City Travel – Encounter at the Black Mosque
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The passage to Nizamuddin Basti.
[Text by Marina Bang; pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Taking a detour off the well-worn path to the Nizamuddin dargah, I find myself in a quiet alley dominated by the high stone ramparts of the Kali or Kalan Masjid, or Black Mosque. Standing by its entrance, I can see that the interiors of the mosque are cool whites and greys, the floor is swept clean and the roof occasionally open to the sky.
After confirming that there are no restrictions on strangers entering the religious space, I remove my shoes and stroll through. A few wash lines have been rigged up and there is a pool where people are washing and ritually cleaning themselves before making their prayers. Then a young man appears calling me to say that Imam Saheb wants to see me. I follow the man and find a graceful old man sitting in an alcove with two madrassa students around him. Each has his Koran open on their low table.
“Before my grandfather laid the new floors in this mosque, it was a run down place and used to shelter livestock,” says one of the students. Nearby, his three-year-old niece shyly peers around one of the columns, curious about the unexpected guest. I have a little doll in my bag which I give to her. And for her five-year-old brother, who now appears, a red toy car.
The boy is asked by his uncle to chant some Koran, which he does in a strong voice, with an earnest look on his face. “And now something in English,” says the uncle. “How about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’?” But he is too shy.
Meanwhile I exchange a few pleasantries with the Imam Saheb. Dressed in a simple white tunic and black Afghan pakul, he is a kindly, soft-spoken man. “If I wear the pakul and wind a cloth around my head, the police do not stop me for not wearing my helmet,” he explains while sending for a tray of chilled Coca-Cola.
This is a hospitality that I have found epitomises Delhi. I have been served welcoming beverages on street corners, on rooftops and in shanties. Whatever time one arrives, a meal materialises. Poor people offer food they can ill afford to give away. Mothers and mothers-in-law have implored me to pile more food on my plate.
And here I am sharing a moment of fellowship in a mosque that is more than 600 years old, from the time of Feroz Shah Tughluq, Delhi’s 14th century ruler.
A few more minutes and then I leave the Kali Masjid, my bag heavy with dates from the Middle East that my hosts have given me as parting gift.
[The author is a South African who moved to Delhi, early in 2009, after nine years in Hong Kong.]
Where Nizamuddin Basti, somewhere deep in the by-lanes (better ask for directions from the basti people)
The boy who chanted beautifully
The girl who got the doll
With Imam Saheb
Kalan’s outside view
The main entrance
Kalan’s street view
The inside view
Inside view (in the evening)