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A Yokel’s Journey - Poem by mohib asad

A Yokel’s Journey (A short story about Soofi mysticism in poetic prose)

By; Mohib Asad,


A few things need to be said about this work at the outset.
Firstly; this is a serious effort to understand the Soofi way of life which has over a billion adherents.
Secondly; this story is full of home-truths, clichés, and truisms.
Thirdly; it is a bit of a talking-down-at-you kind of reading, but then that is inherent in this lofty theme.
Fourthly; a purist of the English language may find some of the constructions a bit dubious. To him I say that this is how English has evolved in the Sub-continent in the last four hundred years.
Fifthly; given the widespread cruelty and violence which pervades the globe today, one must attempt to find hope, which this poem does. If you are a cynic by nature or conditioning, you might as well stop here.
Sixthly; this story will, hopefully, lead to a more compassionate re-appraisal of the others’ faith. And.
Finally; this is a love story of many loves.

- -All places, people and events in this writing are fictional.


To all men and women who believe in decency as paramount in life.


Have you ever wondered how many
Different ways are there of spending a life?
Must be in billions, says I.
For of the billions of humans on earth, the billions gone,
And many more to come; no two lives are exactly the same.
This is the true wonder of life,
And if this is not awesome
I don’t know what is.

Present day man, much intoxicated by
By ‘modern’ thinking in this ‘Age of reason;
Believes in choice as the bedrock of his life-experience,
Forgetting that these terms are but a few hundred years old,
While humans have been around thirty million years.
I think that ‘choice’ is rubbish, and a buzzword, no more.

To each of us our destiny, fate, kismet, future, lot,
Cup, doom, write-up-on-the-wall, divine decree;
take your pick.

We walk this earth seeking peaceful times,
Ambitions met, loves requited, hates avenged,
Beautiful offspring, secret pleasures, money and fame.

Long as things go well, we walk tall,
Roaming the planet stomping in shoes stitched
By designer cobblers of Europe,
Gloating that we have things framed, the globe held firmly
In manipulative hands.
Seldom realizing the huge impact of ‘chance’ on our day and night.

And we revel, if well-shod, that we are
to privilege entitled; generally oblivious to the cardinal fact
that death stalks us all; the well-shod as well as the millions
who go through life bare-footed.
(true, believe it or not)

One cell gone bad, one whiff of poisonous air,
One ounce of bad food, one tremor over Richter 8,
One bolt of lightning, a single atomic clot of blood,
Wind, water, ice, snow, fire or stone.
We do not have a choice in how we die, let alone live.
Shakespeare’s ‘poor forked animal’ is weak and helpless.
However arrogant, proud, or vain he acts.

So choices in life we have none.
What we do have choices in life-styles,
These are many of course;
The decent, the charlatan, the rogue, the knave, the opted-out,
(Again, take your pick)

And of the score or so of these, I find the Soofis
Interest me greatly. Guys live in a world of their own,
In what they call ‘universal humanism’
God alone knows where that be.

My friend and I talked the other day,
Of what they were, /are up to?
This band of mystics, wanderers, poets and singers.
There must be something to it, I argued.
After all, Rumi and Rabia, saints for sure, famously belonged
To this hallowed group.
My friend then spun a yarn so stylish,
That it is a ‘must-recount’ and here goes;


In the village of Rajan, in southern Punjab,
this yokel, Abdul by name, small time farmer,
salt of the earth,
worked his ten-acre holding;
keening and turning, sowing and reaping,
the year round.
Living as the seasons turned,
healthy, hearty, and happy as Punch,
at peace with himself and all around.

One spring Friday, while he tilled,
planning the next crop,
he chanced to hear the sermon
broadcast from the local mosque.
He vaguely heard the mulla talk of Rumi,
And how his Musnawi was
The most excellent book man ever wrote.

Not a mosque-goer, even on Fridays,
our Abdul thought he would find out more,
about this man who wrote the book,
the mulla so admired.

That night he went a-visiting, as youngsters do,
to the village next doors,
and forgot Rumi for the time.
He was all of twenty ‚

He had met this little girl, Jani by name,
in a settlement of gypsies.
Nubian to a tee, her hormones going dizzy.
She was all of seventeen.

One night, a month or two later,
during an interlude from passion,
he, in a mood of show-off,
mentioned Rumi; said he knew him,
the man who had written a magic book.

As it turned out, so did Jani.
Her father sang old gypsy songs
at campfires. He was famous
for yodeling Soofi songs.
She giggled and said
she thought Rumi was a sad old man,
who wrote ribald verse.

It was then that Abdul made up his mind
to find out more of Rumi.


The next evening after the ritual prayers,
Abdul, dressed in a set of formal clothing
rarely worn, went to see the mulla;
gave him a fiver for the mosque upkeep,
and asked for a discourse on Rumi.
The mulla, Sharfu by name,
hee-ed and haa-ed, scratched his beard,
and finally admitted that all he knew
of Rumi was that his ‚Musnawi‚ was touted
to be an excellent book in Islam.
Rumi and his Musnawi were as mysterious
to Sharfu as many other such snippets
he used in his sermons
to sound erudite and scholarly.
Our Sharfu had a quick mind.

Abdul was stumped, his only window on Rumi
shut on him with a decisive bang.
But Abdul was a gritty man, as most yokels.

The only other person in Abdul’s life
who may know Rumi was Jani’s dad.
So enquiry could be made there.

However, this was very dicey and laden with risk.
for if ever he got a scent of Abdul’s ingress
into his household, Abdul was dead as a duck.
An honor killing in public, no less.
But by now Abdul’s wonder for Rumi
was so compelling that despite the danger,
Abdul made up his mind to call on the man.

Khlas Khan (46) was of gypsy stock,
product of a melting pot
in central Asia over millennia.
Part Turk, part Irani, part Afghan,
part Greek, part God-alone-knows-what.
Many cousins, far removed,
lived in areas all over the Balkans,
although he knew them not.
His camp comprised eleven families,
on the edge of the village, on land
owned by some guy who lived in the U.K.,
would come back once in two years,
had given Khlas Khan a lease to dwell;
also a mobile phone to warn the owner
of land grabbers, was the only rent.

So the men and women, asses,
dogs and donkeys, all the children
of this gypsy camp prospered,
doing odd jobs- -any work they found,
no chore being too much, no privation too hard.
keeping their dignity intact,
keeping their cultural heritage safe.

Abdul planned for this meeting with care.
Carrying a bolt of silk as gift,
he presented himself, heart-in-mouth,
at Khlas Khan’s canvas tent, one afternoon.
He was received askance; explained his mission,
waxing loud of the reputation of KK,
as a relater of Rumi; his fame as yodeler,
widespread in fourteen villages.

The gift of silk and the butter-up did it.
KK brought out a carpet,
and sat with the young man,
gave him a singeing glass of sweetened tea,
and in a while, recited his best of Rumi,
in high pitched melodious verse.

And Jani returning home from some chore,
saw the two men together from far,
nearly died of a stroke; approached nearer,
and heard her father singing.
She was fully foxed, and then, inwardly smiled.
Her lover had entered her home!
Lust had turned to love, glory be!

KK sang in the Turkic of Rumi’s time,
Pushto, Persian, Arabic,
and mostly a pidgin of them all,
Evolved over time; repetitive, sonorous lilts
to the accompaniment of coarse strings.
And others gathered; it became a party,
of many encores.

Soofi poetry, full of symbols,
full of roses, gardens, buds, bees,
and breezes.
In a class all by itself, drafted by Rumi,
Al-arabi, Hussam, Rabia, Sidi Jamal,
scores of other poets of the ten orders,
which make up the Soofi family.

Long summer evenings, KK’s singing
drew listeners from the nearby villages,
fourteen in number.
Oversweet tea, sorbets of various kinds
would do the rounds.
There always was an evening of songs,
usually on Thursdays.
Abdul was hugely impressed, memorized snippets,
which he crooned while he worked at farming.
He did’nt understand a word.

The summer passed.
Abdul reaped a bumper crop.
He bought himself a four-year old ox,
from Thar in Sindh; a magnificent animal,
silver-gray with purple eyes,
and a two foot horn spread.
Abdul put a beaded collar on him,
to avert the evil eye, oiled his hooves and horns
named him Billu-ox.

His friendship with Jani deepened.
He saw more of her, in public and private.
Life was a song for the youngster.

That autumn came tragedy.
Abdul’s mother died.


Molly had been married, much
after two of her younger sisters,
for she was very plain; though her father
owned half the village.
Abdul’s father was a poorer third cousin,
the graduate son of the local hakeem.
Molly’s father used his clout,
got the two wedded.

It was the nuptial bed, which did it.
Molly’s body odor literally made her husband wretch.
She smelt like a tup-goat.
Rajab Ali, for that was his name,
got caught in a life full
of the all-pervasive stench of his wife’s body.
through his own greed,
and for social come-uppance.

He struck it out for a year,
hung around his in-laws who gave him
exaggerated respect reserved for an inferior.
His superior education impressed Molly awhile.
She tried to be a good wife,
but the strong vibes of rejection,
first saddened her, then angered,
she banished him to another room
and a separate cot.

Desirous of offspring, though,
she sometimes would go and lie with him.

It was when she announced,
to Rajab Ali that she was with child
that Rajab Ali went stone cold.
He started to see her as a body,
carrying a small goat with Rajab’s head
in her belly.
No matter how he tried,
the image just lingered and lingered.

So early one morning he left the home,
walked three miles to the metalled road,
took a bus to the nearby town.
He borrowed money from a cousin,
and traveled to the Middle East
during a building boom there.
And all this in five days flat.
He went illegal, eventually got amnesty,
shed his early-life clothing and past life,
bought himself jeans and joggers.
His passport expired, was thrown away,
not renewed.

