By Ghazi Salahuddin
2 September, 2012
We arrived in Moenjodaro – also spelt Mohen-jo Daro – in the scorching heat of early afternoon. We had driven straight from Karachi, leaving at dawn. And this journey made earlier this week from a floundering metropolis to the ruins of an ancient city has triggered a number of questions in my mind.
The reason for this visit, though, was quite simple. Our daughter, who lives in the United States, was visiting us with her two children. Our grandson, who will be twelve next May, had set his mind on going to Moenjodaro. For dutiful grandparents, this obviously became a priority.
At the same time, I was happy to make this trip after about twenty years because some recent reports had raised alarms about the erosion that the site has suffered. Just over one month ago, a BBC report posed this scary question: “Could this ancient city be lost forever?”
The report did take note of the efforts that Pakistani officials are making to save one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. I would concur with this statement and was very impressed by the commitment of the new project director. Still, as the BBC also underlined, “some experts fear the Bronze Age site could be lost unless radical steps are taken”.
One wonders if the preservation of Moenjodaro would be seen as crucial at a time when our living communities are also afflicted with erosion of many different kinds. Yes, the very name is believed to mean the ‘mound of the dead’. So, what will we lose if we lose Moenjodaro? Perhaps it is more important to realise as to what we possess when we have Moenjodaro. How do we, as a nation, feel related to this precious heritage of the entire mankind?
In the first place, this remarkable site near Larkana celebrates the Indus Valley Civilisation of nearly 5,000 years ago. It is Indus that serves as our life-line, that holds the country together – and you only have to look at the map to comprehend this reality. Hence, Moenjodaro is part of our own heritage and it should have a bearing on how we decipher the history of this land.
Essentially, Moenjodaro is a certification of our South Asian identity and it is this identity that the ideologues of Pakistan tend to discard. There seems to have been a conscious attempt to move towards the Middle East, as if geographical realities can be diffused by ideological filters. Be that as it may, this impression is forcefully projected by the history that is taught in our schools and colleges.
Well, it could be argued that history is just not taken seriously in the educational scheme of Pakistan. Most of our universities do not even have departments of general history. The lessons taught in school in a perfunctory manner do not put much significance on our South Asian identity and to the living connections that we have with other countries and communities of this region. Hopefully, improved relations with India and closer trade and cultural ties would somewhat shift this focus.
Honestly, there is a serious problem here, wedded to Pakistan’s abiding crisis of identity. It is, beyond doubt, a Muslim country with a particular relevance to the history of Muslims in this region and also in the Middle East. Then, it is also a South Asian country and this bondage is deeper and stronger than is generally acknowledged. The big issue that has not been adequately debated is the comparative weight that is to be assigned to our geographical and our ‘ideological’ frontiers. When does, for instance, our history begin? How are we anchored in world history? How do we relate to the land that our people have inhabited for many thousands of years?
Diverted by these questions, I am unable to offer a travelogue or to elaborate on Moenjodaro’s salient features. As an aside, I must draw attention to an experience that was not entirely unexpected. Moenjodaro, of course, is a marvel of urban planning. It had a proper sewage system, with covered drains. On this journey, too, we had to witness the abominable state of public hygiene and the utter filth that people are willing to live with.
An entire column, perhaps a book, could be written on the state and availability of public toilets, within the cities and on national highways. When we left Karachi, we found garbage littered along the commercial streets. Is this another manifestation of our South Asian bondage, though Sri Lanka is so much cleaner? After all, for us Muslims, “safai nisf eeman hai”.
To return to Moenjodaro, I have to admit that I was first made aware of the glory of this ancient city by the writings of Jawaharlal Nehru that I had read a few decades ago. In his letters to his daughter Indira Gandhi, mostly from prison, he traced the beginning of Indian history to the excavations that had properly been conducted in the season of 1922-23.
Nehru had been very excited about it and in one letter that is dated April 22, 1931, he wrote: “Only three weeks ago, I went to see the ruins of Mohen-jo Daro in the Indus valley in Sind. You were not with me there. I saw a great city coming out of the earth, a city of solid brick houses and wide thoroughfares, built, they say, 5000 years ago. And I saw beautiful jewellery and jars found in this ancient city. I could almost imagine men and women, decked out in gay attire, walking up and down its streets and lanes, and children playing, as children will, and the bazaars, bright with merchandise, and people buying and selling, and the temple bells ringing”.
I have his ‘Glimpses of World History’, with numerous references to the ruins. In a letter written on June 14, 1932 that he has given the title of ‘a jump back to Mohenjo-Daro’, he quotes at length from an article by Sir John Marshall, who had led the excavations, that he read in a review of the first major book on the historic ruins.
It was Sir John Marshall who argued that after the discovery at both Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, “India must henceforth be recognised, along with Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt as one of the most important areas where the civilising processes were initiated and developed”.
I want particularly to quote him, from Nehru’s account, that there is no doubt that “the Punjab and Sind, if not other parts of India as well, were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilisation of their own, closely akin but in some respects even superior, to that of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt”.
The Punjab and Sindh. Are they not our very own?
Ghazi Salahuddin is a staff member of The News