—— The picturesque sight of my town during dusk is still so fresh in my mind, though years are gone passed, when the feeble rays of drowning sun at the horizon filtering out of the dusty stirred up during the return of cattle from the grazing ground create a hazy atmosphere and the sound of cattle-bells are still echoing in my ears. Here in India it is considered as an auspicious time known as “Goudhuli Bela”. All this is lost and those passes and the recesses are filled today with chimneys bellowing smoke from machine sounding small factories. —- There used to be a big open ground here instead, where kids and boys were seen playing football, volleyball, Indian country games like Kabbadi, Kho-kho, tadapadi in that soft brittle dust of the ground; boys played getting completely lost and engrossed till the play ground would wrap them in the darkness and then one after another mothers surging and swelling calls from the near by houses would fill the atmosphere urging the boys to return home. —-
—-The old man went into trance and was dead quite for a while with his wet eyes, holding the tears fall, as he remembered his mother’s call echoed in his ears, when he played here in his childhood ——“Guddu —-hey Guddua —–hey lad come home soon —–you had played enough—-come home—hey Guddu.
—-The old man became emotional —– Everything is gone and lost — those affectionate calls of the mothers—-those playmates, buddies and chums —that playground; whatever that is left has changed beyond recognition—–
—–The silence was broken like breaking of quite water into waves by a fallen pebble by unexpected sudden loud laughter of group of old folks; the laughter grew shrilling loud—gentleman! The creeping times have changed our own faces unrecognizable right in front of us — the remark of retired army captain pulled all the old folks into a very big laughter.
—-While looking in the mirror, one always feels like passing a remark at the mirror, “oh! It seems, I have seen you somewhere before.”—-
—-One day while I was lost in some thoughts, my eyes fell on a long standing mirror and I suddenly asked the image, “Yes! Whom do you want”; listing to my talk, my wife’s voice broke from inside, “Darling to whom are you talking to?” I replied immediately, “Hey! To whom you have brought home?” she coolly replied, “Oh! I got bored of seeing the same face day in and day out, so I brought a change—-darling did you like it?” I said, “Look here your love is put to the test now; you always used to complain— do you ever care for the household? So here after some days I shall remain at home.”
—-Some one interrogated captain, “Then what happened?”
—-“Maid servant was fired” replied captain subtly.
All the old folks again busted in laughter, while the laughter continued, the captain remembered an interesting incident and he began narrating it. ——
——- I returned to my native town here after I was retired from the services. One day I thought, why I should not venture the old places, where I was born and spent my jolly good childhood; I might refresh my old memories of my past and that I might meet some old friends here. Strolling around I arrived at the main old bazaar street, where I came to Rahamat Ali’s Shafakhana (dispensary treating patients with utmost hospitality; more than the medicine loving treatment with blessings cure the illness). As I touched the feet of old Hakim, he embraced me and said, “What wonder are you doing Lakhkhuji?” I told him, “Abbajan (father) I am not Lakhkhuji, but his son, ”Binny—Birendra” He like a gun fired a shot and replied, “I am not Rahamat Ali but his son Raffique” while saying so he opened my palm and kept lots of digestive tablets of Churn (grounded sweet powder of herbs used as digestives and antispasmodics) saying,” Binny you must be having stomach upset? With this we both busted in big laughter. —-Oh! What Joyous and funny were those days— whenever we passed by Rahamat Ali abba’s Shafakhana, we always bore pretence of stomach upset and loving abbajan gave us Churn to eat, but I may add here, every time abbajan gave us variety of Churn, no matter how many times during a day we complained but every time he gave different churn with no wrinkle of disgust on his face any time.
Prakashji (childhood nickname – Guddu) split in laughter at captain’s childhood mischiefs, so Narayan Swami asked him if he too loved Churn.
Prakashji replied, “Oh! I never used to have stomach ache but my pretence used to be of headache, so I used to urge Abbajan to give Gulkand (Rose petals thick syrup) and Gurbba (Marmalade of sweet raw mango or emblic myrobalan fruit). How lovable and affectionate were the people then; all had sense of intimacy, kinship and belonging. The town was a big family and we all were the masters of our township then.
