A CORRIDOR OF PEACE

January 22, 2019

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THE piece of the bomb on display near the sacred well at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.—Photo by writer
THE piece of the bomb on display near the sacred well at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.—Photo by writer

“MEIN ethay petrol pump lawaya ae,” jests a policeman in response to a reluctant motorcyclist’s request to let him cross the lone makeshift checkpoint that guards the road leading to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

Other visitors, too, are directed to park their vehicles in a nearby ground as some pilgrims who attempt to reach ano­ther car park closer to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib are told that this side is exclusively meant for military personnel.

The quietude of the Kartarpur track is interrupted occasionally by conversations at shops offering tea and savoury snacks. Slurping from his cup at the one-room Madina Restaurant, Muntazir says it may not remain as calm over the next few months and points at the excavators standing at a walking distance from the lime-washed boundary wall of the historic building. The heavy machinery was brought here last month, he says. Land up to Baein Degh, a tributary of the Ravi, around 500 metres from the Gurdwara, is demarcated by red flags as some portion seems to have been recently dug up and levelled for the construction of this part of the peace corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of India.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, in Kartarpur area of Narowal district, is the resting place of Baba Guru Nanak (Nov 29, 1469-Sept 22, 1539), who was born in Nankana Sahib, a former Sheikhupura tehsil that got the status of district in 2005.

A board hanging from a newly built red-brick watchtower along the iron grill gate of the Gurdwara mentions 10am to 4pm as visiting hours in winter.

Although people of all faiths come here, only families are allowed to enter the premises, without hassle, by submitting the national identity card of one of their members at the entrance. Others have to go through interrogation by the staff in plain clothes.

Rose plants lining the inner boundary wall guide visitors to the sacred well (Sri Khoo Sahib) from where Baba Guru Nanak used to draw water to irrigate fields. At a conspicuous place just beside the holy well a glass pedestal showcases shrapnel of a bomb. A nearby plaque titled Miracle of Waheguru Ji says: “Indian Air Force dropped this bomb during 1971 at Sri Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Sahib with the aim to destroy it. However, their evil designs could not be materialised due to BLESSING OF WAHEGURU JI (Allah). The said bomb landed into the Sri Khoo Sahib (Sacred Well) and destruction of Sri Darbar Sahib/ Mazar Sahib / Samadh Sahib remained un-heart (sic).

“It is pertinent to mention here that this is the same Sri Khoo Sahib (sacred well) from where Baba Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee used to get water with his own hands for watering the fields.”

The display of the war remnant at the place of Sikh heritage with such an inscription not only reflects the past hostilities that run between the neighbouring countries but also gives a different colour to the peace initiative that Pakistan has taken.

A few steps from the well lies the entrance to the magnificent gurdwara where Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life. Here the environment is serene, infused with divine charm. Considered one of the oldest Sikh shrines in the world, the building’s foundation was laid in the 16th century. It underwent a major renovation work in the 1920s during the reign of the then Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh at a cost of Rs135,600.

On the wall of the gurdwara, the plaque that has weathered the rigours of time says the donation was given to protect the shrine from the ravages of the river from 1920 to 1929.

The building, along with its surroundings, has been refurbished and improved by Pakistani authorities from time to time over the past three decades, the latest being the construction work on the Kartarpur corridor project.

Across the border, New Delhi and the East Punjab authorities are still wrangling over finances to acquire land for the corridor as the fate of Sikhs expecting a visa-free pilgrimage on the 550th anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in November hangs in the balance.

“The government of India has not sanctioned funds to even acquire land there. How will we finish the work before November,” ANI, an Indian news agency, quoted East Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as saying over a couple of weeks ago. The CM, a retired captain, had said earlier the opening of the Kartarpur corridor was a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan against India.

Certainly seven decades of hostility cannot just vanish even seven months from now when both sides will be celebrating their independence day, but the bomb shrapnel can be shifted to a war museum and work on the Gurdaspur side can be undertaken without further waste of time. Let the shrine of Baba Guru Nanak show us the path to peace as Sri Guru Garanth Sahib says: “Gur parsaad laagay naam su-aad. kaahay janam gavaavahu vair vaad. (With the grace of Guru, the Lord’s name tastes sweet, why waste life in hatred and conflict)”.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2019