By Dr Qayum Hamid Changal
My uncle was exuberant. As soon as he entered the kitchen, he exclaimed with profound joy, “Pagah yeyi Geelani saeb Jamia Masjid.” (Tomorrow Geelani saheb shall be visiting Jamia Masjid). It was an era of electrifying revolution, from a child to an old man, everybody was Che Guavera. And, my delight had no bounds when my uncle vomited out these words, “Cze nimath be panas saithe pagah“. (Tomorrow I will take you with me). He was addressing me, and I was like on top of the world.
I was barely eight-year-old then. It was my first opportunity to discern him visually, face to face. Till then I had only seen him either on newspapers or magazines. So, for me it was a moment of truth, of pride, and of an excitement unmeasured. And, the infuriating moment for my mother – for my preparations to see Geelani saheb were far beyond being just the microscopic part of a mammoth crowd. Peppy and sparky, I started searching for the best clothes I had at that time. I polished my black school shoes myself, and made my mom to iron my Kurta Shalwar twice. The passion was high.
“How’s this pulchritude ‘freedom’?
Does it smile back at you?
Is it black or white?
Or, coloured as a span of rainbow?
Does it saunter with you?
Or, it ambles ahead to see you safe?
I heard it’s beautiful,
As heavenly as heaven itself.”
My grandmother yelled with fury, “Zaane yeyyi su khasoosan cze milne“. (As if he’s especially coming to meet you). Paying no heed to her demoralising words, her anger never stopped me from being literally meshuga, a mad and crazy soul. That night I slept early, and woke up with a smile on my face. One may call it narcissism, my self-conceit was driving me deranged. As Friday prayers approached, I wore my clothes and shoes. After putting ‘Keo Karpin’ hair oil, my mom combed it giving me an extra tinge of expedition.
I remember, as soon as I entered the Jamia Masjid, it was jam packed. I saw one white bearded man, wearing black coat and white Kurta Shalwar, and that distinctive atmosphere generated by him. After taking our place, my uncle whispered in my right ear, “Yehai gov Geelani saeb“. (He’s Geelani Saheb). And, I had goosebumps, blushed and creepy sensation. I started loving everything, the ambience of the Mosque, the mood and spirit of people, and that invisible emanation, especially an odour. I watched Geelani saheb from head to toe, keeping the closer look at his actions. It’s unexplainable, I was thinking of all my friends to whom I would narrate this interesting anecdote.
Suddenly, one young man raised up from the first row and yelled, “Hum kya chahate?” (We want?) And people roared back, “Aazadi”. (Freedom). Another man stood up and shouted the same, followed by third, fourth and fifth… It was an electrifying atmosphere, compiled of zeal and the piles of sacrifice. I had never witnessed it before, for a moment I was frightened. I observed one old man, short and lean, he was weeping while answering back in chorus. All those sentiments, fervour and forcefulness of expression was followed by the prayers. In exhilaration, even during prayers I was thinking of Geelani Saheb.
“I just heard, I don’t know by myself,
Heard it allows you to speak unfettered.
Don’t blame me, I’m from Cashmere,
So my eyes lit up as they pronounce it.
The man next to my country,
Says they shop late till night.
I thought he lied till he swore,
Swore by the freedom itself.
And I smiled back all crust and husk,
Knowing I don’t own, for it I toil.”
The actual moment of surprise for me was yet to arrive. As soon as the prayers finished, people started congregating around Geelani Saheb. They were shaking hands with him and chanting slogans. And, my uncle lifted me up on his shoulders and straight away dropped me in front of him. I was shocked. And, Geelani saheb rested his hand on my head and pronounced something that I couldn’t make out. He smiled at me, and I smiled back with high coloured face.
As I came back to home, my feet were not on the ground. I was feeling as if I was on the saddle, proud and animated. It was the first and the last time I actually reached so close to him. My excitement and joy was all apolitical, all I knew he was a towering personality and the most famous one in Kashmir. And, there’s no doubt in it, still he’s the one.
“As I strive to be virtuous,
I play the parallel to be free.
But, my query isn’t the scepticism,
It’s just I endeavour to feel it.
Am I right or wrong or in between?
I’m crucified, so my art, my tenet.
Doesn’t it make me caged?
Or, it’s my humble ‘nemesis’?
Or, my neighbour calls it the ‘destiny’?
But I shall seize the ‘norms’ and fly,
Till my fate isn’t what I deserve.
Whether the freedom smiles back or not,
Nor do I care it’s colour anymore.
I crave for it, shall taste it,
And, if I die, my soul shall flutter free.”