Before Bhopal came to be known as the site of India’s worst industrial tragedy, it was a city of lakes, tongas, beadwork and Begums. It still is. But the communal strife of 1992-93 took away most of the good and the honourable there.
One such facet was Bhopal’s version of Sulh-i-Kul and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It was a time when cultural kinship was stronger than communal affiliation.
During Ramzan, most non-Muslim families in the old city area would push back cooking to after iftar, and the holy month would leave in its wake indelible incidents, such as the story of how the Quran was revealed. On an especially muggy summer night during the last 10 days of Ramzan, sleep was hard to come by. As we friends lay awake counting the days to school and Eid, an elderly neighbour’s recitation kept ringing in our ears.
Next morning, we asked her about the chanting and she narrated how it was customary to stay awake and pray, for five nights during the last 10 days of the holy month, any of which could be Shab-e-Qadr.
“Shab-e-Qadr (Night of honour) is a night on which, despite the apparent darkness, a life-changing occurrence is imminent,” said the octogenarian lady with a twinkle in her eyes.
“On this night, all those years ago, the Prophet was 40 years old and unlettered. Yet when Jibril (Gabriel) revealed the first verses of the Quran to him on Jabal al-Nur (Mount Hira to the north of Mecca), the Prophet’s thoughts flowed as lucidly as that of any erudite scholar.” She carried on, “It’s tough to predict which of five nights it is but this does not diminish its significance. A devout’s heart knows when spiritual union has been consummated.”
Looking back, it’s hard to think of Ramzan and not be reminded of our neighbour and her narration of Shab-e-Qadr. It may have meant little to us then. But in these difficult times, the memory serves as a balm and helps reinforce faith in all that is good and appreciable about Bhopal, about individuals of different faiths.