Finding Peace In India

What calms you down when you’re stressed? Is it going on that three-mile run? Abusing your eardrums via punishingly loud/sentimental music? Comfort food—in whatever form that takes?

For me, it’s finding peace and stillness in a place where I did not expect it. I took the picture above in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid (or World Reflecting Mosque) in Old Delhi, India almost two years ago and it is one of those pictures that make me feel so continuously lucky to have captured it on lens. (I mean, it’s been my cover picture on Facebook this whole time!)

For those of you who have been fortunate enough to experience the cities in India, you know the streets are a cacophonous symphony of rickshaw drivers shouting out greetings and honking out warnings, a chaotic orchestration of drivers and pedestrians weaving in and out and between each other, and yet all fitting together like a well-oiled hodgepodge of a machine. A drive by of Old Delhi will show you more mom and pop shops, assorted goods stores, and taxis stalling by the roadside than you know where to direct your eyes at. But a walk through Old Delhi will show you dusty children flashing cheeky smiles, hoping for equal parts fun and equal parts spare change, the throng of human traffic that will press against your personal space and your patience alike, the smell of jalebi from street sweet-makers, the sight of spice vendors drawing you in with the promise of fresh cinnamon and cardamom—a walk reveals the nitty-gritty of the streets. And it will overwhelm you.

That’s why, when I stepped inside the red sandstoned courtyard of the Jama Masjid, I felt instant peace. It was a sanctuary of minarets and domes, wide-open spaces, and the tranquility ushered forth by religious fortitude. The effect was instantaneous; the vice-grip loosened on my chest and the introvert inside me stretched and said, “Finally.”

A brief history on the Jama Masjid. Its builder was Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor of India who, by the way, also constructed the Taj Mahal. The Masjid was completed in 1656, can encircle 25,000 worshippers at one time, has a shallow pool in the middle of the courtyard for people to cleanse their hands and faces for prayer, and, in my opinion, is home to all of India’s audacious pudgy pigeons.

As I set foot on the carpeted floors of the Masjid, I witnessed other people quietly praying, heads bowed in silent, graceful concentration and I’d thought it was the most beautiful action I ever saw in my life. The month I’d spent in India so far had been an exhilarating, tumultuous whirlpool of an adventure, but it hadn’t allowed me to relax. Propped against the inner walls of the mosque with my knees against my chest, watching the pigeons rise and fall in feathery waves as children ran through their midst, wearing a scarf to cover my hair and still feeling the breeze, I was allowed a moment of peaceful anonymity and retreated within myself to a place that I hadn’t been able to find for a month.

To this day, I still flashback to that moment in the Jama Masjid and remember how calm I felt. To the travelers, the wanderers, the journeyists, if you ever find yourself in India, make your way to the World Reflecting Mosque in Old Delhi to lose yourself.