of the desert
As the plane broke
through the clouds on its descent, I eagerly looked through the window for my
first view of Pakistan. What I saw was not the dusty, red, breathless-hot
Lahore of a thousand readings of Kipling, but, rather, a cloudy, damp,
windswept, lush green vista that could have been Kolkata in the monsoon. Or
Edinburgh, for that matter.
My first view of this
“city of sin and splendour”, according to a famous anthology of Lahore
writing, could not have been more different from my expectations. Lahore’s
ability to surprise would, well, surprise me for the next few weeks.
From the beginning, I have
had a very strange insider-outsider position here that has sometimes been
difficult to negotiate. Being a sort of Bengali-British-Indian, with family
origins in what is today Bangladesh, has layered my experience of this city
in so many ways. On numerous occasions, I have been embraced as “one of
us” — “You know, our country was once the same”, though I never know
which of my various possible countries is being referred to here.
Older people, born across
the border before 1947, enthusiastically claim for themselves India as well
as Pakistan, and thus I become an insider. On many more occasions, I have
been welcomed as a mehman — people I barely know have paid for my food,
criss-crossed the entire city helping me with my work, asked me for my
opinions on Pakistan and world politics, asked me lots and lots of questions
about India; once a rickshaw driver welcomed me to his mulk, exhorted me to
go and see Peshawar if I wanted to see the true Pakistan, declared that even
though where I wanted to go was a long way out of his way, he could not leave
a pardesi alone on the streets, and then proceeded to charge me treble the
As a typically ignorant
foreigner, I paid up.
TV was incredibly
disorientating at first as well. The first day I got here, I sat idly in
front of the television — not thinking of anything much, and certainly not
concentrating on the screen, when I suddenly recognised an old and very
familiar advertising jingle. It was only then that I realised that everybody
was watching an Indian channel, showing American and British programmes,
interspersed with adverts for Indian products. Bollywood songs, film posters
and multiple cultural references only served to reinforce my confusion. So
much of this was so uncannily familiar.
Then there is the traffic.
On hearing that I have come from Britain, I am often asked how I am coping
with the traffic. Then I have to explain that I grew up in India and the idea
of three teenage boys riding motorcycles along Canal Bank Road holding hands
is not exactly new to me. Nor is the sight of a kid on roller skates, hanging
off the back of a rickshaw. So painfully familiar. The gap between where I
feel I belong and the colour of my passport is every bit as large here as it
is in India.
The insider-outsider thing
is summed up for me in one fact. Almost everyone, from new friends, to
security guards, to rickshaw drivers, to tourist guides, on hearing my
threadbare Urdu, ask me where I am from. When I answer, they are immediately
warm and welcoming and then, inevitably, give me a warning — “It’s ok
that you have told me where you are from, but don’t tell anyone else. You
Everyone has been nothing
but friendly, yet everyone has warned me about the untrustworthiness of
everyone else. Enough of an insider to be confided in, but enough of an
outsider to be at risk.
I have just realised that
while attempting to describe this sense of dislocation, I have forgotten to
state how much I love Lahore. Properly, honestly, and almost from the moment
I landed. I love the ways in which the city feels completely different in
different places — from the narrow alleys of the Walled City or Shahdara,
to the thandi sarak of Mall Road, to the rather anonymous, if well-planned,
identikit communities of Wapda Town and beyond.
How many cities can there
be where international airports and medical schools and motorway underpasses
are named after poets?
I love how the energy of a
city is combined with the feel of a small town. I love how you can have a
city with gridlocked traffic blocking its streets like so many clogged
arteries (there’s a metaphor straight out of Gawalmandi!) and yet it
sometimes seems like everybody knows everybody.
I love the ingenuity of
taking what is essentially a motorbike and turning it into a passenger
vehicle for eight or more. I love the incongruence of getting on a rickshaw
and discovering that it is equipped with a remote controlled, USB-enabled
music player. I love the pulleys that take the flame grilled kebabs from the
ovens on Food Street all the way to the rooftop restaurants. I love the
ridiculousness of an airline allowing you to reserve seats on their website,
but not allowing you to actually pay for it.
I even love the ways
Lahoris work around the security apparatus of the State to minimise its
effects on the more important things in life — food, conversation,
entertainment. Everybody knows there is a threat, everybody accepts that
checks need to be made but neither the man doing the checking nor the people
being checked seem to care if the checks could ever actually achieve
anything. Every morning, armed guards might be posted every fifty yards along
Mall Road, but no one actually seems to even notice them or their dubiously
functioning weapons. In any case, if the day is hot enough, the guards seem
much more likely to prioritise shade over strategies of security.
Perhaps this stems from the
confidence Lahoris have in their city.
On hearing about my plans
to visit Karachi, people look worried and advise me not to go. When I say I
have to, for work, the advice is never ending. Don’t go out at night.
Don’t carry anything valuable. Don’t drink the water. Don’t go on the
beach. Halaat bahut kharab hei. Karachi, it sometimes seems, is to Lahore
what Pakistan is to the rest of the world.