Captain Sahib sprang up like a child and came to Prakashji and said, “Hey! Guddu do you still remember that episode? —– Listen, it is very interesting.” — There were urges from all quarters —- Hey! Tell us —- Please tell us.
In the childhood I was know as Guddu and Captain Sahib’s nickname was Binny and there were few more friends and boys around with us then; I have forgotten their names now —–Well! We boys often used to go to Bandaria-Bagh to study, a place on the outskirts, hillocks with small thickets of rosé apple harvest and other thick short trees. One day amidst our ritual of studies, casually an idea struck our mind and we decided to play Ramlila (enactment of epic Ramayana); thus Binny and I with two three more boys went to Raffique Chacha (uncle); before getting into family profession of Hakim, Raffique uncle used to make kites, spools and bow-arrows with dry bamboo stalks. We went up to him and placed our demand, “Uncle, Please craft two bows and arrows, we want to play Ramlila.”
Raffique uncle crafted two bows, but while he began wrapping one bow to decorate it with golden lace, the bundle of lace got over and the second bow could not be decorated with the golden lace. Raffique uncle keenly observed our reactions on our faces and thought me as understanding, gave me bow without golden lace and he gave Binny golden laced bow.
Binny who was to play role of Ram, forgot all about Ram and Ramlila, began teasing and mocking me, “look I have a golden bow”; I could not tolerate this insult and in rage I broke my bow in pieces and threw it at Raffique uncle; he was aghast and stunned since he could not understand as to what went wrong.
I went behind Binny and followed him; in the childhood he was fuller of flesh; he was very obese like a balloon; while he was running, he stumbled and fell down on the ground; in a moment I grabbed the opportunity and took his golden bow and broke it into two. Mahabharata in Ramayana began; with this flared up fierce enmity amongst us and then the territory division was tabled. Binny told me, “You shall not trespass into my territory of my hillock, my trees and my lagoon.” We both marked our individual territory and as a mark, inscribed our names on the trees by sharp nails and even with whatever were available, like charcoal or chalk, we went on and on and thus we divided and demarked the boundaries of the entire settlement (township).
Now that the areas were distributed, the places on this side of the bigger pond were all mine and area of hillock side were all that of this gentleman Mr. Binny. One day my mother asked me to go and call my maternal uncle home, but unfortunately for me his house was situated in a place falling under Binny’s territory —-
All the oldies were seen lost in their childhood nostalgia of past, but whenever they used to come out of those memories, they often laughed and continued listening the story with keenness.
—- What to do now? A big riddle to unravel; I made lots of lame excuses that my leg injury was hurting and that the teacher had given heavy homework, but mother could make out that I was giving all lame excuses and her stern look to obey her command made me run to call my maternal uncle. With a very great difficulty, hiding, lurking and stealthily some how I reached my maternal uncle’s place. Just as I was returning with my uncle, Mr. Binny held his repaired bow and arrow at us and called aloud, “Mamaji (Maternal uncle) you are my Mamaji and not Guddu’s.” Mamaji looked at the challenger, Mr. Binny and then looked at me; I stood there sunken head with shame. He called Binny and asked him as to what the matter was. This Mr. Binny sahib in rage replied instantly, “Mamaji when your house falls in my jurisdiction so, how could you be Guddu’s Mamaji? –“Your jurisdiction?” exclaimed Mamaji. “Yes Mamaji!” Replied Binny and he added, “Look here, the area, which is falling beyond this lagoon belongs to Guddu and this side is all mine and that you stay in my area.” Mamaji tried to pacify both of us saying that he was Mamaji of both of them, but his attempts were in vain to resolve the dispute. The tooth and nail arguments and counter arguments created a scene and onlookers began gathering around. Poor Mamaji forgot all about my mothers call for him, he took both of us to his house; there he heard our individual assertions separately; he caught the bone of contention that somewhere deep in the root of this dispute Raffique miya was hanging. He spotted a suitable understanding fellow and asked him to summon Raffique miya. The prudent boy when approached Raffique miya made the matter more serious and muddled it by telling,” there is a big wrangle over at Mamaji’s house and you are summoned immediately.”
