'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Book review: 'Walking with Nanak' by Haroon Khalid
Walking with Nanak By Haroon Khalid
Reviewed by Vishnu Makhijani
Its format is rather
unique: part fiction, part history and part travelogue. Pakistani author Haroon
Khalid says his third book, “Walking With Nanak”, is a “conscious attempt to
humanise the saint” and could be the first work of its kind in the country.
“I had already done
two books which were pure travelogues. I wanted to experiment within the genre
so I came up with the idea of fictionalising half of the book — Nanak’s journey
… with his Muslim companion, Bhai Mardana. “Another reason why I
wanted to fictionalise this part is because I wanted to understand and then
present the character of Nanak beyond his hagiography. I think that is how he
too would have liked to be remembered. Therefore, I made a conscious attempt to
humanise the saint which only fiction could allow,” Khalid, who has an academic
background in anthropology from the Lahore University of Management and
Sciences told IANS in an email interview from Islamabad.
At the same time,
Khalid admitted to being “much more nervous” about “Walking with Nanak” compared to the first two, given the new format. “It will be
interesting to see what people think about it. Secondly, I am dealing with a
sensitive topic, which is the institutionalisation of religion. I know that
many devotees of Nanak would have a different interpretation of his message and
would criticise me on my subjective interpretation of him,” Khalid said of the
book that will be formally launched next month.
On that score, he need
have no apprehensions as the book is not merely a story of gurdwaras but is
also the retelling of the story of Guru Nanak the son, the poet, the wanderer,
the father, the friend and more. Sifting through the stories of his miracles
and poetry, the book brings out the picture of Guru Nanak the man. Khalid said one reason
why he chose to study Guru Nanak’s life and his travels was because of a “long
fascination” with his character.
“I have always known
that Nanak, like me, was a Punjabi, but his character became increasingly
difficult to access in a Muslimised Punjab after the creation of Pakistan.
There are hardly any references to him in popular culture. There was,
therefore, a curiosity in me to learn about someone who is such an integral
part of my culture yet blatantly missing from cultural representation,” the
To write effectively
about Guru Nanak, Khalid read his biographies, which were helpful in allowing
him to understand the chronology of his journeys, but they still did not give
him a good insight into Guru Nanak the man. “All his biographies
were a collection of stories of his miracles. In order to delve deeper into his
psyche, I, therefore, engaged with his poetry which, of course, presented a
more accurate picture of how he thought. Then, there were the dialectical
discussions with my mentor who accompanied me on all these journeys and
features heavily in the book.
“Iqbal Qaiser is an
expert on Sikh history and wrote a seminal book on Sikh heritage in the
country. Through our discussions, we dissected the several stories of Nanak and
tried imagining what would have really happened. These discussions are
mentioned as they are in the book. Finally, there was the engagement with the
physical spaces at places that Nanak had visited. This was more like a
spiritual engagement rather than academic research. It would be unfair to
categorise this as research, but rather I would regard this is a deeper
spiritual understanding of his life,” Khalid said.
“This, then, is
understood in the context of Nanak’s own philosophy and life,” Khalid said. He also lamented the
lack of any literature on the Sikh community in Pakistan. “The large body of work
in Sikhism in Pakistan is a recent phenomenon. It is for the most part limited
to the heritage of Sikhism in the form of historical gurdwaras. Most of these
books are pictorial or descriptive accounts of different Sikh gurdwaras in the
country, just re-narrating their histories. There isn’t much engagement in this
“There is still hardly
any literature on the Sikh community in the country. In fact, my first book, ‘A
White Trail’, which includes a comprehensive section on the Sikh community in
the country, is the first such attempt to talk about the history of the Sikhs
after the creation of Pakistan. Another important feature that is missing from
this large body of work is how these places are interpreted and understood in a
Muslim Pakistan, which has increasingly been identified in an Islamic
framework. In that regard, I believe, ‘Walking with Nanak’ is the first book of
its kind,” Khalid said.
From the photographs
in the book, it is quite apparent that many gurdwaras are well maintained. “Most of these
gurdwaras have recently been renovated. It is only in the past few years that
the Pakistani state has woken up to the potential of Sikh religious tourism in
the country, and the need to renovate and promote these historical gurdwaras to
attract more tourists. It is part of the state’s agenda to project itself as
liberal and tolerant after years of being viewed as the hub of terrorism.
“While the government
has been generous with its own funds in some of these cases, it also now
invites foreign Sikh charity organisations to help renovate these shrines. A
lot of these shrines have been renovated in this process. The local Sikh
community is still not economically strong enough to take care of these
gurdwaras on their own,” Khalid said.