But I can’t help hearing
another subtext behind all the warnings. Of course Karachi has its problems,
but behind this exhortation to avoid it, I hear, “Now that you have found
Lahore, why would you want to go anywhere else?” And, I have to say, they
have a point.
The writer is a researcher
on a field-work trip to Pakistan. He is researching the collective memories
of the 1947 partition.
The personality of
Miyon Shah Ghazi is associated with legends that span over centuries.
It is generally believed
that he was a soldier in the army of Mahmud of Ghazni (997-1030), who invaded
India several times. During one of his military campaigns, Mahmud destroyed
the famed Somnath Temple. On the way back from Somnath, he came to Thar. It
is believed that he also invaded some parts of Tharparkar and Badin — and
destroyed Mansurah Town to dismantle the power of Ismailism which had
flourished under the Soomra rulers of Sindh.
Miyon Shah Ghazi was
probably the first administrator of the Thar region who was appointed by
Mahmud of Ghazni.
The local people, as well
as the caretaker of the dargah, believe that he was a saint who came along
with Mahmud of Ghazni and stayed in the village to spread the message of
His dargah is located about
22 kilometres south-east of Chachro at Tagthio Village in Tharpakar District.
There are many legends
prevalent in Sindh of Mahmud of Ghazni and his military campaigns in India.
One of them is that Salar Masud, opularly known as Ghazi Miyan, popularly
known as “Ghazi Miyan”, was among the many relatives of Mahmud that
stayed back in India. He was Mahmud’s nephew and commanded the Muslim army
at the age of 19 and died at the battle of Bahraich, where he was buried. He
was the son of Mahmud’s sister and was born in Ajmer when it was
temporarily occupied by Mahmud of Ghazni.
Today, the dargah of the
martyred warrior Salar Masud, which is located at Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh
in northern India, attracts thousands of devotees from all over India.
Much has been written about
the cult of Ghazi Miyan in India. Amir Khusro was the first Indo-Persian
writer to mention his tomb in Bahraich. On the contrary, nothing has been
written on the personality of Miyon Shah Ghazi of Tagthio in Tharparkar.
Only the local people, his
devotees and the mutawali (custodian) of the dargah know the story of Miyon
According to them, he came
along with Mahmud of Ghazni when the latter, while returning from a
successful expedition of Somnath, passed through this village. Miyon Shah
Ghazi was a pious person who liked the village and so he asked the permission
of Mahmud of Ghazni to stay in the village.
He purchased land from
Rajia Thakurs and established his khanqah in the village. He also dug a well
there. The remains of the well are still found just north of Miyon Shah
When he established his
khanqah at Tagthio Village, many people became his disciples. It is believed
that he converted many Rajput tribes of Tharparkar, prominent among them were
Dohat Rathors, Chauhans and Rajias.
Today, many people of Hindu
castes, namely the Mada Sodhas, Lohanas, Meghwars and Bhils venerate Miyon
A new tomb has been erected
by Ram Lohana and Kanya Lal Lohana. The old tomb of Miyon Shah Ghazi was
built by his disciple Muhammad Mueen in 1905. The Lohanas are the merchant
caste of Sindh. They are rich people who spend lavishly on the festivities
that are held at the shrines of the Sufi saints of Tharparkar and other
regions of Sindh.
The mausoleum of Miyon Shah
Ghazi is a splendid structure. It is a square structure built on a high
podium. The outer walls of the tomb have marble cladding while the interior
of the tomb is decorated with glasswork.
The main gate of the tomb
leads to a marble corridor which is pierced with arches. From this corridor
one reaches the tomb of Miyon Shah Ghazi. North of the doorway, the graves of
the two khalifas, who came along with him when he first settled in the
village, are located. One of his khalifas was named ‘Khaki’.
Today, the dargah of Miyon
Shah Ghazi is looked after by a Syed family of Sobharo Village. Syed
Shahnawaz, who is the mutawali of the dargah, is learned man.
An annual mela (festival)
also takes place under his supervision on the 9th and 10th of Muharram. On
the eve of the mela, people come from different parts of Tharparkar.
Most days are busy at the
dargah but there is an unusual crowd on Sawao Sumar (the first Monday of
every month). Many people swarm to the dargah on this day to receive the
blessings of the saint. This is
also the day when females outnumber males attendees.
The wooden canopy over the
grave of Miyon Shah Ghazi is covered with manat (vow) artifacts and objects,
locally called chatun, literally meaning “a parrot”. These objects of
devotion are nothing but embroidered pieces of cloth which are triangular in
shape and are left at the dargah by women as a supplication for the birth of
The chatun are found in
almost every shrine in Tharparkar, Badin and Thatta.
In Sindh, Mahmud of Ghazni
is called “Gajani” by the local people. There is a shrine belonging to
Jarkas Mahmudani near Matli, who is believed to be the nephew of Mahmud of
Ghazni. All of these shrines are frequently visited by the local people.
However, the dargah of Miyon Shah Ghazi is most venerated.
Whosoever he was, military
officer or Sufi, Miyon Shah Ghazi is a famous “saint of the desert” from
the region of Sindh.
The writer is a Research
Anthropologist at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in
Islamabad. He may be contacted at [email protected]