Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Pile of Shoes

Many Saturdays in India I make my way through Old Delhi to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Asia. Atop the steps, as birds circle in silhouettes against the pale blue sky, the pink minarets tower above. Echoing over an expansive moving sea of bodies below, the muzzin performs the call to prayer. Beggars sit curled on the warm red sandstone steps, their withered skin telling a story of time passed. Men in white, beige, and green make their way slowly up the steps. Women in black slip from their sandals, and drop a few coins for the shoe patron. He tosses the coins below his rug for safekeeping. Aside the steps he piles the sandals and shoes in a neat pyramid. The Nike Air Zooms are on bottom as they provide stability for the others. The shoes tell a story of the men and women whose bare feet now shuffle over the textured standstone into prayer time. It's no longer an abstract concept, but a way of life. A man in a red and white gutra stares at me with penetrating eyes. His beard is worn long, and aside him a man stands in a lungee and chapan. Their faces are weathered, but their eyes kind. With a nod, there is mutual respect. A boy scampers to my side and asks in English if he can take a picture. His grinning father documents the moment on his Nokia, and when I respond with a "Shukriya," it prompts new conversation. The man behind me critiques the moment in Hindi, telling me that it was the boy who should have said thank you. I say it's ok, but he tells me of his life in Kashmir. My Hindi is basic, but I learn that he works in a Noida garment factory for 4500 rupees per month ($112). I tell him I'm American, and he buys me a chai. This is Saturday afternoon life on the steps of Jama Masjid, as the gulls dance to the Koranic call against a sky that dims into hues of color, and the night begins in India.

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