Listening to quarrel over the news flash, Raffique miya started for Mamaji’s house immediately, a newlywed Raffique miya’s begum followed him apprehensively. Raffique miya’s abbajan, an old feeble, who was reclined on the bed, got up from his bed; he normally was confined himself at home due to his old age and more so his eyesight was shallow, which he suffered during his alchemist attempt. Listening to this news of quarrel, old Hakim sahib got an opportunity to free himself from the custody and imprisonment of his four walls, so he also left, walking slow steps stooping on his walking stick to get the first hand information himself.
Raffique miya’s abbajan, old Hakim Sahib known as Rahamat Ali was a lovable, reverential and respected figure of the town; he was a jack-of-all-trades and a versatile person; he was a hot heart throb of this town. Relinquishing and abandoning all the obstacles of religious and social dividing walls, he adopted all the families as his own. He participated in all the events of marriages, births and deaths and even in the religious occasions of all the sections of residents of the township. He knew Jasvantsingh’s Ramalila verbatim to the extent that every year two months before the occasion of performance of Ramalila, he used to conduct the rehearsals of the musical portions of Ramalila. Every year at big temple the exhibition of tableau of Lord Krishna’s birth on the occasion of Janmashtami (Hindu date of Lord Krishna’s birth) was his responsibility. Gymnastic feats and skills of Hindu-Muslim wresters of his gyms used to be organized by him every year during the procession of Lord Ram’s chariot.
The mention of Rahamat Ali sahib’s name repealed the entire episode as a flash in Prakashji’s eyes, in which captain sahib and he was involved.
As Rahamat Ali sahib arrived there on the scene the court activities came to abrupt stand still. Everyone stood as a mark of respect for abbajan and everyone paid their regards to him; he was offered a seat. He with his feeble eyes took cognition of the situation and began babbling, “To me, it seems a dispute over kite flying issue. — I have been telling this Raffique miya since his childhood that kite flying is not a good thing.” In respect and reverence with head down Raffique miya replied, “Abba hujoor how many times did I tell you that I have stopped flying kites; I make kites now.”
“Oh! My god! Leaving kites flying now you have started making them too—-very good! —– In the childhood I got him admitted to Pundit Harishankar’s school, so that he might take good lessons from a strict disciplinarian devoted teacher, but to him this fellow dodged and I used to receive complaints everyday from the school that my son instead of attending the classes was seen flying kites on the playground and now this lord is manufacturing kites as if he has taken a contract of spoiling small kids of this township” —completing his remarks he gave a very sarcastic askance at Raffique miya.
“Oh! Abbujan the issue is not of Kite but of bow and arrow”
—Oh! So it is an issue of bow and arrow? –Allah! Allah! I am sure, like foolish novice you must have hit some one’s eye with arrow – Raffique miya when shall you become wise man? Now, that you are a married man. —
— I do not shoot arrows with bow, but I make bow and arrows.
—-Hey God! Either you take me under your shelter now or else you bless Raffique miya with some wisdom. —- Oh! He has taken up a deal of getting all ills and bad things done; when I had normal eyesight, I used to wrench his ears for all his ill-deeds and then he became normal, but ever since I have developed poor sight, seeing his ears is too far fetched, I cannot see even full grown man. — Raffique miya it is my order – get me your ear.
The command of Abbajan pulled the situation in most awkward state for Raffique miya’s wife more than any body. Raffique miya was stunt; the onlooker kids started moving here and there and stopped as Abbajan looked up. Seeing the delicate situation my Mamaji, gathering courage, took lead and said in a very mild low tone, “Abbajan, Raffique miya is totally innocent; the fact of the matter is Guddu, son of Ramnath and Binny, son of Lakhkhuji, both wanted to play Ramlila, so they went to Raffique bhai requesting him to craft bows and arrows. Raffique miya crafted two bows but he could wrap golden lace to only one bow, since the lace got consumed and the other bow was left without the golden lace; this is only the conflict and bone of contention amongst Guddu and Binny ——-
—-Whenever there is any responsible important job, Raffique miya in the nick of time is always at his wits end and woolgathering— why did you wrap only one bow with the golden lace?
