Week 1: Exploring the Khirkee Masjid
The research team which included myself, Padma and sometimes Yukti visited Khirkee several times during the first week. These visits were always in the evening to coincide with the evening playtimes of children in the area.
On our first day we went for a walk through the village with Andy from KHOJ, who gave a running commentary about past projects, the local politics, the issues and the general dynamics of this village and even pointed out the various hot spots of play and initiated conversations with children some of whom had participated in various workshops and other activities organized by Khoj over the years. This was a very interesting and immensely helpful introduction to this complex urban space that will be our focus for the next two months.
We first headed to the Khirkee Mosque which is a “protected” monument. We walked through lanes so narrow that it felt as if we were encroaching onto a corridor space within people’s homes. The Khirkee Mosque suddenly appeared right in front of us, larger than life. It turned out to be WAY larger and more majestic than we first time visitors had expected it to be. Since I had checked out Khirkee on Google Earth before coming, I knew that the mosque was indeed very close to the Press Enclave Road. There was however no way of knowing as one sped past Khirkee on so many occasions that such a grand structure lay hidden inside this village with its closely packed houses.
Several arched latticed windows in stone adorn the walls of the mosque and give it the name “Khirkee Masjid” (literally meaning mosque with windows). The Archaeological Survey of India is supposedly responsible for the maintenance of the mosque. ASI has created a no-build zone around the mosque which surrounds it like a moat and elbows out the surrounding houses from encroaching into this zone of history.
The Mosque and the moat surrounding it, we observed, was an important playground for many young boys who had devised a number of interesting games one could play with just a bat and a bottle! Playing was serious business for these children and we observed them for a while engrossed in their rules and fights and team making process. The roof of the mosque had numerous domes and was a fascinating area, regularly visited by the children who knew every nook and cranny of it.
The children we met during the entire walk all seemed very eager to talk and play and were curious about who we are and why we are here. We also observed shadowy figures of adolescent boys and young men smoking and hanging out in the far end of the arched corridors of the mosque.
The children of Khirkee claim the mosque as their “qila” or fort. When you have a readymade structure where very few adults venture into, with ample loose parts and mystery, claiming territory through play is easy especially for boys. No girls were visible in the qila on our first walk.
Some of the girls we chatted up in the large park in the village told us that they were not allowed to go to the mosque by their parents. They even offered eerie details about how a boy once died while playing there.