City Faith – Lockdown Ramzan, Jama Masjid, Gurgaon
A world in pandemic.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The forever-optimistic Nashir Ahmed Khan in gloom? Impossible, you would think. But the second surge in the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.
“I’m badhal (in bad shape),” he says, “everyone here is badhal, everything is down.” A biscuit seller outside the imposing Jama Masjid in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar in the Greater Delhi Region, Mr Khan, 71, is talking on phone. This late morning he is standing by his two carts, he says, waiting for the few customers who might drop by. During the ongoing lockdown in the Millennium City, shops in this part of Sadar Bazar are allowed to function from 6 am to 11 am, he informs.
In the final week of the fasting month of Ramzan, the area around the mosque traditionally teems with shoppers. But this ain’t a normal year, and Mr Khan agrees to give a sense of the place.
His on-the-ground survey starts with the stairs of the Jama Masjid, that in previous Ramzans (not last year’s though, because of the first lockdown) would be taken over by fasting people sitting there in lethargy, waiting for the iftari hour to break the fast. (The pic above dates from early last year.)
“Nobody’s on the Masjid’s stairs, not even a cat,” Mr Khan reports curtly. Even Raja Bhai isn’t there — the elderly man would usually be heard before he was seen, always sitting on the same side of the stairs, regularly breaking into most heartfelt devotional songs.
Khurshid Ahmad’s kebab stall, though, is open. “But it’s only stocked with feni,” says Mr Khan, referring to a milk-based dish often consumed in this sacred month.
All the mosque-facing stalls that would sell trinkets, dates, caps and scarves throughout the year are closed. “Except for one man who, as I see, is selling kurta pajamas.”
The area’s public park—the Masjid Udayan—that would be dotted with resting labourers is empty, reports Mr Khan.
“After one hour, at 11, I’ll also go back to my room (in nearby Yaseen Plaza),” he says. “Nobody is earning much… I’m able to afford only dal and chawal.”
Even so, one thing hasn’t changed. No matter how hot or freezing it might get, Mr Khan always dresses in safari suit. “Yes, I’m wearing my safari,” he confirms, breaking into his trademark laughter, infectious even on mobile.
And is he holding a cup of that milky sweet bazar chai, as he always does?
“What are you saying,” exclaims the biscuit seller. “All the chai shops are closed.”
He concludes the eye-witness account with his customary farewell salutation—“God bless you too much.”