Walking with NANAK
Author - Haroon Khalid
Publisher - Westland, Rs 699
In this obeisance to Guru Nanak, HAROON KHAlID recollects his travels across Pakistan and exploring locales associated with the saint and studying their history. Edited excerpt:
Sorry, I am late,’ said Iqbal Qaiser as he jumped into the car. He had just arrived from his farmhouse in district Kasur. He had chosen to spend the night there because our destination was closer to his farmhouse than to his lahore house. We were on our way to Kanganpur where there is a gurdwara in honour of Guru Nanak.
‘How far are these two villages from each otherIJ’ I asked him, as we drove away from the looming monsoon clouds.
‘Not very far. About five to 10 kilometres.’
‘What I don’t understand is how is it that the people of two villages which are situated so close to each other have such different attitudesIJ Besides, how can everyone in a village have a similar attitudeIJ’
‘It is true that everyone in a village cannot have a similar attitude but you will have to agree that certain places have a particular attitude. It might not be the attitude of everyone there but it could be the overwhelming attitude of a village or a city.’
In my head, I was already comparing the attitudes of people in the cities of lahore and Islamabad. It was still too soon for me to form an opinion about my new home but I could not deny the fact that there was a different feel to both the cities.
‘I agree with you that different cities have different attitudes. Take Islamabad and lahore for example. I feel that the drivers of Islamabad tend to be much more courteous than the drivers of lahore. But then lahore and Islamabad are about 350 kilometres away from each other. It might as well be a different country. But in the case of Kanganpur and Manakdeke which happen to be only a few kilometres apart, how can people have such starkly different attitudesIJ’
‘It is possible for the people of these two regions to have opposing attitudes. Kanganpur was a big village bordering a small city. That is the way it is even today. While Manakdeke was and still is a small village. People of cities and villages tend to have different attitudes.’
‘That makes sense. As a city becomes part of a larger economy there is a tendency for it to become more individualistic as opposed to collectivistic. Notions of hospitality and tradition don’t really matter anymore. You know what I find really interesting in this entire taleIJ It is that the story of Nanak at these two places is part of history now. The people of Kanganpur have forever been stigmatised because of a small incident that happened with Nanak. I feel that this was harsh on the part of Nanak.’
‘Nanak could have said or done nothing. It is likely that this incident never took place,’ said Iqbal Qaiser.
We skirted the old city of Kanganpur. like the rest of the ancient cities of South Asia, its walls had been demolished. Only the arches of what once must have been entrances to the city remained. We climbed the mound on top of which the city was perched.
There was a Muslim shrine in front of us. Next to it was a police station. In one corner was a dilapidated building, which was the gurdwara constructed in honour of Guru Nanak’s visit to Kanganpur.
On the façade of the building, there was an inscription in Gurmukhi that recorded the name of the devotee who had paid for the construction of this structure in the nineteenth century. He too must have been from Kanganpur. Before Partition, there were quite a few Sikhs and Hindus here, now it was dominated by Muslims. There are pockets of ‘Untouchable’ Christian quarters around the city but the low-caste Christians are politically and socially weak.
On one side of the gurdwara, a hole had been carved out of the wall which is now used as the entrance into the building. The name of a police inspector was written on top of the structure. ‘Is this where that incident with the police inspector took placeIJ’ I asked Iqbal Qaiser.
‘When the police official beat you upIJ’ I asked.
Iqbal Qaiser often narrates to me the stories of the travels that he has undertaken. A lot of the trips were done for his book, Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan. He told me that working on that book wasn’t easy. ‘The travel that you do is nothing compared to how I visited all these shrines. I would travel on public transport and then walk for miles to find a place. Most of the time I didn’t even know if the gurdwara was still standing.’
In one of these narrations he told me that he had once visited a gurdwara. After photographing the building, which was being used as a house, from the outside, he knocked on the door to ask for permission to also photograph it from the inside. A woman emerged from the door. When she saw that Iqbal Qaiser was carrying a camera, she began shouting. Hearing her screams, a man came out of the house and without listening to a word of what Iqbal Qaiser had to say, started to beat him up. The entire village gathered around but no one dared stop the man. He even took away the camera and removed the roll of film from it.
later, another man from the village, who had witnessed the entire event, took Iqbal Qaiser to his house, where he first attended to his wounds and then offered him water and tea. He informed him that the person who beat up Iqbal Qaiser was a police inspector. He had illegally occupied the gurdwara and was running it as a brothel. ‘No, that was Mandi Bahauddin,’ said Iqbal Qaiser. ‘That is such a disappointment,’ I replied. ‘Had that been this gurdwara, it would have added a really interesting twist to my story on this building.’ A few people from the neighbourhood gathered around us and started questioning us about the purpose of our visit. One of them, Aslam, who was clearly a
drug addict, followed me into the building. There was hay
on the ground. ‘Is this for
animalsIJ’ I asked him.
‘No. This building is now under the control of a police inspector. Every year, he comes for the festival of the Muslim shrine next to this gurdwara. He brings other devotees along who are then accommodated in this gurdwara. The hay is used as bedding.’
‘How old is the Muslim shrineIJ’ I asked our guide.
‘It’s very old. It is older than the gurdwara.’
That seemed doubtful.
‘Can I climb onto the roofs of one of these houses to get a better photograph of the gurdwaraIJ’ Iqbal Qaiser asked the men surrounding us. There was awkward feet shifting and reluctant replies. ‘The houses are locked,’ said one of them.
‘The view is also not nice. It is the same as this one.’
‘There are no stairs.’
‘What do you expect of the people who treated Nanak the way they didIJ’ I joked with Iqbal Qaiser as we walked away from the gurdwara, towards the alleys of this ancient city.
Excerpted with permission from
Walking with Nanak by Haroon
Khalid, Westland, 2016