—–Abbajan – the lace got over…
—-This means you are pleased in finding one or the other pretext of creating dispute amongst kids.
—–Abbajan it would have been nice, had you had stayed back home—by the way, who called you here?
—- You fool! How dare you ask me this? — You know the entire township is like my own home. Every house hold belongs to me. I was born here; I played and was brought up here and you dare ask me as to who called me here. I can go wherever I feel like —Understand.
Madansingh, Guddu’s Mamaji said mockingly, “Now you cannot move freely here and there unless you take permission from this Guddu or Binny, since they have demarked and distributed their areas in the township.”
—Oh! Ho! But when I get the same golden wrappings on both the bows of these two kids, I should be free to move about any where. —-
—- Hey! Shabnam!
Shabnam was lost in her own thoughts, when she heard her name, awakening with shock she exclaimed, “Yes! —Yes! Abba hujoor—“
— Shabnam, I am sure, you must be remembering as to where the golden laces, which were removed from the bordered chunnies (A Stoll; long piece of cloth used by ladies to cover head) of your Ammy, were kept in the house.
— No! —-Yes —- yes I remember! Yes those ancestral —those one are kept on the left hand bottom in the bigger wooden box ——
—My God! Happily exclaimed Abbujan and said, “What a sharp memory you have.”
—Confused Shabnam with fear said, “Yes! — But Abbahajoor those laces are made and woven from pure and real gold and silver threads.
—So you think that these kids are not real? ——– Do you think that real gold and silver are more precious than the emotions of these kids? — Today they have divided and distributed the trees, hillocks and lagoon; tomorrow when they grow old, they would divide and distribute us.
—- “Come on kids I shall wrap the golden laces on your bows” said Raffique miya to quickly conclude the episode.
Binny and I then realized that we have already broken the bows during our quarrel, so we exclaimed together, “Grandpa —— grandpa — but the bows we have —– Raffique miya signed them to keep shut and said, “Keep shut now. Come with me I shall craft new bows for you” and then turned to his father and said, “Evening is falling now Abbajan you also come home, else we might have to search you out as to where you got lost in the township.”
—-My son! Getting lost in this township is an age old habit of mine —- I usually used to get lost and my mother relentlessly with anxiety used to search me and I would be found playing with my mates far away beyond mosque in other areas —— I feel liberty and freedom is the biggest and most preciously important thing in man’s life. —now look, my old age is trying to imprison me in the four walls of my house totally confined to bed and my age made me leave my medical practice, but still I can lay my loving hands on the heads of people to bless them well. —– Raffique miya you need not worry. After a lapse of a very long time I have come out today; I have not met so many people for this long. —— You go home – some one would escort and reach me home.
In the old time Rahamat Ali had a Shafakhana, but today wherever he goes the place becomes Shafakhana. He always used to say, “A season for spreading imperceptible intimacy house to house has begun now in this age.” Till the last moment of the dawn of his life, Rahamat Ali Sahib kept spreading message of love in this township and his imperceptible intimacy was an adored mantra of this township, but now neither that township exists nor those lovable, intimate people; the things, which are left behind are the memories of the golden past, a nostalgia only.
He must be above ninety-two years now. Till recently he was seen taking stroll barefooted on the green grass. Now his eyesight has become so very poor and feeble; one day he could recognize me from a distance and began advising me, “Hey Prakash, walking on green glass barefooted is the best exercise for good eyesight, you must practice it.” Wherever and whenever he used to meet, he always gave knowledge of Ayurvedic and Unani medicines with such long precise explanations that if it could be accumulated, it could have turned into a book or so to say volume. Besides this he had a very good knowledge of art and literature. One day he took me home and recited Indian classical Ragas for hours and even played Sitar. Sometimes I wonder how a person could assimilate so much knowledge, a Jack of all trades and even master of them.
