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The sound of home

It was one of my first days of college in America. I was trudging my way through the snow to class on a bleak winter’s afternoon, when I heard a sound that startled me. I froze at the spot, and listened. Within a few seconds, I realised I had been mistaken: what was actually the sound of a snow blower at work, I had thought to be the sound of the Azan, the Muslim call to prayer. The afternoon was bleak again.

People often ask me what is the thing that I miss most about Pakistan when in America: it has to be roti, old Lahore, or the Azan. Back home, five times every day, the soundscape of the city suddenly comes alive as mosques in every gritty gali and bustling bazaar of Lahore turn on their loud speakers to call the Muslims to prayer. The orchestra of maulvis is not exactly harmonious: the azans don’t start at the same time; don’t have the same length, and sometimes not even the same words! The result is an audial spectacle, which can be both cacophonous and sublime.

  Notes from abroad

How deeply rooted the sound of the Azan is with my culture can be gauged from the following story. I was talking to my Indian friend Deepak about all this. Deepak comes from Lucknow, India, and both of us believe Indians and Pakistanis are culturally the same, though religion and politics have made eternal enemies out of us. I was astounded to hear Deepak’s attachment with the Azan though he is Hindu. He told me how in India, everyone used to keep track of time the whole day with the five periodic calls to prayer. The daily rhythms of Indian life and the cadences of the Azan become intertwined in a timeless harmony, and the subconscious affirms it: for both me and Deepak in our childhood, the Maghrib Azan, or the sunset call, meant the automatic throwing away of our cricket bats and balls and running back to our waiting mothers at home, as the booming minarets would herald twilight in both Lahore and Lucknow…

Shariq Khan is a writer based in London, England.

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