Our edifices of worship are curious time warp zones. Once you cross over their threshold, you feel drawn to yield to their re-configured variables of time, space and distance. Musing upon this very thought, I nimbly tread my way on the rain- washed marbled floors of the Nakhoda Masjid. It turns out to be as much of a personal pilgrimage as an audacious bid with my friend, to capture the multi-sensory serving of the edifice and its environs.
The 1926 grand structure towers over man and machine at the congested intersection of Rabindra Sarani and Zakaria Street, in a part of a city that plays out Life in full technicolour and drama.
This mosque is one of the easily recognisable landmarks of Calcutta. It rises from her earth and creates a unique space in which man and his God meet to parley through the sombre interface of prayers or namaz.
It exudes an aura of a grandeur that is conspicuous in its absence from the other structures surrounding it. Yet, it holds its humungous patchy verdant green domes and the bi-coloured minarets as an age-defying challenge to the sky and the earth below.
It makes its presence felt as a house of God, where the sheer magnificence of the monument is meant to make ordinary mortals aware of their puny stature before Someone who bestows His grace on us all.
There is a pool, which holds cool waters for the ritualistic ablutions or Wazu necessary before one settles down to pray. Looking into its waters, carrying the ripples created by a worshipper who had left a few moments ago, I thought upon the countless faces that must have been reflected back by this very pool, as they gazed into its depths, determined to make their prayers heard. The shifting shadows of the waters play hide-and seek with the faint monsoon sun that dares to peep through some gathering clouds. I watch my friend, his face a picture of concentration, as he magically captures a moment from the scene. What do I take back from this moment today? I ask myself.
Meanwhile, the skies open up as the hesitant drops turn into an invading army of resolute droplets. We stroll into the arched doorway just below this huge niche half covered by tarpaulin, enticing the imagination to believe in the treasures it is busy restoring behind its thick covers.
The marbled floor turns more slippery and I watch the patterns of little droplets zigzag into each other. Yes, He is the God of small things as well 🙂
There is a prayer hall right near the arched doorway where we have taken shelter from the rain, and I watch discreetly a couple of men absorbed in different moments of prayer. There is no need for words when the silence of the heart speaks to the One who already knows. I muse upon the futility of our so-called religious differences and wonder what He thinks about them!
Our moment with the mosque does not end before we have ventured onto the flight of marbled staircases that take us, to the balcony overlooking the large courtyard. This is lined with a series of clocks, fixed in their time, as they indicate the different times of prayers of the faithful. How Time has been pointedly made to halt in its relentless march within this dimension!
On my brief sojourn up these stairs, I am accosted by an elderly stranger who wants to know where I am from and where I have put up for my stay. Calcutta-style curiosity makes its foray into this time warp zone very innocuously.
I sneak a quick glance at the stained glass windows that lie beyond the large prayer hall decorated with chandeliers. Maybe on my next visit…
During my turn on the balcony, I touch the cold heads of the little lotus heads that are positioned at regular intervals on the balcony.I look down at the patterned marble courtyard and realize the circular patterns in black marble resemble a compass- something that a mariners’ community would be associated with. After all, the mosque was named Nakhoda Masjid or the mariner’s mosque.
Time enters this domain as dusk begins to descend into it. It is time for us to leave. I step out into the pavement and the world as I know it, looms up with its pace and hullabullo like a pop-up comic book. I smile to myself, and turn to look up at the grand clock located in the higher reaches of the building and notice that it does not work as well.
We get onto the street and start the ritual of hailing a cab back home. Pulling my scarf away from my head, I once more turn back, for one more time, towards this edifice, so masculine in so feminine a city. What do I take back from you? I ask. What will you give me? Of course, there is no reply- but then, I did not need any.