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Till death did them part

india Updated: Mar 22, 2010 19:43 IST
Meher M Ali
Meher M Ali
Hindustan Times
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I had not planned on going. My friend called me on a lazy Sunday morning. “I have to go to their engagement. There is no way I can’t. You’re not coming, are you?” “No,” I said,” “I don’t think I’ll make the train.”



After a pause, he told me that Laila and Majnu were buried in Sri Ganganagar, where his friend’s engagement was. “Really?” I said in disbelief and amusement and thought what a coincidence: the coming together of two lovers in a place where another two were buried. How poetic! “I hope I make the train,” I said.



Laila and Majnu’s

mazaar

is not in Sri Ganganagar but in a village called Binjore –located 10 km from Anupgarh, the town where our bus stopped. We took a tempo to Binjore.



Our tempo driver did not take up the task of being our ‘tour guide’ willingly but without him, we would’ve been lost. I asked an elderly co-passenger where the border was. He pointed at the horizon and said it was three and a half kilometres away. It had to be close. Army bunkers were planted at the roadside, not many, but enough to appear odd in an otherwise picturesque countryside.



Outside the mazaar, a sapling was decorated with flowers and bells, tokens of people’s prayers.



I noticed as I entered the

mazaar

that Majnu’s grave was bigger and placed slightly higher than Laila’s. Even in death, Laila was reminded of her place, I thought ruefully. But perhaps their love was greater than such minor trifles.



We left the

mazaar

and arrived at Anupgarh famished. We lunched at Charlie Restaurant. Its owner introduced us to a shopkeeper, Subhash Chand Charaya, who told us that the

mazaar

was

kachcha

(not cemented) when he was a boy. He suggested we speak to Kattar Singh – the oldest person in Binjore.



But we had to return to Delhi and started walking back on the solitary road that had brought us to Anupgarh. Would we ever get a chance to travel here again? Probably not. We decided to stay and never regretted it.



To try my luck, I asked our tempo driver if he knew a Kattar Singh in Binjore. He did. I felt lucky. On our second ride to Binjore, I saw sunlight dance against the green fields, a palm tree gently curve into another and elderly men, huddled together, playing cards, as the sun carved out their shadows on a mud wall.



Kattar Singh was not home. Our driver, on our request, drove us to his house, to meet his grandparents, who, he claimed, would know about the mazaar. He returned with a woman who looked too old to be his wife and too young to be his grandmother. Baluti Devi was his aunt. She declared, in a clear, guttural voice, that no one in Rajasthan knew about the

mazaar

and added:

Pata hoga to sirf miyaan logon ko pata hoga

(If anyone knows about the mazaar, it would be Muslims),” she said, uttering “

miyan

” with great gusto. Which

miyan

would know? I asked. Anwar Bhai in Anupgarh.



She said that the army had caught Pakistanis sneaking in to pay their respects at the

mazaar

, which was surrounded by a jungle back then. The

mazaar

became popular in Binjore when a woman, who could not conceive, prayed there. Baluti Devi said, “

Unko beta huan

.”



“Intersection of folklore and preference for a boy,” I wrote down, and felt like an anthropologist with a khaki top hat. I wondered how two people who lived a day’s journey from each other could be so different in their thought.



When we got to Anwar Bhai’s in Anupgarh, he was not there. His brother suggested we speak to the

maulvi

at Jama Masjid. I felt disappointed thinking the maulvi would give me some religious answer – stripped of any mystery or romance.



Dekhiye, yeh Laila-Majnu ka mazaar to hain heen nahin

. (This is not Laila-Majnu’s mazaar), said Maulvi Mohammad Irfan Chisti as if in mid-conversation,



This was his story: There was a

Pir

(saint) – Pir Bughdad Shah. He had a

mureed

(disciple) who lived in Balochia village, 40 km away. The

mureed

would visit his

Pir

weekly. When he passed away, the disciple (the

maulvi

didn’t know his name) continued to travel to Binjore. Villagers then started likening his love for the

Pir

to that of Laila and Majnu – “

Laila-Majnu ki tarah ka ishq

”. Maulvi Chisti had heard this story from Haaji Jagga, Anwar Bhai’s grandfather. Most of those who knew this story had migrated to Pakistan after the Partition – “99 per cent” to be precise, the

maulvi

said.



In his will, the student made just one request – that he be buried next to Pir Bughdad Shah and so he was.