Harking Back: Lahore's world of bewildering beliefs and superstitions.

Almost every country in this world has varying degrees of beliefs and superstitions. Lahore is no exception. If you roam the lanes and streets of the old city, evidence of this is everywhere. In a way it is engrained in all of us.

Recently while going through the works of Amir Khusrau's 'Kulliyat', it was amazing how he loves Basant, and describes it as the 'final depiction of optimism' of the people of Lahore. Today that 'optimism' stands banned. He also dwells on the beliefs and superstitions of the subcontinent. As a journalist who has virtually roamed every street and lane of the old walled city, it made great sense to explore this aspect of life, for what he said still holds true.

The degrees of superstitions vary and are complex. I remember when my daughters would hurt themselves in even a minor fall or get sick, their Kashmiri 'Nani Appu' would rush to the kitchen, get seven red chillies, treat them on fire and then spin it around the child's head seven times and throw them into the fire. My English mother on hearing this would say: 'Oh No, not again'.

Though both grandmothers could not speak the language of the other, yet they were the very best of friends. 'Mummy' and 'Nani Appu' would share their personal woes for hours with each other, nodding their head in pity. We used to laugh at the seriousness of the conversations, but I am sure they got the essence of each other's problem.

In my walks in old Lahore, initially with my father, and then as a journalist trying to enjoy the essence of the history of the city, I made friends with a lot of 'faqirs' and 'sadhus' and 'sufis' and 'malangs' and even 'jadoogars'. Let me in this piece narrate a few incidents. My favourite by all accounts was the late Sheikh Mubarak Ali. His shop was at Tehsil Bazaar, and he had won a case against a rich business family to build a mosque on their property. Most people believed the judge must have had a 'spell' cast on him.

His order was that when I visit, it must be tea first and then any talk. I sat watching people rushing in with their problems. Once a lady was complaining about her wayward husband. He caught her thumb, read a 'holy spell' silently, and before my eyes the lady fell unconscious. When she recovered he blew on her a few times and commanded: 'Get lost, and live and serve your husband'. She left happily. I have always wondered just how long the spell lasted. The belief is that if the burnt chillies could not be smelt, the diagnosis was...

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