I was 11 springs old when I heard your story for the first time; the story of an emperor building an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the bank of a river to house the tomb of the love of his life. Too young to understand what love is all about, but old enough to not forget the sparkle in the eyes of our class teacher when she told the class about you. She taught us history and creative writing. Today, I am no longer young and you are no more a story. I’m a believer and you are a faith. Of the lovers. Of the dreamers. Of the faithful. Of this world and the beyond.
Please don’t get me wrong. You are a faith, not a religion. You have never been one. In body and in spirit. When the emperor was alive and when his brute son chained him to the lonely sight of your silhouette in the dying light of a tropical sun and when he died the death of a lover, painful and slow. You are not Muslim. Exactly the way Urdu, the language of Ghalib, Manto and Nusrat, is not Muslim. You don’t belong to a Mughal emperor any more. You belong to the clan of men and women in love. You are love, both reciprocated and unrequited, said and unsaid, spent and unspent. Exactly the way Ghalib’s verses, Manto’s paragraphs and Nusrat’s alaps are not Muslim.
You have been in the news in recent time for the wrong reasons. But what do you expect from politics and politicians? Love is not their kismet. Poetry is not their forte. Poetry, the silence between the syllables and the furtive glance of a beloved, is not their fate. It can be fatal to their existence. And vote banks.
This politics-propelled narrative of thousands of Hindu labourers sacrificing their lives under the might of a power-drunk Muslim emperor to build you as a monument of his yearning with all your symmetry and splendour is absolute drivel. From the Mayan civilisation to the Roman Empire, from the churches of Europe to the minarets of the Middle East, from the wheels of the Konark sun temple to the human breasts and thighs sculpted with precision in the Khajuraho temple, the history of architecture is older than the rules framed by the International Labour Organisation. The longing of the human heart for immortality doesn’t carry a user manual written by a battery of brilliant human rights lawyers. By the way, have I told you the stories of how Hindu kings exploited their Dalit-Bahujan subjects while building the beautiful temples in 17th century Bharatvarsha? No need, at the moment.
The emperor needed you to immortalise his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the “Chosen One of the Palace”, who died during childbirth after having been his inseparable companion for 19 years. Exactly how he needed his breath. Love made the emperor needy. This is what love does to human hearts. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Today, the Yamuna is more dead than alive and love is more of a noun fixated with a good morning WhatsApp message than a verb of longing and lyrics. We have lost the river to mindless urban planning and we have consigned love to heartless married men and women pretending to be besotted with office time kisses and rituals of fidelity.
You define youth for ancient men and women ravaged by the sun and snow. You keep the wrinkles of ageing at a bay on the foreheads of underfed peasants, office-going executives and power-loving bureaucrats. You give meaning to the sky, its homeless clouds and the moon. And you’ll always be the morning azaan of that middle-aged man who takes pride in his unrequited love. You’ll always be an evening prayer of that newly-wed bride who smells an unfamiliar female perfume on her husband’s day-old shirt. You’ll always be the sigh of a young boy in the Sunday mass church standing a few rows apart from his first love and last death.
But you’ll never be an organised religion. You’ll never be Muslim in the eyes of billions of lovers. People come to you because of their love, not because of their gods and goddesses. Unless you consider love as the only god. They look at you the way a love-struck boy looks into the eyes of a girl he has fallen for. Yes, he is drowning. No, he doesn’t know how to swim. No, the girl has no clue about what has happened to the boy.
Exactly the way these politicians don’t know a thing about love and the lovers and the beloved.