Where are WE?

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Arshid Malik

I was around six when my father took me on my first spiritual journey to a very distant village in north Kashmir. We were supposed to see a holy man. The way my parents talked about him, I was totally in for the trip. We boarded a bus at Srinagar and after several hours of tedious travel, we arrived at a remote village which was barely inhabited. We got off the bus and hired a horse carriage which carried us along a very bumpy road and “ditched” us far ahead. Thereafter, the journey was covered by foot, say some two kilometers. By the time we reached the abode of the holy man, I was dead tired. I urged my father to carry me ahead which he did. As we entered the house of the holy man, I noticed lots of kids frolicking in the courtyard which was mostly covered with dirt and residual patches of grass. A lot many people had gathered around the house, which looked more like a mud hut than a proper house, in anticipation of blessings of the holy man who was supposed to be inside the mud hut. As we arrived inside the courtyard, we were offered cool water. As soon as I drank the water, I felt very eased and relaxed. I forgot all the efforts that had gone into the travel. My agitation was absolutely mitigated.

My father asked around for the supposed meeting with the holy man and he was informed that he would not present himself to the “devotees” that particular day but the next day. We were invited to stay overnight since we had come from a far off place and travelling back home without meeting the holy man would not be advisable. My father acceded to the invitation while I was pestering him with questions, asking where we would sleep for the night with no dinner and all. My father calmed me down and walked me to a small hutment behind the one that I had seen. I saw people preparing food in large quantities which indicated that we would not go to sleep unfed. We returned and seated ourselves in the courtyard. My father chatted with people who were present and most of the talk was about the miracles the holy man had performed and his “godliness”. I was struck by awe as I listened in on the conversations, even though I was too young to grasp all that went around.

Later in the night, we had dinner which was quite simple; a preparation of pulses and plain rice but it tasted so very good that I asked for some more. We lay down in the courtyard, hoping for a breeze of sleep which eluded us as angst ridden mosquitoes buzzed past every second. I would, every now and then, get up to scratch my legs which were marauded by the blood-thirsty mosquitoes. The night slipped by somehow and we woke up to the very first glimpses of dawn. We performed ablutions and offered our morning prayers. It was a long wait while we sipped salted tea and munched freshly baked bread. Tea was served without any stoppages. I stopped at my first cup while my father went on and on. Kashmiri tea is a delicacy when served with freshly baked Kashmiri bread.

All along the time we were in the courtyard of the holy man’s abode, I was feeling very relaxed and ecstatic in a very sublime manner. I was a kid after all and throwing tantrums was nothing new to me, but the way I “glided” through the whole waiting procedure, I was surprised with myself. My father was also at ease all the time. There was something in the air, I guess. Somehow, the “godliness” of the holy man exuded outside of his humble hutment and set something very peaceful into motion which took over all those who awaited the eventual meeting with the holy man. It was late afternoon when people started going inside the hutment, meeting the holy man while we waited in patience for our turn. When we entered the hutment, I was really taken by the fragrance inside that melted my very childish core. The holy man was very old but he exuded a certain kind of brilliance which I had hitherto only noticed in celestial bodies. He appeared heavenly and talked very little.

My father and I approached him and he gently raised his arm and rested the palm of his hand on my head, stroking my hair very gently. I felt exuberant inside as if all the bad things that had afflicted me as a child had waned. He talked in a very slow tone and told my father that he should believe in Allah and all would be well. He gently whispered something in Arabic under his tongue and relieved us. I felt like a feather, being tossed around at the will of the wind. I believe that “lightness” rides the very existence of my element till this day. The man I met when I was only six helped me believe in miracles and had I not had believed in miracles, I would most certainly not have lived this long.

Ecstasy, pure and ethical, can be a wonderful thing – a thing, a moment in time – which I experienced some three odd decades ago, stays with you forever. And today I wake up to read and hear about “holy man” who raped minor girls. I feel nauseated. Two hundred girls raped by a man who thinks or says that he is “godly” and a hundred and fifty followers defending him, where are we?

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