Rajab Ali’s desertion threw his in-laws askew.
Molly lost face but only for a while.
Her father had Rajab Ali searched,
but not found.
He quietly whispered to his servants,
to bury Rajab Ali wherever found.
Then he expelled his son-in-law,
from memory. He would not own half the village,
if he were a pansy.
He took his first-born back into the house
and there she ruled the roost;
her brothers, their wives and kids,
the servants, stragglers and hangers-on
of the family, the lot of them.

Abdul came a few months later,
into comfortable life, and for eleven years,
dwelt in a quadrangle,
of mother, home, village, and mother.
He never went to school, never rode a bike,
was not allowed the swings lest he fell.
For all that, Abdul still grew tall,
both in body and mind.

Then his grandfather on Molly’s side,
died of old age.

Abdul’s uncles seized the lands,
disinherited the sisters,
allowed them ten acres of land each
to make ends meet.

Molly was flustered for a day.

Next morning she called her brother’s wives,
abused them loudly and in public.
She called her brothers and kissed them fondly,
told them they were like sons.
She selected her ten-acre lot,
gave her brothers the money,
to build for her a house thereon.

Six months later, she and Abdul
went to live in a six-room structure,
with outhouses for kitchen, baths, and servants,
surrounded by a high wall.
She employed jobbers and worked her land,
and Abdul learnt the trade hands-down.
The family of Ajju, an old retainer,
wife, son and daughters came as helpers,
for a small salary but full keep.

At age sixteen, Abdul took over the land,
and did well; agriculture was easy to him,
with his ten thousand years of farmer’s genes.

Unceasingly his slave, his mother
never raised her voice to him,
though she had a caustic tongue
for most else.
Except when he would ask of his father,
she would explode in a torrent of abuse,
referred to Abdul’s father as ‘poison’.
Abdul pieced together a picture of his father
from snippets.
His father’s father was no help either.
He would refer to Rajab Ali as ‘Satan’.
But the hakeem loved Abdul with a cool intensity,
made sure that Abdul was awash with money,
and full to the throat with herbal tonics.

Molly, fat, fertile and near fifty,
had complained of stomach gripes for years.
But she refused to see a medic.
The Hakeem was out-of-bounds at any rate;
Any other who could help, she put off seeing,
on one pretext or the other.
She nursed her gallstones, until one night,
she got poisoned by her own bile.

The entire village and others gathered,
for she had done good to many.
They asked Abdul where he wanted her grave.
He had her buried at home, in the courtyard.
The mulla objected, but Abdul was adamant.
He wanted her nearby.

Khlas Khan came with his tribe to condole.
He held Abdul long and fondly, in his arms,
and said that as an honor to Molly,
the weekly sing song would be here,
next to Molly’s grave.


Abdul was bereft; his grief came in waves,
of ever-increasing height.
His north star had set. He missed her chatter,
the softening in her eyes whenever she looked,
at him, even if for the fortieth time.
Days were easier, but the nights were horrid,
with Billu-ox his only company.
Jani came off and on, but only in daytime
KK would send food parcels,
to cheer up the bereaved.
The food would go to Ajju’s family
for Abdul hardly ever ate now.

A few weeks later, one Thursday night,
after the sing-song, as Abdul lay in bed,
between waking and sleeping,
he saw Rumi walk in and sit by him.
An old man, spare of frame,
neatly barbered, clothed in a light blue habit,
Rumi said to him.
‘Your earth arum has shifted gardens,
changed her elements of repose.
A breeze has carried her, wafting and weaving,
to a vast water-garden where she dwells in peace.
Purify your heart, therefore, and rejoice
in her freedom! ’
Rumi sat for a while, his face exuding serene calm,
then went out on soundless step.

Abdul went to see KK,
narrated the dream, asked advice.
KK thought the drift of Rumi’s talk was clear.
His mother was at peace; for the rest
KK pleaded illiteracy as excuse.
for not being of additional help.

Abdul went then to his grandpa.
The Hakeem, he knew, had read,
various readers in culture and civilization,
in original Persian when the hakeem was
a young man, for he came of gentility.
The Hakeem listened gravely
to his grandsons excited account,
underlined K.K.’s findings that his mother
was at rest; that he was consoled in the vision.
The hakeem thought Rumi had done his grandson
a signal honor, for Rumi was
such an exalted saint; his musnavi being
one of the most excellent books in Islam.

Abdul thought that both K.K. and the hakeem
were finding ways and means to console him.
That the vision had a deeper, hidden meaning,
and some veiled message.
He told the hakeem this.

The hakeem had heard of a Soofi,
Ahmed Tijani by name who lived
in a village called Alipur some forty miles away.
The hakeem told Abdul to go see him.
And ask if there was another interpretation.
The hakeem gave Abdul cash for the traveling.


Ahmed Tijani was the name he took.
Mian Akbar Saleem was born in the mid-fifties,
into a hugely wealthy and political house.
The third son of a father invincibly powerful,
himself born to social privilege.
But Akbar was from the very outset,
Out-of- sync with things, though he was
surrounded by servants, horses, falcons,
rich meals and silken clothes.
With money that literally grew on trees!
(hundreds of acres of orchards)
He was taught the Koran by real scholars.
but unlike his siblings who raced through the Book
in three months flat and that was it,
Akbar was slow and reflective, even at age five.
he would question and ask, argue and debate
the scholars views till they told him
‘Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.

By age eleven he had read the Koran fifteen times,
cover to cover.
He hated cruelty in all forms; saw so much of it around.
His mother, once, to discipline an errant maidservant,
poured boiling water through her hair.
At another time his father,
had the womenfolk of a thieving agent,
stripped and paraded through the town in flesh.
No one went to the authorities.
His eldest brother had a lesser politician,
shot to death in his bed, for double-crossing the family.
at election time.
The woman in bed with the murdered man,
was killed as well; her brothers went to the police,
courted arrest for ‚’honor killing’.
They got good lawyers, pleaded guilty to manslaughter,
did six months and came back heroes and gentlemen!
Akbar’s father was well pleased with his son.
for stage-managing the entire event.
He seemed to know the tactics for success,
now teach him the strategy.

Akbar, introspective and unhappy with his surrounds,
went to a premier school in the city,
went to Oxford, read PPE, rowed and played cricket.
At age twenty-three, he came back, a high achiever;
Marriage offers from all over, came in droves.

He came home, saw more of the same.
Deeply alienated, he withdrew into the world of books.
He came across Soofiism.

The Prophet (upon him, peace)
Circa seventh century, was selected by God,
to be the transmitter of the last version
of Abraham’s creed.

He dwelt for sixty-three years,
among the living of the time,
recited the Book, gave talks, traveled the area,
led by personal example.
A man remarked for his cleanliness, so charismatic
he lit up every assembly.
He died king of half Arabia,
without a house to his name.
He lives on to this day, in the five-time
daily call to prayer, the Azans,
a reality in the lives of a billion Muslims.
He was like no other man.

Islam spread, being God’s message.
The tribes of Arabia, wasting energy
on killing each other, united,
went north, south, east and west,
conquered the known world.
Led by men of character and vision,
famous for piety and belief.
All of this within thirty years
of the Prophet’s demise.

Booty, slaves, concubines, all the riches
of Byzantine and the Persian Empire, were theirs.
Men married freely, kept concubines, so that
their population tripled in half a century.
The gentle, kind and peaceful ways,
of the Prophet’s time were vandalized,
by hypocrites-turned-kings‚ with lavish courts,
wrestlers, poets and clowns,
women from the four corners of the earth,
large standing armies, ably led.
The Islamic empire would last a thousand years.

In circa Nine, some men of religion,
revolted by the worldliness of the rulers,
launched a movement to cleanse Islam
of material greed and unjust acts;
of all the distortions that had crept in.

They called themselves the Soofis,
Soof being the coarse woolen vest
they wore to emulate The Christ Jesus,
who was to them a model of ascetic piety.

Having its origin in Islam,
(the early Soofis were classical Muslims)
the movement evolved in various places
in diverse ways.
Based in asceticism, quest for self-rule,
a pervasive humanism, a ceaseless hunt
for the Supreme Being, through
self-denial, meditation and sacrifice.
They found commonality with
similar Christians, Jesuits, Franciscans
and the like.
Jains, Buddhists and the Hindumut,
all had guys doing similar things.
And over time the philosophy broadened,
mainly spiritual, cerebral and oft-divorced
from pragmatism.

By circa Eleven Soofiism had become
an almost secular creed,
(is there such a thing?)
Till one of their bigwigs said that his heart
was a cathedral, temple, mosque and shrine
all rolled in one! !
And that his heart belonged
To the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Irresistible.

In the next five hundred years,
ten orders of the soofis, each with its founder
took root in different areas of the Islamic world,
the common thread being their master-in chief.
Ali, cousin of the Prophet,
rightly-guided caliph of Islam, first Imam of the Shii,
Superman, superhero, super-etal.

In the Soofi dogma, the Truth is found
in a struggle to resolve inner conflicts,
and then attempt to find answers,
to the whys and wherefores of existence,
and then to strive for a sighting
of the Creating Force through love of creation.
In Soofi culture, symbolic acts, miracles and dreams
are happenings of note.
Lonely meditation, analytical discourse,
readings from masters, company of friends,
is approved and encouraged.
In Soofi sub-culture, music, dancing, and poetry,
is widespread, for these art-forms,
sometimes sophisticated in the extreme,
are used for passage of the Message
to those who care for and love mankind.

Soofis have come in all shades;
political activists, religious converters,
mendicants, recluses, and suchlike.
Some of them fought wars, led armies;
others preached and showed ‚the straight path‚
While yet others opted out,
retreatists of the first-class, freaked out and addled.
All of them, though, have two things in common;
They never claim ‘better-than-thou’‚
and they all die without a house to their name,
like the Prophet.

