Chotu was his name.
At least, that was the name he liked. He had a family name too but was unaware of its richness. It was too difficult for him to pronounce. It went something like Jalaluddin Muhammad – quite a difficult name to pronounce for a 4 year old. His widowed mother begged all day outside Jama Masjid for a living while Chotu roamed around the masjid gathering experiences; a few of them pleasant, most of them unpleasant and some of them…shocking.
Jama Masjid, the abode of Allah, has also had its own share of bittersweet experiences. It has seen the might of the Mughals, their downfall, the rise of the British to name a few. It has given shelter to daring freedom fighters regardless of their religious identity. Later still, it stood tall during the communal riots of ’92 when one of its predecessors, the Babri Masjid was annihilated.
A huge market surrounds Jama Masjid. A market for the rich and the poor. From needles to watches, key rings to bikes, bangles to sunglasses- you can have it all.
Chotu got attracted to the colourful sunglasses one day while roaming the streets, kept in the stationary shop outside Jama. He slowly went over to the shop, helped himself to a pair of sunglasses – bright red in colour, and started coming back. Too young to understand the meaning of “stealing”.
“Slap!” came the first blow.
As he tried to get up from the ground and turned, another slap, harder than its competitor, reddened Chotu’s left cheek. He started crying, not because of pain or insult but mainly because tears came naturally in such moments of intense emotions. His Ammi (mother) was not far away and daintily came to her son’s rescue.
After a few hot exchanges with the shopkeeper, Chotu’s mother picked him up and took him away to the main stairs of the Masjid. Chotu was still crying. His mother took out a tiny paper bag from inside her choli (Indian dress) and started dangling it in front of Chotu with an innocent smile on her lips. Chotu stopped crying.
“What’s in it, Ammi?” asked Chotu. Although certain of the answer.
“Moong-dal beta”, said she, “for you and your friends”.
Now, you make a lot of friends if you live on the streets. Similarly, Chotu had friends too. The flock of pigeons, which used to roam around the big courtyard of Jama, was his best friends. When others fed the pigeons with yellow rice and dry fruits, Chotu had only ‘moong dal’ (Indian pulses) to offer. Though not a fulfilling meal for pigeons, they would still trust Chotu to others.
“Pappu, see what Ammi has sent for you”, called out Chotu, “Munni, for you too”.
He took a handful of ‘Moong-dal’ and spread it out for his friends. In an instant, his tiny palm disappeared somewhere inside the fluttering pigeons and the next instant it was empty. Chotu felt amused. He started chatting with his friends, munching on his share of ‘Moong-dal’ and complaining about the ill-treatment that he had to bear a little while ago.
“That man there is Shaitaan (Satan). Beat me up for nothing”, Chotu complained, walking around the scattered yellow-rice all the while. “Ammi says Allah punishes all those who do wrong”, he said pointing towards the huge monument. Chotu was not aware of any difference between Allah and the Jama Masjid. The great structure called for awe within him and he thought the Masjid to be Allah, Himself.
“Then why don’t Allah walk up to that monster and hit him?” Chotu got lost in thoughts.
In 1656, ordered by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, Jama Masjid, also known as Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, was the result of the continuous, inhuman tedious efforts of 5,000 labourers who toiled for 6 long years under the leadership of Ustad Khalil. Built on the Bho Jhala hill, the Masjid was constructed in the city of Shajahanabad keeping Red Fort as the prop. 25,000 worshippers can perform their prayers in the courtyard of this mosque. This mosque in Old Delhi, displaying both Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture, was built to replicate Moti Masjid at Red Fort in Agra.
Legend says that the walls of the mosque were tilted at a certain angle so that during an earthquake the walls would collapse outward. Not only do the Muslims come here to offer their prayers but also people of other religion to behold this magnificent work of art. This huge pouring in of masses has made this place a major target for the beggars. The main stairs outside the masjid are always full of them. Chotu’s mother was one of them.
It had been long since Chotu had gone to meet his friends and was not back yet. Chotu’s mother was worried. The boy had missed his lunch too. She had been busy all day as there was a rush of foreigners. More people meant more business. Worried, she came to the main door of the masjid and saw the Imam heading towards her.
She asked him, “Imam sahib, did you see my boy?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied with a smile, “he is near the pool.”
Chotu’s mother found him intensely observing the people who had come to cleanse their feet before offering their prayers.
“Ammi, why are they washing their feet?” Chotu asked.
“Beta, you have to cleanse yourself before offering your prayers to Allah. It is a sign of respect.” replied his mother.
“I also respect Allah. Should I clean myself up?” said Chotu.
“Surely, my dear boy. Someday I will teach you how to do that. Now let us go and eat something. You have not had anything today.”
She promptly took him up in her arms and went back to the stairs. Making him sit on them, she pulled out a slice of bread and gave it to Chotu, at the same time chatting with him incoherently.
“Ammi, not any more, please.” Chotu said, “I can’t eat anymore, please Ammi.”
“No beta, this is the last piece I have got today. We don’t have anything else for dinner.” She said trying to persuade her son to eat the bread.
Chotu stood up and started running towards the inner left corner of the courtyard, screaming, “Not any more! Not any more! Not any more!”
A sudden flash of blinding light accompanied by a deafening sound threw Chotu to the ground. He stood up a minute later, tears rolling down his eyes and a stream of blood oozing out of his nostrils. He was shocked. Shocked to find some of the people he knew lying all around him. Some trying to move yet some completely motionless. He quickly turned around to look towards the stairs of the mosque trying to find her Ammi.
The Government later expressed its grief over such barbarism and also added that thankfully, there were no casualties. And somewhere there stood Chotu looking at his mother. Or perhaps, her hand. A bread crumb still firmly clasped.
Today, there stands not Chotu but Jalaluddin, looking at the stairs from where he extracted the bread crumb from his mother’s severed arm when he felt hungry, not understanding anything.
He understands everything now. He will die for Ammi.
(Story told by The Thinking Guitar)
Disclaimer: All characters, names and events depicted in this story are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional and is not intended to hurt any moral, religious or sentimental feelings of any community, caste or person.