Do you know where this famous district in Lahore gets its name from? Let me tell you a story: once upon a time, there was a Mughal prince – Salim – who fell in love with a girl, Sharif-un-Nissa. Prince Saleem’s father, King Akbar, had accredited Sharif-un-Nissa with the alias ‘Anarkali’ – literally pomegranate blossom – as she was his favorite dancing girl. Salim too took a strong liking to Anarkali, and was ordered to cut off all contact with her by his father . He refused to abandon his beloved, and she also stood by him unflinchingly. Given the incestuous possibilities in the rivalry between the prince and himself, King Akbar ordered that Anarkali be buried alive in chains with a wall built around her (obnoxious patriarchy, of course). Later, after his father’s death, Salim ordered the construction of a tomb for his paramour around the wall. The classic Bollywood film “Mughal-e-Azam” narrates a different, more dramatic version of the same story.[divider]C+G’s Take[/divider]
When visiting Anarkali’s tomb, the riotous bazaar takes away from the solemnity of a burial site. Pungent smells and rickshaws crawl within its crowds, making the approach to Anarkali impossible for the fainthearted.[divider]Experience[/divider]
Like many others from my generation, the song “Ishq Mohabbat Apna Pan” was my introduction to the story of Anarkali. A friend and I decided to visit her burial sight, said to be located within the Punjab Civil Secretariat in Lahore. While entering the building, we were told by a security guard that taking pictures was strictly not allowed. He was bewildered by why we wanted to visit Anarkali’s tomb in the cold winter months of Lahore. We just grinned, took our visitors’ passes and headed into the white octagonal building. On our way to the grave, my friend whispered “Why don’t they want us to take pictures? It’s not like Anarkali will wake up and convince us to elope with her.”
We found Anarkali entombed under white creamy slabs. Momentarily, the offices set up in every nook and corner of the burial place looked alien – as if they belonged to a different time. Despite the signs, I took a few pictures of the tomb stealthily and my friend kept watch while I engaged in this rowdy venture. We walked out throwing victorious glances at the doorman. As we strolled away, I asked my friend why the love stories of the past were so intense, from Anarkali of Lahore to Helen of Troy. He replied, “Oh! But these are only myths. Everyone wants to believe in love. Failed love affairs are especially passionate. After all, you’ve read Urdu poetry.” All I could do was agree.[divider]The Final Equation[/divider]
Old-fashioned guns, pistols, swords and axes were strapped to the walls. Portraits of British viceroys, Indian leaders and Mughal emperors were on display. Some battle scenes from the ‘War of Independence’ and archives about the history of the subcontinent were also stored there. Though the doormen and officers at Anarkali’s tomb can be irritating in their dull authority, the visit encourages one to grapple with history: real and imagined.