Walked by it quite a few times curiously
Smiles descend on the lips mysteriously.

Was it due to the name?
Or, it has some other fame?

A traveller in the city of Firdausi,
Roamed here, like once did Roudaki.

Seer Khayyam must have been here
Bukhara lies across from his Nishapur.

Women with piercing eyes and joined brows,
Saunter Sogdians, Tajiks and Persians in rows.

Bright and brown, green and blue
Eyes of all colours and every hue.

The land of eternal sun: once Zoroaster’s astana,
Smiling monks walked here seeking nirvana.

A unique land of mystics and balmy skies
Bukhara was often pried on by imperial spies.

Knowledge, words, trade and beauty
For marauders never short on booty.

Alexander was stunned by Marakand
Chengiz caused hell here and in Samarkand.

Mongols and the rest never relented
Ibn-e-Sina’s city, like others was obliterated.

Tamerlane and Babur took it to Hindustan
Arz-e-Rum turned into rubble, as did Iran.

Bukhari, Ulugh Baig and Bahauddin Naqshband
Rekindled hearts and souls in Khiva and Kokand.

With every new turn, came in new conquistadors
Russians and the English sought imperial corridors.

Conquests and control went hand in hand
Brown expanded, water disappeared in sand.

Then came a new homegrown sultan
Another Tamerlane, a diehard charlatan.

I sit and note sharp Uzbek bows
Warrior hearts still vanquish in rows.


—Bukhara, 11 August 2015—



A Note on the Poem

Mentioned as Vikara in Sanskrit, Bukhara experienced Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, before Islam reached here in the early eighth century. During the time of Alexander’s invasion, Samarkand was called Marqand/Maraqanda, though the ruins of that old city are in Afrasyiab. The Sogdians, Turkmen and other Turkic women have traditionally preferred joint brows that one sees even today in Uzbekistan. Roudaki, Firdausi, Avicenna, Khayyam, Bahauddin Naqshband and several others have been the past luminaries of this land in the worlds of literature, arts, medicine and mysticism.

Bukhara was once the intellectual and spiritual centre of Islam until Chenghiz Khan destroyed it in 1220. Tamerlane, in the 14th century, tried to revive these regions and thus remains the father figure for Uzbek nationalism, followed by Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. Babur, a great poet and gardener, was born in Ferghana—not far from Kokand—and lies buried in Kabul. Ulugh Baig, the grandson of Tamerlane, was a scholar-king who built schools, libraries and observatories. The name of the café mentioned here was Samsa—associated with the sun and possibly with the great Sufi mentor, Shah Shams Tabrizi.

Astana means spiritual home; nirvana is the cherished Buddhist peace, while Arz-i-Rum means the Asia Minor.


Iftikhar Malik

Iftikhar Malik

Iftikhar Malik, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, is Professor of International History at Bath Spa University, Bath. He has been a Quaid-i-Azam Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford (1989-94), and a member of the Wolfson College, Oxford (since 2004). He has published 16 books, several chapters, 75 scholarly papers and more than 230 review articles. Some of his recent volumes include: Pashtun Identity and Geopolitics in Southwest Asia: Pakistan and Afghanistan since 9/11 (London: Anthem, 2016); Pakistan: Democracy, Terror and the Building of a Nation(London: New Holland Publishers, 2010); Crescent Between Cross and Star: Muslims and the West after 9/11, (Oxford University Press, 2006); Jihad, Hindutva and the Taliban: South Asia at the Crossroads, (Oxford University Press, 2005); Islam and Modernity: Muslims in Western Europe and the United States, (London, Pluto, 2004); and, Islam, Globalisation and Modernity: The Tragedy of Bosnia, (Lahore: Vanguard, 2004). Malik has been a visiting faculty at the universities in Barcelona, Berkeley, New York, Brussels, Athens, Helsinki and Koblenz.