By Renuka Narayanan
March 1, 2019
The only time i went to Pakistan was for the first Saarc LitFest ever to be held there. We crossed the border on foot at Wagah and drove to Lahore. The Dawn newspaper got in touch as i was from the media and hospitably asked if there was anything special i wanted to see or do in Lahore.
I wanted to pay my respects at the shrine of Sufi saint Mian Mir, who, legend says, was invited by Guru Arjan Dev to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Yet another story goes that Jehangir came to the saint in full imperial pomp to ask for a blessing on the invasion he planned on the Deccan. But it seems Mian Mir openly called Jehangir greedy, saying he had a large kingdom but was wanting more! Mian Mir’s funeral oration was read by Dara Shikoh, who won Hindu hearts with his respect and understanding.
As a Deccani, I appreciated Mian Mir’s stand and took flowers to offer at his shrine. Its peaceful aura and the sweet scent of roses linger on in my heart. I found myself a bit tearful because i was deeply touched by the shrine’s aura. Like the sudden tug of attachment I felt to Baba Reshi at his peaceful shrine near Tangmarg in Kashmir. As a South Asian, I accept that some holy places are ‘alive’ and if you’re lucky, you may tune in there to the Anhad Naad (unheard melody). I think i left a little piece of my heart with Mian Mir.
I would like to go back to Baba Reshi one day soon, and to Sharika Devi on Hariparbat in Srinagar and Kheer Bhavani in Tul Mul, and revisit Harwan, a relic of our Buddhist past.
Harwan is where Emperor Kanishka held a great Buddhist council and where Nagarjuna propounded the Buddhist theory of Shunyata, ‘nothingness’. I may disagree with Shunyata, which negates the presence of Ishvara but Nagarjuna and Kanishka are part of our history and I want to revisit Harwan one day.
I also wanted to pay my respects at ‘Data’s Durbar’, at the large shrine of Data Ganj Baksh Hujwiri, Pakistan’s biggest shrine. He took a conservative view of South Asian Sufism and disapproved of Sufi dancing. Zia ul Haq made his shrine into a big, neo-Islamic durbar.
I chose a modestly thick Kanjivaram cotton sari for my visit and carefully draped my extra-long Pallu all over my head, shoulders and waist. Strapping eunuchs in Shalwar-Kameez patrolled the courtyard with long bamboo poles. While queuing for Darshan, i suddenly cried out in pain, for one eunuch, spotting a tiny patch of skin accidentally showing at my waist, directed a sharp jab at it with the bamboo pole. Not to embarrass my kind hosts, who were upset at the eunuch’s roughness, i made light of it, though it hurt then and for a few days more.
It can be like that at temples in India … You feel very connected to some, others don’t touch you and the atmosphere sometimes can even put you off, which is not God’s fault but man’s.
To me, those two experiences in Lahore seem to peculiarly symbolise our mixed relationship with ‘the neighbour’. At small, sweet Mian Mir, i was greatly affected by how attached i felt to him. At big Data, the state-sponsored showpiece, i literally felt the hostility.
How very odd and sad it’s all been – taking us nowhere. Yet we are linked together in ways that we should not harden our strife-torn hearts against.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.