Also, the Soofis have been much harassed,
much hated, and much maligned
by their detractors, throughout history.
They have been seen as a threat,
by the establishment comprising the king, the priest
and the merchant.
The foibles, the shenanigans, the cruelty and lust
of the ruling classes being in stark contrast
to the gentle, introverted, and quiet lifestyle of the Soofi,
led to, sometimes, serious conflict.

And the people found in the Soofi household
a sanctum and refuge from the injustices
of the system‚ so flocked there in large numbers.
All rulers are insecure in the extreme.
So, they do the frustration-aggression act.
The Soofis have been hounded, exterminated, destroyed
by chauvinistic leaders of robber bands-turned kings.
Whole neighborhoods were razed to the ground,
large populations exiled.
The rulers always find greedy priests to endorse
their coarse and vulgar behavior.
Injustice is garbed as an enforcement of religious piety
through announcement by these court- clerics.
Yet, the Soofis have survived through history,
because no matter whatever else may or may not,
decency and the good shall resurge.

Akbar read on.
He found that, historically, this earth
had been ruled not by the strongest,
but by the cruelest.
He found that the greedier got richer.
He found that the more ruthless won every time.
He found that the heartless were ever in control.
He found that the gentle suffered.
He found that the kind-hearted got poorer.
He found general unhappiness all-pervasive,
and wondered why people live on,
despite the misery and filth around.
And then it came to him!

That they lived because they were scared of dying;
though, come to think of it,
death is not an issue, for it may come
whenever and of whatever cause!
Why be scared of a certainty?

One issue bothered him for he was a believer,
How, he wondered, would the meek inherit the earth?
He taxed his reason and sure enough, found the solution.
As things are, he reasoned, the cruel of this world,
would one day surely destroy one the other,
as promised in the Scriptures.
And then the retreatists and the recluse, the addled ones
would emerge from their dens on a morning,
take one look at the devastated earth,
and scurry back into their caves, shivering.
But for at least that generation,
The meek shall inherit the earth.‚
Akbar gloated for an hour, chuffed beyond measure,
on this revelation.

Akbar’s mother came one day,
with photos of three girls,
prospective brides for him.
He put her off.

His father called him one day,
and asked him to take over
management of a vast estate.
Akbar put him off.

Akbar’s brothers came one day,
and offered him a safe seat,
for contesting to parliament.
He put them off.

One night he had a dream;
more of a nightmare it was.
He saw himself standing in a dusty field at dusk.
He heard hoof beats of galloping horses,
and saw
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,
caped figures on hardy steeds, bearing down at him.
The first, the man on the black charger,
knocked him down, and then, one by one,
the others overran him,
strewing his body allover the place.
They came at him in tighter circles,
till they had made mincemeat of him.

Akbar awoke, strangely exhilarated.
He recalled the legend of Husain at Karbala;
how the Prophets beloved grandson,
was slaughtered, decapitated, and then the horses
ground his body in the sands.

Akbar took the dream as an omen.
He had come to a life-fork.

He idly thought of going away;
buying a cottage in Windsor, England,
and go into horse breeding or some such thing.
He considered family offers serious-like,
but found all options colorless.

He reckoned that civilization was failing.
As technology grew,
so did poverty, isolation, disease.
Thirty wars, big or small raged on the planet.
Genocide, ethnic cleansing, mayhem, rape was rife.
Akbar did not care if grown men kill each other.
That, he reasoned was a historic pastime,
but the women and children,
defenseless and weak; their suffering
made him livid.
He began to live in a state of recurrent rage,
and he knew this was bad for him.

Akbar went to see,
the only member of his family he respected;
Afzal Khan, his bachelor-uncle,
his father’s elder brother.

In his youth, Afzal was a wild card.
Born into money, estates and politics,
he was a typical scion of his class;
cruel, careless, callous and crude.
He added to the family’s lands,
by buying, grabbing, occupying by force of arms,
acreage that rightfully belonged to others.
He never married, never sired,
but kept many women as mistresses,
discarded at regular intervals.
He kept the local police, magistracy, fellow-bigwigs,
firmly in his deep pockets.
So was irresistible.

One night, while Afzal lay in a stupor of alcohol,
The Prophet (upon him, peace) came to him in a vision.
Afzal jumped up, kneeled to kiss his feet,
but the Prophet (upon him, peace) turned his back on Afzal,
and walked away.
Afzal, devastated by the snub, curled fetal, fell off his bed.
He woke with his pillow wet with tears.
He was forty years old.

As was to be, Afzal turned to piety, gave up the old ways.
He went to court, gifted half of his estate to the nephews;
the other half he endowed in a trust,
as charity for the needy of the nearby villages.
He built a mosque and retired thereto,
administered his trust funds, with great diligence and wisdom.
For the rest of his long life, he never left the mosque,
Not even for weddings and funerals.

Akbar went to the mosque, met Afzal,
kissed his uncle on the arm,
a show of great esteem.
They sat together and talked,
of this and that for a while, and then Akbar
told him of the emptiness and the void.
Afzal listened and reflected, told his nephew
that he was in an emotional cul-de-sac.
Afzal was sure that humankind
would continue to be orally-adept apes,
but apes nevertheless.
So they would follow their basic instincts
for survival, territory, dominance and sex.
That basically our brains are reptilian,
covered with paper-thin layers
of the mammalian and the human.
The uncle advised his young nephew
to make peace with things,
accept the imperfections of society
and settle down.

Akbar refused. He told Afzal of his dream.
It was then that Afzal advised him,
to get to know soofiism better,
to read up, and better still,
to travel and meet up with the men of the ten orders.
Then see how it goes.


Akbar left home on the personal quest.
He traveled to Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Turkey,
India, and Algeria.
For two years, he lived and worked with
the cells and brotherhoods of soofis.
He went back to Algeria.
He was most impressed with the teachings
of the Berber, Abbas bin Tijani who founded
the Tijani order,
most austere and free of cant.

Akbar then came home.
He went and touched his father’s knee,
and kissed him on the arm; was embraced
in return - an all encompassing embrace
of love and tenderness reserved only for sons,
the world over.
He informed his father of the decision taken
to enter the soofi Way.
His father looked fondly at his third born son,
and smiled, and gave to him his blessings.


Akbar gave up all his interests
in the family’s wealth.
He had a two acre plot on the edge of town cleared,
built in the center of it a rectangular room
with an en-suite bath.
The only ingress was a two by four foot aperture;
there was no door.

Akbar shifted there with a prayer-mat,
a carpet and a sleeping bag.

In his new life which took sometime coming,
he got more Spartan by the week.
He ate once a day and fasted often.
His days and nights got mixed up,
for there was no window for light.
Family retainers hung around for a while,
but there were no chores.
His visits to the family got more infrequent,
till he stopped going home.
The week would pass thus, except Fridays.

Fridays were special with barber and a brunch.
And Akbar would go for prayers
to Afzal Khan’s mosque, after the sermon was over,
(he never sat in)
He would then return to his room,
alone for most of the next week.
He prayed, meditated, mused at
the essence of the life-experience,
the nature of life-consciousness, read many books.

Six months after taking residence,
at edge of town, Akbar took the name Ahmed Tijani,
the first from the Prophet’s names,
and the other from the order of soofis
he decided to belong to.

As the seasons turned the people noticed
a strange fact.
The two-acre plot on which Tijani lived,
remained clean of grass, scrub and shrub.
Rain, wind, the natural richness of the area,
caused vegetation, albeit wild, to flourish in the surrounds,
but Tijani’s land lay clear and yellow,
flat as a cricket pitch with no grass.
The villagers found that odd,
and gossiped about it with awe.
And slowly but surely it got round,
that the soofi Tijani was a man of God;
how else would the laws of nature change?

So the people of surrounding villages
started to come to sight the pious man.
But they could look at him only on Fridays.
So large crowds would build up,
jostling and pushing,
as he made his way to the mosque.
Patiently, he would wend his way back;
never spoke to anyone.

One Friday, old family retainers supplicated
him to settle a long-standing dispute.
Tijani said he could not even presume to interfere.
But if they sat together on his land,
and spoke together, maybe they would find a way out.
He laid two conditions, though.
Firstly, once in talks they could not leave
until they compromised, even if it took a month.
Secondly, they were to talk in muted voice
so as not to disturb his work.
To everyone’s wonder, old enemies,
with several murders between them,
found themselves talking sanely, giving and taking,
and going home to sleep peacefully as never before.
Tijani would never hear their arguments
for he was never among them;
he would be in his room.
But there was such an aura of peace and quiet
in the square that it was difficult to stay pugnacious
for the rival foes.
Tijani’s fame as a dispute-settler spread
to sixty villages.
The oddity was that he never mediated,
only sat inside his room, invisible to the arguers.
It became known all around,
that settling disputes was easy,
if you went to the soofi’s square,
and were resolved to leave as friends.

Twenty years on, Tijani was a local legend.
His body had emaciated,
for he ate frugally and once a day.
His hair had grayed.
He left his room only on Fridays,
visited his family on yearly festivals.
His father died in the interim.
He went to the funeral, lowered the body,
comforted all.
He told them to rejoice instead of grieving,
for his father had reached
the beginning of a new road
he needed to travel till salvation.

The only person allowed to enter his room
was his mother
She would come every Monday evening,
after the evening prayers,
curse him roundly and each time
for the small size of the aperture to his room;
for she found it difficult to squeeze in.
She came with servants bearing food and fruit.
She would chatter about this and that,
inform him of events in the family,
births and deaths, marriages and divorces, suchlike.
He always looked interested, but only so
that he was not scolded for inattention.
She would feed him with her own hand,
dishes he liked as a child, in youth, and before
he had left her house.
This was the only meal Tijani ate with savor.
She would then sit cross-legged,
and place his head in her lap,
and prattle on, her hand in his hair.
He invariably fell asleep, whereupon
she would quietly gather the crockery,
whisper to the servants to prepare to leave.
She would sidle out of the small opening,
cursing him again under her breath.
She was getting arthritic with age.

