City Life – Vaccination Camps, Jama Masjid
The mosque in the Covid-era.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The five tents are in red. A flap of cloth sewed on one of them says: Covid 19 Vaccination Center.
The tents stand in Jama Masjid, as a material souvenir of Covid in this place of history.
Old Delhi’s 16th century monument can be experienced multifariously. You may see it as a mosque, or as a historic edifice of red standstone, or as the Walled City’s signature landmark, visible from numerous rooftops and back alleys. You may also apprehend the building by familiarising yourself with the disparate worlds it shelters in its folds: the kebab stalls on the northern face; the Sufi shrines on the east side; the scores of labourers from western UP who sleep at night in front of the western wall; the struggles of a young gym owner who runs a small cafe on the mosque’s north-west corner. You may also view the Jama Masjid as a receptacle of historical events. It was on its steep stairs that freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad famously spoke against the creation of Pakistan.
And now, the existence in Jama Masjid of the vaccination camps—empty this moment—shows that the monument has acclimatised to the history-shaping coronavirus as intrinsically as it did other great episodes of the past. This afternoon some parts of the staircase going up to the mosque are occupied with a dense crowd. Citizens have jettisoned social distancing, and strangers are sitting next to each other, some have their masks down under their chin. The top tip of the mosque’s southern tower is packed with visitors, like live chickens in a meat seller’s cage.
In the first lockdown, exactly two years ago, it was almost impossible for Old Delhi dwellers to approach the mosque. The many lanes to it lay barricaded. The otherwise crowded world around the Jama Masjid lay deserted— surreally empty and unreal. By now the pandemic has grown to be such an integral fabric of our world that these vaccination camps seem firmly entrenched to the Mughal-eta edifice, as if they had always been here, like the metal handrails along the stairs. But the handrails came up only three years ago in December 2019, and the camps surfaced only with the vaccination.
Indeed, many years later, some of the Walled City young citizens might boast to their grandchildren that “once upon a time, I went to the Jama Masjid to get myself jabbed against the coronavirus.”