City Monument - A Perspective of Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

City Monument – A Perspective of Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

The Dilli style.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Typical Delhi aesthetics, some might say. Two eras co-existing side by side. One belongs to the 17th century. One belongs to our time. One is of red sandstone, other of smooth metal. One is a tower, topped with a small dome. The other is a pole, topped with nine lamps.

The former is a minar of Old Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid. The other illumines this slice of Old Delhi, post-sunset.

Conscientious citizens who have seen other great cities of the world—Paris, Venice, etc.—tend to note that, in those places, no modern structure is allowed to alter the visual panorama of a monument. When a modern contraption comes in front of a historic landmark, it is by design, and comes from an artistic impetus (such as I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid in front of the Louvre, in Paris). Elements of civic or infrastructural utility might be discreetly planted around the monument, but only to enhance its aesthetic experience.

But this khamba in one of the most touristy parts of Purani Dilli rams up high into the air (the blessed air currently saturated with the smoky scent of Abdul Ghani Qureshi’s yummy kebabs!), as if trying to outdo the majesty of the Jama Masjid’s stone tower.

And then your gaze falls on a bird nest on the pole, just under the lamps. There are many trees in the vicinity — a luxurious banyan is actually standing just beside the pole. Why did a bird choose to build a nest in this austere spot, with no leaf and no wood?

The sky is full of birds. Can the nest’s dweller be among those hundreds of pigeons that fly about the courtyard of the Jama Masjid all day long? The question becomes even more poignant when one realises that this part of the Walled City is full of kabutar-baz, or pigeon collectors, some of them keep hundreds of pigeons in little cages on their rooftops. But here’s one bird that appears to have successfully eked out an independent existence outside those cages, in a room of her own.

Soon, the sun sets, the daylight dims, the lamps of the lamppost lit up, and the Jama Masjid minar is emptied of its visitors. And the pole, by giving space for a bird nest to exist, is looking less like an unwelcome intrusion, modestly asserting its moral right to be a part of the landscape.