Harking back: The last stab to the heritage of a betrayed princess

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Nov 08, 2015

‘Eyes that pierce and then withdraw,

Like a blood-stained sword, eyes with dagger lashes!

Zealots, you are mistaken – this is heaven.

Never mind those making promises of the afterlife.’

These lines say it all, and say it when the very last vestiges of her evergreen, yet denied love look on from some remote place as her garden of love, finally, yes finally, will cease to exist. One cannot but be angry to see an ‘Orange Dragon’ of an alien land dig up the last gateway of her lost garden.

The gateway where she stood and sighed behind locked doors will be, very slowly, rattled to dust, at least the world’s top experts say it might take 15 years. They call it progress, mindless progress, in an age when even the powerful, let alone the helpless with empty stomachs, bow to blind authority. I speak of her loved Chauburji.

In her exquisite garden the land grabbers have built dwellings. A small graveyard at another edge also has houses built on them. So all her 30,000 trees are no more. Her cruel father built her grave in her lifetime at one edge of the garden. The man she loved betrayed her just as the powerful today betray their city, and just because a mindless ruler, who like her father, has pretentions of glory that is just not there. Like Aurangzeb even he might leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Princess Zebunnisa, a princess with a beautiful heart, a poetess extraordinary, with the pen name ‘Makhfi’ - the ‘Hidden One’ - those blinding beauty with two beautiful moles can be seen in her lines. For 20 long years she was imprisoned by her father, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, in his fort in Salimgarh Fort near Old Delhi. Her crime that she kept warning her father of the evil of the ‘righteous’ who surrounded her father, pumping him with stories of his ‘imagined greatness’. She was to say:

Greatness is imagined, a drug impossible to shred off,

Higher you go the more potent the drug,

Greatness is only within, one has to struggle

To find the true bliss of not being great.

It is ironic that a woman who in her lifetime had sadness inflicted on her by her despotic father, should centuries after she died have all traces of happiness removed, erased, by an uncaring people who now live in her garden of love. Now the last surviving gateway of her once exquisite garden, where outside the River Ravi flowed, is to have Mr. Shahbaz Sharif’s new favourite Orange Line built with Chinese assistance.

This piece needs to dwell on just three things. Firstly, the true story of Princess Zebunnisa, daughter of the last great Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. She was born on the 16th of February, 1638, to Prince Aurangzeb and Princess Dilras Bano, daughter of the ruling Safavid family of Iran. She was an amazing woman in that her grandfather, Emperor Shah Jehan, made sure she got the very best education possible. At the age of seven she was a ‘hafiz’ of the Quran, and because she understood classical Arabic from her very young age, she constantly clashed with religious persons for wrongly interpreting the holy book.

She went on to learn the sciences, mathematics, astronomy and literature drawn from all over the world. She excelled in Persian, Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic, and was quick to pick up any language she came across. Her library, so the legend goes, had almost 20,000 books. Her father admired her and built for her an exquisite garden on the banks of the Ravi. But soon Aurangzeb got suspicious of her advice, for she would ask her father to release any person that he wanted to execute. There are many legends about her failed love, failed because her father said he would execute anyone who looked at her.

A point came when her views about religion, about the way he governed, and about her poetry, became increasingly anaemic to Aurangzeb, and he sent her to prison in Delhi. Himself he fell ill after this act, a curse of sorts, and he was advised to rest in a peaceful environment. Aurangzeb came to Lahore and rested in the garden of Zebunnisa. In the process he did two things. He built her grave in her garden while she was alive and imprisoned, and he built the Badshahi Mosque.

That grave still exists on the main Multan Road at Nawankot, which was one edge of her original garden. The entire surrounding area of Nawankot and Samanabad are located within her garden, for with time land grabbers took over. Only the tomb of this garden and the gateway to it are left. The tomb is crumbling, and there are stories that Princess Zebunnisa was not buried here, but outside the gate of the fort she was imprisoned in. She died on the 26th of May, 1702, and one account says Aurangzeb thanked the Almighty that a burden he carried has ceased to exist. One of her lines says it amply:

“Oh Makhfi, it is the path of love, and alone you must go;

Squander life and suffer. The Almighty is always within.

Now to the second point. The Orange Line that is planned cuts to one side of the remaining Chauburji. One of the four minarets was lost in an earthquake and the Department of Archaeology rebuilt it in 1969. The structure once again became structurally stable. The coming of this ‘orange dragon’ leads to three questions. Is it legally allowed to build within 200 feet of a protected monument, as the law stipulates? A more than loyal official says that the written law says “if otherwise desired and allowed”. Now who desires this? Who allows this violation of an internationally accepted law? The answer is very obvious. It is the ruler of the land, who else.

Lastly, what will be the effect of the vibrations that will surely radiate towards the monument! To find an answer I went to meet experts on structures and transport economics, both working in the University of Cambridge. The structural expert says: “Sub-continental structures have loose gravel mortar, and burnt bricks tend to have a life of not more than 150 years, depending on the quality. At 300 years they inherently crumble. These facts limit structures in northern India (including Pakistan). For this reason very few building, unless built of rock, survive beyond 500 to 600 years.”

On the issue of constant vibrations, he said: “Naturally constant vibrations will shift the atomic binding within loose earth bound by heat in the form of bricks. On a 300-year old structure my estimated guess is that within ten to 15 years it will start to crumble. Train vibrations flow to further than 500 feet, dissipating as it flows. I make clear I have not studied this Chauburji structure, but on the face of it I give it 15 years”.

Dismayed I went to meet a well-known British transport economist. His view after listening to me was: “Once a city crosses a population of half a million, overland traffic progressively slows, especially with horizontal growth. At ten million and just horizontal growth, how can traffic move efficiently? You need underground trains, supplemented with efficient overland bus services. Overland trains tend to further restrict overland traffic flows”.

As the people of Lahore, correctly, move to prevent damage to the last remaining gateway of the lost garden of Princess Zebunnisa, there is a need for the ‘great’ ruler of Lahore to reconsider. Surely a more sensible long-term underground transport system is called for. The plans for the underground project lie with the government. It will costs a little more over this amazingly expensive, and damaging, and disrupting, and immoral, project. In the words of the Princess Zebunnisa:

Why should I strive for fame, or wrestle for glory,

I who will ultimately have no name or mark left?

(From Diwan-e-Makhfi: Poem: Tears of Zebunnisa)


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