The Jama Masjid, oh and where to find good Urdu books in Delhi

Approach to Jama Masjid

Masjid-e-jahan-numa (mosque from where the world can be seen) more commonly known as Jama Masjid is a prominent landmark in old Delhi. It is located near Lal Qila (The Red Fort) at the beginning of Chandni Chowk. It is also very close to Gali Qasim Jaan in Ballimaran, where Ghalib lived towards the end of his life. I took this teeming picture standing on the steps leading up to the Jama Masjid. Lal Qila (The Red Fort) is visible looming in the background. Looking at it now, many months later, all the greenery in the frame gives a sense of coolness to the atmosphere. In fact, it was a hot late summer day. The road leading up to the mosque the lines with sellers of devotional music, chaddars, rooh afza sherbet, shoes, food and what not. Its a market not fashionable enough to be called a mall, because not exclusionary, not air-conditioned, not formal (as is usually the case, defined by lack, by what it is not). The area around the mosque has served as a bazaar since the earliest days of Shahjahan, when the mosque was built.

Sun setting behind the Jama Masjid

Non-Muslim visitors are allowed inside into the main courtyard/compound only as certain times of the day when it is not being used for prayer. The courtyard is very large and is said to hold up to 25,000 worshipers. This picture was taken sitting on the marble balustrade at the edge of the clearing, gazing at the facade as the Sun sets behind. But click here for a far more beautiful picture of the sun setting behind the mosque, than I could ever take.

Arabic Calligraphy on the Jama Masjid

They say music transcends language, one doesn’t need to understand the language of a song to feel it in one’s body and soul. I certainly felt that when I started listening to Persian qawwalis. Except an occasional word here and there, I understood almost nothing of the meaning. Yet, it grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go, until I painstakingly looked up meanings and grammar, and pieced together the song. When I look at Arabic, Persian and Urdu calligraphy, it seems as though not just music, but language itself seems to transcend language. One does not need to understand what is written to appreciate the elegance and the beauty. But when one does understand it, the joy is that much more enhanced. As with all good art, there are layers here to be uncovered, slowly, savoringly. It makes you work hard to appreciate its beauty, as it should.

Urdu Bazar seen from Jama Masjid

Alongside the Jama Masjid there is a small lane lined with bookshops selling Urdu books. This is known as Urdu Bazaar. A good place to find cheap copies of the classics and also modern day works in Urdu. Maktaba Jamia, a well-known publisher of books in Urdu language, has its outlet here. I spent a good two hours in their store, unmolested. No one shooed me away or asked me what I was doing there so long etc. To someone used only to bookshops in the United States, this fact may seem un-noteworthy, but alas, in India free browsing of books is not the norm (it is making a comeback though). In any case, part of the reason I lingered so long in the bookshop is because I can barely read Urdu, so it takes me a long time to read the title on the spine and make out what the book is about! The assistants must have noticed this, but they didn’t say anything. Instead they helpfully dug out books I asked for and hung about waiting to be of service. I found excellent cheap editions (Rs. 20-Rs.100) of the divan of Dard, Hali’s Muqaddimah, Faruqi’s Urdu ka Ibtadaayi Zamana (which has been translated into English as “Early Urdu Literary History and Culture”, I highly recommend it) and a few other books.

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One thought on “The Jama Masjid, oh and where to find good Urdu books in Delhi

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