Pakistan Diary: In Lahore Day 4
By Yoginder Sikand
08 January, 2007
a cold winter morning and a thick blanket of fog drapes the streets
outside. Diep has invited a maulvi from a neighbourhood mosque to her
home. She tells me that he claims he can predict the future by examining
one's nails. I'm tempted to ask him to read my fortune but I restrain
myself. It strikes me how folk religion right across the subcontinent
shares much in common.
The maulvi is a cheerful
man, rotund and dark. He tells me how similar Indians and Pakistanis
are, and rues the machinations of politicians that keep the two countries
at loggerheads. This, in short, is also the crux of the conversations
I have with many other Pakistanis I meet throughout my one-month stay
in the country.
The sun is now out and I
head for the sprawling campus of the Punjab University, considered to
be one of the leading universities in Pakistan. I chat with some students
at the cafeteria, who take me around. I see posters put up by the Jamiat-i
Tulaba, the students' wing of the Islamist Jamaat-i Islami, announcing
a seminar to observe the fall of Dhaka to Indian forces in 1971. The
Jamaat is known for its staunch anti-India stance and I wonder what
the seminar, held a day before, was all about. Husain, a student who
accompanies me, says that the only student organization that is allowed
to officially function on the campus is the Jamiat-i Tulaba, which he
describes as 'semi-fascist'. He compares the Jamaat-i Islami to the
RSS in India and says, 'They both speak the same language, actually'.
I suppose he is right.
The university's library
is vast and well-stocked and the campus is impressive. Husain, however,
complains of falling standards. 'Vice-Chancellors of most Pakistani
universities are retired army
officers, so how can you expect them to allow free thought?', he asks.
He tells me of how the government is trying to attract non-resident
Pakistani academics back to the country by offering them hefty salaries.
'Many of them take up employment in private universities that are now
mushrooming that cater to the elites. University education in Paistan
is now quite expensive, making it increasingly out of the reach of the
poor and the middle-classes', he says. Pakistan's public education system
is in a shambles, he goes on. 'You can gauge how warped our education
system is from the fact that a newspaper costs more than ten rupees,
which means that decent education is way beyond the reach of the common
I board a bus outside the
university and head for the famed Shalimar Gardens, built by the Mughal
Emperor Shah Jahan. There are no public buses in Lahore, indeed in most
of the country. I sit next to an elderly man who, when he learns I am
from India, clicks his tongue and laments, 'Oh, Muslims in India are
having a rough time. May Allah help them'.
The Shalimar Gardens are
meant to be one of Lahore's major tourist attractions. They prove to
be an amazing disappointment. They are set in the heart of a bustling,
chaotic part of town. The walls surrounding the gardens are crumbling
in parts and are unpainted, save for political slogans that smear large
stretches. Inside, the flower beds are almost empty. At the corner outside
I spot a tent put up by the Lashkar-i Tayyeba, soliciting funds and
clothes for earthquake victims in Kashmir. On sale are dozens of Lashkar
booklets, preaching an extremely literalist version of Islam. Some of
them exhort Muslims to engage in violent jihad against India and other
I'm famished but in this
part of Lahore there are no clean and reasonably-priced eating places,
so I settle for an ice-cream. This is the last day I've given myself
for seeing historical monuments—frankly, I'm tired of this—so
I force myself into an auto-rickshaw and head for the shrine of Madho
Lal Hussain. Madho, it is said, was a Hindu lad, and Shah Husain, a
Muslim Sufi, one of the doyens of Punjabi literature. The two were inseparable
companions and they lie buried together in a small shrine tucked away
in a square that is reached through a series of winding lanes. The square
presents an unimaginable picture of gloom, with filth and refuse strewn
in large heaps. In contrast to dargahs in India, I find this shrine
drab and neglected.
The shrine of the seventeenth
century Miyan Mir, a noted Qadri Sufi, is set in an equally depressing
locality, although from the architectural point of view it is quite
striking. The amiable Chan Shah Qadri, one of the custodians of the
shrine, tells me that Miyan Mir was a close associate of Guru Arjan
Dev, the fifth Sikh guru, who invited him to lay the foundation stone
of the golden Temple at Amritsar. Chan Shah insists I come with him
to his home for a meal, and I willingly agree.
At Chan Shah's house I am
introduced to a young man, Ghulam Mohammad, who tells me that he is
a descendant of Bhai Mardana, one of Guru Nanak's closest companions.
Mardana was a Muslim minstrel who played the rabab and accompanied the
guru on several of his tours. Today, there are four main families descended
from Bhai Mardana who still live in Lahore, Ghulam Muhammad says. Although
they are all Muslims, they revere Guru Nanak as a sort of Sufi saint.
A few members of these families continue with their ancestral tradition
of singing the verses of Guru Nanak at gurudwaras and gurumandirs (shrines
built by Sindhi Hindu devotees dedicated to Guru Nanak) in Pakistan.
It takes me an hour, through
interminable office rush, to reach the Press Club, where I have to meet
a friend. There's a demonstration on by a leftist group against a massive
dam project, and another by a group of Christians decrying the attack
on churches by radical Islamists. Waiting for my friend I watch the
demonstrators raise slogans and wave placards. My friend soon joins
me along with some others. One of them tells me he is publishing a book
on Bhagat Singh. Another is an Osho fan. A third is translating Che
Guevara and proposes to render the works of the Indian Muslim scholar
Asghar Ali Engineer on liberation theology into Urdu.
They complain about how the
Indian media depicts Pakistanis are programmed Islamist zealots.
'Dissent is alive in Pakistan',
one of them says, 'and is bound to become louder. Do write about that
when you get back', he insists.
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By Yoginder Sikand
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Pakistan Diary-Day 1
In Lahore: Of Nomadic Odhs And
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Pakistan Dairy: II
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Pakistan Diary- Part I
Heading for the Border
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