It’s Sunday morning and the roads leading to Chandni Chowk are deserted. We cross the chaotic merry go round of Connaught Place in a trice and head to old Delhi. Where are all the people? The buffaloes that carry on listlessly and children who dart at unexpected moments across the road. It is so quiet. Where are all the vehicles? There is no orchestra of blaring horns, no tinkle of cycle rickshaw bells as they weave their way through the narrow lanes, just managing to miss running over innocent feet and getting run over by speeding cars. And before I realize it, the Red Fort is to my right, imposing and grey in the early morning light, not fully awake.
And inside the Jama Masjid, the sense of stillness follows us. On an earlier trip late one afternoon last September, I remember the contrast the interiors of Jama Masjid presented to the babel of the streets and market surrounding it. Once inside, it is another world, people finding themselves quiet corners to pray and meditate and even sleep, all outside noises filtered by the thick red walls along with their worries and anxieties.
The cap seller is just taking out his stock, arranging them carefully into a delicate house of cards. He looks indifferent to my intrusive camera; even when I show him his photo on the camera he shrugs in a careless manner. I can see he is pleased – he calls his friend to show him the image and then calls out to me a few minutes later to share the meagre breakfast they have all started eating from the packets carefully carried from home.
I stand near the gate that looks on to the Red Fort, sharing the moment with families sitting on the steps. My mind keeps going back to the past, to the place this must have been, to the better days this area has seen… Now, people are washing their clothes on a tiny stream between the mosque and the fort, vendors are setting up shop all along the road, children are running about trying to catch chicken and each other in a game that makes sense only to childhood.
Inside the mosque, people are quietly doing their own thing. Near the pool in the preliminary cleansing ritual , under the arch staring out blankly into space, on the corridor offering prayer, near the pillars fast asleep…
Each individual has found his own space.
And from the top, from another day, another time… life inside and outside the mosque goes on as usual…
Also see: Jama Masjid photo gallery