In response to this week’s weekly challenge:

For this week’s challenge, we want you to snap a photo of something that is iconic to you. It can be a local pizza joint in your town that is unlike any other and conjures up memories of home whenever you’re away. It can be a photograph of a religious statue that’s been handed down from generations in your family that symbolizes your beliefs. Or it can even be a picture of your favorite pair of shoes that you wear nearly every day and has come to personify your personal style.

Well here’s a story about the Jama Masjid. It is another beautiful creation by Shah Jahan and took 6 years to complete (1650 – 1656). I have been there often as a child and a grown up and I love it.  I’ve tried to craft a small story around this monument, the picture was taken from an old camera phone back in 2005 I think.

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” Please remove your shoes”

Shannon blinked at the old, bearded man, standing at the entrance of the masjid.

“Why does he look so grumpy?”, whispered Alice. Both of them giggled, attracting stares from the locals.

Shannon had read a lot about the fascination of Indians with fair skin and foreign women, but she was still trying to get used to it. Blonde and blue-eyed, she was quite a looker. She handed over her slippers to the old man, collected her token, to be stopped by another old man.

“Please wear these!” He was holding out 2 multi – colored robes. Shannon and Alice looked at each other and laughed again.

” I am going to look like an idiot in this”, muttered Alice, sniffing the robe. “Eeew it stinks.” She wrinkled up her nose.

” Who cares, just get into them already”, Shannon muttered under her breath, pulling on a ghastly pink and purple printed robe.

” Excuse me!” Alice tapped the old man on his shoulder, ” Do you have a cleaner robe? This is dirty!”

The old man scowled, ” No robe, no entry.”

Alice scowled back, “Fiiiineee.”

Looking sheepish, both of them walked inside the Jama Masjid. Shannon sighed. It was beautiful, like she had read about it.

“Can i help you ladies?”

Both of them turned around to look into a pair of twinkling gray eyes. It was a short, old man, maybe in his late sixties, who was barely five feet tall.

“I’m the guide here – I’ll take 200 rupees, a 50 rupees discount because both of you are so beautiful.” He smiled, revealing several broken and missing front teeth.

“Ok…ok”, Alice paid him the money.

” We should have bargained”, hissed Shannon.

Alice looked at her disbelievingly. “For what? One American dollar? Gimme a break. Plus he’s small and harmless.”

“Thank you ladies. I am Omar! Let me tell you about this grand monument and what it signifies to India!The Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan. You know … same as the Taj Mahal?”

” Oh yes, oh wow really?” Alice looked around, impressed. “So he was a lover of architecture?”

” Yes, indeed. This particular monument however, did not take as long as the Taj Mahal. Just 6 years in fact.”

They climbed up the stairs, entering the Masjid. It was quite big.

” About 20 – 25,000 people can pray here at a time. Also – do you know that every Shahi Imam…er…or in simpler terms…er…high priest of this very Masjid had the good fortune of performing the coronation ceremonies of all subsequent Mughal emperors?”

Shannon nodded solemnly. She could almost picture the young Mughal princes, dressed in all their finery on such occasions.

” The emperor, Shah Jahan also wished to ensure that the Imam of such a magnificent masjid should be one of a kind. So the first Imam, Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari was someone who he called for specially from Uzbekistan, by writing to the Shah of Uzbekistan.”

Alice and Shannon nodded solemnly.

Omar led them to the other two entry gates, the two minarets and the four towers. They followed him inside,near the prayer chamber.

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Omar put a finger on his lips and Shannon nodded silently. There were a few people praying there. It was quiet, peaceful. Shannon almost felt a sense of deja – vu; like she had been there in another lifetime.

She looked at the men who were praying, absorbed in their conversation with God, oblivious to the fact that they were being stared at. Young and old, all impeccably dressed in kurtas/pajamas.

” My my, look at that guy!” , Alice whispered in her ear. Shannon looked to her left to see an exceptionally good – looking young man dressed in  black standing a few feet away, praying softly. He opened his eyes, turned around. Just by accident, their eyes met. Shannon blushed and averted her eyes. He walked past them, nodding at the guide.

The guide bowed respectfully and then looked at the girls slyly.

“That is Rehmat – Ul – Khan. He’s one of the leaders of one of the political parties here. He comes here every Thursday to pray.”

Shannon went red in the face. “Oh”.

Alice stared at her. ” Hey – hey you, knock out of it. Politics? Sure he was good looking but don’t go staring at him. Though i must say, i am beginning to revise my opinion about Indian men.”

Shannon stared after his departing figure, feeling as if she had lost something. His face looked so familiar…again…that deja – vu.

“Time to go babe! We have the 12 O’clock spa appointment” Alice nudged her, shaking her from her reverie.

“What? Oh yeah…”

They thanked Omar for his time and walked out.

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They walked to their car, Shannon sat inside with a big sigh. As they were driving out, she saw him. He was standing a few feet away, a rose in his hand. As they drove by him, he held the rose to his lips and smiled at her, looking her right in the eye.

Shannon smiled down at her feet. She was still going to be in India for a month…and well…he went there every Thursday….

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