City Walk – Jama Masjid Road, Old Delhi
A way of mixed feelings.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The setting sun has made the sky incarnadine. Or, is the sandstone minar turning the sky red?
Tall and utterly alone, suspended in the thin air, this lean tower is the only fragment of Jama Masjid clearly visible from Jama Masjid Road. Looking so surreal, its tip thurst against the twilight, the crows wheeling around it in slow motion. At the close of the day, while the road fills up with the rush hour racket, the minar stays aloof, stoic, sphinx-like, bathed in a quality beyond the power of words.
The road itself is so grounded to the hard gritty life that it feels light years away from the dreamy minar. It is home to many homeless. Tiny Aman was delivered into this world some months ago at the Kasturba Hospital, and lives on the pave, just outside this hospital, with mother Manju, a beggar, who keeps him within a pink mosquito net. Street recycler Fajru Rahman, who lives on the road with his elderly mother, often mulls over his acute loneliness—“ I miss a jeevan saathi. But I cannot marry. I have no roof. How can I destroy a woman’s life?”
In peak summer, the road-facing Gate 1 of the Jama Masjid Metro station transforms into a fleeting getaway for these heat-stricken citizens. Gusts of cold air rushes out in quick successions from the air-conditioned platforms.
Among the many characters here is a luscious peepal guarding the mouth of the road. The tree overlooks the Lohe Wala Pul—the iron bridge was dismantled years ago but continues to lend its name to the area. This evening, the peepal’s ample shade is harbouring two street vendors. Sattu Ghol seller Sonu and chhole chawal seller Chandra Pal. Further ahead, towards the direction of the distant minar: shikanji seller Afroz, coconut seller Sanwar, jamun seller Kishore, shoes seller Rahul, refrigerated water seller S. Yadav. The most monumental among these men is mechanic Chand Bhai, who has been manning a rickshaw repair stall for 40 long years. (At least five-six rickshaws are always parked randomly along the road, the tired pullers curled up uncomfortably on the narrow passenger’s seat, their eyes closed, their bare feet hanging out of the rickshaw, stranded in mid-air.)
On nearing the end of the road, the rest of the Jama Masjid shows up. The minar no longer looks detached from the world. Still fantastic, but less enigmatic.