Ye Ishq, Ishq Hai Ishq
Ishq: A Love Song in Lahore
Ann G. 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
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
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, 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.
This piece was
originally published in The International (@TheinternationalSyracuse), an
online Syracuse University student publication which features topics of
interest to the international student community in Syracuse