bibiyan in the city
All that glitters is gold
Mind-boggling prices of gold jewellery make people look for close alternatives
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Razia Bibi, 55, is fully composed and there are no signs of panic on her face as the date of her daughter’s marriage nears. She has talked to the parents of her soon to be son-in-law and the families have agreed on different things. Besides others the foremost is the agreement on not to unnecessarily spend on commodities like gold jewellery.
What she plans to do is to get her 2-tola gold rings converted into a new gold set after some alteration and give it to her daughter in dowry. She remembers that in her youth, parents even from the middle class were expected to give 15 to 20 tolas to their daughters on their marriage. Anything less than that would make them subject to public humiliation and hear the harshest of remarks one could hear.
Today, very few people can afford to give similar quantity of gold in dowry as its prices have literally multiplied over the last few years. As per careful estimates they have increased around four times in the last five to six years and are still on the rise.
Despite this trend people continued to spend their life’s earnings but it seems the saturation point has arrived. Though late but finally they have realised the yellow metal is not the only thing that decides a person’s social status, love for his children and the level of respect he must enjoy.
In a welcome trend people have decided to defy the undue rules enforced by the society. What Muhammad Asif, a retired teacher, did can be taken as a case in point. He booked a 10-marla plot in the name of his daughter and gifted it to her on her wedding. The arrangement is such that he will keep on paying the installments planned over a five-year period and after that the property would be fully transferred in the girl’s name.
This trend is getting popular with every passing day and both the families of the bridegroom and the bride are comfortable with it, says Muhammad Ahmed, President Gold Art Promotion Council Lahore and Chairman Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) Regional Committee on Gems and Jewellery. Talking to TNS at his Sarafa Bazar office he say, “It’s a win-win situation for the families as the bride’s parents are not overburdened and the groom’s family has the feeling that the couple owns a property which will gain value day by day.”
He says the worsening law and order situation is another cause why people are shying away from buying gold. Not many women can dare to put on jewellery worth millions and invite the dacoits to have their day. It’s everybody’s guess what the trigger-happy criminals can do to rob those wearing it on weddings, he says adding many families have been robbed while traveling home after functions. Plots on the other hand cannot be snatched away like this and are a much better and safe investment, Ahmed adds.
He shares it with TNS that people are buying artificial jewellery which can be gold-plated or coated with lacquer imported from countries including India. “This artificial gold gives such a look that even the experienced jewellers cannot differentiate it from original gold.” The base material, Ahmed says, is an amalgam made by using different metals which weighs just like gold.
He says cheaper Chinese gold also made entry in Pakistani market to fill the gap but could not attract many customers due to its low durability. Initially, people opted for it but soon came to know it cannot be repaired if damaged. The local versions, however, are much more appealing and very close to original gold in appearance.
Fehmida Bashir (name changed on request), a housewife, tells TNS that she has just married off her daughter who wore gold-plated artificial jewellery on her wedding day. Fortunately, none of the relatives from both sides could identify it and only the two mothers knew as they had taken each other into confidence in advance. She recalls the same relatives sat next to her daughter on the day of her marriage and fondled the jewellery she wore for quite long. They simply wanted to verify it was pure and ensure its weight was the same as announced, she adds. Fortunately, the situation has changed and people rarely display dowry items and groom’s clothing to (wari) to wedding guests. Not long time ago the ultra inquisitive female guests would even skip food to have a glimpse of the things on show but this is no more the case, she adds.
Fehmida says it’s a pity many girls of marriageable age are a permanent source of concern for their parents. These parents cannot marry their daughters off for the want of resources to buy expensive dowry items like gold jewellery.
“I would urge the Punjab CM to impose penalty on those demanding or giving more than a nominal quantity of gold in dowry or gift as you may call it.” Her point is that the amount of money saved by allowing one dish menu only is a fraction of that borne by a bride’s parents to buy dowry for her.
Badar Munir, a jeweller based in Rang Mahal, tells TNS that apart from the sale of artificial jewellery its availability on rent is also an option. Instead of buying genuine gold jewellery for different days of wedding, people ask for the artificial one which can match a bride’s clothes worn on different days. For example, she can wear a complete jewellery set studded with maroon stones on her wedding day if she is wearing clothes of the same colour and so on.
Picture this, two, apparently naive kids, sitting together, and their conversation goes like this: ‘Have you got a PSP?’ ‘No, but my father promised me that I’ll get one on my birthday.’ ‘Oh that’s bad, because I already have one, loser.’ ‘Hey, I am not a loser, and if you have it, why don’t you have it in your hand right now, you show-off?’ And the conversation culminates into a never-to-talk-again dispute. The PSP which was supposed to be just a side issue became the pivot of the entire conversation. What really amazes one nowadays is, why are children so judgmental when it comes to owning certain gadgets.
