City Monument – Blue Mosque, Hauz Khas Enclave
aka Neeli Masjid.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There’s the grand Blue Mosque in Istanbul, built centuries ago that commemorates an Ottoman Sultan.
And then there’s the Blue Mosque in Delhi. It was built centuries ago too, but by a woman, said to be a royal wet-nurse called Kasum Bhil. It is small, intimate, and possesses only vestiges of its original splendour.
The Lodhi-era Nili Masjid in south Delhi’s Hauz Khas Enclave has nothing nila, or blue, about it. Right now even the sky isn’t blue—veiled with a mournful layer of monsoon clouds. But then the eyes shift toward the top of the mosque’s central arched gateway. There’s the only shiny part of the stone edifice. An entire layer is devoted to blue tiles, though most of these tiles have fallen off. Only the fragments are holding on today. The empty spaces show impressions of the tiles that were.
The mosque’s courtyard is filled with wet green leaves. A gigantic peepal tree, taller than the mosque’s highest point, leans over more than half the yard. Its upper branches veer towards the central dome, the bare tips looking like fingers yearning to touch the aloof dome.
As it is the rainy season, the 16th century stone walls are shrouded in green moss. On touching, they feel as soft as a cake’s icing. The courtyard is empty for the moment, except for a crow drinking water from a rain puddle. The chamber inside is filled with two or three men, each sitting distanced from the other, each glued onto his mobile.
An even larger yard opens out of the mosque, teeming with many cats. An old stone well in one corner has every inch of its circular wall decked with flower pots. A vazu (ablution) canal runs along a side of the yard. Three men in white kurta pajama are sitting by it, enjoying their evening chai in plastic cups. The yard ends with the pink back-walls of an apartment complex. A few people are hurriedly walking along a lane along these walls. They don’t care to look at the monument; perhaps living in close proximity to it has dulled their enthusiasm for its simple sophistication.
When you visit the mosque, stand inside the courtyard, with your back turned towards the dome. Take a long look at the pink flats in front of you. Then turn around to 180 degrees, and take a long look at the Blue Mosque in front of you. These are two eras, each attached to the other like a limpet. Such is contemporary Delhi’s timeless essence, which constantly changes and yet stays the same.