But Their Gods Remained
- Ramanjit Singh
As you take the National Highway 9 from Delhi to Punjab, and pass towns like Meham and Rohtak, from a distance, one can still make out the domes of the old mosques. These places of worship remind us of the people who used to live, pray and loved the land they lived in. They called this land their home, they lived here for centuries. This land belonged to them as much as it belongs to us. Those men, women and children are all forgotten and erased from our collective memory and the only thing that remains are the mosques that they have left behind which are slowly crumbling with the passage of time. These mosques are the last remaining links to their legacy.
To me, erasing the memory of a culture, a community from the conscience of the living is as heinous a crime as committing violence against them. It breaks my heart to see their dilapidated condition because it reflects who we really are. We are uncaring because this is not our God, these places of worship are not meant for us. We are uncaring because these places belong to the "others" who are not considered part of us. So we let them decay over time.
I am reminded of the beautiful travelogue by Amardeep Singh when he traveled to Pakistan and visited the villages and towns where he documented the old decaying temples and gurdwaras. Villagers today do not know what these monuments were about or the significance of the paintings and the writings on the walls. In some cases, people gave a bewildered look when they learned that Sikhs and Hindus once lived in these lands. Just like in East Punjab, people are surprised to learn that the village that they are living in today also used to have a significant Muslim population.
Barring few historical sites, the condition of these places of worship in West and East Punjab is in a very bad state. These temples, mosques and gurdwaras are full of graffiti. Their structures are slowly decaying and no one is bothering to take care of them.
I still remember a story a Pakistani friend of mine once shared with me about an incident when they found hundreds of thousands of diyas (earthen lamps) while dredging at a river bank. I was sad to hear it and started to think about those people. Those diyas were used by the Hindus since time immemorial to celebrate their festivals and this finding was an evidence of their once vibrant culture that has simply vanished. What happened to those people, where did they go, what happened to their temples. And I don't think the memory of their existence even survives among the people who live there today.
I often wondered about those moments during partition when these places of worship were abandoned. As if the Gods, for a brief moment in time, became irrelevant as the mortals were trying to save their lives.
Such is our history that sometimes I think we need to start anew, write a new chapter of who we are and what it means to be a Punjabi. We can start in our minds, in our hearts. We need to open our hearts about the others, that they were just like us and their idea of Punjabiyat was same as ours. We can start by preserving these monuments so that we can become more human.
Gone are their payers, their laughter, their singing, their devotion to this land
Gone are their hopes and the dreams they once carried in their hearts
They left us but their God remained
We were not different, we were one
That their God was same as ours, their love for this land was same as ours