My Memories of the Pir’s Shrine

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The shrine of Pir Dastgeer Sahib, stone’s throw away from my ancestral house at Khanyar, went up in mysterious flames at the rose-pink dawn of one June morning last year. Much has already been written about the political side of this tragedy; my memoir is totally selfish – wrapped up in me.

I perch inside, sneer at the loss, memories stockpile, scurrying in timeless moulds, and motionless, I’m lost in the vastness of it, yet miraculously finding myself at every venerated abyss of its rising flames. Some things, some events define you. Though hard it is, and I wrench myself not to think on such lines, I have lost the definition. Forever!

The chief cleric, with reverence called as Qadir lala, would take a breather and sit cross-legged on the lunette window, facing the busy Khanyar road below after a cumbersome gathering during the urs (the annual festival) days. Devotees groped him, for a touch of his hand, his cloak or just about anything. Reverence in our part of the world is lavish. Daddy would hold my hand tight, and see me through the sea of yowling men until we were somewhere close to him. The cleric would gently slip his hand inside the scarlet cloak he wore over his shoulders, shekel like embellishment reflecting under the ambient lighting, and run it over my head and face, filling my tiny palms with small white saccharin gobs.

The earliest memory I can muster from the shrine is fresh. I must have been 6. I can recall the early mornings, nipping mist covering the old city, a pigeon voyage visible from far off shingle roofs, a straying hashish smoking Waje Mout (he now reminds me of Gibran’s Mad Man who threw away all his masks) incessantly talking to himself, lanterns flickering at crossroads. An old woman with a white scarf, a familiar merryman with a Kashmiri skull cap on his bald head, a priest wearing a dark grey phiran, a big copy of Quran under his arm, breathing heavily the rarefied air. A strong breeze, smelling of incense and roadside masale voul.

Being inside the majestic shrine was nothing less than a heady trip. The cryptic Gordian verses, decked up on Corinthian pillars that mullioned through the hall, looked like appeasing antiques, to my young eyes; the finestella angular window panes, deriving effete warmth; a large brass container holding zam zam in it; and the palatial chandeliers in the hallway – rich in colours of reds and greens, giving a good idea of the imposing taste and opulence. For a part, the abstruse baroque carving on its walls generated history that rose from Iran and Kurdistan, 600 years ago along with the seven hundred Sayedain. The vainglory complimented now inside the walls by the revere bating chants of the khatm’i sharif.

Daddy would sit in absolute quietness, by the window, engulfed in the mystic ambience, even as my bewildering eyes would find solace in his bowing head. Often, the loose phiran clad, green eyed pir would sprinkle attar of roses over the devotees. The droplets carried spirituality. It is almost like a frozen moment of my memory. I close my eyes on it, it is insistent but like a hangover that never leaves. 

As life carried on, I started taking different dispositions on faith and belief. My growing up years were full of days spent at the shrine, on the days of the urs. There was some power there. The small steps I took while entering the shrine brought a natural elation in spirit. For those few moments, in front of the saint, problems looked too small, solutions not so far.

Man has no nature, Ortega says in his parable. I talk to God, but the sky is empty.

Faheem Jeelani Gundroo is an IT professional based in Dubai.

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