MARCH 10, 2009
A POET’S SHRINE DESTROYED
I had never heard of Rahman Baba before militants blew up his shrine in Pakistan a few days ago. I now know that he is a beloved Pashto mystic and poet. He lived in the seventeenth century and, legend has it, wept so profusely that there were wounds on his cheeks. Though he did not compile his work, it survived the ups and downs of history and continues to be recited today.
Taliban members are suspected to be behind the attack, having previously objected to women visiting the site. Would Rahman Baba have cared about the destruction of his tomb? As a Sufi who wrote verse after verse about craving the annihilation of the self that occurs when the human encounters the Divine, he probably would not have had strong feelings about a pile of stone erected in his memory. On the other hand, it is the fundamentalists who, in their search for religious purity, become obsessed with the materiality of bodies and shrines. And by banning, by destroying, by killing, they make the material immortal.
Hours before the attack, a blogger on a Web site dedicated to Rahman Baba’s poetry asked, “Are there a few people in Pindi right now who would be interested in meeting together over chai and reading Rahman Baba in a group?”
This is how poetry survives—over chai, on YouTube, in spirit.