We wanted to start our Sahapedia Shahjahanabad module on a high and had scheduled Sohail Hashmi Sahab's heritage walk around Shahjahanabad for our first day. But, we required permission for shooting inside Jama Masjid, and Imam Sahab was out of town so, had to postpone it for a later date. So, it was just the two young camera guys and yours truly to start the work on a foggy afternoon in crowded Shahjahanabad. We had decided to meet near Ashok Chat near Metro station, only that both of them reached Ashok Sweets (not their fault, there are too many Ashoks in the area!).
We started waking around the Chawari Bazar lane, covering hardware market/ wedding card shops/ eateries and a few houses on the first floors which still had some traces of old architecture left. From the shop opposite Shyam Sweets we bought cold coffee (too sweet, wrong choice, should have taken Dal Halwa, but was thirsty!)
From there, we walked to the Jama Masjid, gate number three (Dariba Side). They did not allow us to come inside with our cameras and asked us to leave the cameras outside at the gates. I remembered the person I was co-ordinating with at Jama Masjid,so dropped his name. I told them we are in touch with their office and have to meet him regarding permissions, will not shoot. Thankfully, they did not confirm and allowed us to come inside! We were just going to do some recce, and cross over to Meena Bazar market side to cover the Burqa shops.
From outside even with low light, cameras captured a few good shots. I narrated some of what I knew about Sufi Sarmad and Hare Bhare Sahab's story and walked down the stairs towards Meena Bazar. It was fascinating for both of my young friends' as both were new to the city and did not know much about Old Delhi. There is religion, and then there is usually a market around religion!Meena Bazar has shops selling prayer mats, topis, religious literature, Qurans, all sacred and some profane stuff as well, like food/ clothes/ jewellery/ utensils, etc!
At Meena Bazar, cameras got attention of most people but nobody bothered us. We started at the burqa shop where ready made burqas ranging from Rs. 400- Rs. 5000 were being sold. I asked for the most expensive one, the fabric was not very good. Shopkeeper said, he quotes Rs. 5000 but it would go for Rs. 3000. Even then it was expensive, I told him, he smiled at my observation. Two diverse styles black with black embroidery sober ones were for daily wear, the blingy ones with stone embellishments/ embroidery were for special occasions like wedding, etc. and were more expensive. The one that caught our eye was a leopard/animal print burqa! There was a lane full of burqa shops. A man refused, and told us to shoot elsewhere while most were friendly and happy to pose. Some wanted to know the purpose of it, so I told them I was from Jamia Millia Islamia, a teacher doing research on changing Burqa styles. Ready made burqa business is not very old, shops earlier sold clothes/ suit pieces. Also, the scarves for young girls in different colors is also a recent phenomenon.
A biryani/ kebab seller, shouted at us, "yahan aa jao, kha bhi lo aur photo bhi le lo" (Come here, eat and also take photos). Though tempted, but we politely declined!
From Meena Bazar, we walked towards the main Road opposite Red Fort. Now, with all the Metro work going on, its even more chaotic. On push carts, all sorts of woolens for all ages, shoes, fruits were being sold. On the pavement, we noticed some herbs, in various colors and some women were selling them. I asked one woman, she said, its for acne, blemishes and offered some beauty tips. Another woman was selling for strength! I inquired, what strength? This made her angry, she shouted, 'what are you going to do with pictures, we have no money, we are poor and you put our pictures out and make money!' And covered her face. She was selling aphrodisiacs! Here, we noticed a man serving chowmein- with hara dhaniya topping! If dhaniya-mirchi can go with aloo-gosht then why not noodles!!
Another man, almost had a full-fledged dawakhana on the road, many bottles, colored stuff, etc. On being asked what all that was for, he said, he cured all stomach problems, acidity/ gas, etc. Unconvinced, we walked away.
There is a bird market on the road opposite Red Fort. They had beautiful birds, in cages, of course. Some rare ones, even banned, sea gulls and a few other exotic ones. They got angry at the cameramen, and completely refused to allow anything to be shot over there. We knew the reason was the illegal trade of rare birds,so we did not push them.
I offered next a serene, calm place to shoot. Zeenat ul Masjid or Ghata Masjid (built in 1707, by Aurangzeb's daughter Zeenat un Nissa begum), but the day light was getting dull every minute. So, we hurried our pace and went there to shoot. It was actually naive to think that they will allow us to shoot without raising any objections. There were some homes in the mosque compound. On the ground floor was a school. Mosque was on an elevated platform and resembled Jama Masjid, but on a smaller scale. Birds chirping and with hardly any crowd, we thought we could peacefully do our work here. Two young boys saw us, and called a gentleman with beard and topi. He looked like the caretaker/ Imam. He shouted, how dare you, start shooting here without any/my permission . We have had problems before, we do not allow random people to come and shoot like this!
I again, took out my Jamia Millia Islamia badge and told him I teach and we were doing research on architecture/ history. He demanded more papers! My Sahapedia letter was in my car. I went and got it, by this time he had disappeared in one of the houses! Then I had to bang on couple of doors, until he appeared from one of the house. Now, he took me to a small locked room opposite the mosque, which was bare except for prayer mat, few religious books and few Qurans. He asked me to sit, glanced at the papers (did not read!) and said, how difficult it is to run places. The tone was different now. He gave names of few people he knew at Jamia. I told him, it is a big university, I do not know every individual, but if it is somebody from my department, I may know them! Then he said, his cousin runs Al Falah school (recently set up at Okhla, doing well). I said, my Mashallahs. Then, he narrated a few stories of how he has had to face trouble when he allowed a crew to film a few days back and somehow a fire broke out and he had to control everything. I told him, its just the three of us, hardly there for half an hour. Then, he said, he understood academic research, etc. but could I pay something for Mosque maintenance. Light was getting further dim. I took some money and made a gesture to my friends' to shoot wherever they wanted!
Now, we could even go inside and could work at our own pace. We got some very good shots. After almost an hour we started back and decided on a more concrete plan, few planned interviews. On our way back, we noticed the boundary wall along Ansari Road, we thought lets get a few shots there. as well, as it was still in good condition There was a board which said it was built by Britishers as an extension to Old City wall to keep eye. Probably, a reason why it was still standing intact. But, we still climbed up. Walked around, but since it was built by the British, I was not interested. The slope was steep. My fellow friends remarked on my wedge-heel shoes. They told me to wear proper shoes with support, next time I come for shooting!