If one of their friends or playmates doesn’t have an X-box or a PSP, does that mean that he is in any way inferior to them? Well, if the children are asked, they might say ‘yes’ to this question.
I accept that it is a consumer society that we live in, and that we judge people on what they own.
I also accept that we are living through an age where talk shows have taken precedence over the real ‘entertainment’ industry as we see in them an amalgam of cat fights, abuses, strategies, tact, fashion, and what not, but with a definite sprinkling of discussion as well. And discussion is what we do the best. You name it and we discuss it. Every time one tunes into a channel, a talk show is what greets you, and then you hear ‘discussion’ on how the society at large has given in to the evils of ‘superciliousness’, ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘superficiality.’ If asked for a solution, ‘simplicity’ is the clichéd answer coming from men and women decked in diamonds and branded suits. Keeping such elders in mind, can we by any chance blame the kids who criticise their peers as ‘losers’ if they are lacking some things that they have and other don’t. They learn their materialistic outlook on life from what they see around them, after all.
I am fortunate or unfortunate to be placed among adolescents, and can presumably – objectively observe this bantering among boys and girls. From owning mobile phones, which have to be upgraded like after every four months, to the newer versions of iPods that have to be necessarily had, the teenagers hardly talk about anything else. The most fast among them might bring laptops into discussion, closely followed by cars, and then the list goes on, until when these people grow up, they are still stuck in the acquisition of meaningless ‘things.’ The idea of ‘I have it, but do you have it?’ becomes the foundation on which all their relations are built. If we cannot go to his place to play FIFA, then this boy is really a goner. Or if that girl isn’t allowed to hang out with her friends, well, she doesn’t stand a chance, she’s too prudish. These adolescents, at the end of the day, lack ethics, morals and a sense of identity too, which we elders discuss and lament so inexorably.
I was asked by my TA (teaching assistance) once why did I impress upon the idea of integrity and ethics when I refused to hand over the password of my teacher resource account to him? ‘Who talks of ethics nowadays, ma’am, you should be more worried about getting the work done’ and I was dumbstruck. How obsolete and old school-ish are my ideas, I regretfully accept.
Similarly, one comes across parents who belligerently endorse the O and A-level education in Pakistan, and why do they do that? ‘Gee, it’s fashion, the latest trend’ is the answer one gets 80 out of 100 times. And even if your child is unable to cope with the work pressure, it doesn’t matter for as long as the parents have catered to the peer pressure of sending their kids to O and A-levels. Mostly such children become victims of other kinds of peer pressures too, they become embroiled in the race to buy newer and newer gadgets the moment they hit the market. That further enhances the consumerism/ materialism that we are all apparently up against. But even the kids are then justified in throwing their parent’s money down the drain, because after fulfilling the ‘fashionable’ trend, they have to fill in their father’s place in the family businesses. They definitely don’t need grades for that.
On the other hand, clothes are another important issue that is fanning the fire of ‘peer-pressure.’ Since Bermudas are in fashion, I’ve seen some mothers attiring their darling boys in Bermudas, with absolute disregard for the danger of mosquito bites and the ensuing disease (or decease). ‘Ab bechara fashion bhi na karey?’ wails the poor mother. Well, of course, she is right. After all, he won’t be young again, diseases come and go like, and youth doesn’t. Wise elders, kudos.
But after all, what hurts me the most is the audacity of the younger generation to assume that it was they who came up with this idea of peer-pressure. Like everything else that they believe they did on their own, they disregard the elder’s contribution even in this feat. Hmph.
Book is like an airplane, a time machine on which we visit different places, people and times, as a publisher puts it. The best way to learn a language is through reading.
A children’s festival is being held on November 25-26 at Children’s Library Complex. The idea is to draw children to books and eventually cultivate reading habit in them – turn the fair into a carnival with a ‘Speakers’ Corner’ that would welcome anyone who has written a poem, story, anecdote, joke or prose piece, to share with others. They can come and recite it for everyone to hear.
Another attraction will be an ‘Art Corner’ with art material available to children to paint, draw there and then. ‘Puppet Show’ would be an added charm. At the ‘Book Fair’, many publishers will put their books on sale with discount.
There will be ‘Story Telling Sessions’ by people with whom children are familiar, followed by a ‘Drama’ for children.
The festival is being held with collaboration of Idara Taleem-o-Agahi, the Oxford University Press, Open Society Foundations and Children’s Library Complex of the Government of Punjab.
Thousand of people are expected to visit the festival. Children are expected to come from different districts of the Punjab on this occasion.
An interesting thing that the organisers plan to do is initiate a debate on how to promote mother tongue. To this end, there will be panels to which teachers and parents will be invited to hold debate on
promoting local languages.
