How can an interest in Sufism lead someone to write a book?
Well, just ask Dr Michel Boivin.
Seated in a crowd of around 70 people, dressed casually in a pair of blue jeans and open ended shoes, Sufi enthusiast Michel Boivin sat next to a student, raring to talk about his book on Sehwan titled ‘Artefacts of Devotion’.
The French author, who is currently heading an international and interdisciplinary study group on Sindh, sat humbly at Alliance Francaise, Karachi, on Friday to discuss the Red Saint, his shrine and his new book.
All heads turned towards Boivin, who was standing in a corner of the room, the audience was waiting quite eagerly for Boivin to step up and talk about ‘Artefacts of Devotion’ and Sehwan. He walked up to the podium with a slight grin on his face. It caused quite a stir in the audience as people fidgeted and craned their necks trying to catch a glimpse of the good-looking Frenchman. Once the crowd settled down, Boivin had everyone’s undivided attention. He started off with a presentation which included some photos and extracts from the book. The author also talked about how some Frenchmen and women had visited Pakistan in 1958 and were fascinated by the remains of the 1947 partition. According to Boivin, a lot of work has been done on Gandhara art and civilisation. “I visited Sehwan once and it just caught my attention,” he said with an intense look on his face. “It is fascinating because it deals with Sufism, shrines, devotees and rituals.”
The main topic of the book, he explained, was the shrine of the unconventional qalandar, the Red Saint. He mentioned that his interest was mainly in Sehwan because of his fascination with Sufism. To show the audience how much Sehwan had developed, he showed them photos from the early 19th century. The author made the audiences imaginations run wild with details from the four main chapters which talk about the history and significance of each aspect of the shrines in Sindh. The last chapter focuses on everyday objects of devotion.
While responding to a question, he said that he had always been fascinated by the tangled and complexity of the culture practised in this small town of Sindh.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2011.
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