City Monument - Kalan Masjid, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

City Monument – Kalan Masjid, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

A souvenir around the corner.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Shut your eyes. Walk carefully, lest you stumble. Pockmarked with a pothole, the rutty claustrophobic alley is very narrow, very dark, flanked by grim faded walls.

Now, open your eyes. Suddenly, you are in friendly exteriors flooded with warm running daylight. The next moment is the most amazing. Some people tend to exclaim, “O my God!” Many others are stunned into silence.

Being such an aged city, Delhi is crammed with breathtakingly beautiful monuments. This historic landmark in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti is barely known, certainly less grand than many others. But the awe it commands, if you approach it from the aforementioned alley, is the most intense triggered by any of our city monuments.

With its massive ramparts, Kalan Masjid has the vibes of a fort. The mosque’s west-facing walls lie plopped along a Basti street, punctuated with dainty bastions, and stamped with arched windows. Built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, Emperor Firoz Shah’s son who raised very many mosques in Delhi, the masjid has been sitting on this piece of Delhi for 700 years.

The Tughlaq-era solemnity of the monument however seems excessive for a locality so ordinary. The sandstone edifice is besieged by the Basti’s brick-and-mortar flats (nameplates include the residence of a chartered accountant, a Delhi High Court advocate, and one extraordinary nameplate bears the name of a departed dweller inscribed underneath with the words “son & grandsons”).

This afternoon, a goat, two roosters, and a cat are hopping about aimlessly behind the scooters and bikes parked along the monument walls, while two little boys are playing “catchum catch” with a plastic ball. A sudden screech of laughter comes from one of the windows. Some steps away, along the lane that trails around the monument, two women unhurriedly walk past each other at the corner of Karamat Store.

Sandwiched between the old mosque and the new houses, a slice of the blue sky hangs over the lane like a painted ceiling. The lane passes by a Unani dispensary, a grocery, a sacred shivling, momentarily coming under a tree-shade of sunny-winking leaves, and finally reaches the mosque’s all-white front gateway.

On approaching the monument again from that same narrow darkened potholed alley, the awe and shock the sight triggers is as intense as before, even though this time you know what lies ahead.