Pilgrims of Anarkali; Two Tales of Amnesia

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(Image: Daily Times)

Reverberating echoes of a lost horizon, a forgotten past, visitors and lovers: there are monuments in the Anarkali Bazaar destitute of affection like certain fragments of my heart and every heart. What are supposed to be hallways of joy; the streets of Anarkali and the vessels of any heart, are now bereft of certain past affections taken away through narrow minded modernity, crises, general amnesia, and of course negligence, for what can be worse than negligence in love?

Some streets down Lower Mall, in the vicissitudes of the bustling Anarkali, sleeps, eternally, the controversial Qutb Al-Din Aibak, founder of the once magnificent Delhi Sultanate of 13th Century. Mamluk Dynasty, slave dynasty, saw some great leaders including Iltutmish and Razia Sultana. Aibak, a slave turned king, once ruled a unique dynasty that left lasting impressions on Hindustan, now lies lost in the humdrum of a city enslaved through white elephants of instant and portable modernity.

Stories are scattered all over Lahore, at its junctions, around its monuments, underneath its roads and gardens, in the lives of people, in the courtyards of Sufi shrines or within abandoned Hindu temples. Even today, as the world moves around these spaces oblivious to them, their stories continue to unfold, dancing and singing for anyone willing to listen. In these performances, Valmiki discourses with Jesus Christ, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto meets Qutb al-Din Aibak, nationalists participate in historic Mughal wars, Mughal princesses witness the heralding of a neo-liberal model of development, Bulleh Shah dances with Bhagat Singh. (Khalid, Imagining Lahore)


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Not acknowledging as much as we should have had, me and two ex-friends walked from the Old Campus of Punjab University to Aibak’s Mausoleum. Aimlessly when one loiters in the jammed streets of Anarkali, mouthful wisps of historic nostalgia waft past exuberance, lost jubilations and a deep residual sadness, a feeling specifically enchanting when one remembers it months later, having had lost those friends to time, temperament and utter negligence. Anarkali is named after a woman, a woman of questionable importance but a woman bearing a plethora of stories. Anarkali is almost a mythical bazaar, it is full of itself and simultaneously bereft of the “exotic” it was woven into by the Raj. “A walk through the streets of this bazaar is a walk through the history of the city.” (Khalid, Imagining Lahore)

Feeling a little dejected after the lack of enthusiasm of my lost friends, who seemed less enchanted by the sudden yellowness of the small Mazar with Persian inscriptions, a small garden and children playing around; I looked around and saw this Mandir, right there, neighboring the King’s mausoleum but somewhat very far away as if invisible to the eye. We went, being aimless hostelers with ample time, we went and after some trouble found out that a certain rusted door next to a cobbler’s shop led up to sets of ghostly stairs, centering small ghetto-like apartment complexes and no people, just occasional cats, hanging laundry and tints of nostalgia. We kept on climbing, hoping to reach a certain space from where the façade of the Mandir would make sense, eventually reaching, probably at the 3rd floor, a closed door. There, a small laughing child helped us juggle our way through the narrowed alley of stair sets, up to a certain end. We were encircling the Mandir, unbeknownst.


Above a neglectful cobblers shop

Rests the mandir

Behind very closed doors.

We knocked, and knocked,

Me and two ex-friends: today when I recount.

It’s two ex-ed people and an ex-mandir

For, every mandir, mosque, mazar

Deserves visitors, from everywhere, admirers from abroad

Like every heart should have,

People, lovers, friends and all.

Razia Sultana’s grandfather rests nearby,


To view his mazar from the mandir

One has to climb.

All the way up, fearful stairs, dust, debris

Of eons-old charms

And puja fragments

These two friends too, live in my heart today

And tomorrow, like an ages-old spark.

Unvisited monuments of the heart

Unvisited monuments of Anarkali

I don’t exactly remember, the photos I took are in my old laptop, now lying half-dead in my cupboard like the ideas of my previous flânerie: the friends I lost, the eons of hope one loses in the very instant when one’s affection for a certain person gets hurt, whimpers and suddenly goes deaf. I don’t remember clearly but memory says that there were fragments of Puja, praying, around. The last floor, probably the 5th floor of the building complex, was a locked room, perhaps with the necessary Mandir. We stayed there, for a little while. It was a ghastly psychogeographical vanity: An abandoned nurturing Mazar lying low but clearly visible, an abandoned Mandir, rooting up but invisibly so and now that I think of it, a bond broken like the history of Aibak, of Anarkali and of Lahore as such.

The unvisited monuments of Anarkali, like the unvisited monuments of my heart, sit and stare at the everyday life of the bazaar that started as a trade complex but was condemned to allegorical prostitution by the colonizer and eventually settled itself, in a world of amnesia and social recluse, as a pavilion: hanging in a limbo, between the past and the future, seeking lovers, visitors, pilgrims, like its abandoned Mandirs, Mazars and like the vessels of my heart and every heart: for we all lose eventually, truth in history, geographical affections, people, friends, dreams, often faith too and resultantly the prayers.

Rida Akhtar Ghumman

Rida Akhtar Ghumman, based in Pakistan, is a student of English Literature typically interested in theorizing on psychogeography and television. She can be reached on Twitter and Instagram at @RidaAkhtar_

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mallika Bhaumik

    loved reading this enchanting account ,wish I could visit the beautiful city of Lahore with its fascinating bazaars and mosques and minarets.

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