Her visits were certain, come rain or hail,
in sickness and in health.
It was the only part of the week
Tijani waited for.


Abdul arrived at Tijani’s door one mid-afternoon,
as advised by his grandfather the hakeem.
He saw the bare square,
with the square room in the center of it,
with an opening but no door.
He saw three groups of men,
sitting in consultation in muted tones.
The farmer in Abdul was confused,
at the bareness of the square,
its surrounds verdant and leafy.

One of the groups dispersed, smiling broadly.
Abdul asked them how he was to approach Tijani.
He was told that was not possible.
The Soofi never spoke to anyone,
except his few servants and family.
He was simply not available.

It was not in Abdul’s nature to give up,
on any front.
So he boldly approached the room
and announced his presence.
He got no response.
There was no door, so nothing to knock at.
The open access was slightly forbidding.
Abdul thought of peeping in, and then fore bore.
He went to the village and asked around.
He came to the mosque the following Friday,
and looked at Tijani.
Abdul was horribly impressed, totally taken in!

Abdul followed Tijani and addressed him,
got no answer, never any eye contact.
He pressed nearer but lost Tijani in the crowd.
Strange to tell, the man just melted away.

Abdul came back the following Friday, and the next.
He approached Tijani from front, rear and side.
Once Tijani looked at him, his gaze distant,
seemed to pass through him.
Roughly, one of Tijani’s servants shoved Abdul aside,
and warned him not to stalk the saint.
He had been noticed.
Abdul was at a loss, but not for long.

To get to Tijani’s village, Alipur,
Abdul had to travel thirty miles.
He would take the bus and back the same way.
Next Monday, though, he got hold of Billu-ox,
and rode him, ten miles a day,
arriving in Alipur the following Thursday,
fresh as a daisy having enjoyed the trek
over field and country.
He rented a plough from the village
and set about furrowing Tijani’s square,
whereupon all hell broke loose.
Abdul was beset by a dozen villagers,
thrown to the ground, and beaten with staves.
Such a sacrilege was unheard of.
Abdul argued he was following his heart,
that he just wanted to serve the saint.
He was a farmer, he did not know how else.

A servant told Tijani of the incident.
He was amused, but regretted the violence.
The next day when he emerged from his room
for the mosque,
he saw at the edge of the clearing,
the most magnificent ox he had seen in a long time,
and a strapping youngster with long hair,
Jet-black and shining with oil.
Tijani felt something he had put away years ago,
his love of beautiful animals.
So Tijani went over and looked at the ox, and smiled.
Billu-ox stood six foot high, a ton of muscle and bone,
a horn spread of two feet, and purple eyes,
all wrapped up in shiny silver-gray hide.
Tijani approached, Billu-ox lowered his neck,
got a caress on his nose.
Abdul looked on transfixed.
Tijani turned and walked away.
When he returned from the mosque
the duo were still there, but Tijani ignored them.

The next Friday and the one after,
he saw the two, the youngster and his ox,
at the same place.
Then he recalled his servants telling him,
of the attempt at ploughing his land.
He asked his servants to bring the youngster to him.


Abdul approached the soofi quaking inside.
He knew that the soofi was very private,
so felt slightly uncertain, but immensely flattered,
at the unexpected favor.

Tijani sat at the aperture to his room, cross-legged.
He was dressed in a long robe,
a nightshirt worn by the Brits in Victorian times.
(He would order these by the dozen, from London,
where some tailors still stitch them.)
Abdul stood, fidgeting, then sat down on his haunches,
Tijani was quiet for a minute, stared, fully focused,
at Abdul, who shuffled some more.
Finally, Tijani spoke.

What is your name?
Abdul and what else?
Abdul is my name. I do not know what you mean
by what else..
Abdul is an Arabic word meaning ‚A man of- -‚
Whose man are you?
I am just a man and I work for myself.
No, no! my ignorant friend. The word Abdul
is a pre-name followed generally by one
of the many names of Allah, revealed in the Sources.
There are more than a hundred such!
You being the scholar, you tell me,
for I do not know.

Tijani was amused but struck
by the enquiry in the man.
He began to enjoy this rare conversation.

Now that is a difficult one,
for Allah has all of the different qualities
known to man. And for each of these
we have been given a name by which
we may better supplicate Him.
I, at different times pray to Him, calling
on Him by various names, in the hope
that He may be pleased with me, and favor me
by noticing my supplications.
Nevertheless, where are you from?
From the village of Rajan.
That is some distance away.
How did you travel here?
I took a bus thrice, then three weeks ago,
I rode my Billu-ox here,
for I needed him to till your land,
for I hate fallow land. In addition, I wanted
to ingratiate myself with you.
I hear Soofiism is a great life.
I am an illiterate farmer, and know little.
My grandfather the Hakeem of Rajan,
advised me to see you, to talk with you,
for you are a living saint with many miracles.
The local clergy of the fourteen villages
knows little of Islam, nor our practices.
They are the literate uneducated.
I am agitated.
There is no concept of clergy in Islam.
We have been enjoined to obey whoever
has a greater knowledge of the Book.
The so called clergy we bow to are politicians,
with personal agendas, nothing more.
Tell me, what is it that Soofis do that
interests you so much? That you would do yourself.
I do not know, so you tell me,
I will then answer your question.

Tijani was impressed. Here was a wily youngster,
with an agenda. Tijani liked the directness,
so engaged him some more.

It’s a difficult road that you need to travel,
and that also, mainly alone!

Abdul sat quiet for a while,
then, pragmatic and practical, he came back.

Difficult or not, please tell me of the Soofi Way.
Nothing is more difficult than farming.
I really will have to see if I have the time.
It is unlikely.

Abdul sat quiet for a minute.
He weighed his options of either going
by the soofi’s convenience
or laying down his own line.
He decided that the reasoned argument
would probably work.
Else, he thought, beggars cannot be choosers.

Master, I have been here several weeks.
In the last three months,
I have neglected my work,
so why can’t you neglect yours
to guide a student for an hour or two.
In any case, I have never seen
you doing any honest work,
except whatever it is you do out of sight.

Tijani smiled.
Here was a good example of a control freak!
But then the lad was right.
He also needed to put to the test
various thoughts, ideas that
he had short-listed over the years.
The youngster had a strange appeal.

Let us then go back to basics.
What do you think we Soofis do and why.
I know a few Soofi songs.
I know that the Soofis work to be saints.
There are many saints we revere
who started life as Soofis.
In addition, I have met Rumi in a dream,
and want to know more of him.

At the mention of Rumi seen in a dream,
Tijani sat up with renewed verve.
Slowly, and in detail he quizzed Abdul
on the vision for an hour.
Abdul’s whole life came up one way or another.
Tijani gave it several minutes and then,

I accept the commission to work with you
and travel a common path which,
let me warn you, may lead nowhere.
I will take my chances.
I too have a question; why this small opening
with no door?
For without doors there is no security.
Doors do not ensure security;
safety is in total trust in the Almighty.
My abode is open to my many friends,
I have many visitors; they come, converse
and go away without let or hindrance.
Sometimes I go and visit my soofi friends.
I have never seen anyone entering or leaving.
Tell me, please, who they be?
There have been hundreds over the years.
Buddhist lamas, Hindu fakirs, Christian monks,
Muslim Soofis of the ten orders,
Dara Shikoh came last night, we talked of
Madho Lal, the martyr-youth.
Francis of Assisi; the Bhagat Kabir;
The Penitents of Durham Cathedral;
The Jesuits of Eritrea; Chief Seattle;
A mixed bag you would say,
the common thread being a continuous quest
For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory of God;
I meet them as and when.
Do you believe this to be true?

Tijani told Abdul to stick around
over the next few weeks and to see him
whenever called.
Tijani offered him board and lodge,
which Abdul refused.
He would work as a hired hand in Alipur farms.
Also, Billu-ox was much in demand as a sire.
I will live off Billu-ox‚ he informed Tijani,
with a wicked twinkle in his black eyes.


Abdul lived in Alipur for six months,
a local celebrity as he was the only one
who had the ear of the Soofi Tijani.
Half the time Abdul did not understand
much of what the soofi said, yet,
he did not question, just absorbed.
He vaguely understood the that ultimate aim
of the Soofi was a successful unison
with the Supreme Being,
through transcendental meditation,
negation of self, and asceticism.
The Islamic practices were well settled,
But those of other inclinations
had systems of their own, with common threads,
affecting all facets of life;
the physical, the mental, and the spiritual.

Abduls problem was that he did not know
where to begin.
So one day he decided to have it out with Tijani.
The conversation went;

Master, you have been very kind
in helping me understand the Soofi Way.
I now feel that I know enough
to move on to more practical things;
I have the urge to embark on the journey
but do not know how.
May it please you to guide me one more time
for I am just a farmer.
Yes, I have also found you to be tenacious.
I was hoping you would decamp,
and I would be rid of you
but you are a sticky lout, so I will tell you
what to do.
Abdul, we men have three Nemeses:
Zar, Zan, and Zameen.
Zar, broadly speaking is material wealth,
lucre of all kinds.
Zan is woman, as the object of sex.
And Zameen is land.
Mostly, the vast majority of men
spend their whole lives chasing, single-minded,
sometimes one, sometimes two, but very often
all three of these phantoms.
No blame here, for the chase and its outcome,
satisfies basic instincts of the human race.
And each of us has what is called the anomic gap,
the empty space between his reach and grasp.
This gap is singly the most telling reason
for the widespread unhappiness all over the world.
For it leads to envy, greed and unbridled desire:
all negative, all bad for health.
Better by far to avoid
getting caught in these traps.
So, Abdul, reduce the need for
Zar, Zan, and Zameen in your life.
Ali, master of all soofis had once pronounced
the triple-divorce, addressing this world,
a final and irrevocable renunciation.
That is one.

