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
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
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.