Articles Comments

Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » My Memoir: My Uncle – Part VI Search for Spiritual Solace by Z. G. Muhammad

My Memoir: My Uncle – Part VI Search for Spiritual Solace by Z. G. Muhammad

My Memoir: My Uncle VI

My Memoir: My Uncle VI

It may also be true for other parts of the city and villages. As mausoleums and Khanqahs dotted downtown Srinagar, some trees also had a halo mystique around them that added surrealness to the atmosphere. Myths also had been woven around some of them. Some huckleberry trees on the vast expanse of Malakhah had their own mystical stories, and so had mulberry and Chinar trees in the compounds of some Astana. There was an advisory from the grandmother for children with a warning, ‘don’t throw stones at huckleberry trees when parakeets and other birds are feasting on the nuts and don’t make water near a mulberry tree.’ We did believe the hackberry trees on the graveyard spreading over almost four square miles from Hawal to Khanyar and other small cemeteries within the gravesites of some saints were abodes of jinnis. Some of us also believed there was something spiritual about these trees because we did spot  Majzoob sitting under the shade of a huckleberry tree on the graveyards. Some made these trees abode for the night under the open sky. For passing their nights, the Majzoobs had idiosyncratic ways; some slept with their sacks of charcoal, rags and boots on the shopfronts. Some spent their nights inside the coffins kept outside the Khanqahs and Masjids. The hay inside the coffin was their bedding. 

The Majzoobs were not like the venerated divines at the royal courts, followed by a train of devotees we had heard about or read in folktales. No acolyte carried a silken parasol over their heads to protect them from the scorching June sun. No assistant continuously scented the street with his rosewater sprinkler as he walked through a town or village, and no tiger skins were spread for their repose. The images of some Majzoobs, who would be seen in our county or visiting our home, are as fresh with me as moonlight reflections on Dal Lake’s tranquil waters. In chilly winters on the frozen-to-glass street outside our house, tall Kamal Saib wearing no woollen clothes would strut barefoot hastily with a graceful gait and dignity. He would often have a few puffs of smoke from the hubble-bubble on the shopfront of Muhammad Kak, tobacco seller and grocer at Khoja Bazar crossing. The grocer owned vegetable gardens in Kak Mohalla, famed all over the city for tasty collard greens and cultivated a variety of tobacco leaves on vast tracts- and prepared a variety of tobacco concoctions out of them in his shop.

Having some lovely puffs of smoke, sometimes mixing it with bits of hashish- filling the shop with its aroma  Kamal Saib would usually collect scissors, straight razors (barber razors), hair clippers and combs from a humble barber shop in our Mohalla and wash the equipment on a public tap in sub-zero temperatures and return it to him. It was generally believed the poor barber’s fortune had a spin, and his petty shop turned into a big salon after Kamal shop had paid attention to him. Such stories were a galore from our locality and its adjacent localities up to Dal Gate. In Dal Gate, he would often sit on the shopfront of a Drycleaner. Hailing from Barsoo, a village in Pampore, the Saffron bowl of Kashmir, he had no permanent abode in the city; like birds that make no nests in shower and snow, he perched from branch to branch. There were many other stories about his healing touch in the public domain.

Besides smoking strong hashish, he would drink a lot of highly concentrated black Kashmiri tea. Sometimes my elder brother Mohammad Yousf would take a flask of ‘Tuth” black tea to him- in a good mood, he loved to drink many cups. But. I had never seen him entering our house while a few other Majzoobs roaming in the locality visited our home. Of these, Naba Mout was conspicuous for wearing many women Pherans- as many as four to five together would often visit our home. A  pack of canines always followed him like soldiers after a commander. As he entered our house, the dogs silently squatted outside the main entrance to our home. Names of some other Majzoobs that are fresh in my memory were Shaban Mout, Abula Saib and Haba Mout. Another Majzoob often talked about in our home was Lassa Bab; he had passed away before I was born. Nonetheless, he was only buried in the compound of his house in our Mohalla. I had often seen my father stopping at the door of the Qureshi house and offering Fathiah on his grave. My mother had vivid impressions of him- and the firepot filled with embers that he carried on his bare shoulder was deeply etched on her memory.

