Published on: August 28, 2015
Written By: OMAIR AHMAD
House of worship: Nili (Blue) Masjid dates back to the Lodis, the dynasty that ruled Delhi sultanate from mid-15th to the early 16th century. Photo: Ramesh Sharma
There is a small mosque near the apartment I live in in Delhi’s Gulmohar Park. I found it by accident. It is neither big, nor does it have a loud public address system, but once in a while, very early in the morning, I would hear a faint call for prayer. My wife and I grew curious about this mosque that we could rarely, and faintly, hear. As both of us enjoy walking, we explored the neighbourhood until we spotted it. It was about 200-300 yards from our apartment, and well worth the search. It is a small structure, by all accounts, with limited amenities. A new, multi-storey mosque has been around for the last few decades in nearby Green Park, but I still prefer this old one.
Part of its appeal is the age. The mosque — called Nili Masjid or Blue Mosque — is named after the delicate blue colour of the tilework that adorns it. There is little left, but that is no surprise. The building dates back to the pre-Mughal Lodi dynasty, and would have been built sometime in the 15th or early 16th century. There is no real record — or at least I have not come across any — of who built this monument. Such small buildings, or ruins thereof, litter the neighbourhood around Hauz Khas, and much larger ones have little explanations attached to them; this one, with a main structure of barely 15ft by 3 , and an outer courtyard of maybe twice as much, hardly rates a mention. Maybe this is why it had become a dump until a maulvi took it upon himself to clean it. With permission from the authorities and approval from the police — who did not like a place that had become a grotto of illicit activities and the subject of complaints — the Nili Masjid has become a humble gathering place, neat and tidy, an unobtrusive bit of Indian history happily in place in India’s capital city.
The mosque has few regular attendees, and the few times that I have dropped in for prayers I have met maybe five or 10 people, or during Friday prayers, all of 40-50. During Ramzan, of course, the attendance goes up. According to Islamic belief, Ramzan is the lunar month in which the Quran was first revealed, and during extended night prayers called Taraveeh, the whole of it is recited. The Eid-ul-Fitr prayers, held the morning after the completion of Ramzan, marking the end of both fasting and extended prayers, are fairly well-attended. I found myself in Delhi that day. Having taken a day off from work, I thought I would stroll down to Nili Masjid and offer short prayers as well.
By the time I reached, the mosque and the courtyard were full, and the crowd had spilled out onto the street. I found myself at the edge, irritated at having arrived late. The road is public property, and encroaching on it, by three feet or so — the same area taken up by cars parked at the hospital on the other side of the road — is just not appropriate, even if for an annual ritual that takes all of five-10 minutes.
As I sat down to pray, I saw a group of policemen make their way to the crowd. Sitting on the cloth spread on the road, I was curiously pleased by the very clean khaki of the policemen’s trousers, perfect crease et al. I was dressed in new clothes for Eid, thanks to my mother-in-law, and it pleased me that the policemen were as well.
As they came to us, the policemen fanned out, standing just at the edge of the people about to pray, and started directing the traffic around us. Quietly, unobtrusively, they displayed their commitment to the policeman’s duty to protect fellow citizens. The prayer was about to start, and as I rose to join in, my eyes fell on only one policeman’s badge. It said, ‘Jitender Ch’.
During prayer, your attention narrows, and when you prostrate for sijda, your head to the ground, you see nothing. Completely defenceless, with my head to the ground, I heard the gravel crunch as cars passed by, the only thing keeping me alive as I closed myself to the world, was the devotion of Jitender Ch. I didn’t doubt my safety for an instant.
The prayers got over a few minutes later. Had I been in my hometown, or among friends, we would have embraced, and said “Eid Mubarak”. Here I knew nobody, and the only thing I said was to the policeman, “Thank you.” He smiled, and waved me on home.
Omair Ahmad is an author. His last book was on Bhutan
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Published on August 28, 2015