Once again, writer Meera Vijayann and I team up to bring you a glimpse of life in India. This time, we’re visting the country’s brass capital: Moradabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This is a great chance to wander off the ‘Lonely Planet Trail’, for the city does not even feature in the ‘Bible of guidebooks’. The population of the core and old city areas is predominantly Muslim, and this photo essay documents how the city’s metalworkers and those immersed in the Islamic faith spend a typical day.
Life, in Moradabad, begins at dawn. Straddling the banks of the Ramganga River, the city wakes up with the first call to prayer. The dust settles, and the minarets of the Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) rise in the distance, above tumbledown houses and crowded streets. Along the bridge, women hang their washing, the colours of their saris glistening in the heat of summer, and people speed past on motorcycles, on their way to open shop.
Religion is taken very seriously here. Many families still opt to send their children for a madrassa education, hoping that their traditions will be protected through religious instruction. Curious, young boys listen to the mudarris (teacher) in silence.
Confident, a student stands up to recite verses from the Qur’an. A few of the boys look up at him in awe, as he begins his recitation. The muddaris is patient, and listens attentively. The light of the afternoon sun softly illuminates the courtyard near which they are seated. And, time passes slowly.
Devout Muslims like Master Irfan, find a quiet spot at the Jama Masjid to observe prayer. Holding a tasbeeh, he slowly performs the dhikr, reciting short sentences glorifying the greatness of Allah. Moradabad’s older Muslims hold the 17th Century mosque in high regard, as it has been helped institutionalise Islam here.
After the prayer, a silence descends. Its minarets towering into the skies, the Jama Masjid is a regal sight. Constructed by a noble, Rustum Khan, on the orders of the Emperor Shah Jahan, the intricate artistry above its columns are characteristic of early Mughal architecture.
Back home, life returns to normal. Young men gather to catch up on the day’s affairs, discussing business and family matters. Wearing flowing, white kurta pajamas, they stand in the narrow lanes, waiting for more friends to join them. Often, this is how life passes every day.
In a street nearby, artisans work together, moulding a base for a new brass vessel. Home to skilled craftsmen, the city is widely known to be a treasure chest of handicrafts and brassware. In Old Moradabad’s busy alleys and clogged streets, these artisans pore over their work, oblivious to the world around them, listening only to the constant humming of their tools.
Outside his home, another artisan holds a brass plate down with his foot as he hammers along its edges to create a pattern. A neat pile of new plates is stacked near him, yet he does not waste a moment in admiring his masterpieces. In Moradabad, time is precious; by the late afternoon, the activities in the market close by grind work to a halt.
Down at the Ramganga, buffaloes enjoy a dip, away from the heat and dust of the city. Neck-deep in the shallow part of the river they wallow lazily, before they are led back to the farm.
It is when the roads to town start emptying, and the sun slowly begins to set, that the women come out of their homes again. They make their way to the bridge to collect their day’s washing, and return home, carrying bundles of colourful cotton above their heads. Tomorrow, at the first call to prayer, they will rise again.