A winter afternoon in Jama Masjid: From Sreejata Roy’s Urdu Park Diary

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Walk from Chawri Bazar metro station to Jama Masjid was an overwhelming event. The narrow street twisting in between the old buildings on both the sides rendered reminiscences of the past, nonetheless at present there are shops in the top and bottom of these old buildings, which at least added colour to the drab archaic mansions, once reverberant. The shops spilled out on the footpaths and were bulging out with shop items like bathroom fittings, papers and everyplace was buzzed with activities. The main road often enters into narrow serpentine, dark lanes, busy with activities. The balconies of the old buildings with tarpulin, hoardings, posters of the shops flowing downward. One have to squeeze the body through the web of over populated streets to reach one’s destination. The street was full of rickshaws/e-rickshaws, cart pullers, bikes even big fat cars were trying to move slowly pushing the noisy overflowing pedestrians apart.

It was a winter afternoon in the month of February 2015, when I reached Chawri Bazar. I stepped out of the metro station and waited for sometime to force myself into the crowd. At first I was hesitating to step in the street, but slowly pushed my body squashing into the populated footpath, I started moving gradually towards my destination. I easily walked through the streets of Chawri Bazar till I reached Jama Masjid. Reaching at the foot of the huge structure of Jama Masjid , I took a long breath to feel the sublimity of the magnificent monument. This connected me to the ages of Mughal Emperors. The red sand stone building of 17 century stood in the heart of old Delhi, once called Shahjahanabad.

As I was engrossed and immersed by the beauty of massive building of Jama Masjid, an ear-splitting horn of a bike, suddenly brought me to the real world of people, loud environment of the bazar with dhabas and hotels around the mosque. I started walking towards the main gate of Jama Masjid again embracing the populated streets, till I found my way out through a narrow lane with an open market in front of the main gate of Jama Masjid. I stood on the shabby red steps of Jama Masjid which spilled over to a wide path which leads to Red Fort, another reminiscence of Mughal Era. I was fascinated by the panoramic view of the cityscape from those steps and at the same time my heart was full of pain seeing how the monster machines like bulldozer, cranes etc., were being used for making heritage way, displacing the people who have built small shops in the open space for their livelihood or people who were living on the streets. The facade of the mosque was full of open shops for various material like clothes, utensils, cosmetics, food, even perfumes with buyers over crowding the shops.

Searching for Urdu Park I went down the steps of Jama Masjid and walked through a lane with shops with aroma of biriyani, kabab grilled on the roadside and also the clothes, other daily use materials on the other side. I reached Urdu Park at the bottom of the alley on my right hand.

This is the first time, I visited Urdu Park. Urdu Park is a land with very little grass and few big trees. The park is used on one side by the homeless people and other side used by the local people as playground. I had been listening about the women who live in the shelter near Jama Masjid, from Shaguna, a social worker working with Aman Biradari. When I was listening to the stories how they face challenges in life and transform the streets as an intimate space for fostering the everyday hassles, it seemed to me very dull, unanimated, despondent space and a distant land. However visiting Urdu Park was quite an exciting experience after meeting the ladies. I found the site to be the most vibrant standing in the middle of two magnificent buildings.

The blue colour temporary tin shades, written on a board ‘Rain Basera‘ (night shelter) for single homeless women, stood at one corner of Urdu Park with an entrance towards the empty spaces in front of the park which were once used as fountains. These homeless people (specifically men and few women with children) they spend their day in the sun near these empty fountain. Across that there was another shelter, which belong to homeless families and then the cycle market (wholesale market of bicycle) which slowly merged into Chandni Chawk main market.

Inside the Urdu park there were two other temporary shades where an organization ran a school for the children in the day time. On the left side stood, the ‘Rain Basera‘ for homeless single women. This space has got a second entrance which separate the women space from rest of the Urdu Park with a gate. Inside the private space there was a courtyard. There were four temporary toilets built on the other side of the courtyard. The single women were living in the tin shade with their children, was a big hall with two windows opened towards the park.

I entered the shelter with Shaguna, with group of children chasing us, calling didi. Some of them were clinging and hanging from our arms asking for all kind of attentions. I found it so thrilling to be among so many children age 2-6 years. I got introduced to their mothers by Shaguna.

At the beginning, these ladies mistaken me as representative of Aman Biradari, and started asking me how could I solve the problem of the legal documents like, helping them issuing identity card, ration card etc, but I told them very politely that I was here to do something different from those daily legal necessity. Then we had an introductory session and they started talking individually how they reached the shelter. Few narrated that they are born and brought up there around Urdu Park. Sugandha was reluctant to talk about her whereabouts, where as Salma, Shahzadee, Soni were much enthusiastic to open up. In between while discussing about the daily necessity like work, food and shelter, there was controversy among them as they started blaming one another regarding the responsibilities and usage of the shelter space and also in getting food. However the argument was calm down by asking them that how they can solve this by not blaming each other but sharing each others problem, desires and trying to help every individual happily. How could they make the shelter their home. The ladies were happy to listen to such thoughts and they became keen to meet and share their thoughts in the sessions.