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Ye Ishq, Ishq Hai Ishq Ishq: A Love Song in Lahore

Posted on: Feb. 20, 2018

Syracuse University Student Malavika Randave asked Watson Professor Ann G. Gold to write a reflection for a student-initiated publication called The International.
The international tells stores that are of interest to international students. Please take a moment to read Dr. Gold's piece, "Ye Ishq, Ishq Hai Ishq Ishq: A Love Song in Lahore."

Ye Ishq, Ishq Hai Ishq Ishq: A Love Song in Lahore
by Ann Gold

It is May 1968; I am 21 years old, a college drop out. My then husband and I have made our way from Germany to Lahore by train, bus, and rides with other travelers. En route from Turkey to Tehran, we were fortunate to meet two Pakistani brothers, on their way home from the London School of Economics. Their names were Akbar and Abbas. They were somewhat older than we were. We learned that their family had been refugees from Kashmir at the time of partition, and were now re-rooted and flourishing in Punjab. The two brothers were equally fluent in English, Urdu, Kashmiri and Punjabi. My husband and I lacked any knowledge of South Asian languages, and knew little indeed about regional history, colonialism, or partition.

When we re-surfaced in our traveling companions' city a few weeks after parting in Tehran, they took us under their wings with that famous Asian hospitality, and we spent many delightful evenings in their company. At their homes we met the young women in the family, who scolded me for my drab attire, and on several occasions dressed me in silk and gold.

Akbar and Abbas introduced us to a third and younger friend, Aki, and the five of us spent a lot of time cruising the city in the same car that had taken us across much of Turkey and Iran. Most of that time is a blur to me now. It was a heady mix of passion, poetry, congeniality, delicious food, and blazing May heat unlike anything I'd ever known. The relief of evenings was unparalleled in pleasure. Memory's selective processes illuminate just a few moments from several weeks in Lahore.

One particular night Abbas, the most exuberant of the three men, proclaimed with his overflowing energy and booming joviality: "Now, we will go make an attack on some firni . . . . " After we savored this lovely, cooling, milky delicacy – purchased from one of many small vendors who occupied an entire street -- he demonstrated with panache how to smash the clay bowl to the ground.

My especially cherished and most vivid memory is of a song playing on the car radio: ye ishq ishq hai ishq ishq ('this love, is love'). Abbas explained to us after turning up the volume in the car that this was a song about love reigning supreme, love being more important than all names or beliefs. He told us that the song had verses in multiple tongues, that it denied the differences dividing Hindus and Muslims, and told of an all-powerful "religion of love." I later learned this was a qawwali, a musical genre of devotional performance that had moved into popular films. The song's refrain and melody seeped into my brain, and with it the emotional pitch we had shared in the car.

Many decades afterwards, in another lifetime, I downloaded the lyrics, and learned their author was a well known Urdu poet, Sahir Ludhianvi. His verses do indeed speak of a "religion of love" (mazahab-e-ishq). They assert that "neither [Muslim] sheikh nor [Hindu] Brahmin knows anything of love, which in itself is the single dharma and faith." The opening verse is framed in the imagery of quests, caravans and wayfaring travelers, making it all the more appropriate as the theme song for our encounter with Akbar and Abbas, a half-century ago. Now in 2018 and I have an ongoing friendship with their extended family, many of whom live in Texas.

Lahore was my first experience of South Asia. I had not been to India yet, and had no inkling that India would become for me a second home, and the source of inspiration for my research, writing and teaching life.

Ann Grodzins Gold is a professor of Religion and Anthropology at Syracuse University. Her research is concentrated on religion and culture in North India. Her research and travels have taken across the world. This is an account of one of her travels.

Originally Published in The International on their Facebook Page.

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Ann Grodzins Gold