City Monument – Sequence of Taak, Deer Park
A disappearing element in architecture.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
All are dusty, and some are cobwebbed. But it doesn’t matter. After all, it might be the most exquisite collection of taaks in the entire Delhi region. Taak, this arched niche inside a wall. Today, an endangered element of old architecture.
The historically minded might cherish this unnamed mosque in south Delhi’s Deer Park for its Lodhi past and its floor littered with anonymous graves. But the great joy of the ruined edifice lies in a sequence of twelve taaks adorning the unused mosque’s western wall, the monument’s only surviving remnant. Everything else is gone, including the roof—if the roof ever existed.
Your grandmother might easily tell you stories of typical household taaks. Traditionally positioned at the centre of a wall, a taak would be used as a shelf to keep a prayer book, or perhaps the grandmother’s ainak. In the old days, when Delhi homes had no Western-style furniture and people sat on mattresses laid on the floor, a gaw-takiya (pillow-rest) would be placed directly under it.
The taak also happened to be one of the many places in a house where people kept things and forgot about them. Sadly, the taaks in this Deer Park monument too have been forgotten. This is our loss, for they are so beautiful that looking at just one turns out to be as demanding as viewing a Vermeer in Rijksmuseum. Within each taak lies a whole world wanting to be noticed. The arched portion between the niche and the wall is sculpted with patterns of flowers and leaves. The strands of cobwebs look like icicles of air. Every taak has this similar detailing, though one has its sculpted flowers absent. Obviously, the taak must have cracked over in the recent past, the flowers must have fallen off.
One of the taaks has a folded white sheet in it. This turns out to be a handwritten note, the contents in Hindi too melancholic and private to be shared.
Being the primary part of a mosque, this wall of taaks has a niche called mihrab in its center, indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, which Muslims are required to face when praying. The mihrab, too, has a taak.
The museum of taak
My ancestral home (200 years old) had these. We call them gudu/guti in Telugu. We had those shelves in those thick old walls, mostly near washing aeras where grand mom used to store kunkudukai (soapnuts). 🙂
(Like that old mosque of deer park,, our ancestral home is also in ruins.)