City Monument – Madrasa Aminia, Kashmere Gate
A lesser-known beauty.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
First, the eyes are drawn to the arched pool. Then, to the greenish water in it; to the sky in the water; to the reflected crows flying in the reflected sky. And then, in the same crowded water, you see minars and arches. This whole world is still, but suddenly it trembles. A breeze is passing over the pool, causing a minor waterquake.
Nestled amid the frenzied Bara Bazar in Kashmete Gate, Madrasa Aminia lies in seclusion. The gate on the cramped street opens into an airy courtyard with the pool as its centrepiece. The reflected minars in the pool are of the Masjid Panipatiyan that stands beyond—so named because the mosque was built by the Nawab of Panipat. The remaining courtyard is ringed by double-storied corridors, lined with residential rooms for madrasa scholars.
This afternoon, the walls of the corridor along the courtyard’s northern flank are splashed with intersecting shapes of light and shadows. Portions of the wall have been stripped of their pink paint, revealing the bricks within. Some of these unwieldily scars are dressed with a coat of raw cement. The doorway to each room in the corridor is marked on each side by a taak, the arched niche rarely sighted in contemporary architecture. The taaks here look alive, as if still in use. One has tea cups in it, another has a plastic surahi with a long curved neck.
Venerable author Mufti Ata ur Rahman Qasmi, who taught Islamic theology (tafseer and tarjuma of Holy Quran) here for more than 20 years, calls it Delhi’s oldest surviving madrasa. It was originally established in Chandni Chowk, he says on phone, from his home in Abul Fazal Enclave. According to the Delhi Gazetteer of the year 1976, the madrasa—founded by Maulana Aminuddin Aurangabadi in 1876 — taught metaphysics, medicine, history, and ethics, among many other subjects. Before the partition, it had 500 students, the gazetteer remarks. The number today stands at 75, says Munshi Imran, the madrasa’s register keeper who resides in a corner room on the first floor.
A door in one of the rooms is ajar. Within, a young man in white pajama and banyan is sitting on the floor, watching a cricket match on his mobile. He shares the room with two fellows, who, like most madrasa students, are away in their villages for holidays. A shelf is stacked with books. A hall elsewhere has a wide flat screen TV.
The corridor along the courtyard’s southern flank tapers into a narrow gallery with blue walls. A solemn silence is reigning here. Moments later, voices outside. A couple of men are washing their arms and feet in in the pool water, performing ablution for their evening prayer. Now, Sameer, a young marketer, enters the courtyard, and reclines by the pool, silently.
Reflecting by the reflections