Monks, military and Myanmar – a Pakistani’s déjà vu by Tahir Mehdi
Dawn: In my young age, I had a fascination for mandirs(temple). I wished to see one. I didn’t know why and I didn’t bother to dwell into reasons. Fascinations are anyways hard to understand and explain. When I joined a college in Lahore in early 1980s and shifted to its hostel, I ventured on to many firsts in my life. And one fine morning, accompanied by a class mate, I went to see amandir, somewhere on the outskirts of the city along the banks of drying up river Ravi.
A mundane one room building made of brick and mortar with no marked architecture and in rather dilapidated condition, that’s what it was. The priest greeted us with a smile that was welcoming but it subsumed the feelings of surprise and suspicion as well. There were no idols there and instead the interior walls displayed a collection of colorful flashy posters depicting various gods in different myths. Since I was a student of visual arts, I took keen interest in these.
The priest realised that the visit was more than just a curious peep into a neighbor’s courtyard. He put some effort in explaining the poster that I was looking at from close range. Probably based on his experience of handling ‘religious tourists’ like myself, he knew that I won’t be able to relate with any of the painted images. So for each mythical character that he explained to me, he would draw a similar one from the history of Islam. This is God abc who helps people in distress like Hazrat xyz in Islam and so on. This simple man had a narrative of the two religions running amazingly parallel to each other as if it was only a matter of replacing a few names or looking at things from a slightly different angle.