City Monument – Jahaz Mahal after Sunset, Mehrauli
Of stones and shadows
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The cottony clouds are almost touching the jagged tops of the stone walls. A bunch of boys and girls are playfully loitering about the stone arches. The elderly man on the stone floor has his mobile phone screen glowing brighter than the rising moon. As the evening inches closer to the night, the monument and the people in it, lose their corporeality. They become papercut silhouettes.
They say that Jahaz Mahal looks like a jahaz, a ship. Although it is another kind of jahaz, the hawai jahaz, that is appearing frequently in the sky directly above the Jahaz Mahal. The lights of these planes are blinking furiously as they prepare to land in the city’s airport. Close by is a hauz, or lake, built by Sultan Iltutmish. Jahaz Mahal’s reflection on its rippling wavelets were said to resemble a ship on sail. The name, ship palace, took off from that impression.
Every year after the monsoons, the Lodhi-era monument hosts music and dances as part of Phoolwalon ki Sair, a historic festival in which phool are offered to shrines in Mehrauli, a south Delhi region crammed with ruins of almost every signifiant historical timeline. The pandemic has kept the festival suspended for the last two years. No clarity about it this year either. Whatever, nobody needs an excuse to explore Jahaz Mahal’s most delicate beauty, primarily borne out of light and darkness.
In clear cloudless afternoons, the sunshine crisscrossing through the stone palace splits the interiors into zones of brightness and shade. The air in some of the little chambers are diffused into a vaporous gold glow, while other alcoves and corridors lie submerged in a cooling dimness. Traipsing through these spaces is thrilling, like transgressing through forbidden boundaries.
Jahaz Mahal sheds more beauty in the evening, after the sunset. This moment, at 7.09pm, the centuries-old edifice appears soft and fragile, as if its stones were hewed out of darkness. The facing park is peopled with a few loners. The crouching figure of a solitary man is making two shadows on the ground. As he gets up, the man’s twins become a single shadow, which magnifies into gigantic proportions and fleetingly falls on the Mahal’s walls.