Slow Burn Lahore VI: A Footnote

in homistan

The christian colony, the milk colony, the officers colony, the even more ridiculously named murghi-khana (hen coop) neighborhood, all packed together, surrounded by acres upon acres of open spaces teeming with puchal parei, churail, jinn, chalawa.1

*I should note that this will be the last in the series. I needed to begin a writing project and some basic things had to be worked out – my voice, my archive, my approach. What you read is some of what I am playing around with. I would appreciate any comments you have and I think the rest you will see in print in the future. Thank you. The complete series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI. Next up, Berlin.

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  1. In Rang Mahal, under the Gold-worker’s bazaar, is a rib-crackingly tight alley that meanders for half a street and abruptly runs into a house. Off to the right, there are high steps which take you to a green door. Inside that door, used to sit an old man, hair white, wearing a small smile and cradling in his big hands, beads. I see him every sunday morning. My grandmother, my uncles, or my mother accompany me. To him, our family, is betrothed. One day, my grandfather tells me of meeting him early in his Lahore life, in the mid-40s. He repairs shoes for a living, and a tall man brings him fruits from Srinagar. Fruits that were out of season. That man, grandfather says, was a jinn and he was one his murids. I note this down. Jinns, in my world, bring you fruits.

    Many years forward, and I begin to want to write about Lahore again. I am composing a piece on the spiritual landscape of Lahore, and I want to talk about Rang Mahal, but from there, I want to talk about Data Darbar, LUMS and GCC and Chowburgi and whatnot. The idea is to trace some notion of sanctity, sacrality and landscape cutting across time in Lahore. I am taking notes, and talking to people. I join a sufi halqa which is reading the medieval Sufi text written in Lahore, Kashf al-Mahjub. I see a wide swath of Lahore – men with grease permanently etched in their folds, emergency room doctors, writers and businessmen, very young and very old, and the military man who cannot bend his back.

    He is in pain. His AD rushes to the side of the Sufi Master and whispers urgently that for the last few months, this very-high-ranking-officer has not been able to sit down or stand up without help. The Sufi Master gestures him over. I am seated by the column of the hall and I can hear them talk. I take notes. Next to me, is a 18 year old, rocking on his buttocks in a rather frenzied pace. I am slightly distracted by him. He sees me looking and smiles. I will have a muwakkil soon! I nod. Then the question forms in my head. Um, What will you do with a muwakkil? He shakes his head and goes back to his incantation. I scribble in my notebook: Man wants Jinn.

    The Sufi Master calls me over. The stiff military man stiffens. I scoot nearer, keeping a respectful distance from the brass. TSM places his hand on the Brass’ chest and exhales. The man melts. He is carried away. TSM calls the young reciter. He has memorized the Qs. I have very little idea of what the Qs are but, keeping to my ethnographic practice, I nod. The young reciter, with a flow that MC Ren would envy, raps out a string of words and phrases all beginning with the letter ق. He exhales after a solid 2 minutes. I am visibly impressed and TSM smiles. Tell us what and where do you perform this incantation?

    I am at Ravi two hours after ‘Isha; have to work until 5pm at the mechanic’s shop. You know it has been hard since my father died and I am the only one who can earn – I am determined that the younger brother will stay in school. I take him to school myself. Not even trusting the van wallahs. And then it is mechanicay until 5. It is tiring, hazoor, but I never stop the recitation. All day. I am focused on my work and on reciting. Malik is very happy with me. His old hand was always stealing the drained oil and selling it off at the corner but I have not stolen a pint. He likes me. They do cuss a lot and I am always keeping pure so sometimes, it makes him cuss me more because I won’t cuss. Yet, he respects my riazat. Once I get to Ravi, I sit there, by the water for two whole hours, as you instructed. Huzoor, they take the form of dogs and attack me. Vicious things. But I keep my focus. It has been 30 days. 10 more to go. I am never afraid because I know you will protect me. I have now seen the muwakkil twice. He scared me so. So. But I persist. I work hard.

    TSM looks over him and blesses him. I venture a rare question. What will you do with a Jinn, who is beholden to you? He looks bewildered. I will have a powerful being under my control!

    Stretched across Lahore are stories of invisible beings and visible non-beings. My uncles often tell many. They like to tell stories, full of both bravado and menace. There was the one about the newly-wed bride seen alone by the roadside, whose touch rendered flesh cold and dead. There was the one about a kid goat who seemed lost and was picked up, only to develop a severe case of leg drag (they elongated to ten feet). There was the one about the undead mother looking to steal the young. And then, the love stories.

    What do I make of this landscape of Lahore? There is a mosque in GaRhi Shaho where Qur’an is recited all day but no one can be seen. There is the tree in Miani Cemetery which blooms red flowers that smell of blood. There is the alley that, after dark, refuses passage to non-residents. I have these spots mapped out. There are many more. I will keep writing them into the footnotes. []

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