City Hangout – Masjid Udayan, Gurgaon
Let us praise unremarkable places.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Picturesque places thrill the senses. Please also give a chance to plain places. Hosting scenes of unremarkable everyday life, they too can make a deep impact.
Such is Gurugram’s Masjid Udayan, so named because the park overlooks the Jama Masjid, the mosque at the western extremity of Sadar Bazar. As the summer of ‘23 fades, and the worst of monsoon recedes, it is a suitable time to return to this much-ignored destination.
Don’t come rushing here to make Instagram reels. This is merely a muddy ground with spotty grass and potted cactuses. But a certain je ne sais quoi clings to the place, something intensely beautiful but impossible to pinpoint. You don’t see it, you feel it. One afternoon, a turbaned man is spotted lying on a string khaat, yellowing leaves falling on his chest. Some steps away, a travelling salesman in pants and tie is quickly gulping down his homemade rotis. While a rat poison seller is sitting on the ground as inert as the ground beneath him—so surreal to experience the beating heart of a non-existent small town within the city limits.
The park’s permanent dwellers include a few goats, a lazy dog, a few rats.
On the days the wind flows westwards, the air gets suffused with the pungent smell of spicy pickles. A lane nearby is exclusive to pickle merchants, with pickles sold on a kilogram basis (the way bestsellers are sold in Daryaganj bookstores).
In the post-lunch hours, you might spot the same three “putai wale” house painters sitting with legs crossed, their workday uniform splattered with multi-coloured pain stains. It has been their routine for many years.
The park’s peepal tree has a platform built around the trunk—the concrete embedded with the park’s foundation stone (inaugurated by “mananiya Banarasidas Gupta” in 1975). The spot briefly transforms into an impromptu dining table during the afternoon. Vendors from the vicinity sit under the tree, each holding a silent communion with his lunchbox.
Occasionally unfamiliar faces are spotted. Once a young man in pants and shirt was lying flat under this tree. The black laptop bag doubling up as pillow, he confessed of not telling his family (yet) that he no longer had his job.
By the park’s gate stand two biscuit carts. The modest enterprise links the place to the great temple town of Madhya Pradesh. The biscuits are “imported” every week from a bakery in Ujjain. Deliciously addictive, to consume these crumbly treats in the park with a cup of meethi milky chai makes for moderate mindfulness.