Ajmer Sharif

In the 12th century, two sultans marched on India.

One, sword in hand and fire in his eyes was Sultan Mohammed Ghori, who laid the foundation for the Muslim domination of India for the next few centuries and who was known as the ‘flashing fire of religion’ for his brutal interpretation and enforcement of Islam.

The other was Moinuddin Chisti, a young Sufi from Afghanistan, who legend has it was instructed by Prophet Mohammed to leave for India at around the same time, and who then went on to spend the rest of his life in a sleepy little town called Ajmer in western India.

Today, Mohammed Ghori lies forgotten in an unknown deserted grave somewhere in Pakistan.

The real Emperor: Sultan-e-Hind as Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti came to be known, rests under a marbled dome around which hundreds of people from all faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and many many more – flock to pay their respects, and seek refuge from the sadness and despair of a world that can sometimes be rather overwhelming.

And so it happened that on my first visit to the Jaipur literature festival in 2010, I had toyed with the idea of visiting Ajmer.

Then things got really busy and I pushed it to the back of my mind.

I got the call when we were eating dinner at the fabulous Rambagh Palace. Rohaan had to be hospitalised for symptoms that had the doctor worried; the kids were at home and I was miles away.

I got into a cab at five-o-clock the next morning and headed to Ajmer. It takes about two and a half hours one way, and I hardly spent more than an hour in the shrine: worrying, praying, hoping.

How nice if Rohaan could be out of hospital by the time I’m back in Jaipur, I thought to myself, as I got back into the car.

(Rohaan had insisted that I stay on in Jaipur till the doctors actually diagnosed the problem, so there was nothing to do but wait.)

By the time the cab drove into the hotel two hours later and dropped me off, Rohaan was discharged and on his way home.

There is a great power in faith.

It may not solve every problem, it may not make everything better instantly (as happened this time), but it makes it a little easier to live and love and laugh and go on when it seems like you’ve reached the end of the road.

And I can live with that.

woman and rosary

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