Secondly, meditate and think.
The Islamic practice is the namaz-e- shab,
the night vigil prayers.
Ali, our master-in-chief, oft time stood
in prayer from dusk to dawn,
but you better not try that
for you may end up with gout!
So memorize the ritual prayer,
try to understand what you intone,
then do it a hundred times, not less, every night.
And concentrate. Mean what you say.
Do not let your mind wander. Difficult,
but can be done.

Thirdly, you have to give up
all vanity, envy, anger, gluttony, lust,
other things, which are indecent in morality
Fourthly, what is it that you love most,
person or thing, in the entire world?

Abdul considered the answer carefully.
He reviewed all his connects,
and short-listed Jani and Billu-ox.
Considering the Soofi’s advice,
he relegated Jani to second- place.
He plumbed for Billu-ox.

I love Billu-ox the most.
Then you are to serve him, Abdul,
till he is satisfied with you.
How would I know that?
I will tell you.

Fifthly, what person or thing do you
hate the most?

This was easy.

My father.
You are to banish the hatred for your father
from your heart, along with other hates.
You need to cleanse yourself of the negatives.
Go back to Rajan now, and act on what
I have told you to do.
Come back to see me once in a while,
but only if significant dreams or miracles happen.
Else wise, don’t come back,
for then soofiism is not for you.
If you decide to give up the quest,
Don’t be embarrassed, or upset, or sad.
Just do not bother me with explanations.

Let me also tell you that on this journey
there are stations and states, which are
well defined in the books of soofi practices.
The states are seven in number.
The first is sincere repentance for past sins.
The second is ascetic piety in word and deed.
The third is devotion, steadfastness and patience.
The fourth is unquestioning gratitude to God
for whatever He gives, whether good or bad.
The fifth is total trust in Him and Him alone.
The sixth is contentment in whatever state you are.
The seventh, and the most difficult to achieve,
is wonder and awe at the Majesty of God.

Now, if you practice to generate
these states and are even half-successful at this,
you will travel to and through four stations
much like train depots.

The first is that you will respond in kind
to the love you get from the Almighty.
Moreover, this love is as a swirling mist
around you at all times.
The second is a spiritual nearness
to the Exalted Being, a feeling of being in
His wondrous presence at all time.
The third is to generate a feeling of bliss,
like the constant high you get when you are
in the arms of one whom you love very much.
The fourth and this will only happen
if He accepts you devotion and struggles,
is the grand union with Him, where you
cease to exist but become a part of the Ultimate State.

In our books, there is the oft-quoted example
of the flame and the moth.
The moth gets more and more fascinated with the flame
flies around it in ever-tighter circles, until one day
the moth enters the flame and is consumed.
The flame flickers once,
then returns to its former state.

Now, Abdul, these states and stations
run parallel at times, conjointly at others,
Or quite separately, even on a day-to- day basis.
All, except the last state, after which there is peace.
You are embarking on an arduous journey,
I wish you luck and Godspeed.


Abdul went back to Rajan,
not riding Billu-ox but walking by his side.
He threw away the halter and the whip,
tied a rope round the animal’s neck.
Before he set off from Alipur,
Abdul adorned Billu-ox’s horns with golden paint.
The journey back of thirty miles
took ten days instead of three,
coz Billu-ox would often meander,
munching at greenery, here and there.
Abdul would follow and gently lead him back.
Oft-times Billu-ox would sit down,
and laze for hours, and Abdul would sit and wait
for Billu-ox to rise and move again.
Finally, though, they both got home.

Abdul went to see his grandfather, the hakeem,
and told him of what befell him at Alipur.
The hakeem listened gravely, told him
that Abdul was getting to the Way.
Abdul asked, how come?
The hakeem said, for the way
he was already deferential to Billu-ox.
The return journey had taken ten days
instead of three.
So Billu-ox was now in-charge of his heart.
The hakeem quoted some Chinese bard, who said,
“ The journey of a thousand mile begins with one step.”

Abdul stood at the crossroads for a week.
His body ached for the carnal.
His mind told him to decamp.
His spirit was troubled, vacillating
between the here and the hereafter..

His life was all messed up.
His land lay fallow, overgrown with rubbish,
the farmer in him quaked at this.
In the last six months
his locked house had gone musty,
and crawled with insects.
The company had disconnected power and gas
for non-payment of bills.
He had no money, for all that he made at Alipur,
he had donated to Afzal Khan’s trust.
Also, he was a spendthrift by nature,
a ready condition for going broke.

Ajju and his family came from their quarter,
and welcomed him; said they had missed him.
Abdul told them to go away,
as he could no longer afford them,
but Ajju’s wife, his mother’s maidservant ante-natal,
scolded him for the thought,
and continued to feed him, the same way
as she had nursed him a quarter century ago.
Money is never an issue
for the super-rich or the very poor.

KK came to see him,
asked when they would resume
their sing-song evenings.
Abdul demurred, sensing a trap.
Jani stole in one p.m.
They made desperate love, grinding
into each other, as if there would be
no tomorrow.

One night next week as he lay
in the flickering light of an old rusty lantern,
swatting bugs, he thought he saw Rumi,
clad in his spotless blue robe, standing
at the door to his room, scowling and uncertain.
Then with a look of distaste
at the filth which surrounded Abdul,
Rumi disappeared.

Abdul got up in panic.
He knew there was no way out.
The great Rumi had revisited.
He could not be denied.
Asceticism and cleanliness, or the other way round
was the bedrock of the Soofi way.
Abdul’s die was cast, he was at peace.

The next morning, Abdul did seven things.
He personally rid his house of all mire.
He auctioned the scrub on his land as fodder.
He moved Billu-ox to his anteroom.
He bought a silver bell for Billu-ox.
He repaired his mother’s grave, had it tiled.
He started to memorize the ritual prayer.
He went to his grandfather, the hakeem,
and started to learn to read and write,
a huge effort for a near-dyslexic.

Abdul memorized the salaa with meaning,
and started to keep the timings punctual.
He started to fast week in and out,
from dawn to dusk.
He would stand in prayer a few hours at night.
Personal hygiene and clean environs
became an obsession.

The news of Abdul’s new lifestyle,
got known in the fourteen villages and
the reviews were mixed.
But gradually the people started to believe
in his striving for piety.

Even though he neglected his land,
the scrub there-on, harvested for fodder
every third month, got known for sweetness
and strength- giving to animals.
The farmers of the fourteen villages,
for they were superstitious yokels,
made sure that a bit of Abdul’s scrub
was mixed in the feed of their cattle.
Thus, every third month,
large sums of money came his way.
He gave it all to Ajju’s wife, who managed it.
He never took accounts.

Billu-ox with his stench
was ever in the next room, except when taken out
to be fed, from out of a large wooden trough
that stood in the courtyard.
Abdul had a tube-well drilled in his house.
Thenceforth, Billu-ox was bathed thrice a day,
personally by Abdul.
The months of inactivity suited Billu-ox.
He put on a quarter ton of beef.
His skin turned from silver-gray to silver.

Abdul was vain of personal looks.
He was six foot tall,
had a body of well-worked tone,
spare of chest and flat of belly.
The sheen of youth glowed out of the copper skin.
He was handsome as Adonis.
However, it was his long hair that he most coveted.
In his previous life he gave it much time,
irrigated it with almond oil, egg yolk
and limewater.
Long, lush and lovely,
Abdul’s hair was highly prized.

One day he chanced to pass
his mother’s old dressing place.
He saw himself in the mirror.
An elation born of pride; his gorgeous mane;
he paused. Then he recalled Tijani’s
distaste for vanity in all forms.
Abdul got hold of a pair of sheers
and with studied hard work,
divested his head of its cover.
He threw the mirror away.

When next Thursday, KK came to sing,
everyone remarked that he looked
all the more handsome!
His Gnostic pursuits gave him
in looks an ethereal quality;
transparency to his eyes; languor to his movements;
and authority in gesture.
He was slowly becoming
what is called charismatic.

It was a hard slog for the youngster.
It took him a week to memorize the ritual prayer
with its unvarying, settled format.
Slowly he started to read Arabic.
The hakeem was overjoyed
at the change in life of his grandson,
treasured every minute he spent tutoring Abdul,
seeing, with awe, Abdul’s struggle with himself.

The hakeem was nearing seventy.
Highly regarded by the people of Rajan ever,
he was now even more respected for age,
and his Islamic piety practiced daily.
He gave alms, and treated the poor
charging no fee, would give free medicine.
He suddenly realized that he exulted
in this, his Indian summer.

Odd news came from Alipur.
The crossings of Billu-ox with local cows
had produced heifers and no males.
Twenty-six female calves, no exceptions!
The farmers of Rajan and surrounds,
made a bee-line for Abdul’s house,
their cows in tow, offering money and gifts
for Billu-ox’s favors.
Seeing that Billu-ox enjoyed the game,
Abdul let it be.
So cow after cow passed from
under Billu-ox’s gigantic frame,
tottered away for a furlong,
before she could walk straight.
Billu-ox would be given a long bath,
after each mating by Abdul himself.
When the calves came, sure enough,
these were female, without mix.
Billu-ox had strange genes!

Abdul’s days and nights passed
in meditation and prayers.
He prayed and prayed the ritual prayer,
And meditated on Tijani’s words;
He had been told:
To banish hate from his soul,
To love and nurture Billu-ox,
To give up sexual congress,
To disregard money and things,
To covet land no more.

Abdul worked at each with fixed intent.
Not being an original thinker,
he was happy to keep himself
confined to Tijani’s format
He waited for visions and miracles, as promised.
And was fastidiously clean in body,
and his house always had fresh, cheery air.
It was a constant slog, day in and out.
But strange to tell, Abdul was having
a real good time.