My uncle revered them- all the Majzoobs that visited our locality. Nonetheless, unlike many devotees of these Majzoobs, I never saw him following them, filling their chilams with tobacco, or keeping embers on them. However,  like his elder brother- my father, he never refused to give them anything they wanted. And the  Majzoob never retained anything for themselves; they gave away everything they got to anyone, whether a shop owner or a passer-by.   My uncle would often tell us they are a unique blend of “Naar and Noor” (wrath and benevolence);  one is not sure which intrinsic trait of theirs is dominant at what hour. However, he would love to interact with friars, mendicants,  Naat Khawans, and alms seekersmany from far and distant villages visited various Astanas in and around our locality. Most of the time, after paying his respects at the Naqahband Sahib, he returned home with a couple of friars – it could be a Naa’t- KHvaa.n( نَعْت خواں) or manqabat- KHvaa.n (مَنقَبَت خواں). My mother served them hot tea and loaves of bread; some would occasionally have lunch before they departed to their villages. During  Milad un, Nabi, popularly known in Kashmir as Urs Nabi Naa’t- KHvaa.ns and small-time religious preachers nicknamed Kis-Wazkhavaan from rural areas arrived in Downtown Srinagar. They recited Naats, Munajat and Manqbats or delivered sermons to small gatherings of devotes sitting under the canopies of majestic Chinars. Towards the end of his recitations, someone from the crowd would collect some coins for them. The preachers reflected on the life and times of the Prophet to hold the devotees’ attention; they laced their discourses with folksongs and tales. On many an occasion, during days of solemnity, my uncle would host one or other of these Naat Khawns for one or two nights and put us on service to look after. One Naat Khan Amin Sahib from Kreeri had almost become a permanent guest during the Milad days and  Lailat al Miraj – popularly known in our land as Miraj-e-Alam. All children in the family had been instructed to be polite to him despite his annoying “typical mullah” mindset. Our uncle often told us we needed to ignore his ignoramus prejudices- since he recites hymns in praise of the Prophet SAW, he is his guest to us.    Even many years after our uncle’s death, he was looked after for many years by my younger sibling, Ghulam Hassan- perhaps till his death.

Iqbal, a young man distinct for his bulging bluish eyes from village Aishmuqam, seventy-seven kilometres from Srinagar en route to   Pahalgam, was almost a regular visitor to our home. The village is of great significance to the people of Kashmir for the mausoleum of Sheikh Zain-ud-din, one of the top disciples of the patron saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Noor-u-Din wali. Iqbal had arrived in Srinagar at a very young age and, along with a few other cannabis addicts, had made a  Taqi at Shaham Pora Nowhatta as her permanent abode.

The Taqi was the seat of Akram Sahib, a saint from a village in Tula Mula in Ganderbal. Once or twice a week, mainly on Thursdays, he visited the Taqi. He spent the entire night listening to folk singers singing the poetry of some pre-eminent Sufi poets of Kashmir, Shamas Faqir, Wahab Khar, Waza Mehmood, Naima Saib, Samad Mir and others. I was too young to understand the depths of the poetry of these literary giants of our land. But what attracted me most in this Sufi abode filled with the aroma of tobacco and cannabis were the singing birds Thrush, Cuckoos, Doves and Tits in beautiful cages dangling on giant climbing grapevines. I don’t remember the exact date when I first visited this most exciting place – a  cultural entity different from the rest of the society with its own rules and code of conduct. But I have a clear impression of the incident that caused my visit. On his way to Mufti Sahib residence, his teacher for tuition on the western side of the Jamia Masjid, my youngest brother Muhammad Shafi, was attacked by a pack of dogs and bitten his legs. Those days a dog bite meant getting sixteen shots of an anti-rabies vaccine on the abdomen. It was commonly seen as a divine torment called penance- offering a    Niaz to ward off further harm. On the advice of a godly person or in accord with the age-old practice, rice cooked with goat skull meat and lamb trotters was taken as Niaz to the nearby Taqis, the lunatic asylum, or a leper colony. The Taqi of Akram Sahib in Shahampora was hardly a ten-minute walk from our home. While my brother was receiving the anti-rabies vaccine injections at Chemist Ama Chonkas’s shop, one day, I accompanied my uncle and our domestic help Maqbool from Soura with a massive cauldron of  Kalahear-Bata. It was after day that Iqbal Shoda had been a regular visitor to our day- and often had morning tea at our home. On many other occasions, my uncle carried Kalahear-Bata on a Tonga to Pagal Khana, the lunatic asylum more than a mile from our house on the foothills of Koh-i-Maran, in famed Waris Khan’s Bagh, the almond orchard close by the Central Jails. The irony was that society did not look at Pagal (Mad) people in the asylum as patients; they were socially ostracised and disowned by their families. My uncle was highly sympathetic towards them and saw feeding them as a great ibadah (worship). He often talked about the dedication and commitment of European doctors towards their patients. He was all praised for Swiss psychiatrist Erna Martha Hoch who looked after the patients in the Mental Hospital. Having heard many stories about the ferocity of the chained patients, I never dared to accompany my uncle to the Pagal Khanawhenever he would go there with Kalahear-Bata or other eatables.

