IN the main chamber of the shrine, there is the calm of a mild winter afternoon, the light scent of incense. The central grave — covered with a green embroidered sheet of velvet, with a marble grill around its borders — is flanked by two smaller ones, with three others, apparently of children, beyond. A woman sitting in the corner is engrossed in invoking the blessings of the saint; with her hands raised in prayer, she sways back and forth as if to emphasise what she seeks.
Meanwhile, two youths enter the chamber and touch the lower end of the central grave, then lightly rub their hands on their bosoms in reverence for the man who has lain buried here since the reign of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar (1556-1605 AD). Without turning their backs to the grave, they step back to sit along a wall and pray. A big green cash box with a sealed lock on it sits close by, for devotees to offer nazrana [donations].
On stepping out of the chamber, one is greeted by the sounds and smells of a massive construction site — the grunt of heavy machines and the odour of diesel running a huge generator. In this courtyard of Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari’s shrine, that has narrowed because of the demolition needing to be done for the Orange Line Metro Train, roam some chickens and a peacock under the watchful eyes of Hira Sain. He has been serving the shrine in different capacities for around the last four decades, and now manages the place for all practical purposes.
“The project activity has not affected the devotees,” he says. “It will soon be over, and the place will be restored to its old self, the officials have assured us. After the construction of the tunnel, they will cover it all up and the place will be the same again.”
Asked about any damage caused to the place during the demolition work, Hira Sain says that, “They are doing it very carefully. Even on the slightest suspicion, the machines are stopped and the remaining work is done manually. We don’t need to be worried as Sarkar [the saint] is taking care of it all.”
“They have installed gadgets and computers in a cabin from where they monitor the vibrations caused by the heavy machinery,” adds Malik Noor Muhammad, a retired income tax employee and a long-time devotee.
Kannhiyya Laal, an architect who was involved in the renovation of government buildings under the Raj, documents in his monumental work Tareekh-i-Lahore (first published 1888) that Syed Miran Shah Bukhari settled in this locality (later named Mohulla Mauj Darya Bukhari after him) during Akbar’s reign. Known for his piety and ‘miracles’ the saint soon started attracting devotees. Impressed by his persona and popularity, the emperor allotted an estate to the establishment with an annual income of two hundred thousand rupees.
The amount was generated through revenue collected within the limits of Batala town that was attached to the estate. The writer says that the locality flourished till the end of the Chughtai sultanate and was finally pillaged by Sikh bands and Ahmad Shah Abdali’s forces.
“In the locality there still exists the shrine of Syed Mauj Darya. Some of his descendants later settled in Lahore and Batala. Now the residence of McLeod Sahib Bahadar Lieutenant Governor has been built in the middle of the locality and a part of it has been occupied by the road,” writes Kannhiyya Laal.
In the present day, though, others complain of exploitation and neglect by officials. Malik Ranjha is one of them.
“You can see for yourself in what condition we have been left,” he says, sitting in front of his dilapidated house. “We had to live without water, gas and even electricity for some days after the project work resumed following court orders. The utilities were restored later but other issues have cropped up to make our lives more miserable.” His immediate concerns are cracked waterlines, choked sewerage, and threats by Lahore Electric Supply Corporation (Lesco) officials about removing his electricity meter along with those of others.
“Lesco’s Islampura division officials tell us that after the resumption of the project, we are no longer their responsibility,” the old man says. “I simply ask them how our consumer status can be changed while we are still residing in the same locality and the same house. If there is any technicality involved, why we should be punished?”
The excavation work broke the gas- and water-supply lines, he says. These were later restored on a temporary basis, but he says that the water-supply line is leaking at several places.
“Sewerage pipes are also a casualty,” the worried Ranjha says. “Our houses are old and can’t stand the continuous seepage, especially amidst the vibration being caused by heavy machinery. When I watch TV and see smartly-clad officials and politicians claiming that they are ensuring that no one should be affected by the digging and demolition in the project area, I can’t help laughing,” he muses with all the misery of a helpless man.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018