He allowed himself two pleasures.
Once in a while, after Billu-ox had had his bath,
Abdul would paint his horns with golden paint,
put almond oil on his forehead,
and sitting astride would goad
Billu-ox for a walk- along in the village streets,
his large silver bell going ding-dong.
Village lads would follow, a small procession,
watched over by smiling villagers.
In an hour or two
the twain would be back home.

The other was the weekly singsong
of Khlas Khan and company.
On Thursdays, just after dusk.
A few dozen farmers would gather, food in hand,
yoghurts, cheeses, fried rice and things.
A couple of hours of pidgin poetry,
and then a feast topped with scalding tea.
The gathering would disperse around midnight,
and Abdul would retreat to his prayers.

Jani would come off and on, one pretext or another.
He treated her with unfailing courtesy,
but put off anything more,
gently giving one excuse or another.
Jani was aggrieved, her young heart
mortified at the rejection by her man,
a horrible feeling for any woman
be she of any culture.
Was there another woman? She asked around
but no was the general response.
Was he sick or something?
No, he was in the pink of health,
stronger if anything, though he had lost
ten kilos in weight.
Finally, did he have a boyfriend?
Don’t be silly, she was told.
Jani was puzzled, but decided to bide her time.

One evening, when Abdul was out
on his walk- along astride Billu-ox, she saw him.
In the backdrop of a golden setting sun,
playing on Billu-ox’s golden horns,
and the silver bell peeling
with Abdul’s lithe, copper body
carelessly splayed on his back,
the village lads in tow.
Jani’s hormones went berserk
like the ping-pong balls in a lotto machine.
She then decided to have it out with him.

Jani did charring and other odd jobs
for a family in the village, which had two daughters,
fast friends of hers over the years.
Jani and the girls shared womanly secrets
And kept their mouths shut.
Jani’s liaison with Abdul
was well-known to her pals.

The elder girl was a college graduate,
a poetess to boot.
She advised Jani to write a letter to Abdul
and pour her heart out.
Better still, she would write out a poem
from Jani to Abdul. Then she wrote;

“You were here, within me, sometime ago.
Then, you went away and I wait.

Like parched land awaits rain,
Like the sea awaits tides.
Like leafless trees await spring.
Like lonely nights await mornings.
Like snow awaits the thaw.
Like empty roads await travelers.
Like a dream awaits fulfilling.
Like a seed waiting for breeze.

Your comings are getting less and less frequent,
Your goings, more and more often.

Myself, I live only when you are here.
I die in between.

Day by day,
I am now living less.”

Jani had the letter delivered, waited in vain for a response.

Abdul read the poem, felt a twinge of remorse,
then tore up the missive,
and quite forgot about it.
He was getting more and more detached with things.

Jani’s mortification knew no bounds,
but such is the obsession of jilted lovers,
that she gave to herself a hundred reasons
why Abdul had not played up.
She decided to go see him nevertheless.

Jani would often sleep over at her employer’s,
and so when this once
she asked her mother for a night out,
her mother said, ‘of course! ’

Jani prepared herself for Abdul.
She put henna in her cleavage,
almond oil in her hair, a touch of kohl to her eyes,
and a trace of redness
to her already pink cheeks.
Early in the night,
she told her friends to watch out
while she quietly stole out of doors,
her father’s headgear covering her hair.
She reached Abdul’s house undetected.
Abdul’s house was always open.
She stood awhile in the verandah,
and then pushed open the door to his room.
Abdul was taken aback, for she was
generally very circumspect.
He lay on his cot, as his night-vigil
was yet an hour away.
She flung herself at him, holding close,
babbling how she missed him.
Abdul’s whole body went into spasm.
He had often fantasized about how
the showdown would come.
But this was worse.

Abdul told her gently and kindly,
that he was now in love with a Being
that was elusive and unseen,
and that his new love was so great
that he found no place in his affections
for anyone else; man, woman, or child.
He quietly disengaged himself
from her embrace, got up and started
to walk around in the room.
At some length, he tried to explain
his quest to Jani, but utterly failed
to placate the girl.

Jani went from hurt to hysterical.
She pleaded to Abdul for one more time,
But he kept his distance.
The altercation between the two lasted an hour,
till Billu-ox next doors snorted
and rang his bell.
Finally, Jani, defeated and despairing,
took hold of a broom lying there
made of sharp dry twigs,
and lashed Abdul across the face
with such ferocity that she drew blood.
She almost blinded him. She then left.

Jani repaired herself to her friends
and went into a paroxysm of weeping.
The sisters did not ask her why.
The elder one held her close and kissed her on the mouth,
and crooned to her.
Jani spent the night changing cots
between the two girls, comforted in cozy whispers
until dawn.

Back home the next morning
Jani spoke to her mother,
asked her to arrange for Jani
to marry a certain cousin she claimed to fancy.
Jani’s mother was ready and willing,
relieved that her will-some and winsome child
had finally become a woman.

Abdul ached for a week, in body and soul.
Then the welts on his face subsided
and he was gradually whole again


One night,
when he had slept but an hour,
after his night’s supplication,
he thought he heard his grandfather the hakeem
call out to him.
The call was urgent, the hakeem lived alone.
Abdul pulled on a shirt and ran to his grandfather’s house.
He found the hakeem gasping for breath,
his face azure and strange.
Abdul asked him what was wrong.
The hakeem said it was his heart,
that it had already failed.
He came softly into Abdul’s arms
and in a while passed on.
Abdul held his grandfathers body in his arms
until dawn, whereupon he got up
and sent word to his relations
that the hakeem was no more.

Abdul dug the grave himself, bathed the old body,
and wrapped it in a cotton sheet.
Abdul led the funeral prayers,
lowered the body into the hole.
He smiled a lot of the time and talked
to his grandfather in a bantering tone,
as if he were alive, cracking jokes.
People thought that odd,
but then they were getting used
to Abdul’s strange ways.

One day at eleven, a fortnight later,
while Abdul slept,
there was a knock on his door.
Abdul asked whomever it was, to enter.
In came a middle-aged man in jeans and joggers,
“I am Rajab Ali, ” he said.
“If you are Abdul, son of Molly,
then I am your father.”

This was another showdown Abdul had dreaded,
seeing his father for the first time ever.
A great wave of anger, and revulsion
crept up from the soles of his feet
and went to his head.
His body went into a spasm again.
And once again, he took hold of himself,
rose up and paced his room.

Rajab Ali stood, uncertain, and at a loss
with a host of emotions that took hold of him
at seeing this stranger who was his son.
Shame, regret, a huge surge of love for the youth,
but most of all guilt at his neglect,
Rajab Ali stood shivering and shaking.

In a while, Abdul went to him,
led him to his cot and sat him down.
He brought his father a glass of milk,
for he seemed to be collapsing,
and milk, as we know, rejuvenates.

Abdul condoled with his father
for the death of the hakeem, and Rajab Ali
condoled for Molly’s death.
He said how sorry he was for neglecting Abdul
all these years.
Abdul said not to mention.
Rajab Ali told him that he had come back
a week ago, but found courage to face Abdul
only now.
That is how sorry he was.
Abdul said he understood.
Rajab Ali’s must be a heavy cross.

Being now a rich man, he told Abdul,
that he intended to retire,
and live near his only son.
Abdul suggested that Rajab Ali live
in the hakim’s house, and that he was
welcome to visit, except that he shall not
disturb Abdul’s prayers and supplications.
Abdul sent word to his uncles
that Rajab Ali was under Abdul’s care
He was not to be harassed.

In sometime, Rajab Ali re-entered the village life.
He hardly spent any time with his son,
except on the weekly sing-songs,
where he became a regular.


A whole year went by.
Jani got married and went away to live
with her husband in a village
a few miles away. She stopped visiting
her family, avoided Rajan and all who lived there.
Abdul thought of her at times and
sometimes wondered where he would
have been, but for Rumi’s visions.
He then consciously put Jani out of mind
and eventually, his heart.

Abdul’s Gnostic experience deepened.
He felt himself uplifted to a higher plane.
He felt far more at peace; nothing
seemed to bother him now.
Although he never worked his land now,
the income from the scrub quadrupled,
farmers buying it by the kilogram,
as if it was some exotic herb.
Billu-ox’s progeny of female calves
populated the nearby farms.
Abdul was a local celebrity, and to show
their veneration, farmers would bring gifts,
both cash and kind.
Abdul sent these off without looking at them,
to the poor as alms.

In a nearby village called Deepak,
four young men got together
and formed a criminal gang;
Lambu, Motu, Beeda, and leader Teddy.
Lambu was six foot six,
Motu weighed in at two-fifty pounds.
Beeda was very dark, and cross-eyed.
The leader Teddy was small,
Lithe, and quick as a whippet,
fearless, and insanely violent.
The other three were terrified of Teddy.

They bought themselves auto-pistols
and went into the business
of house-theft, robbery and dacoities,
laced with a bit of rape.
Within their own village, they remained
models of good behavior;
the other villages were fair game.
Police cover in the area was thin,
the nearest courthouse was out of reach.
So the gang of four prospered,
robbed scores of houses, raped dozens of girls,
threw their ill-gotten money around,
gave rich presents to their girlfriends.

One night they raided a house in Rajan.
They had intelligence.
A daughter of the house was to be wed.
Her dowry, painstakingly collected over years
was looted.

Going away, Beeda noticed the girl
hidden behind her parents, petrified.
He dragged her away and had his way with her.
She, bleeding and broken in body and spirit,
jumped into a well and drowned herself.

The village-folk, shocked and threatened,
came in a delegation to Abdul
and asked him to intercede.
Abdul didn’t know how and said so.
He went to the girl’s funeral
presided over by mulla Sharfu.
He laid the girl in her grave,
and prayed over it for Divine Justice.

