The legends of the Walled City

Intizar Husain writes: 

WHILE going through Majid Sheikh’s book Lahore-Tales Without End I was reminded of a Persian saying ‘Agar pidar natuwanad pisar tamam kunad’ (what had been left unfinished by the father was carried to a finish by the son). Indeed Majid Sheikh is the proverbial son who reminds us of his father Hamid Sheikh, a renowned journalist of his time.

While in Pakistan Times and later in Civil & Military Gazette where he acted as its Editor, he in his columns was seen probing into the past of the city of Lahore. Each street and every koocha of Lahore, as depicted by him, appeared trailing with a magical past behind it. Now we know from Majid Sheikh that he was very keen to bequeath this legacy to his sons.

“In our childhood years,” he says, “we would listen to his stories with rapt attention. We never knew when or where he crossed that thin line between a fib and reality… to add to his passion for storytelling. He would often take me on long walks through the narrow lanes of the old walled city of Lahore. On the way he would point out where people lived and what they did.” And he adds informing us, “Most of what I have to say in this book, I have picked up from where he left off… in 1971.”

So these columns dealing with the city of Lahore ask for being read in continuation of what Hamid Sheikh has already written and deserve to be collected under the title, ‘Lahore as discovered by a father and a son’. However, here we have only the son’s columns collected under the title Lahore – Tales Without End. While still a child, his father would take him on long walks through the narrow lanes of the walled city. Now he has grown in years and needs no father to guide him. He, in his independent capacity, is seen roaming in the winding lanes and alleys of the walled city and stopping at the corner of each lane in expectation of finding a sign which may lead him into the past of that lane. Such signs are very much there, facilitating his journey from the present into the past.

Journeying in the past of this city the researcher stumbles on a mound which guides him toward prehistoric times. Guided by a legend popular with academics, Majid Sheikh arrives at the conclusion that it was here on this mound that Sitaji had found asylum during her second exile, and it was here that her son Lahu was born. As the legend goes, the name Lahore is derived from his name. Majid Sheikh goes to the extent of pinpointing the spot where this mound was situated. He refers to the version, according to which this mound was located on the spot being now within the Lahore Fort “just next to where the road curls upwards from Haathi Darwaza.”

This legend helps him to trace the origin of Lahore in antiquity, roundabout BC5000 according to his estimate. Don’t dare ask for historical evidence. Prehistoric events don’t stand obliged to historical evidences. Where is the historical evidence for events in Ramayana?

How wonderful that Majid Sheikh in his research has the dexterity to save himself from all the travails a researcher in antiquity has to pass through. He just takes a round in the lanes of the walled city, chats a little with old people and taking cue from them makes a long jump in mythic times, where he finds Sitaji residing on a mound, Valmiki composing Ramayana, and rishis engaged in recording vedas; and all this happening within the confines of Lahore. Then comes a time when Majid Sheikh finds Lahore sending the message of Buddhism to all nooks and corners of the subcontinent. Chandr Gupt Moriya and his grandson Ashok were, according to Majid Sheikh, Lahoris.

Then soon we are ushered in historical times. But the city is still seen carrying a sense of mystery with it. Who were the six pious bibis buried in the graveyard of Bibi Pak Daman. Researchers have not been able to determine who they were. But the faithful have faith in the legend, caring little what the researchers say. According to the legend, the leading lady known as Bibi Haj was Hazrat Ali’s daughter Ruqayya who, with a group of ladies, reached here after the tragedy of Karbala.

And who lies there in the tomb underneath the dining hall of the Governor’s House? A saint or a sinner? The researchers have so far failed to determine who the man is. So it remains a mystery.

And who is the child-saint, whose tomb in the vicinity of Madho Lal Husain is known as the shrine of Ghorray Shah. What is the origin of the popular myth that “if one brought the child-saint his favourite pastime horses, be it real or be it simple mud-baked ones, any wish made at his shrine is fulfilled.”

Again, who was Syed Garazoni, popularly known as Miran Badshah, whose grave lies in the basement of Majid Wazir Khan. And what is the legend associated with what is known as Syed Garazoni’s curse. All this points to the fact that the city of Lahore, I mean the walled city, abounds in tales and legends which goes to make it a typically traditional city.

If you are after historicity, please refer to Syed Noor Muhammad Chishti, Muhammad Latif, and Kanhiya Lal. Majid Sheikh is a storyteller. He seems thinking that a city can better be understood through the tales, legends and superstitions surrounding it. Even the historical events he refers to seem turning in his hands into fantastic tales. Here is a portrait of old Lahore he has presented with the help of legends and tales collected from the lanes and alleys of the walled city. And what a fine living portrait.

Courtesy DAWN

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2 responses to “The legends of the Walled City

  1. Could you tell me how I can contact Majid Sheikh . There are quite a few points in his story “THE CURSE OF THE CHOTI MEMSAHIBS” which I would like to discuss with him.
    Thank you.

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