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 normal rate.

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 never know.”

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 Islam.

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 Shah Ghazi.

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 Ghazi’s dargah.

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 Ghazi Shah.

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 a son.

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]


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