Religion, Public Intimacy, and Saintly Affects in Pakistan
An illustration of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine in Sehwan as it was in mid-1800s. Photo: Sindh Culture Department
Lauren Berlant writes that unexpected consequences of communicating with meager signs and gestures are the “secret epitaphs” of intimacy. “Often brief and eloquent,” intimate situations also convey an aspiration for a narrative about something communal. Osmar Kasmani harps on Berlant’s definition to argue that the shrines of Islamic saints, adored mostly by the masses, are “institutions of intimacy” which can also be considered a setting of familiarity and comfort with world-making ramifications. How does a highly public site, albeit conflictingly popular and peripheral, correspond to be a world that has the capacity to reflect on its own ecology? The life-altering paths of fakirs in the pilgrimage town of Sehwan illuminates an aspect of this complex relationship. The ascetic protagonists of this ethnography consent to trust their desire for “a life” to unofficial and often convoluted promises of religion. Kasmani traces the fakir’s ornate bonds with Lal, a thirteenth-century saint through an account of their dream meetings, attachment to tombs and reclusive lifestyles. Among the intriguing answers Kasmani offers about why fakirs abandon home, question inherited lines, and forego traditional economies of family and work is one of aspiration of an unexpected, beautiful and lasting sense of historical belongingness; in this case, the saintly affections of Lal. This covenant, a benefit of “coming close” with the “more than human,” “mobilize futures in excess of ascribed lines of the social”. The fakirs of Sehwan become in Berlant’s words an exemplar of “a minoritized public that resists or are denied universalist collective intimacy expectations.” In other words, their mobilization is a push and pull, both an “enfolding and unfurling” that complicates the possibility of “a general mass critical public sphere deemed to be culturally and politically intimate with itself.” My question perhaps is one that begs an examination of the details, how does desire play into an intimacy that “suture scales” of time and space, the personal and political in an Islamic society. How do we reckon with the amnesia and ruthlessness that are usual devices of this desire?
Berlant, Lauren. “Intimacy: A Special Issue.” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 2 (1998): 281–88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344169Links to an external site..