By Bushra Zulfiqar
As I entered the bustling city, high red minarets of Baadshahi Mosque instantly captivated my attention. This was Lahore, the heart of Pakistan on an early October afternoon. Scorching heat and humidity was still in and out of the air, thanks to the globally warmed and heated climate. As our car passed by the shrine of the famous Sufi saint Hazrat Datta Ganj Baksh, my young sisters excitedly exclaimed ‘look….Datta Darbar, let’s go to pay our respects’ and as impulsively as it was, we went. The driver had trouble parking the car in an otherwise wide, well constructed road as the sea of people, rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks was in high tides. The next struggle awaiting us before we could set foot into the Darbar was to hand over our pairs of shoes to the administration members and get our number card to be able to claim them on our way back. Thanks to one young fellow who spotted us and chanted ‘welcome to Datta Darbar baji, please come this way’ and nervous by the waves of heat and humans, we silently followed his instructed procedure and made our way inside the long white corridor leading to the area allocated for women.
As I stepped on the white marble floors, my gaze froze at the sight of the green tomb. The first word that came to my mind was peace, absolute and un-deniable. The Darbar offers all the serenity, tranquillity, spiritual soothe and console of the Sufi ideology. Love, the love of God and all His creations irrespective of any class, race, gender and religious discriminations, tolerance, positive thinking and self purification with an unconditional faith in the Almighty are the key propagations and teachings of this great Sufi saint known all over the world as Datta. His shrine is fully reflective of the sacred light of his love for the Lord and just like a prism does, that light of divinity is reflected back towards every eye viewing his green tomb, every eye within. Hundreds of pigeons in an extremely heated up Lahore afternoon remain clunged to the ceilings and walls of the shrine and for as long as I observed, none of them fluttered their wings even once. Pigeons, an interesting and extincting breed who remain metaphors of love, in both real and spiritual realms. I stood there in awe of the pigeons, trying to absorb every ray reflected back towards me that suddenly my senses brought me back to the real life around me. I felt an abrupt disconnect from the spiritual elevation I was experiencing just like the sudden flip of a coin.
There were many of them, hundreds of thousands of women from every age group. Dressed in burqas, veils, shalwar qameez, some were holding onto their babies, some had come in small groups of three to four though literally each head was covered. Some were feeding their children, some were spitting, some were lying on the floor meaninglessly looking through faces and some had lifted their hands and duppattas in reseverance and prayer. The smell of sweat was merged with food (langar) being served at several points and many had taken refuge under the fans installations with heaped plates in their hands. There were loud speaker warnings about the pick pockets and jewellery theft which had become a common crime at this shrine. The shrine which reflected the beauty and sacredness of God’s love suddenly became a classical reflection of all our social evils. This contradiction unnerved me for a moment and I felt a sense of loss, deep loss. The Datta Darbar bleed with all cruel life realities stretched all over the geographical, social and individual space of its visitors. Some of them had come in search of self, others in search of food and shade and some for a look out on money and marketable assets of others. The serene sight of a Sufi tomb turned into that of life, life in it’s full circles that has been rounded by long years of intensified experiences of love and losses, pride and prejudice, animosity and hatred, promises and betrayals, being and not being altogether in the morning, noon and night of life.
As I made my way out of the Datta Darbar, I felt exhausted and guilty, drained after having witnessed a glimpse of the ugly life realities experienced by a landslide majority of this country. I find it hard to disagree with that their state of life is our collective failure as a country, society, nation and more so as humans. The consistent class divide has always been an integral part of our economic structure, social fabric and political process. We like to build up on the weaknesses of others, we exploit the helplessness and vulnerabilities of other humans, we like to keep our esteems and egos high and tall and crush the self respect of others. This dimension of an individual and social realization disturbed me, deeply. As we got back in the car, my young sisters chirped ‘it was so much fun, let’s go for a good lunch now’. I felt too tired to respond.