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My Mother Part II

My Memoir: Story of An Ordinary Man

My Mother

Part II

 You often smile when you look back at your childhood and giggle at your innocence. There is a lot of thrill in reminiscing about innocent acts and beliefs from childhood. Did we not believe, and believe with complete faith, that red beetles with black dots in lush green turf at Khanaqah Naqshbandi and Jamia Masjid were a Khuda-Sobin Batha-Phul—His staple food? Did we not eagerly wait for a feather of peacock kept inside a book to multiply after putting some sugar crystals in the book?

 It’s never too late to enjoy a happy childhood. Anything connected with childhood is joy incarnate; it may be grandmother’s souvenirs in one of the Shahnisheen’s of Kani of our house, an old carved walnut box blackened with age containing her trousseau—her wedding dress, seven brocade and cashmere Pherans and trousers, or a small black trunk packed with her silver Jewellery that she always kept locked. The house’s attic stuffed with old and used items, a mace with a marble head, an old lantern brought by a grandfather from Lahore, an ancient and broken gramophone and old musty books was no less than a wonderland. Even remembering the words, phrases, idioms and proverbs that often echoed in our homes, now forgotten and in disuse, sometimes brings back one’s childhood- and scratches our memory with all its joy and poignancy. Sitting on the wooden Chowki in front of Daan (earthen hearth or stove) in our kitchen, my mother often said, ‘Daan Gouh Asstan.’  

 I, perhaps, liked the rhythm of this one-liner and, like a ring-neck parrot, many times loudly parroted it and never tried to seek to understand why my mother compared the hearth made from brown clay with the mausoleum of saints- a sacred and sanctified place. Having seen my mother and aunt daubing it with grey clay religiously twice a day, one after cooking the noon meals and the second after evening meals, I took the aphorism in a literal sense. I started believing that my mother had the same admiration for the Daan as she had for magnificent mausoleums with glistening golden spires dominating the skyline near our house. Our Daanakuth (kitchen), perhaps that was true about most of the homes, had two units separated by Dabbadoul (One-foot high ornately carved room Divider). One was exclusively for cooking food. The daan was covered with a mud-plastered wooden canopy to drain the smoke from the burning wood. The other compartment was a sitting place for the family elders and children. My mother and aunt were as good as permanent fixtures of the cooking space; they ate and chirped like birds there only. Ded my grandmother, in her seventies during our childhood, had bid goodbye to domestic chores before my birth. She remained busy with the whole day’s prayers. I was often surprised at what Ded did sitting for hours on her Namaz-Rad (grass prayer mat)- sometimes, mischievously, I disturbed her by committing pranks. She would join the family for the morning tea, lunch and evening meals. For her being a treasure trove of stories, she was for us’Arabian Nights incarnate. Her presence in the kitchen, particularly during long winters, excited us children. Sharing the warmth from Kanagari tucked underneath her Pherans and listening to one or other Padshah Kath from her was a beautiful experience that time and tide have not erased from my mind.

 Coming back to my mother’s belief, Daan was Astan; I am reminded of when old Daan was dismantled, and preparations were afoot for making a new one—it was no less a solemn occasion than a religious function. Unlike other construction works by male masons, the hearth was made by Daanighar, a woman mason well-trained in creating an earthen wood stove that would consume less firewood and produce more heat. It was made from brown clay that was abundantly found in our neighbourhood. The clay was kneaded with finely chopped dried paddy stalks and Kaiser husk. Some items like vour – a t-shaped bridge made from clay were purchased from the riverside market at Khanqah Moula. Besides wages, the lady mason was served a sumptuous lunch. The first food prepared after Daan was ready for cooking was rice cooked in turmeric water, sprinkled with fried onions and mustard oil (called tahree ) for distribution amongst children and passers-by.

 My mother’s attachment to Daan was devotional as if they were made for each other. The sad songs that resonated at my birth had either muffled or died down; the wheels of fortune had turned; the family no longer mourned the departure of Kadir Kak, who had been a domestic help in the family since our grandfather’s times. The family could now afford a couple of helpers to attend to household responsibilities; among them was Abdul Samad, a proficient cook who had worked with a ruling family for a few years. But my mother would not surrender Daan and Chowki to him- it was no less Caesar’s throne to her. She and my aunt did all the cooking and after-cooking cleaning around the Daan, including smearing the blackened utensils and Daan with grey clay. Everyone in the extended family, including my cousin sisters, relatively older than us, who often visited Matamal and stayed for weeks with us, often gossiped about the extraordinary love my mother had for Daan and, in a lowered tone, critiqued her for not handing it over to Samad.

I gradually learned that my mother’s devotion to the Daan and Chowki had a spiritual component. My mother related her story and experiences to me in bits and pieces. She had lost her mother when she was yet to cross one digit of her age. I don’t know if she was six or seven years old at her mother’s death. Not to scratch her healed wounds about losing her mother at a tender age, I never asked her what her age was at her mother’s death. She did not remember the location of her matamal– she had a vague idea about it being somewhere in the Kani-Kadal area.    

In our joint family, the girls outnumbered the boys. My mother had three cousin-sisters, one sister, and two cousin-brothers. When her mother died, her sister and cousin sisters had already been married; the marriageable age then started just after the girls reached ten or eleven years. By all stretches of the imagination, these were child marriages, and no law could prevent them. The only interest in weddings the Maharaja’s administration had was realizing the Zari-Nikah ( Nikah Tax) from the family. It was perhaps “fifteen double-rupees,” which, in those days, was a lot of money that could purchase land sufficient for constructing a house. Despite some Muslim girls, one of them being her friend, receiving education in the Mission School, near the third bridge on the Jhelum, my mother had not joined any school. She was wise but unlettered. She had regrets about not having received any formal education. Instead of blaming her father, Ramazan Joo, or the family patriarch, Sidiq Joo, for not sending her to school,  she often found an answer for it in destiny – and mentioned its spiritual connection.

In one or another context, she might have mentioned to me about her spiritual connection with the Daan:

I was barely eight or nine years old. One fine morning, Lassa Mout, one of the greatest Majzoobs (Dervish), entered our kitchen. It was not the first time he entered our kitchen; he visited our home on and off. And he always carried a Kung – a type of earthen fire pot with no wicker protection like the conventional kangri on his shoulder. It used to be filled to the top with live embers. He held it with a naked, more than half-burnt hand- it continuously oozed, and the fingers’ bones were also visible. Upon entering our kitchen, he was always received with great awe and reverence. When he came inside the kitchen with an ash shovel, I was stoking the fire inside the Daan. He asked me to put some embers in his fire pot. While I was stuffing his fire pot with live embers- he told me from now on, this is your throne, and you are its queen. A couple of years later, I married my first cousin, Abdul Aziz, your father, who was three or four years older than me. Since then, Daan and I are made for each other. For this reason, I  believe Daan is my spiritual legacy inherited from Lassa Mout.  

Sometimes, I believe our childhood was the peak period of Majzoobs or  FanaFillahs[1] in the city- I have no idea about rural areas. So many of them roamed in the streets of Srinagar that it would be difficult for most of my generation, even generation after, to delink themselves, these saintly figures not having affected their lives. On many occasions, our mother told us stories of one or other Majzoob who visited our house and influenced our lives.

(to be Continued in Part III)

[1] It is the spiritual state where one forgets. about self in honor of Allah.

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