Amongst all of us there was a long pass of quietness, everyone was lost in some or other thoughts, but suddenly a whisper from Chedilal Sharma broke the silence, “My brother Prakash, all what you said is cent-percent correct, but people from Pakistan visit them, stay with them is a matter of uncalled scruple — there have been police enquiries in the past as well —– who knows how many of the visitors are Jihadi terrorist?”
Excited Bhagat Baliram, a patient of asthma, gaspingly began registering his opinion, “Hey, even if I am made to stand in the roaring flames of the pyre…I…al…ways (always) — say—one can’t ever — trust this race. All—terrorist they stay—here and craft—Bo—bombs secretly—or else what.”
Hastily Narayan Swamy, a South Indian gentleman sprang up to lay more emphasis on this observation began saying in his South-Indian accent, “You see, from mie tarresaa (my terrace) one can see Rahamat sahib’s house very distinctly. What aal (all) goes in his courtyard I watcha (watch) aeverythinga (everything). Amma (hey) tomorrow sixth Decembara (Decembar), you know, wat aal (what all) preparations going — father and son are preparing big-long banners and posters.”
“What banners— these people must be well prepared by collecting stones, hand grenades, arms and weapons in their mosque. — See tomorrow when cavalcade of Lord Rama would pass through the streets. I feel there would be big ruckus.” Saying so, Bhagatji took out handbills from his handbag. “Oh, I almost forgot to distribute it to people. Tomorrow each and every Hindu of this town must participate in cavalcade of Lord Rama.”
“Those who would not participate, Ie (I) say not a son of Indu (Hindu) parentage. — Hindus must demonstrate their strength. Ie (I) shall bring a big trident from my house. One day everyone has to die, but if one dies for protecting honor of own religion, then one goes straight to the heaven.” While saying so he snatched some handbills from Bhagatji and uttered, “Ie (I) shall distribute them all throughout the colony.”
Prakashji with heavy heart took leave from this assembly, since it was too late and so returned home. With an apprehension of presumptive communal commotion, he could not sleep the whole night. Next day morning as per his daily routine he came out of the house for morning walk. While on his way, a thought surged his mind to go to Rahamat chacha instead and lay open the facts to get some satisfactory solution, besides he could pass sometime in his company.
He barely could reach hakims’ house and was taken aback to see gathering of people at his door. “Is it that police raided his place?” lots of such gloomy pessimistic thoughts began dangling in his mind. With these thoughts upper in his mind, he gathered courage to go ahead, Raffique had seen him coming; Raffique rushed at him and embraced him, laying his head on the sholder began wailing, “Praksh yesterday Abbajan remembered you a lot — Abbajan is no more; he passed away.”
There was a strange and grave silence in the entire area; aroma arising from burning of frankincense and incense-sticks was overcastted and spread across all over. Prakshji turned around and panned his neck to look for the non-Muslim faces of this parish in the assemblage. Praksh went up to Hakim sahib, where he was lying speechless, motionless with ever smiling face and laid his head on his feet. He could not control gush of tears; Shabnam and Raffique tried to console and comfort him. There was a long silence; after a while Shabnam broke it by whispering, at this advanced age of his, he insisted on being self-dependent and performed daily duties all by himself, but for last twenty days he remained confined to his bed—nobody came to see him. Sometimes he used to skip pages of newspaper or listen to Radio or TV and then used to doze off. When in the evening I used to feed him his supper, daily without fail, he enquired of me, “Was there any visitor?” One day he began saying, “Give my sitar to that boy whenever he comes.” It was a big puzzle for me as to who the boy was, so one day after stretching his memory for long he said, “hey, that Prakash, since his boyhood he kept asking me for Sitar, but that was the time I used to play.”
