Of the two famous Ludhianvis, Sahir Ludhianvi and Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, it had to be our luck to get not Sahir the poet who wrote those immortal film songs – in that genre no one has bettered him – but Ahmed the firebrand guide to the shortest road to salvation and the broad fields of heaven.
The mosaic of Pakistani religious extremism – our very own contribution to the march of civilisation – would not be complete without the Sipah-e-Sahaba or, after its pro forma ban, its later incarnation, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and the person heading it is Maulana Ludhianvi, his forbears from Ludhiana, in Indian Punjab, but our respected savant and leader himself now a fixture of the Pakistani landscape.
Sahir and his mother, fleeing the tyranny of Sahir’s father who had married more than once, had sought refuge in Lahore before Partition but Sahir couldn’t get along here and in 1949, if I remember correctly, left for India, to settle eventually in Bombay where he started writing those unforgettable songs. And we were left with the likes of Maulana Ludhianvi.
Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi was from Hyderabad Deccan, born in the town of Aurangabad and educated at the Darul Aloom in the city of Hyderabad. He was opposed to the Pakistan movement and the Muslim League leadership led by Jinnah because both the one and the other were not up to his standards of Islam.
But when Pakistan came into being the Maulana lost little time in migrating to this, in his view, un-Islamic country. Settling down in the Ichra locality of Lahore he went about leading the party he had founded, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and propagating his ideas about what constituted true Islam.
The Jamaat-e-Islami – through its student wing, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba – to Pakistan’s misfortune concentrated on spreading its influence in educational institutions. Over the years it succeeded so well in this endeavour that the IJT began dominating college and university campuses, in the process sowing the seeds of intolerance and violence, now a part of the national scene.
Other factors are also responsible for the decline of Pakistani education but none more so than the Jamiat’s singular contribution of being the torch-bearer of ‘danda-bardar’ or stick-wielding Islam. Kalashnikov Islam is the temple built on that earlier edifice.
If only Maulana Maudoodi, faithful to his pre-Partition thunderbolts hurled at Jinnah and the idea of Pakistan, had stayed on in India to carry out his religious duties there, no doubt to that country’s lasting benefit, the history of Pakistan might well have been different.
There were other divines and religious figures too trying to convert over and over again the Muslims of Pakistan to Islam but none came close to the single-minded determination and high scholarship of Maulana Maudoodi, the Maulana an indefatigable writer, his Urdu prose very lucid, which made his influence all the more pernicious and lasting.
True or apocryphal the story is related of the poet Firaq Gorakhpuri visiting from India and taken by Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Heera Mandi. This was during the Zia years and as the evening progressed, the company entranced by the singing, the liquor finished and the word went out for some more but at that late hour none was to be had. At which Firaq reportedly exclaimed, “Kya kumbukht Partition thee, husn aik taraf reh gya, sharab aik taraf reh gayi.” (What a luckless Partition, beauty left on one side and liquor on the other – although the actual adjective he used was somewhat more colourful than kumbukht.)
Firaq was allowing himself poetic licence because there is no shortage of ‘husn’ in Hindustan and no shortage of the stuff which makes poets tick on this side of the border. But there is no doubt that in Heera Mandi in its heyday there was a great deal of ‘husn’ and Faiz Sahib being a discerning man, and a much admired man in different walks of life, could not have taken his guest to any but the best establishment. So Firaq, we can safely infer, was speaking from the impression of the moment.
But if ‘husn’ on a grand scale once dwelt in Heera Mandi we have managed to preserve very little of it, under the onslaught of piety which began with the ban on booze in 1977 many of the older establishments moving away to safer and duller parts of the city.
A good part of Lahore’s professional class of beauty has crossed the sea and gone over to Dubai, adding to the riot and colour of that latter-day Babylon. Dubai is an Islamic sheikhdom, its religion Islam, but its religion not threatened by song and dance or the other invitations to sin over which Islamic scholars have in vain debated and fought for the last 1400 years, that is since the advent of Islam, without of course coming to anything like a final conclusion.
By contrast despite our size to Dubai’s relative smallness in physical terms, our faith always has been so much more fragile, always in danger. That is why our divines can’t leave us alone, sparing no effort to convert and reconvert us to Islam. Given our fixation with religion, and our incompetence in other spheres, we must be the most converted country on earth.
Now in the narrow streets where in the evenings revellers walked and painted faces hung out from balconies, and the sound of the tabla, the harmonium and the jhankar of castanets (pazebs) came from behind curtained doors, what you see are row upon row of shoe shops selling khussas (native footwear).
Indeed, we seem to have a thing about shoe shops. Lahore’s fabled Mall where gents strolled on the pavements in the late afternoons from one teahouse to another – everyone knowing the regular tables of this legal luminary or that man of letters, or indeed that gentleman at large – has become a different place, large shoe stores occupying the once elegant spaces. That’s life, I suppose, or at least life as played out in our parts where we are yet to figure out the purpose of our national existence.
In the Lahore of old, the Pakistan of yesterday, poets and writers, intellectual cranks and impassioned orators, occupied the public space where in societies not dead you hear the sound of laughter – Peter Ustinov called laughter the most civilised sound in the world – and the echo of ideas, whether wise or foolish, being debated.
The Lahore of Faiz, of Munir Niazi, of Sufi Tabassum and Habib Jalib, of Noor Jahan and the likes of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan – I am forgetting Ustad Daman and so many others – the Mall which resounded to such slogans as the ‘East is Red’ and student rallies were taken out, believe it or not, in memory of Patrice Lumumba, that Lahore now dominated by a different kind of fervour, represented most strikingly by the warriors of the Defence of Pakistan Council and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi.
And on the bench of the Lahore High Court where once presided the legendary Rustam Kayani cometh another presiding spirit who after stepping down from the bench takes enormous pride in representing as his counsel that other hero of Islam, Mumtaz Qadri, who for the greater glory of the faith emptied his Kalashnikov magazine into the back of the Punjab governor whose bodyguard he was supposed to be.
In this climate of enlightened opinion scarcely surprising then if even after the slaughter of 23 FC soldiers at the hands of the Taliban – the unwatchable video promptly uploaded – our good and great in whose hands by a sardonic Providence has been entrusted our uncertain destiny should be hemming and hawing and still be in great and grave doubt as to what should be done.
The Sikhs, not Punjabi Muslims, constituted the toughest, most warlike component of the population of undivided Punjab. With Partition we got rid of the Sikhs and on our own we are giving proof everyday of being unable to handle the extremist mess we ourselves have created. Punjab in command and Punjab shaking at the knees – and Ranjit Singh, alas, not arising from his Samadhi to come to our rescue.
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