City Monument – Shahjahani Masjid, Pataudi House
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It looks so soft, as if frosted with cream cheese. The domes, the minarets and the walls are dusted in white, like icing on a cake.
This fragility is deceptive. Shahjahani Masjid may be of lakhori (aka kakkaya) bricks but is sturdier and older than the Walled City’s many derelict stone monuments. It is even older than the iconic Jama Masjid, believe the locals. Rigorous investigations, however, make these truths vulnerable to challenges. An authoritative guidebook refers to the mosque only by the name of its location (Pataudi House). While an eminent conservation architect disputes the claims to its ancestry, asserting the monument to be as recent as the late-Mughal period.
This afternoon, the mosque is empty, and the ablution pool in the airy courtyard is filled to the brim with greenish rain water. The prayer chamber is punctuated with three stately doorways, painted in a light shade of green. Their arched summits are adorned with floral designs that resemble a PoP (plaster of Paris) craftsmanship. The roof is
embellished with three domes—it is possible to reach them by a staircase.
A distracting aspect of the mosque is the temporal architecture of the surroundings. Like that ochre-coloured concrete rising behind the domes. That modern structure is severely disruptive to the aesthetics of Shahjahani, until it is identified to the viewer as a hostel for nurses working in the nearby Kasturba Hospital. The building then no longer looks out of place. One feels relieved for those medical professionals returning at the end of their trying shifts to rooms with monument-facing windows.
A tall neem tree stands by the mosque. In some time, a man steps into the courtyard and requests a masjid caretaker in white kurta pajama to help him collect some neem leaves. The man says he needs the leaves to heal the incessant khujli (itching) on his skin. The caretaker silently brings a long lathi from a side-room and sways it gently through the tree’s branches. Leaves fall down slowly on the floor. The man gathers those and go away.
Minutes later, the mosque’s courtyard is filled with the chirpy cries of students of the adjacent Government Boys Senior Secondary School filing up the facing street.
Beauty around the corner