The trees have been cut and the Grand Canal Road, as an equivalent of the Grand Trunk Road is being built. Now we will have six lanes to zoom along from Thokar Niaz Baig all the way to Jallo and perhaps even to the border, Wagah. If they keep the gates open, in view of the velocity of egress, the wayward among the faithful may not even realise it and end up boozing in some bar in Amritsar.
But no, this will never happen. Not in Pakistan. And I don’t mean that the gates at Wagah will never be open. That may happen at some point in time, but hell will freeze over before anyone can zoom on any Lahore road. Lay a grid of a dozen lanes each side and yet the traffic in Lahore will never, never change. It will always crawl.
As you go speeding along the new canal road in a few months time, you’ll get this maniac of a wagon driver (only lunatics drive wagons) come right up to your rear bumper headlights flashing furiously for you to get the hell out of his way. At 80 km/hour, you’ll indicate lane change with your left indicator. The wagon driver will overtake you at 90 km/hr and, barely having cleared your front bumper, will brake and swerve sharp left to pick up a ‘savari’ that does not want to wait at a designated bus stop. By the way, what are designated bus stops?
If you are the decent type, read cowardly because decency is weakness in Pakistan, you’ll quietly carry on, change your plans and head for your dent shop. But if you are related to DSP so and so, you’ll stop right in the middle of the road, call your uncle and while waiting for the heavies to get there, carry out a shouting match with the erring driver. Meanwhile, within seconds fifteen thousand bystanders will appear as if sprouting from the ground itself to block the traffic and an almighty jam will ensue on the fifteen lane new canal road. So, damn the wide road.
That’s one scenario. The other is that during rush hour, you get behind the moron who has a cell phone glued to his/her ear and who insists on sitting in the fast lane at 30 km/hour. He/she simply refuses to budge, holding up traffic. There is nothing you can do and you find yourself and other drivers all over the road. But there will always be this kind of idiot every few metres. So, damn the wide road.
And then there is the motorcyclist who thinks the middle of the road, better still, the fast lane is his personal property. And what of the cyclist who with total disregard for his safety will be pedalling away in the fast lane? And of course the wide fifteen lane road will be an invitation to all and sundry, especially the Qing Qi rickshaw, driver to meander, at breakneck speed, all over the tarmac to hinder the flow of traffic. So, damn the wide road.
There will be beneficiaries of this beautiful road lined with exotic plants imported from Malaysia. The benefit will go to the stunt motorcyclists, those young daredevils who flock to the canal road these days on Sunday mornings, to do their thing. Now they’ll have more lanes to die in. Only, given the breadth of the new road, smashing their heads will be a little more difficult. So, damn the wide road.
We do not need wider roads. Even if we lay the grandest grid of tarmac, things will never improve until we train our drivers. Things will never improve until we become civilised and decent. And to expect a bus, wagon or truck driver or a lout in an obscenely expensive 4x4 to be civil is being naïve. We have to learn to give others their right of way; we have to learn courtesy on the road. These things do not exist in our national conscience.
But operating a training school for drivers, who claim to have been drivers all their lives, is invisible work. The wide road, like the Motorway, will always be seen. So phooey to training the loonies who hold the steering wheels. We will widen the canal road first of all and follow up with others. The trees will fall, but traffic will forever remain the same. So, damn the wide road.
Just two days after the three days annual urs celebration at the Bibiyan Pak Daman, attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees, Shias and Sunnis alike, I visited the shrine. The entire atmosphere suffered from glumness. Everything was slow. There were far fewer devotees. The guards were lazy. People slept under the waan trees at the tomb, protected by the severe heat of Lahori summers, by the cool marble floor and shady trees. Langar, (community kitchen) was running as usual but there weren’t enough eaters.
The shrine situated off Empress Road close to the Railways Headquarters and opposite Police Lines in the city, is believed to be one of the oldest Muslim shrines of the city. It is visited by hundreds of devotees every day. Christians and Hindus also come here for special prayers. During the three days urs celebrations both the Sunnis and Shias get together to make arrangements. On a Saturday that I visited it, there were a few hundred people comprising old, young, men and women. While I was exploring the place, a woman in her late thirties appeared in a worn out shalwar kameez and tied a red thread on my hand. The tying of the red thread around the hand is an important feature of the shrine culture and is generally associated with a wish that is asked for at the shrine. She asked for a reward and I gave her a 20 rupee note. A young man who was watching the entire episode, asked me to join him where he was sitting. He asked me about my whereabouts. After being satisfied by my identity, he told me that his name was Yasir Arish and that he was a Sunni Muslim. He told me that he visits the shrine almost every week, that he had seen his elders do it, and coming here gives him peace.
At the lowest section of the shrine there are six graves. Three of them are in the open, while the other three are an enclosed structure. All of them are females which earns this shrine the title Bibiyan.