The gang of four would go free, for even those
who were first-hand witnesses were fearful
to testify.
A couple of cases taken by the police were filed
for lack of evidence!
So the gang of four got bolder
and added murder to their repertoire of crime.
Teddy made them guns for hire;
Their menace in the area grew.

The gang had often heard
of Abdul as an oddball farmer,
who shunned one and all,
and spent his time in secret ritual.
They had also heard
that he made much money from his scrub.
Also that Abdul was the recipient of many gifts.
That he lived alone, with his ox being his only company.
So one night they raided Abdul’s house.

Abdul was on his prayer mat.
It was just after two a.m.
Lambu and Teddy entered his room
and held him up,
while Motu and Beeda searched the house.
They found nothing.
This infuriated the boys greatly.
Teddy asked Abdul to tell
of secret hiding-places in his house.
Abdul told them there were none.
Teddy cocked his pistol
and held it Abdul’s head and asked him
to say some prayer as this was it.

For the first time Abdul looked at him
in a focused way and said,
“May the exalted one, my Creator
bless you for this favor to me,
for sending me so quickly and painlessly
to my journey’s end, where I may behold
the fair countenance of the Lord, my Master.
Please, I beg you, do this at once.”

It was the earnestness in his voice
which fazed out Teddy the leader.
He turned away, disgusted at this lunatic,
who welcomed death in such glowing terms.
Teddy told his underlings to truss
Abdul to his cot lest he raise alarm,
then left the house, taking Billu-ox’s silver bell
the only thing of value they found.

The gang of four had parked their van
at the outskirts of the village.
They walked back glumly.
Teddy was furious and abused them roundly,
ordered that they collect intelligence with care
and not waste his time.
Else, he would kill them all and have done with it.

As they neared their van,
the gang of four was beset
by a pack of twenty-one hyenas.

The hyena is a dog-like carnivore
of African origin,
generally a carrion-eater, operating in packs,
the hyena has the strongest jaw
in the animal kingdom, stronger,
ounce for ounce than the tiger’s,
or the grizzly bear’s.
Hyenas do not attack the living,
but scavenge the dead.
But this pack of hyenas
which attacked the gang of four was rabid.

In three minutes flat, the animals felled the men.
Once their jaws closed on a body-part
bones broke like twigs, sinews pulled apart
like tissue paper.
The hyena leader bit off
half of Teddy’s face in one easy chomp.
A dozen others got hold
of various limbs of the other’s.
Other pack-members so far idle
started to bite off large chunks
of flesh and organs, and feasted.
Sixteen minutes later it was all over.

The pack recollected,
formed a loose circle round the gory remains.
And then, in unison, the hyenas laughed.
Then left.

Farmers off to their lands
to do morning irrigation saw the bloody sight
and raised alarm.
Soon a large crowd collected, and saw the ugly scene,
wondered how this came about.
Two old men, experts at cattle tracking
looked at the paw-marks and droppings
and then said that it was hyenas did this.
The weird thing was that hyenas
were not known in this part
of canal- irrigated Punjab.

They found the silver bell
and knew it to be the one which hung on Billu-ox.
The crowd repaired to Abdul’s house.
They found him trussed to his cot,
fast asleep, snoring softly.
The villagers were wonderstruck big-time.
Gently roused, Abdul asked to be untied,
asked what brought them, so early,
to his house.

They told him of the hyena attack,
which had eradicated the gang of four.
They claimed with conviction
that Abdul had worked a miracle.

Abdul told them to go away.
It was just another wildlife attack
on humans; the phenomenon well-known.
They said yes, but in living memory
hyenas were unknown in these parts.
Abdul said there was always a first time
for everything.
They left askance, but before that,
they replaced Billu-ox’s silver bell,
now resplendent on a brand new collar
round his huge neck.

The strange happening did the rounds
in sixty villages, even reached Alipur.
Abdul’s fame spread far and wide,
as a man of God.

His scrub sold by the ounce now.
Abdul never saw the money, nor cared.
Ajju’s family grew richer by the day.

Abdul’s attachment to Billu-ox,
carefully garnered and cultivated,
grew into an obsession.
And the line of cows brought in
for Billu-ox’s favors elongated no end.
Abdul decided to ration
Billu-ox’s couplings, lest he lose strength.

Another few months passed,
another winter arrived with its aura of cow-dung smoke
hanging over the village.
The villagers used cow-dung patties
to heat their houses.

One late November night
in the second hour of his nightly prayers,
Abdul felt dizzy and collapsed.

He had had this niggling flu for a fortnight.
His large frame, now emaciated with fasting,
just couldn’t fight off the bug.
Also, for some months now, he had given up meat;
he had read that the master Ali,
had once said that it was not proper
to make your bellies the graveyard of animals.
Abdul’s protein level had gone below par.

Abdul fell very sick that November night.
Ajju found him on the floor,
in high fever, shivering uncontrolled.
His father was told, came on the trot.
As the word got around,
six doctors from neighboring villages
descended on Rajan, unasked and uninvited.
They examined Abdul and consulted gravely,
Couldn’t diagnose the virus.
Abdul asked to be left alone but
this once nobody listened.
Medicine he would not take, that was final!

For the better part of a week,
Abdul drifted in and out of consciousness.
Then a high fever sent him almost into a coma.


Abdul found himself on seashore.
Though he had heard of the sea and oceans,
Abdul had never been on any coast,
having spent all his life in land-locked Punjab.
The ozone revived him, and he looked around.

He lay on a beach,
heard alternate roar and lapping of waves,
had no clue where he was.
Then he saw a woman riding a white mule
come his way.
She was dressed in a flounced violet robe,
a large cape covered her hair.
She was young and exceedingly pretty,
her skin translucent, pink and white.

Abdul sat up, completely at sea
in more than one way.
The mule clip-clopped to a couple of feet,
and stood, long ears parallel to the ground.

Abdul staggered to his feet, and gingerly
approached the lady,
“Madam” he said, “where am I, and pray who you are? ”

The woman spoke:
I am Sahla bint Minhal, also known as Umm Hiram.
My earthly grave is across this sea,
In Lanarka, on the island of Cyprus.
I fell off my mule in a war,
and my neck fractured.
collateral damage, they said, same as now.
But the kindness of God restored me,
received me into His exalted presence
and gave me a haven of rest and refuge
for throughout my mortal existence,
I reserved all my life and gave all I had
in total devotion to His will and in the hope
of one day being ushered into His grace.
Abdul, He never disappoints those
who love Him, for that is His Right.

Abdul asked her then as to why she
had favored him by meeting him,
an unworthy soul, a mere student on the Way.

Sahla told him that she was acting on orders.
That Abdul was one of the accepted ones;
that his malady was to be cured;
that he was to be made whole again,
and, that he was to carry certain messages
back to a humanity which has lost direction.
Those were the orders from Him who cannot be denied.
Sahla said;
“I died in the eighth century A.D.
yet you see me here!
This could not happen but for the Grace of God.
This visit is to give you hope and sustenance.”

Abdul said:
And how did you get her, over the sea.
Can your mule swim?

Sahla smiled, “No, he walked it, over the water‚”
Abdul grinned, clearly disbelieving.

Sahla said:
“We Soofis have a hard life on earth,
but once out, even if half-baked,
we are way and beyond physical laws
of the universe.
The stone columns which stand over my grave,
floated across the sea all the way to Cyprus,
from the Lebanon! !
This is true, Abdul.”

By this time around,
Abdul, wholly taken in by the beauty
and sincerity of Sahla, arose
and kissed the reins of her mule,
bent his knee to her.

Sahla said:
“My friends and I have heard of your quest
to come and be one of us.
We also know Tijani; he is a right one.
We are very impressed by you
for you stepped on the Path
at such a small age.
Mostly our search starts, average age thirty,
while you are already well advanced on the Way.
Abdul, would you like to come and meet my friends? ”:

Abdul said he would like nothing better.
Sahla told Abdul to hold on
to the reins of her mule and enter the sea.
Abdul demurred, but the serenity of Sahla
shamed him, and so he grasped the leather
and lo and behold,
he was walking on the water.

The scene suddenly changed.
Abdul found himself standing on the edge
of a huge, deep carpet that seemed
to stretch for a mile
laid out in a huge, tall hall, with high windows
reaching the roof, draped in pastel curtains
slowly swinging in a cool breeze
that seemed to come out of nowhere.
The whole scene was languorous,
and utterly peaceful.

Six young women, each prettier than the last
sat, robed in dresses which covered
their contours, yet accentuated,
their womanly comeliness.
They sat on settees and divans, or reclined
on couches upholstered in silks and satins.
A couple sat on the floor, their young bodies
arranged in yoga configurations.

Sahla bade Abdul welcome and proceeded
to introduce her friends to him.

She said:
“Abdul, all these friends of mine
were and still are highly regarded
by generation after generation of mankind.
For we quested for the sighting of the Eternal
with sincerity,
not for fear of hell, nor the greed for heaven,
but because we fell in love with Him.
We well and truly cared, were steadfast
and unswerving in our devotion to the Sublime,
the Invincible, and the Omnipotent.
So, when we bridged the divide and got here,
we were rewarded with His nearness,
eternal life and any form we wished.

“We were proud to be women then;
we are proud to be women now.
But most of us died of old age
wrinkled, and wasted by much fasting,
prayers and tears.
So we decided to be what we were
at age thirty, for we find that to be
the loveliest age for a woman.
“We wear natural colors only.
So I am in violet today, while my friends
as you see are garbed in indigo, blue,
green, yellow, orange and red.
We have many dresses in these colors
and rotate styles and fashions as we like.
We wear dresses of all regions, cultures,
dresses as they have changed over the centuries.
We have hundreds of choices,
It’s all great fun! !
So we are known by the angels and djins,
as The Rainbow Sisters! !

