by Shashwati Talukdar
On the way to Jalandhar from Ludhiana, our kind and talkative taxi driver suddenly grew quiet and said just one word, ‘maseet.’ What’s a ‘maseet?’ We didn’t immediately catch on, but realized that he said the Punjabi word for masjid (mosque). He didn’t elaborate. And we didn’t press it. He looked old enough to have been born before the 1947 partition. We were perhaps just queasy about talking about trauma. Why bring it up, when all of us know those stories? When we know how those stories have scarred the landscape.
In the middle of the newly painted houses and signs of prosperity, this decrepit old building that is not used for the purpose it was built, suddenly silenced us. What had happened to those people who used this mosque? Were they part of the group that were pushed out and eventually went to the other side of the border? If so, surely they and their children talk about the trauma of partition the same way we do on this side of the border. And, even if ‘those people’ continued to live on this side of the border, the destruction endured by the mosque was perhaps endured by them as well.
We like to think of ourselves as victims, but weren’t we perpetrators too?
An interesting counter-narrative to this sad looking maseet, is the story of the Guru ki Maseet. An abandoned masjid, taken over by the Nihangs and then made available to Muslims. A feat of inter-religious harmony, but by no means achieved easily. It took negotiation and compromise. For a more scholarly account read Anna Bigelow’s article about this shared sacred site (if you can get behind the damned firewall). The case of Guru ki Maseet makes it clear that the received notion that religious differences are intractable is by no means a given. If there is an institutional will to overcome conflict, such sharing of sacred space is possible. It is erroneous to think of sacred spaces as being always exclusive, it can have multiple meanings, and successful management of such spaces can be achieved through a historicization of the space and not separating its history from its location.
(Go here for the first post in the series)