Pilgrimage to the Past

Fragrance of the Future

A communal opening of the past is more comforting than the isolated forced openings of Zsabo’s Emmerence and Chugtai’s Nani, emotional turmoil balanced by rational thought.  The mustiness of the past will be aired to be replaced by the  fragrance of the future.  

We return to our past as young women who embroidered pillows and bedsheets in the summers and knit sweaters in the winter.  Yes.  I know. That sounds very previous century, but it was the previous century.  It was the late 1970s in a village in Punjab.  

Unravelling the Past

As we unravel the intricately patterned sweaters of  camel hair wool—knit one, slip one, pass slip stitch over is pulled apart—naphthalene fumes emanate from the tangled yarn. The wavy yarn needs straightening. It has to be washed and aired and pulled to be renewed.  We might even dye it using natural dyes, of course.  Not fugitive dye like beet or eggplant; they disappear after the first wash.  We will go for the permanent ones.   We might choose the black walnut dye, for a permanent greyish tint. Selma and I will use this yarn to create anew.  We will knit the revitalized yarn into a piece relevant to our present, anticipating the future.

Attar’s Perfumed Path

The internet has made this pilgrimage convenient.  Our daily calls keep us focused, and we encourage each other to return on paths that are unfamiliar.  Or to take the analogy of knitting further, to not break the yarn when we encounter a knot.  Rather to pull away at the fuzz distracting us from the truth.

In English, the word pilgrimage embraces the historical, the political, and the secular. You can, therefore, have a pilgrimage to the past. 

In Urdu, the words for pilgrimage still live in religion.  Hajj (حج) and Umrah(عمرہ) are visitations of the Kaabah, both requirements for wealthy Muslims one during the lunar month of ZilHajj, the other at any time of the year.  And then there are ziaaratain(زیارتین), visitations, of  Islamic shrines.  From the Arabic word, zar, travel, Persian and Urdu have adopted this word.   

The pilgrimage of the Kaaba
Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

Selma and I are zayireen, visitors to our past, chasing the shrines together, shrines of our memories.

As  we inhale the miasma of the past, we seek the perfumes indelible to the history in which we grew up.  We choose as our leader in this endeavor Attar of Nishapur, the perfume maker of the twelfth century Persia,  and join his Conference of Birds.

Farid ud Din Attar of Nishapur
Farid ud Din Attar


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