A figure appears on the upper reaches of the Jama Masjid and waves what looks like a dark flag. Almost on cue two deafening blasts shake the air. The light bulbs that lace the masjid’s minarets slowly come to life, brightening up the monument as the sun slowly dips beneath the horizon and the muezzin calls for prayer.
Also see: Ramzan evenings at Jama Masjid
Shopping frenzy grips revellers near one of the congested approach lanes to the Masjid (Photo: Abhishek Saha)
"That’s the official signal for all rozedaars to end their day’s fast," explains Umaiz Javed Khan. "It’s been a tradition since the time of Mughal emperors. An appointed person lights two fairly strong explosives once he sees the flag signal from the imam. The same signal is followed for the early morning sehri."
Khan owns an eatery called Afsar Al Karam in the serpentine Matia Mahal lane of Old Delhi.
A man tries out a traditional turban just before prayers at the Jama Masjid (Photo: Subrata Biswas)
Like most shop owners, Khan hardly has a moment to spare. Ramzan is drawing to a close and Matia Mahal is now a little world of organised chaos. Frenzy fills the streets but the sea of people who surge past in all directions, somehow, seem to know exactly where they’re going.
“There’s great food in every nook and cranny here. Just that Al Jawahar is a safer bet,” says Surya Sarangi, a designer at a publishing house out for an evening of lip-smacking food. “But I think I’ll check out the other places too in a while,” he adds sheepishly.
A child feeds pigeons in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid. The mosque attracts revellers of all ages and demographies (Photo: Abhishek Saha)
Al Jawahar, like a number of other eateries in the vicinity, prepares an elaborate iftaar. Though it’s meant for the restaurant staff, any rozedaar who happens to be there is welcome to share the food.
“There are the usual round of fruits and a variety of pakoras and sevai which we make. It’s shared by all of us who work here,” says the restaurant manager Mohammed Saleem.
A family enjoys a lavish iftar spread at the Masjid premises after hours of going without food (Photo: Ajay Aggrwal)
Then there are those who aren’t satiated with just lean meat. Afsar Al Karam sees a long line of such customers. Khan claims that his cooks make the meanest nihari in the whole neighbourhood, and the demand is high during Ramzan season.
The masjid is a ball of energy almost imploding with the activity of the faithful assembled inside. Long mats are spread out on the open courtyard of the mosque and families lay out all the food for iftaar.
A stall owner prepares Khajla Pheni, a traditional Ramzan delicacy as passersby look on (Photo: Ajay Aggrwal)
Everyone gets their own food but makes it a point to offer something to others present nearby. And all are welcome to join in the feast. Some start their pre-iftaar prayers, while some of the kids do a smart recce of the savouries on offer around them.
“This place exudes a sense of comfort,” says Meena Rehman, a resident of Mehrauli. She quickly adds, “Plus there is post-iftaar shopping to be done. Who would miss that?”
From HT Brunch, July 27
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