City Landmark – Peepal’s People, Outside Jama Masjid, Gurgaon
The social ecology of a city tree.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s like an island in the sea. So different from the surrounding world. This gigantic peepal tree. Its massive trunk spreads out into an array of branches so thick that each looks as whole as an individual tree.
The peepal is in the center of a garden that faces Gurgaon’s Jama Masjid in the Greater Delhi Region. The so-called garden that came up 40 years ago is a wasteland of sand but the much older tree gives it its grace. Not only for its dense foliage but also for the social life it sustains. A cement chabutara (platform) is built around the peepal. This afternoon two men are lying sprawled on it, asleep. While two other guys are chit-chatting into their mobile phones, one is talking of a visa to Dubai, another is discussing a potential job in an iron factory.
The peepal and the people under it are giving this part of the so-called Millennium City the character of a village square where folk gather to gossip away the hours. The guys with the mobiles soon go away and the park becomes silent. The humming sounds from the nearby bazaar suddenly become very welcoming—they dispel some of the aloofness that the solemn peepal inspires with its quiet dignity.
Now one of two sleeping men wakes up. He says he is a redi walla. Taking out a transistor from the pocket of his long shorts, he tunes into a FM channel in which a woman is sharing a recipe about making stuffed rotis out of last night’s leftover dal.
The redi walla, too, leaves the scene after some minutes. His place is taken over by beggar Muhammed Anzaar. The gentleman in wooden crutches sits down on the chabutara to a lunch of curry and roti, momentarily turning the gracious peepal into his humble dining table. The sight is poignant.