Despite having an awe-inspiring personality and the roar of a lion in his voice, my uncle had a deep inclination towards mysticism which deepened further after his brother, my father, died at a young age. His penchant for spirituality took him to many saintly people. It was after my father’s death that one day, I  boarded a tonga at Bohiri Kadal with my uncle to the abode of a godly person Ghulam Mohi-ud- Naqash. Perhaps the tonga fare per passenger up to Budshah Chowk was four anna- a quarter of a rupee. After disembarking at the Tonga Adda, Masuma, we walked towards the Amira Kadal Bridge. There was a humble two-story building just before the wooden bridge, perhaps an evacuee’s property belonging to someone who had migrated or had been exiled in 1947 to the other half of Kashmir. A small two by three feet green coloured sign board reading in Urdu “Roohani Majalis” was hanging wooden Veranda. The bamboo blinds, blackened to charcoal black over a period, told the mournful of it having remained unattended after its owners had “migrated”.

A very narrow lane flanked on one side by an iconic shop the Kapoor Cloth House and on the other side by small walnut wood artefacts, and trinket kiosks led to the stairs of the building. The stairs led to a big hall and a couple of small cubicles. A single lamp hanging from silken wire resembling braids of damsels in the middle of the ceiling lit the hall. To my child’s imagination, everything seemed weird. In this surreal atmosphere, a man draped in a suit, a necktie, a green turban with a fan-shaped turra (crest), and a tail called shamala was sitting against a bolster in an upright position. He was the centre of attraction. His blue eyes were comparable to the Greeks, one of the twelve tribes supposed to be our ancestors. His devotees listened to his discourses with as rapt attention as we did in class to the mathematics teacher when he taught a naughty problem. I don’t have the foggiest idea about what my uncle talked to him on this visit. It was my maiden visit to him, and afterwards, I accompanied my uncle to Roohani Majalis on many an occasion for a couple of years. But I vividly remember his visits to our ancestral home at Khoja Bazar and the ensuing discussions. Most of the things they talked about were highbrow; they went over my head. Those days, I am talking about the early sixties of the past century; Ghulam Jilani Barq’s books Mann ki Dunya, Do Islam, Do Quraan, Ek Islam, etc., were the hot subjects that kept Muslim intelligentsia engaged. Their discussions would range from mystical phenomenons and the spiritual world, from the mechanism of prayer to life after death- and occasionally, the debate would be on mundane political subjects like the emerging world scenario and the Muslim world and the uncertainties at home. I had no interest in religious and mystical discussions- in reality, these subjects these too heavy for my tiny brain. Like other young men who were politically baptised after the Holy Relic movement, the occasional political discussions dipped in spiritualism between Naqash Sahib and my uncle interested me. Many times, I realised politically, they were on the same, and godly man’s discourse always ended on an optimistic note. The association of my uncle with Mahdi Saib Naqash, as he was popularly known, remained till my uncle’s death on Monday, January 15, 1979, in S.M. H.S. Hospital. Founder of the Roohani Majalis, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Naqash, departed from this world fifteen years after him on March 26, 1994, at Jawhar Nagar. And he was buried at Gogi-Bagh Graveyard.

My uncle’s thirst for spiritual solace led him to Tujgari Mohalla, Rehman Sahib’s abode.

Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Naqash of Roohani Majalis

Filed under: Kashmir-Talk

Comments are closed.