The country is struggling. In contrast to the serene introduction with the beautiful call to prayer in Lahore, while staying in the industrial city of Gujranwala, the hours between 4 am and 7 am were nothing short of horrendous. High sounds took over the place as if they competed each others. These sounds, apparently, were the respective morning call to prayer from the numerous nearby mosques coupled with pre and post prayer speeches, songs, naats, etc.
|Click to read part one.|
Anything and everything that you could do to gain the affiliation of your neighbor, to show them your religious superiority, that you and your (mosque) community were somehow better, more qualified, more respectable than the one opposite the street was done. I do not for a minute imagine this being the intended outcome when Bilal called out beautifully the first invitation to prayer. Yet it has become a troubling norm. Perhaps the locals have become so accustomed to it so take no notice. For me, it sounded more like hell on earth.
Appearance of Faith
So the country struggles to find its identity, and in no means can piety be matched to anything physical or visual. While etching forward in line at a toll booth on a road, a man tries to jump the entire queue, trying to force his way in front of us. My cousin driving at the time, a professor at the local university, fought back and so ensured that at the very least he didn’t get in front of us. Who was the other driver? Well he had a tasbih (rosary beads) hanging from the rear view mirror and a beard so long it could probably reach his belly button. What was the visual impression, a man of faith, the reality, something very different: just another person who 'knows' faith but doesn't 'understand' faith, in this case, simple manners!
With this in mind, I can thus understand the hesitance of the security guards at two churches in Lahore who wouldn’t let me enter. Of course I have visited churches, synagogues, mosques and temples all over the world and despite my best efforts to explain to them that my interest was in photography, they remained vigilant. Still with such tensions in the air I respect their decision even if I disagreed with it. The result sadly being that I have no visuals or insights of the Christian population of Pakistan – something that I had hoped to capture and share.
The oddest irony for me is that alongside the Badshahi mosque rests the red light district. Almost every city has one but this proximity was for me troubling. Perhaps one should find themselves in that district then head across the street for repentance?!
That day my cousin and I made our way to visit Cooco’s Den, famed for its food and stunning view of the mosque, neither of which disappointed.
Up until that time in my trip however, my jolly disposition gathered fairly negative responses from strangers. One of my nieces, now at medical school reminded me of a lesson I taught her when she was a little girl, that a smile is an act of kindness. She said, when appropriate, she would always smile at people, even if they didn’t smile back. So imagine then, the first smile I received from a stranger on this trip was from a woman sitting in the passenger seat of a car, driving alongside the wall of the mosque, emerging from the red light district.
I want to say that she too like us was just passing by but I cannot help but wonder if she was ‘employed’ locally.
All is not doom and gloom. My time with my relatives was simply superb. Perhaps I am blessed that all of them are educated, they all speak English very well, and despite the greed and selfishness evidenced throughout my journey; they like me have a good generous disposition.
And in the chaos and corruption, which runs the country, I suspect it is the goodwill and efforts of the few honest people in the country that keep it moving and give us all hope.