Surrounded by a string of temples, near the Nimtala crematorium on the banks of the Hooghly, stands a 274-year old mosque.
The Niyamatullah Ghat Masjid was the venue of an iftar on Saturday.
The get-together, titled, Dosti Ki Iftar, was organised by Know Your Neighbour, a platform that promotes amity.
The meet on Saturday lived up to its name.
Among the many at the iftar were Swati Moitra and Shayeari Dutta, friends from their student days at Jawaharlal Nehru University and college teachers now.
“Meets like this one, even if symbolic, are very important in today’s India,” said Dutta, who teaches English at Surendranath College.
Moitra, who teaches English at Gurudas College, said the hostel life in Delhi was an embodiment of shared living.
“The queue for khichudi bhog in Saraswati Puja at JNU had Muslims in large numbers. We took part in iftars and Id get-togethers with fervour. I am used to this culture,” she said.
She spoke of the “segregation” of Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta and neighbouring areas.
“I live in Salt Lake where it is hard to find a Muslim house owner. Some of the more affluent neighbourhoods of Kolkata are no different,” said Moitra.
A similar perception, and the need to change it, led to Saturday’s iftar, said organisers.
“In Kolkata, the public perception of iftar is limited to haleem and kebabs in areas like Zakaria Street, Park Circus, Rajabazar and Kidderpore. We want to go beyond that. That is why we organised the iftar in this north Kolkata pocket,” said Sabir Ahamed, convenor of the campaign that organises walks for people to get to know neighbourhoods in the city.
The area is dotted with Hindu shrines, starting with the Adi Bhootnath temple at the Nimtala intersection. The mosque itself is sandwiched between two more temples. The spire of another temple, with climbers around, can be seen from the balcony of the mosque.
“We could not gather much information on this mosque. But from a waqfnama (deed of trust), we could find out that it was built in 1748 by a local landlord called Ramzan Ali,” said Ahamed.
Ali built this mosque in the memory of one of his ancestors named Niyamatullah, he added.
From the ablution area, a series of stairs lead to the main mosque compound.
“In old days, the water from the Hooghly entered the mosque. The tank of the mosque then got a direct supply from the Hooghly. Water from the same place was used in temples and mosques. A string of shops are located on the road within the compound of the mosque. All but one shop belong to non-Muslims. These are nuggets of the shared history that need revisiting,” said Ahamed.
The area no longer has a thriving Muslim population like it used to. But many Muslim migrant workers joined the members of the masjid committee and other participants for iftar. The spread included fruits, fritters, haleem and phirni, alongside sherbet.
Teesta Dey, who teaches geography at Kidderpore College, was one of the participants at the iftar.
She said people-to-people interactions can go a long way in changing perceptions.
She spoke of a counselling session before she got the teaching job. Candidates before her selected colleges in districts over the one in Kidderpore because they were hesitant to go to a “Muslim-majority area” for work.
“Many of my students are first-generation learners. Despite fasting for Ramazan, they don’t skip college,” said Dey.
“Earlier, Id used to be just another holiday for me. Now, I look forward to seeing Id ka chand,” said Dey.
Jayanta Sengupta, the curator and secretary of Victoria Memorial and academician Samik Bandyopadhyay were also among the participants.
Sengupta spoke of the need to preserve “our Indo-Islamic, open-ended and non-ghettoised identity”.
Bandyopadhyay batted for “more and more use of Arabic, Persian and Urdu words in Bengali language, both while speaking and writing”.
“At a time when riot-mongers want to thrive on fear and hate, it is extremely important to take part in meets like this one,” he said.