Lastly, I had an opportunity to take a journey to the destination I’d only imagined to visit before: the land of Sikhs – Amritsar, Punjab (India).
It took almost seven hours for Swarna Shatabdi Express to reach Amritsar from New Delhi. We whiled away the time while enjoying the different sites that crossed us and in fits of sleep. We chatted about various notions of seeing a place, a photograph, or any art. It wasn’t long enough to pass through the sights of men with long beards and colorful turbans. At first, they felt like strangers, and soon I recognized a similar human in them. We reached there in the afternoon. There it was: a proud city encompassing its humble dwellers amidst a rich history. From the station, a carrier transported us through the narrow and wide streets, which represent the city’s intermingling of tradition and modernity. In a restaurant around the Town Hall, we tried unique Punjabi dishes with a glass of Lassi for lunch.
After having some rest in a hotel which we’d pre-booked, we went on to explore the city in the evening – particularly the memorial of the Jalianwala massacre and the Golden Temple. On looking at the Temple – surrounded with a vast pond, on the shores of which devotees take a dip to benefit from the sacred water – I felt something changed in me. After covering our heads, we went in along with other people. The expressions of kindness and wonder hid the identities of visitors: we could’ve been anyone, belonging to any faith, but at this moment, we were all enthusiasts, at peace with ourselves. We waited in a long queue until we reached the inner holy-side of the Temple made of gold. Observing the process of the devotees’ worship for their holy book – their living Guru – inside the Temple extent transcendent relief. I was a new person.
The next morning we went to see a Dargah (a shrine built over the grave of a revered religious figure), in a village far away from the central city, which was identified for the restoration. It took us about an hour in a car to get there. Lush green crops surrounded both sides of the road, unveiled the memories of those killed in the Partition-bloodshed. Finally, we reached the spot where the Dargah is placed – on the outskirts of Gurdaspur. It was only a few miles away from the border-line that separates India and Pakistan – formerly the one country.
Along with the shrine, there is an old mosque. The structure of that huge mosque looked like a taunt. A burial of thousand memories, of broken dreams. A past glory. It tasted like an old world, a history. It had in it buried former saints and holy men, and outside, many unidentified graves scattered in the open lawn – perhaps followers of these saints. This land is witness to the countless killings and mass migrations. Looking at the photographs of Hindu and Sikh Gurus inside the mosque appeared like barriers dissolving. It looked like peace, tasted like pride, felt like a miracle. It spoke of the bloodbaths, of divisions, of Partition, of abandonment, of death. It made me re-evaluate the definitions of love, of hatred, of religion, of a world before Partition, the ruins of displacement, of colonization, of power-struggles, the concept of nation, of people, of me. The half-lost engravings and calligraphies, sketched in praise of Lord, touched like God. The Silsila (names of saints belonging to a particular order) engraved on the inner walls of the mosque was an indication of the fact that mortals are capable of risingb beyond totheir human limits. The oneness of God, inscribed atop the mosque, held the highest position like He’s watching us from the lofty skies.
God is the only evidence alive who could recount the sufferings of the people when the country was sliced. Who is responsible – Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, or British Colonisers – for all the carnages and divide? Who abandoned whom: the followers of those saints, or did the saints leave their followers? God, like the Occupiers, didn’t find the people worthy enough for His attention.
We returned arguing the possibilities of drawing a new border-line that’ll suit everyone or having no border at all. The British have left a heritage of resentment and prejudice on both sides – India as well as in Pakistan. This is no freedom when there’s no light.
I wish if we could live in a world without borders!
Muddasir Ramzan researches contemporary Muslim fiction in the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University. His writings have appeared in various international journals and newspapers including the Hindu, South Asia Journal, the Muslim Institute (London), Kitaab (Singapore), KindleMag, the Critical Muslim (UK) and so on. He can be reached at [email protected]