Diary: Day 2–In Lahore
By Yoginder Sikand
26 December, 2006
is an ancient city, and legend has it that it was founded by Lav, son
of Rama. My tourist guide lists hundreds of historical monuments in
the city, but I have just three days and I have to be mselective. Diep,
my host, drives me to Anarkali Bazaar, in the heart of the Old City.
We pass by impressive colonial buildings, dating to the period when
Lahore was the capital of British Punjab. The bazaar is meant to be
a major tourist attraction, but I find it chaotic and hardly spectacular.
It is like any busy, crowded and unplanned market in any lower-middle
class locality in Delhi, with hundreds of shops lining narrow, winding
Diep leaves me here and I
decided to explore the area on my own. I change money at a booth in
a lane that specializes in Indian goods, with stalls selling paan leaves,
hair oil and other cosmetics and video cassettes brought in from across
the border. I have tea and a pastry-like naan in a shop run by a burly
Pakhtun. Stuck on the walls are pictures of Bollywood heroines and slogans
that announce 'Wasting Time Here is Forbidden' and 'No Discussing Politics'.
I hail an auto and head further
down the Old City. Pakistani autos are smaller than their Indian counterparts.
They are built at least a foot higher, which makes getting in and out
an ordeal. I first stop at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh, a renowned
Sufi, whose magnum opus, Kashf al-Mahjub ('The unveiling of the Veils')
is said to be one of the first Persian treatises on Sufism. The shrine
complex is massive and appears to be recently expanded and renovated.
At one end of the shrine is what seems to be a newly constructed mosque,
with garish, dark glass windows and rocket-like minarets, a glaring
contrast to the graceful Mughal-style architecture of the rest of the
In the sprawling courtyard
are literally thousands of people, praying, mediating or simply lounging
about, drinking in the sun. A large crowd encircles a man in an awesome
turban, who seems to be considered some sort of dervish. Hundreds of
people stand before the grave of Data Ganj Bakhsh and that of a Hindu
man who converted to Islam at his hands, seeking the blessings of God
and offering flowers.
Outside the shrine mendicants
sit in rows with their bowls on sheets and in the narrow lanes behind
that are lined with filth-clogged open drains and half-built or crumbling
houses, shops sell biryani and sweet, orange-tinged rice in massive
degh or cauldrons. A corpulent man aggressively hails out to me, insisting
I should buy an entire degh to distribute to the poor. When he learns
I am from India, he says sternly, 'You've come all the way from India,
so that's even more reason why you should buy a degh'. I hurriedly make
my way and head down to the Urdu bazaar, the centre of Lahore's publishing
industry. The bazaar boasts literally hundreds of small bookshops, that
specialize mainly in Urdu literature and Islamic and Pakistani history.
I spot Urdu translations of the Ramayana, Geeta and the works of Osho,
and am informed that these sell very well. In contrast, there are few
bookshops that deal in English books, and most of these are imported
from abroad, including India. I pick up some interesting Urdu titles—on
Sufism, the Partition and several published by the Markaz Dawat ul Irshad,
parent body of the dreaded terrorist outfit Lashkar-i Tayyeba. (The
latter were confiscated when I crossed back into India, despite my insistence
that I bought them to only to critique them).
The Shahi Qila or Royal Fort
is a sprawling Mughal complex, a major Lahore landmark. Compared to
the Mughal Fort in Delhi, it is disappointing and shabbily maintained.
Faintly visible on some walls are pictures of Hindu deities and of the
ruler of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, who captured Lahore from the Mughals.
I am famished, but the only eatery in the vast complex is too forbiddingly
filthy to consider eating in. Its walls are soot-stained and it reeks
of kerosense oil and so I settle for roasted peanuts and a cold drink
I stroll past the marble
tomb of the poet Iqbal and enter the spectacular Badshahi Mosque, another
Mughal monument. It looks similar to the Jamia Masjid in Delhi, and
is one of the biggest mosques in Pakistan. A separate chamber in the
mosque complex houses what are said to be relics of the Prophet Muhammad,
including a hair, cap, a pair of sandals and a blanket. From the mosque
I walk down, barely fifty metres away, to the neatly white-washed gurudwara
that is topped with gilded domes. This is a massive structure, which
stands on the spot where the Sikh guru, Arjan Dev, was martyred. It
also contains the samadhi of Ranjit Singh. There are said to be just
three Sikh families left in Lahore, and they tend to the three functioning
gurudwaras in the city.
At the entrance I am stopped
by a guard. Only Sikhs and Hindus can enter, I am told. The reason,
I suppose, is fear that some militant Islamist group might attack the
shrine. I take out my passport and show the guard my name and he lets
me in. I am taken around the shrine by a Hindu man from Baluchistan,
whose language I can barely understand. He's from a Dalit community,
whose ancestral profession is sweeping. I see numerous Hindus, and a
few Sikhs, sitting in the garden and in the langar room partaking of
the guru ka prashad. Most of the Hinus, I am told, are from Sindh, where
there is still a sizeable Hindu population. Smaller numbers of Hindus
and Sikhs still live in the other provinces of Pakistan—Baluchistan,
Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province.
It's evening now and I head
for the Alhambra theatre, Lahore's main centre for the performing arts.
There's a play on by the well-known Ajokha group about the Punjabi Sufi
Bulleh Shah. It proves to be the most well-directed and moving play
I've ever seen. It mocks exploitation of institutionalized religion
in the most powerful way, sending the audience to tears. And I say to
myself that the average Pakistani is certainly not the wild fanatic
that the average Indian thinks he is.
Pakistan Diary-Day 1
In Lahore: Of Nomadic Odhs And
By Yoginder Sikand
Crossing The Border-
Pakistan Dairy: II
By Yoginder Sikand
Pakistan Diary- Part I
Heading for the Border
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