Prakash became very emotional and his eyes were full of tears, “Yes, for Baba, we shall always remain kids only. “We are grown up and retired now, yet, he always considered us as kids”—
Prakshbhai, in the last week, god knows, how Abba gathered the strength to climb the stairs and went on the upper-floor. He called me and said, “Keep a chair here and also make arrangements for my bed under awning. He called my eldest son, Khurshid, to withdraw some money from the bank and handed him self-written long list of articles to purchase from the market, like cloth, paint, thick-twine and what not. He then called father of Kisan-painter saying,” He knows Urdu, Hindi and English well, so he can write correct language.” Day in and day out what all he got written from him. Khan Sahib his elder brother was out of station for a week; yesterday he was called by intimating telephonically. Yesterday in the night at around eleven o’clock Abba rang the bell and called Khurshid and began insisting vehemently to take him to his storeroom. He got opened all the wooden big boxes and began searching something. —Khurshid kept helping him for long —-Abbajan sat thinking something and told Khurshid, “Go take some rest —- I shall search it out myself.”
Khurshid woke me up and intimated me that so late at night, grandpa was searching something in his storeroom; and said, “He listens to you ask him to take rest.”
I went there and requested him, so he said, “My dear daughter, Life is a mission and to achieve the goal, hardship is inevitable.” I asked, “By the way, what all are you searching? Can I be of some help to you?” He replied, “Don’t ask me as to what all I am searching, here the problem is that I should search everything of my entire life; anyway you pray that whatever I am searching, let it be found — Yes, if you want to help me then my sweet little girl, you prepare a good cup of tea for me and get me here.” I said, “I shall definitely prepare tea for you, but please take rest now and search it in the morning.” For some time with his compassionate eyes he gazed at me and said, “Who has seen the next morning.”
I prepared cup of tea and went up to serve him. His eyes were full of gratitude and he read a blessing payer by keeping his hand on my head and said, “My child, you have exerted a lot for me and served me so well, taking good care of mine; in its return what else can I give you. —Go to bed, sleep is dangling in your eyes —If I need anything I shall call you—.” Then I went to bed and slept. In the morning Khan Sahib got up earlier and so I too got up and went straight to the storeroom, but to my horror Abbajan was not there. Searching him all over, I went to terrace and seen — Two flags one ocher (Bhagava) and other green colored were tied together on the balustrade of the terrace and beneath these flags Abbajan was laying there. I lost my balance and shouted to call Raffique miya, the entire family members gathered there — Abbajan had gone too far away from all of us. Probably these flags he had searched and dug out from the boxes of Ramalila and drama costumes. God alone knows, how at this age with feeble health he managed to go up to the terrace and tied these two flags.
He lived with us till so long and kept us happy under his care and love, but how he left us quietly hiding his face. For last few days he repeatedly kept telling us, “After I die, do not close my eyes, keep them open, and carry me though all the lanes, so that I can see it on my way to grave. How much did he love his parish?
The dream he stored though out his life is openly visible in his opened eyes on the way to cemetery and his vision for the harmony was seen as people of varied faith and religion were walking side by side behind his coffin. From whichever lane his funeral passed people joined the funeral. While he was alive, he firmly believed and practiced the philosophy, which he got painted on the banners and people were carrying with pride the banners in his funeral-procession. The inscriptions on the banner were in Hindi, Urdu and English –
“With what type of religion’s mediation we adopt to reach the god, it is meaningless and insignificant; it is facetious and dishonesty.”
“Khuda understand language of Love only / Eshawar, Bhagawan knows language of love.”
Hardly anyone might have been left out who did not shoulder his coffin or threw handful of earth on his casket. Thus Rahmat Sahib was given burial, but his love and his preaching and philosophy is remembered and revered by one and all. He could be called archetypal.
In the evening the cavalcade of Lord Rama went pass the town peacefully. On most of the houses of the parish two flags ocher and green colored were seen hoisted as a mark of the respect for the paragon, (an extremely perfect example) set forth by departed Rahamat Sahib like what he had hoisted on his house as a mark of communal harmony. He rekindled the extinguished, doused flame of humanity. It seems the paragon set by Rahamat chacha is still alive in this parish.