'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dholka Jottings

A two hour journey from Gandhigram Station in the heart of Ahmedabad by a slow and crowded 'passenger' took me to Dholka, a place that has according to the 'book', at least "three mosques dating back 500 plus years and a carved haveli-like temple". When I reached, it was 11 am and unpleasantly hot and dusty. The town was quite close to the railway station but felt farther.

Dholka is smallish; it appears Muslim dominated, but most if not all boards are in Gujarati and not Urdu. An elderly shopkeeper, whose courteous manners seemed straight out of Lucknow (as it is shown in films), told me: "You will find many mosques here; if you want old ones, there is Jama Masjid, straight down *that* road, Tanka Masjid, down *that* road and then Khan Masjid, a little way away, beyond the railway station.... And where are you from?"

Jama Masjid had its main gate locked. From outside, the building looked like a compact version of the Ahmedabad Jama Masjid, stone-built with pre-Islamic style decorations and flourishes; the two towers flanking the main archway of the building were missing - just like the Amdavadi Mosque's.

I went searching for the Tanka Masjid and failed to find it - maybe I did not search well enough and far enough (I had forgotten to ask the distance)- but came upon a vast tank with a causeway leading to an island with a stone pillared pavilion in the center (very similar to the neat square tank adjoining the Sarkhej Dargah in the city). Across the lake at some distance a very large mosque-like structure rose over the scrub. I asked a passerby and was told that was the 'Khan Masjid'. I decided to walk there.

Back past the railway station and across the tracks, I find a trail thru the scrub. It passes a small Dargah and five minutes later, reaches a vast enclosure - with the large Mosque in the middle. Dozens of local youth hang out in the compound, some absorbed in an intense game of cricket. I see some folks jump over the fence and ask them if there is a proper gate. "Just follow us!" is the reply. I manage to clear the fence with some effort; "Not bad, uncle. You are still young!" one of them certifies.

I walk around the cricket group and approach the mosque. The building rises to something like 40-50 feet, surmounted by three large domes all of the same size and sitting in a row (somewhat like Babri Masjid?) and with two semi-collapsed towers rising a lot farther from both ends of the building (unlike Babri Masjid). The walls are of brick and not stone; most of the plaster has come off and swarms of noisy parakeets have nested in cracks. Some of the arches and windows show some remnants of delicate tracery work; the building, though seriously impressive, looks in pretty bad shape as a whole.

Two stone pillared and domed pavilions stand apart from the main building to the east and west; they look very similar to the front 'Mandapa' at the Modhera temple - of course minus the sculptural figures.

Towards the west is a vast square lake, considerably larger than the ones in Sarkhej or in Dholka proper, and very full with water. Large numbers of villagers are bathing and washing there. A board says it is called 'Khan Talav' and is part of the Mosque complex.

As I walk around the main mosque again, I sense that I am being watched by many of the guys sitting around, especially by a pair of youngish fellows sitting right in front of the building. I pause to look again at the noisy parakeets above when one of the two breaks into a Hindi song: "Bada natkhat hai Kishan Kanhaiya!" I wonder if he is referring to me (in spite of my age) but pretend not to listen.

Presently he asks in English, aloud: "You, which state?". I look and confirm I am indeed the one being addressed and answer: "Kerala". He has another question: "H or M, What?" I pretend not to understand and say, in Hindi: "Sorry, I did not understand." He makes the query explicit in Hindi: "Hindu, Muslim, what are you?". I decide to give a 'neutral' reply. "Christian actually." The questioner tells his companion in what sounds like Gujarati: "Ah, Kerala people are mostly Christian!" Then tells me: "If you want to go inside, just ..." he points at a doorway which is barred by a gate which in turn has been broken thru enough to let one man squeeze in. I thanked him and went inside.

The inner hall is not vast in area (something like 100 odd feet by 30 odd feet) and not much of the old decorative work has survived, except for an elevated 'Minbar' on the western wall with steps climbing to it. As I walk around looking at the innards of those huge domes, I hear a familiar voice. "There was a king called Mohammad Begada..." the two gentlemen had come inside. He continues "And there was one Hilal Khan who was his commander. This mosque was built for this Khan. Unfortunately, Khan became a martyr in some battle." I answer in vague agreement: "I see, ... Well, in those days, the kings were mostly fighting...".

I note that it was one of two who has done all the talking. He introduces himself: "I am Asif. Asifbhai". I say: "Ah here, in Gujarati culture, people always join a Bhai to their name right?"

Asif says: "How is it like in your Kerala?"

"Not that much of Bhaichara." I answer.

Asif: Here, in Gujarat, there is genuine cameraderie and understanding between people. But then, sometimes there are riots and then things are very bad... do YOU have riots in Kerala?

Self: Sometimes....

Asif: These politicians... but tell me, someone told me there is a mosque in Kerala which was built entirely of wood. Is it true?

Self: There are some old mosques which were built in the traditional Kerala style which used a lot of timber... but nowadays, Kerala mosques are just like the new ones anywhere else, concrete...

Asif: Anyways, you know another speciality of *this* mosque? It was built in a single day. Actually overnight!... the Jinns built it. There is this world of men and beasts. And there is another world of Jinns which we have now lost touch with... and do you want to go to the top?

Self: Is there a stairway?

Asif: Yeah, come.

I follow the two outside and around; there is a steep staircase which climbs to the 'shoulder' of the mosque. One can see a vast swathe of country from there. There is a further stairway leading up one of the towers. They ask if I have a camera. I say no (as is customary during these solitary wanderings, my bag has nothing but a water bottle and some scraps of food; but this place is indeed 'photogenic' as is the mosque; maybe some other time...).

Asif has plenty more to say about the place as we climb down. "No regular Namaz happens here. Only during Id, there is a large gathering. The place is badly neglected. The rule is that for maintenance of mosques etc., we should not use Government money, bank money and so on. And apart from praying here during Id and of course, this cricket, nobody is willing to spend money and get the place repaired. At least, this wall was built; grazers used to bring cattle and sheep inside and they would make the whole place dirty.... Even the lake, too many people come and bathe there!"

I pause to say goodbye. Asif says: "Just hold on. We are going back to the town, we will drop you at the bus-stand... Actually if you stay some more time, we could go and see other places, the Jama Masjid,..."

Self: But Jama Masjid was locked...

Asif: You would have seen only the main gate; there is another way to get in. We could go there now if you have time

Self: Actually I need to get back to Amdavad.

Asif: Well, what do you do in Amdavad?

Self: I study.

Asif: Study?! What do you study?

Self: Computers.

Asif: I see... (he seems not entirely convinced).

The conversation breaks because we now need to jump over the outer fence; Asif has a brought a mobike and he and his companion have got on; they asked me too to sqeeze on and within a few minutes, we are back at the main road junction of the town.

Asif: Sure you don't want to see more things?

Self: Oh, not that I don't want to see more. In fact I would love to. Now, there is just no time. Maybe some other day...

Asif: Just note my phone number. It goes .....

Self: Thanks. But shall we have some chai. You were a big help.

Asif: No help and stuff! You are our guest. And we were just idling there. So...

We have tea. They refuse to let me pay for it and ignore my protestations.

Asif: So, in case you need any further help in Dholka in future, remember Asifbhai.

Self: Sure, and (to his mostly silent companion) sorry I did not ask your name yet.

He says: "Asif. My name is also Asif. Actually, there are three Asifs in our group. The two of us are called Asif 2 and Asif 3. Asif 1 is at present in the gulf!"


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