City Faith – Gospel Hall Assembly, Connaught Place
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The air is viscous with traffic sounds. The afternoon light is hard on the eyes.
Such is the sense of the day, here at the H block Outer Circle in Connaught Place. Suddenly, one pauses by a curtained door. On pulling apart the pink drapes, another world is revealed.
The hall is quiet. So quiet, as if the clocks had stopped. Rows of benches are lying on both sides, with a narrow passage going further ahead. A young man is sitting on a chair towards the far end, tapping something on a laptop. On stepping deeper into this space, calmness drips into the weary senses. The noises outside seem as remote as watching the Doon valley from the high altitude of Mussoorie. It is almost like being inside an isolated gufa in the Himalayas.
What is this mysterious place?
A tall shadow flickers in the book-crammed mezzanine floor. That is actually a straight-backed man getting up from a chair. He comes down on a steel ladder, his face lighting up in a restrained smile. “This is Gospel Hall Assembly, you may see the board hanging outside.” Benjamin Alexander is dressed in formal pants and shirt. He clarifies the specific purpose of this place, that any casual passerby might first register dimly only as an island of profound silence. “This is a place for workshopping Lord Jesus Christ, studying the Holy Bible, and sharing the love of God with whoever comes here.”
Addressing specific queries, he assures that it would be fine if a person who were not religious just wanted to sit inside the hall in silence, briefly. Except when there are packed congregations on the evenings of Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
Right now, it is about four in the evening, and the place is dappled in peace. The hall’s old-fashioned architecture, the grey walls, the tall wooden door with huge glass panes, the long rod of the low-hanging fan, add to the serenity. The flooring consists of spotty tiles one used to see in residences before the age of Italian marbles.
The hall was founded by a missionary from New Zealand in 1942, says Benjamin Alexander. The premises earlier housed the offices of Tropical Life Insurance.
Some minutes later, on stepping out, the everyday world strikes back.