani sellers was a middle-aged hijra (eunuch) who would kiss an elderly beggar every morning on his forehead before serving him a plate of piping hot chicken biryani for free.
The stone stairway that goes down from the mosque’s gate to the historic Meena Bazaar had two or three kebab stalls. They have also been purged. (A goat-skin water bag still hangs on one side.)
The bazaar that extended from the bottom of the stairs all the way to the Red Fort-facing Netaji Subhash Marg consisted of hundreds of shacks that sold, among other things, water-proof wrist watches and women’s undergarments.
Those stalls, too, have been purged.
The entire area has finally become walker-friendly, save for a few vendors/beggars.
The attendant of a nearby Sufi shrine told The Delhi Walla that Jama Masjid’s head imam was fed up of “crooks, smackies and whores” and ordered the vicinity to be “cleaned”.
A black and white photo of this market – taken in 1928 and titled ‘A Cloth Bazaar on the Stairway of the Great Mosque’ – shows the following caption:
“The bazaars of Delhi are the most important in India, particularly for luxuries of native manufacture. In addition to gold and silver filigree work, jewelry, ivory carving and pottery, Delhi is noted for its embroidery, muslin and shawls. Many of the good displayed here were produced in the city’s modern mills, worked by steam, but some of the more elaborate pieces are hand-made and unusually beautiful. For a time after the Mutiny Delhi lost its commercial pre-eminence. In recent years, however, this pre-eminence has been recovered.”
Pre-eminence, past and present