City Moment – Prayer Witnessed, Outside Jama Masjid Gate No. 2
A Delhi instant.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is morning and the newspaper vendor, passing on his bicycle, is carrying front pages filled with dreadful news on Covid-19. The narrow lane is otherwise empty of people more or less — it goes past Jama Masjid’s gate no. 2, in Old Delhi. The entrance to the mosque is locked. The popular tea stall nearby is closed. But then the city is under curfew due to the pandemic. The only people to be seen are a few families sleeping on the pavement—they have been living here for years. The only other living being around is a brown dog snoozing on a manhole.
Now a rickshaw puller enters the scene. He stops his carriage in front of the twin Sufi shrines of Hazrat Sarmad Shahid and Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah, that stand in front of the Mughal-era mosque. The puller is wearing a check lungi, his head covered in a white gamcha. The shrine’s door is open and, inside, a rose seller is perched on his stall. But the puller doesn’t seem like he wants to enter the dargah. He gets off the rickshaw, stands in front of the marble screen of the shrine, and raises his arm as if in supplication. He closes his eyes, his lips moving soundlessly. The man stays in this posture for about five minutes—each passing second feels like a sea wave, coming quickly and receding the next moment, its impact lingering on.
The lips finally stop moving. The eyes open. The palms reverently touch the forehead. And the rickshaw puller looks around absentmindedly.
Responding to his interlocutor, he reveals that he was praying.
He shakes his head.
For his family?
I have no family, he says.
“I was praying to Baba to take back the bimari,” he says in a low voice. He means the coronavirus.
Has he got symptoms?
He shakes his head again. “I was praying for all of us.”
Reluctant to give away his name, he excuses himself politely, sits back on his seat and pedals away towards Urdu Bazar. The lane is lifeless again. The homeless families who were sleeping on the pavement continue to sleep. The dog hasn’t stirred a bit. The rose seller is still as a statue. It is as if nobody had noticed the rickshaw puller’s prayers.