There is a downward sloping path from the mosque. A middle aged man walks hurriedly towards the door. He is already late for prayers. The congregation has just started. In the last few rows people have not yet started their prayers. He joins in second to last row, and quickly raises his hands to his ears. The gathering falls and rises in unison. Almost a hundred people in the large freshly painted hall of the mosque. The green and the white sparkling clean. “Allah” written next to the name of His beloved, “Muhammad” (Peace be upon him). The imam, a young fellow with a high pitched voice and fluent recitation leading the prayers.
Ahead of this man, is an old man. White beard, soft hands, a faded face. The old man is slow in his movements. He only prays the first raka’at standing. He doesn’t stand for the taraweeh. He can’t. He looks at the people towering over him and adjusts his knees. After eight raka’ats as the crowd thins, he moves on the first row.
When the prayers end, there is a brief moment of silence. Just a few seconds before people start to leave. Some touch their foreheads to the ground, some raise their hands to heaven. Some gather the dust of the mosque. A few say Salam and leave. Some simply wink at the imam.
In that brief moment, the whole congregation prays. Small individual prayers. Prayers for themselves and their families. The old white man, raises his arms high and prays for his sons and daughters in an affected voice. His deep breathing makes his prayer audible. He hardly asks anything for himself. One is sorry to overhear such a private whisper sent to God.
I imagine, after all is prayed and done, the prayers would rise towards Heaven like mist disappears slowly from mountain tops in a Spring morning. Prayers filled with hopes and desire. With unrestraint and abandon.With courage and fear. With anticipation and regret. What all must a million prayers fulfill! What do the people pray for? Those who leave early with quick prayers and those who stay till the end and leave after the imam. Do people who attend the congregations to answer a duty, fall in love with them mid way? Do their prayers take on a different colour after that? Do neighbours ever pray for each other? For the man who was standing next to you during the prayer? The imam makes an effort – he prays for the whole congregation. For Kashmir. And then in continuation for Palestine too.
The lively bunch of kids at the back of the mosque have it easy. They tick off the things they need to ask God for – good marks, better than expected results and the like. Not everyone knows what to ask for. Some people cant speak out their prayers. They have lost the words for them in the mist. They leave it to God’s will. He already knows.
While returning the middle aged man stops to buy himself a pack of cigarettes from the last open shop of the mohalla. He stops under a street light to light it. And moves away.