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April 9, 2020

Majority stay indoors, but some visit graveyards ahead of Shab-e-Barat


April 9, 2020

A handful of rose petals had kissed the graves of Atif’s family members, all buried next to each other in Karachi’s Sakhi Hasan graveyard, before he touched their graves out of respect early on Wednesday morning. Scores of visitors were present when Atif entered the cemetery from the only gate that was opened slightly; the rest of the gates were closed.

“The gravedigger who takes care of my family members’ graves told me I could pay a short visit early in the morning,” Atif told The News over a video call. “Never in my life have I missed a visit to the graveyard on Shab-e-Barat,” he said.

Shab-e-Barat is a sacred night observed on the 15th night of the Islamic calendar’s eight month, Shaban. This time round, Atif would not be allowed to visit the graveyard on the sacred night, as the government has stopped citizens from visiting the cemeteries that would otherwise be full of people every year on this night.

“Since I would not be allowed to come here tonight, I thought to pay a visit to the graveyard hours before the sacred night. But it turns out a lot of people had a similar thought,” he said. Before his arrival at the graveyard, his family members’ graves had been showered with rose petals. “It is a beautiful tradition in which people while putting rose petals on the graves of their loved ones also throw a handful of them on other graves.” Atif too bought roses from a seller in the cemetery and showered them on the graves.

Bread and butter

A couple of rose sellers were present in the graveyard. Children who sell water to the visitors were also there. “We know it’s dangerous to be here, but what else can we do for our bread and butter?” said a rose seller over the video call arranged by Atif.

“To be honest,” he said, “this occasion would usually buy us an opportunity to earn a good amount of money. But this year we are in deep trouble.” The second rose seller said “things are not as bad for us as they could have been if there had not been mobile phones”.

Elaborating on it, he said people were asking him to shower petals on the graves, send them pictures and get the money later. “I hope they pay me soon.”

He, nevertheless, said the rose sellers were facing unprecedented hardships. “We would say this stanza while selling roses in the cemetery. It goes as ‘Har phool ki qismat mein kahaan naazay uroosaan / Kuchh phool tou khiltay hee mazaaron kay liye hain’ [Not all roses are destined to decorate a bride / Some roses are grown to be laid on graves].” But now, he added, neither were there wedding ceremonies in the city nor were the people allowed to visit the graves of their loved ones.

Similarly, a few gravediggers said people asked them via phone calls to clean the graves of their family members and shower them with petals and rose water.

“Not many people are asking us to do this over the phone. There are a few, though,” said a gravedigger. “People are instead coming here since dawn. They can be here until the police arrive.” A man selling tea on a pushcart was also present in the graveyard. “This was the only place in the city where I could come for earning a livelihood for a few hours. Now they are closing it too,” said the tea seller.

No gates

A similar situation was reported from some other graveyards in the morning. However, by early afternoon, law enforcers were present outside the graveyards whose gates had been closed to the public.

But there are some cemeteries, such as the one in Liaquatabad, where there are no gates. “We have cops deployed at the Liaquatabad graveyard too. But there are no fences around the graveyard and people know how to get in from the narrow streets,” said a police official as he talked to The News on Wednesday evening.

The graveyard is surrounded by houses. Gravediggers and children who sell water live in those dwellings that open onto the graveyard. “We had people in the graveyard until the afternoon. But as soon as the police came for checking, the visitors left,” said a gravedigger.

Online prayers

As social distancing becomes our new reality, people from all walks of life are going online. Religious scholars and Sufis are no exception. This Shab-e-Barat, spiritual gatherings that were to be held in mosques and khanqahs (places designed for gatherings of Sufi devotees) were arranged online.

Kamran Sheikh is one of the many Naat Khwans who arranged Mehfil-e-Naat at home, only with his family members, and broadcast it live on social media platforms. Sheikh said Allah listens to everybody’s prayers from everywhere — be it mosques or homes. “We hope life gets back to normal soon. Instead of showing a callous attitude, we should act sensibly so we could survive this period,” he said.

“Recently,” he added, “a peer sahib [spiritual leader] tested positive for the COVID-19. He has issued a message to his disciples and everybody who met him in the last few days to either get tested or observe self-isolation for two weeks.”

Sheikh said that this was the first time in his life when he saw the city void of the cultural festivity on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat “This year we can pray for the souls of the departed from home. I pray everybody stays safe and understands the gravity of the situation.”