A Very Personal Loss
It was like someone very close had just died. Suddenly and without warning.
It was an early, rainy morning in Kashmir. Nothing unusual, just cloudy and a little overcast perhaps. The phone rang and suddenly it felt as if the world had just altered its design. For me and for countless other Kashmiris the world had changed in a very fundamental and deeply saddening manner. Dastgeer Sahib’s shrine had caught fire. And there was no hope that it could be saved. My first instinct – send out a quiet prayer, ya dastgeer, kyariv haez paniniy reachh – was ironic. It was his abode that needed protection and there seemed to be none. In a matter of minutes Facebook was flooded with images that rent our hearts. We helplessly watched as flames consumed the much loved and much revered structure. Each loved cornice, every window sill and every little bit of that beloved structure that has been a part of our collective psyche was destroyed. It was like someone very close had just died. Suddenly and without warning.
What struck one in the aftermath of the loss are the unifying remorse, grief and anguish. There were probably very few who did not feel deeply saddened by the turn of events. It was a very personal grief over a very personal loss. Whether it was a writer intellectualizing the feeling, a Facebook enthusiast sharing devastating image after image or a poor woman who came into our house asking for food and informed us in a matter of fact manner that her throat was hoarse because she had been crying over what happened in Dastgeer Sahib. While this is no surprise, it was definitely intriguing in the context of all that has happened in the valley over the years. What struck me through all this is that we can never change the core of our beings. No one will ever succeed in doing that no matter what methods they use and for how long. We adapt to the world, we learn to survive but we haven’t bargained our real self. The one that was tied so intimately to all that the shrine stood for.
Had the shrine been just a mere structure or simply a matter of faith, losing it would not have shaken us so. It would still have been sad but not unbearably so. The relic and tabrukaat are safe and the shrine can be rebuilt. So the pervasive and collective grief and the feeling of having lost something very precious, very close were related to the fact that in the shrine resided all that we associated with the best in us. In it, for us, dwelt the spirit of our go-to saint, our guardian and our mediator in the sometimes difficult terrain of faith and religion. It was a space where we were understood. A space where we offered our reverence, secure in the knowledge that it will be accepted. The loss of such a space is the loss of an edifice on which we rest our collective self. We are defined by the spiritual attachment we have with our saints. And we define that attachment through relationships that are quintessentially Kashmiri. And it is that spiritual attachment and that special relationship that was wounded when flames engulfed all that we had showered on Dastgeer Sahib over the centuries.
The shrine was essentially a Kashmiri route to God. The prayer was not different here. The difference lay in the praying. We stood in front of God, the one God we believe in as Muslims in a place dedicated to one of his loved saints. But we stood there as ‘us’ and made an offering ‘our’ way. It was the way the pillars where carved, the papier mache on them that came from the heart of the artisan who did it. Where no artifice was intended, where the mere fact of looking good was not most important but where the intention of the artist was to offer the best he knew. Not the best there was but the best that he had within his power to offer. It is no one’s contention that the shrine was artistically and aesthetically the best there is in the country or the world. What is important is that for us it never needed to be. It was more than that. It was an expression of who we are at the level of the spirit.
It is as if that shrine was somehow him and that he lived there in the abode that we Kashmiris had created for him. And we had made it in our image! In doing so we somehow made him ours when we took on his message. We found rather than lost ourselves in following the message he espoused. The more we loved him, the closer we came to the one whose message he spread. Our self is intact in that transaction that happens in that shrine, between him, us and God. And yet our submission is complete. It is a beautiful relationship. The kind of relationship that maybe only a Sufi can understand or aspire to. And he did understand. That is how his message won us over centuries back. And that is why we grieve for him so, centuries later.
The loss of the shrine is also devastating because you never think of symbols, living symbols, as dying. I knew in that instant that the shrine was burning how much we as human beings invest in the spaces we create. The fact that these are created by man himself and with a certain purpose is a fact that is transformed and lost somewhere along the line. We believe with all our hearts that being there and sharing our woes and joys and unburdening our hearts, that the prayers and the tabaruk will solidify our defenses and somehow protect us against the vagaries of life. These shrines are places for each one of us to come home to, to the home of our spirit.
It is quietly disturbing to accept that we will never sit there again, surrounded by all that we, as Kashmiris, had offered of ourselves to the saint. Maybe we will recreate something more architecturally alluring, more correct and aesthetically pleasing. Something maybe even more loving but that burrow of spiritual refueling and refinement, where we renewed our spirits, is lost to us forever. And that loss weighs heavy on our collective being.
We will grieve awhile. And we must. But then inevitably we will also have to think of recreation, for to heal ourselves we must try and recreate all that we lost to the fire. We must have back every loved detail and every raw embellishment. Better our rawness, our own aesthetics than an image of someone else’s creation. There may be many a case for glitz and glitter. Or marble domes for that matter. Many more for sophistication and elegance. And still others for modernity and influence. What we should guard against is fakeness. Fakeness is what is scary. Modernity, contemporariness or influence, these are not scary concepts. It is a faking of these or a faking of the original that should be unacceptable.
Every detail in that shrine and similar other shrines in the valley are an undiluted expression of ourselves. Keeping intact the religion we practice and yet having made it our own. We don’t want to part with that freedom. We don’t want to replace that with a faceless, glib and glitzy expression. We should strive to retain the soul in our offerings. For our faith is a living thing. It sustains us while we nurture it. We can have it no other way. This freedom is not negotiable. Political freedom may be but the freedom to be who we are and to express our uniqueness in our own special way is not. The aesthetic sensibility that lurked in every corner, the delicate balance as against a surfeit, let these not be doctored. Let those that know how to retain essences be the ones to recreate the shrine. And let us resolve to nurture each stone with our untainted reverence so the shrine will flourish like before. So our spirit will find its home again.
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Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 1 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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