Friday, February 10, 2012

Step-Sisters in Faith

They don't like to call that slum in Nizamuddin a basti anymore. It's now the Sundar Nagar Nursery.

I was there today, in four layers of upper clothing (a shirt and a sweater from a shop along the Ruwi High Street in Muscat, a shrug from an outdoor stall in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, and an almost 10-year-old corduroy sherpa jacket from the JCPenney in Stillwater, Oklahoma) and two layers of bottom clothing (my mother's thermals from I don't know where, and a pair of cargo pants from a Muscat Carrefour). I wore high socks (Lajpat Nagar) and sports shoes (Foot Locker in Tulsa, Oklahoma). The camera strap was around my neck, and the camera never left my hands. I was shooting a group health discussion that the young NGO workers were conducting with the women of the slum.

Eventually I wandered away from the sunny spot where I'd already taken enough shots and photographs of the attendees. I meandered around and finally drifted into the narrow alleyways of the slum. I took a picture of a lost looking dog, wall graffiti, a pink wall. The few residents that I saw in those alleyways paid me no attention. Either they had finally grown used to seeing young urban people around or it was simply a TGIF phenomenon. It was Friday afternoon. The NGO workers had had to start their programme a half hour late because half the residents of the slum were Muslim, and Friday was the day of the congregational afternoon prayer. I'd seen a number of men and boys in the slum today dressed in white qurta pajamas and white crocheted prayer caps. It looked nice. Comforting. Something familiar. Like an old favourite pop song from high school that brings back vague memories.

A young teenage girl in a grubby pink and white shalwar suit stopped her bicycle near me. Her dupatta was draped over her hair. She wanted me to take a picture of her and her friend. I did. Three.

I thanked them and turned to continue on my shot-seeking journey through the slum. The girl called out to me. She said she'd noticed that I'd been taking a lot of pictures. I told her that that was my job. She asked me if I would teach her how to take pictures. I said sure but that one could really not teach anyone the aesthetics.

I turned to walk away. She called out to me again. She asked me my name. Khadija, I told her. She paused.

"Aap Muslim hain??" Are you a Muslim??

Not at that moment. I was just taking pictures, shooting footage.

"Haan." Yes.

She kept looking at me, her mouth slightly open, her eyes confused.

"Aapko namaaz aati hai?" Do you know how to pray?

"Haan." Yes.

She looked confused. I felt awkward. Maybe it was the cargo pants?

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