City Hangout – Masjid Udayan, Gurgaon
A cold-weather friend.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A man is lying on a bench, wide awake. Some steps away, a chhole-bhature eatery staffer is hurriedly finishing his homemade dal-roti. While a cotton candy hawker, armed with plastic-wrapped pink candies, is playing ludo on the mobile. Then there’s a goat, and a lazy dog too. Overlooking it all is the area’s Jama Masjid.
After plunging into semi-hibernation during the summer and monsoon months, Gurgaon’s Masjid Udayan has awakened to the October nip. It’s not yet cold, and the winter’s dreaded haze is weeks away. Be warned, though: the park is just a muddy brown ground with some grass and some cactuses. If you are patient, only then does it reveal its elusive beauty. Most citizens ignore this place, tucked at one end of the town’s Sadar Bazaar; but those who are drawn to it fall into a committed relationship. That’s why the unusual city oasis is peopled with always the same faces. For instance, at a certain hour in any given afternoon, you’ll find the same three “putai wale” house painters sitting with legs crossed, their work-clothes splattered with colours. The same rat poison hawkers sit under the park’s peepal for lunch.
Occasionally unfamiliar folks are spotted. They tend to come up with some sad story or the other. One afternoon in the ongoing pandemic era, a young man in ironed pants and shirt was lying flat under this tree. With his black laptop bag doubling up as pillow, he confessed he hadn’t told his “bhaiya-bhabhi” that he was recently relieved of his “office job.” Another afternoon (this was last year’s winter), two panic-stricken labourers were furiously calling up contacts on their mobile to help them with emergency cash for train tickets to home in Bihar.
In the late morning hours, a corner of the park smells of fragrant pulao—a street-food seller daily cooks the dish in an adjacent yard.
When here, also look out for a man in safari suit. Biscuit trader Naseer Ahmad Khan’s “biskut ke thele” are permanently parked by the park. A cheerily optimistic man, he is full of stories about the locality and its people. He speaks in flowery Urdu, like a Ghalibian poet of yesteryear. If you say hello to him, he might treat you to chai and his biscuits, which he “imports” from the pilgrimage town of Ujjain.