I am in Siem Reap. Yesterday, I saw the great Angkor Wat and a few other smaller, but equally impressive Shaiv, Vaishnav and Buddhist temples. Angkor Wat is almost as old as the Brihadeshwar temple in Thanjavur, only more brihad and even more impressive.
Being at Angkor Wat reminded me of another ‘kafir-e-Hindi’ at another religious shrine in another continent in a different time. Pillars of Angkor Wat—teri bina paedar tere sutun beshumar—made me think of Iqbal in Masjid-e-Qurtuba, Spain.
Earlier this year, I missed my chance to travel to Cordoba. I had my tickets, but I could not get a visa on time. Iqbal offered namaz in Masjid-e-Qurtuba in 1933 even though the mosque had been converted into a cathedral 700 years ago. Angkor Wat, a Vaishnav temple, also became a Buddhist shrine when Khmers converted to Buddhism. Isn’t it interesting that Khmers of Cambodia became Hindus when Buddhism was ascendant in India and they turned into Buddhists around the time when Buddhism was disappearing from its birthplace?
You cannot offer namaz in the cathedral of Cordoba anymore. Fortunately, there are no such restrictions in Angkor Wat. I could have recited Vishnu Sahashtranam in the sanctum sanctorum. I did not. Iqbal was a great poet, a philosopher and a deeply religious man.
Naghma-e-allah-hu mere rag-o-pai mein hai\…
…dil mein salat o durud, lab pe salat o durud
So, he offered prayer in Cordoba and wrote an inspired poem, one of the finest in Urdu literature. I am an atheist Hindu of the 21st century. So, I only posed for selfies. I had little of Iqbal’s zauq o shauq, but Angkor Wat did make me think of the vast spread of Indian culture in the first millennium of the Christ across Asia—from Java and Sumatra in the east to the borders of Persia in the west. I felt immense pride that traders and priests, artisans and migrants—and not swordsmen—carried this influence to east Asia. That Angkor Wat was built by Khmers, not Indians, gives me more pride. The history of India’s soft power is way more impressive than a vast Indian empire would be.
In 1933, Iqbal was worried whether Muslims in the subcontinent would meet the same fate as they did in Spain. I have no such worries. In 2018, I see no threat to Hindus or Hinduism in India, except from themselves. Iqbal yearned for a Muslim renaissance. I am a much smaller man. So, my desires are also simpler. I just want books and documentaries, TV serials and films based on the religious, cultural and trade relations between India and its eastern neighbors. I feel bad that I know so little about this chapter of our history. Was there even a paragraph on it in our textbooks? Java, Champa, Kamboj, Shrivijaya are names I have read only in novels and epics, not in the books of history. Forget history, would someone please make a period drama on this glorious era—something like Amrit Lal Nagar’s Suhag Ke Nupur or a historically inspired work of fiction like the ones Amitava Ghosh writes?
 Your foundations are lasting, your columns countless
 The song of Allah-hu is in my veins…and the prayer and Prophet’s (PBUH) praise is in my heart and on my lips.
 The desire and the passion