It is believed that these women belong to the family of Hazrat Ali. One of them, whose grave reads Bibi Haj is said to be the daughter of Hazrat Ali, while the remaining five of them are said to be the daughters of his brother Hazrat Aqeel. This thesis was first floated by the chronicler of Lahore, Maulvi Noor Ahmad Chishti, in his book Tehqiqat-e-Chishtia. He claims that after the dreadful episode of Karbala, in which Imam Hussain and a lot of his family members were martyred by the forces of Yazid, these six women, who were also part of the group, managed to escape and somehow ended up in Lahore. Lahore at that time was being governed by Hindus so these women feared for their lives. They came to this spot and prayed to God, who listened to them. Suddenly the earth opened up and these women were interred alive.
Bholi, a 35-year-old woman who serves at the tomb and takes back food from the langar for her unemployed husband and mentally disturbed son, met me there, and told me that these women came on camels. When they were buried these camels became these trees and pointed out to a couple of old waan trees standing in the middle of the marbled courtyard. “Their leaves are sweet. When barren women eat them they end up bearing children,” she told me as she handed me and my photographer friend Samra Noori a few. “Have them,” she told us. “But I am not looking forward to getting pregnant,” I joked to her. “They will protect you from evil eye,” she retorted.
Curious to see unusual visitors, Bashir Ahmad, 80, also joined us. He told me that he was a retired worker from a factory at Rawalpindi. He lifted his kameez and showed me an old wound near his navel.
He told me that about 15-16 years ago he was attacked by dacoits while he was returning from work. One of them attacked him with a knife. Even though he has recovered now, the wound still hurts sometimes. Whenever it does, he comes here and it doesn’t hurt anymore, he told me. “This is the tomb of Bibi Ruqayya, the daughter of Hazrat Ali and the sister of Ghazi Abbas,” he told me. It is believed that Hazrat Ruqayya was also referred to as Bibi Haj. He pointed to a spot near the grave and told me that Data Ganj Bakhsh stood there offering fateha for the Bibis. He also included Peer Makki and Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in the list, emphasising the fact that this is an old mazaar.
He then took me to a corner where there is an alam ‑ a traditional Shia symbol with a hand, meant to symbolise the hand of Ghazi Abbas, who was the flag-bearer of the army of Imam Hussain during the Karbala. A woman in a grey silk shalwar kameez, with her head covered by a dupatta, stood next to it and with her eyes closed, deeply engrossed in prayer. The alam was covered with flowers and there were lamps and incense lit next to it.
The belief that this is the tomb of the daughter of Hazrat Ali is now deeply engraved in the minds of the visitors at the shrine, a thesis that was first floated by Chishti. This is strengthened by the fact that not many historians have challenged the claim or clarified whose tomb this is. However, in Naqoosh Lahore number, an alternate history for this tomb is interred. A writer by the name of Peer Ghulam Dastageer Naami writing in his book Tareekh-e-Jalilia refutes the claim that the occupants of the grave are daughters of Hazrat Ali. He says that these graves belong to the daughters of a man called Syed Ahmad Tokhta, who had come to India from the area which is known Turkestan, during the time of Shahabuddin Ghori. Ghulam Dastageer Naami makes the claim that he belongs to the family of Syed Ahmad Tokhta and he obtained the information from his family tree and other documents. He says that the tomb of Tokhta is in Mohalla Chahel Bibiyan, Akbari Gate, Lahore and the year of his death was 613 Hijri. He says that these daughters were called Taj, Haj, Hoor, Noor, Gauhar and Shahbaz. He further states that these are not Arabic names and none of the daughters of the Imam had these names.
He points that there were no Muslims living in Lahore at that time so it would make no sense why these women would take such a long journey to come here. He cites a letter from the Sardar of Makran, which he wrote to Tokhta, in which he mentions that Bibi Haj was married to the prince of Makran.
This issue was further investigated by an official of the Auqaf Department, which manages all the historical tombs and mosques in the country. During the Ayub era a dispute erupted between the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shias claimed that since the tomb belongs to the daughter of Hazrat Ali, this is a Shia place, whereas the Sunnis claimed that it belonged to the daughters of Tokhta, so it is a Sunni shrine.
Masood Khadar Posh, the chairman of the department, to resolve the issue, wrote a letter to the governments of Iraq and Syria asking for details of shrines of Hazrat Ruqayya and other members of the family. The Syrian government confirmed that the tombs of Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Aqeel’s daughters are in Syria, attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees throughout the year. They also sent pictures of the shrine. They clarified that it is not possible for the shrines of these women to be in Lahore, therefore, Masood Khadar Posh printed a booklet, which included these letters and pictures, clarifying history. However, devotees to the mazaar, ignoring the research, continue to believe that this tomb belongs to the daughter of Hazrat Ali.