“We use scents and perfumes too, but these again
are natural extracts, pure and unalloyed.
So while you are with us, you will catch whiffs
of musk, amber, cedar, vetiver, henna, and pine.
There may also be wafts of the essence
of honeysuckle, apple blossom, dahlia and rose.
Don’t be surprised for these are our ways.

Each of my friends will give
when you meet her, a short message
that you are expected to take back with you, ”

Sahla took Abdul by the hand and led him
to the woman in the indigo dress.

“Meet Shawano, famed for shedding tears.
She wept, and wept, and wept
day in and day out for she wished
to cleanse her eyes and keep them clean
so that she could behold her Beloved
all the more clearly whenever He chose
to reveal Himself to her.
Her devotions accepted, she has been rewarded
with the most silvery, tingly, happy laugh
that you will ever hear.”

The woman in indigo looked at Abdul,
just smiled at first, then laughed at Sahla’s intro.
The beauty of the sound uplifted all.
The whole mood in the hall changed
from easy languor to joyous beckoning.

To Abdul she said,
“Tell the people, Abdul, that they waste
entire lifetimes in the quest for material gain
equating things with happiness.
Tell them that real wealth is in giving
not in amassing. So tell them
to quickly get rid of everything over and above
their immediate needs.
The bare minimum is sufficient,
for life is so short. The really rich
are those who give away the most.”
She laughed again, and Abdul, now in a trance,
bent down and kissed the hem of her dress.
She let him go.

Sahla then led Abdul
to the woman dressed in blue.
Her beauty, specially her imperious nose,
overwhelmed Abdul.
Sahla said
“This is Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc,
as you prefer.
She led an army, at age seventeen,
and saw her prince crowned king of France.
Once she took a leap from a turret
seventy feet high, and walked away.
She was a living saint, strictly committed to God.
She never married, had eyes fir Him alone.
So the establishment of the time
prosecuted her for being a witch,
for she wore men’s clothes, an infamy at the time.
She was burnt at the stake.
It was in fact a political murder
for she had, unwittingly, trod on a few powerful toes.
So the empire struck back and killed her.
We received her here, and washed the soot
off her body, and took her to ourselves.
She died aged nineteen.
You see her as she would have been
had she lived to be thirty.”

Joan took Abdul’s hand, sober and pensive, said,
“I have a great affection for you as both of us
are young acolytes of the Way.
Myself, an activist went to wars, but believe this,
that I never carried a weapon.
Though I led large armies, I hated killing.
Why I fought at Orleans, I will never know.
I think, being so young at the time, I was used
by the thanes and barons of the time as a pawn
and then discarded.
But I was sincere to my Maker and blindly
believed in my visions and truly loved the Lord.
So my innocence became my strength
when I was ushered in His presence,
And He, in His infinite mercy, has held me close
ever since.
Look at the two nations now, cozy in union!
So tell them to look at the Tijani model,
Sit together and talk softly, resolve disputes.
Violence will escalate geometrically.
War is the most profound inanity.
The youngsters, who get killed, are pawns like me.
On whose hand are they to find their blood?
Tell them that General Joan is sure of this now.”

Abdul then did a funny thing.
He bent and with great affection,
touched noses with Joan, and both smiled.

Sahla escorted Abdul to the woman in green.

She was light-colored and small,
but there was about her a great quality.
She had the wisest eyes Abdul had ever seen.

“Meet Miriam, sister of Moses, Prophetess herself,
ancestress of Bezalel and King David.
She it was who lay in wait, to rescue her brother
from the crate as it floated down the Nile.
She then arranged for their mother
to be employed as wet-nurse for her brother,
by his foster-mother, the Pharaoh’s wife.
She was all of ten at the time.
Later, Miriam, and her brother Aaron
aided and greatly furthered the movement
ordered by God at the famed burning bush site.
Together the two ‘strengthened Moses’ back’
The rest is history.

“She was once lost in the desert
leading a large tribe and there was no water,
So she prayed to God for help,
and a well of clear cool water sprang up,
and followed the group around throughout the trek.
A great ascetic she was,
her only break from sobriety
being the song and dance she led
when the Pharaoh’s men drowned in the sea.
It was Miriam who sang the song that ‘found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home
She stood in tears amid the alien corn’”

Abdul looked at the woman
Himself now fazed out and confused.
So he sat down near her on his haunches,
like the yokel he was,
but exceedingly respectful.

Miriam inspected Abdul with cool eyes, but soft too.
When she spoke, it was as if a dove was cooing.
“Tell the people, Abdul, that they should give up
this silly practice of trying to find
honor and influence by association with persons
who have temporal authority at the time.
There can be no honor there,
for each one living on earth today
is in decline, racing to his own death.
Honor and influence is the sole domain
of the Most High, the Eternal and the Powerful.
Only for him is there no decline or end.
Tell them therefore, to supplicate him at all time
and their prayers shall be answered.
We see this happen here, on a daily basis.
We, the rainbow sisters, and countless others
knew this and looked steadfastly to Him
and knelt to Him and circumambulated endlessly
around the symbols of His presence in true faith.
Look how He has rewarded us with eternal bliss.”

Abdul was amazed at the truth
and the endemic universality of Miriam’s message.
He carefully memorized her words.
Sahla let him be for a while, then
led him to the woman in the yellow dress.

Sehla said:
“Meet Mira, born a princess to a noble king.
She fell in love with the lord Krishna.
Her mother, in jest once, gave her a statue
of the god, and told her to marry him.
Mira’s fate was sealed that day for she took
the god to her heart and went head over heels.
She prayed to him, sang hymns to him,
and washed the statue daily with rosewater.

“She married, but her love was reserved for the god.
Her devotions knew no bounds; awake or asleep
she had but one thought, which was to somehow
behold, and take to her heart the lord Krishna,
to hold him to her bosom.
This was not happening as the lord Krishna
was too busy wooing the cow-girl Radha.
for he was terribly besotted with her.
Mira’s passions became so consuming
and her lamentations got so painfully piteous that
the Divine Spirit took pity on her,
and ordered Krishna to go to Mira,
and be kind to her, and compassionate.

“So the lord Krishna walked with her in her garden.
Our Mira couldn’t cope with this.
She swooned, and then forgot to breathe.
She died then and became part of the Reality.
She was mourned by her husband for years,
has been venerated by billions over the centuries.
We are so happy to have her around.”

Abdul looked into the most beautiful eyes
he had ever seen, tawny like topaz, dewy like a gazelle’s.
She had copper skin, like his own.
The combination was breath taking.
Mira, demure and shy, looked at Abdul,
and then looked away.

She said;
“Tell the people, Abdul, that their quest
for a peaceful life on earth is a non-starter.
The Almighty, by design, has created humankind
from a weak metal, and so he errs on an hourly basis.
The acts preferred by the Omnipotent
have been adequately conveyed by prophets
sent to them from among themselves.
So all humanity has received the Message
one way or another.
The sole purpose of the Irresistible in creating
Man and sending him to earth,
is to test who among His creations is the most obedient
to the Commandments.

“However, because He is both wise and just,
and because He Himself created us from base metal
He is oft forgiving, always kind,
and compassionate in the extreme.
The proviso is that we repent for all transgressions
and are never ever rebellious,
never ever deny His Presence or Power.

“So, the peace much sought after by the people
is non existence on earth.
Peace is reserved for those adjudged as good
by the Arbitrator after careful review,
and that too only in the afterlife.
Tell the people to follow the codes,
and practice the spirit inherent in them,
to be true to their conscience where the Almighty
has already built in the concepts of right and wrong.
If they so do they may find near-peace,
but never the real thing.
Tell them this and wish them my best.”

Abdul looked at the goddess dressed in yellow
Suddenly, the farmer in him came to the fore.
She looked so serene that in his minds eye
he likened her to a flowing field of mustard
seen on a lazy afternoon of a balmy February.
She exuded peace and calm.

Sahla next led Abdul to the woman dressed in orange.
She was so graceful and charismatic,
with a face so full of power,
that Abdul took one sight of her,
and dared not look again.

“This is Rabia, aka Rabia- al- Basri.
So advanced was she on the path
that hundreds of soofis of her time,
considered her their ‘qutab’‚
She was sold into slavery as a child,
but her owner was so overawed
by her devotional prayers at such tender age,
he set her free as a mark of reverence for her.
To Rabia each prayer was a conversation with God.
She loved the Most High with an obsessive compulsion.
She never married, never knew a man,
was so chaste in mind and body
that she became a legend in her lifetime.
Scholars from the four corners of the earth
came and became her devotees.
Her ascetic piety is the subject of much lore.”

“What is a qutab? ” asked Abdul
“A qutab, Abdul, is the central spoke
of a cereal grinding set of stone wheels,
used over centuries to mill various flours.
In our parlance, qutab is a person
Who teaches, supervises, and guides
Our personal spiritual grind
till we are reduced into mystical flour.

Abdul waited for Rabia to say something.
After long silence Rabia spoke;

“Tell the people, Abdul, that real fulfillment
and satisfaction that they crave
lies in self-denial, meditation, reflection,
asceticism and austerity.
Tell them that they should give up their efforts
to find answers to the perennial questions
of moral philosophy, for these are but linguistics,
intangibles without substance or form.

“Tell them to be just and kind to each other
and keep their dealings fair and square,
to let bygones be bygones.
Tell them not to concern themselves
with what does not concern them.
The world is cruel enough to begin with,
so tell them not add to the pain.
There is nothing new in what I have said
and I have kept my message simple
though all of it is based in the Scriptures.
I have seen that the most complex problems
generally have very simple solutions.
So tell them to look for simple solutions
to everyday issues and they will have comfort in life.”

Abdul sat, eyes downcast,
for the lady had a fearsome presence.
He mulled over what she had said,
found is logical and easy to comprehend.

Sahla let Abdul imbibe the messages given.
She told him that reflection and introspection
was essential to keep things in proper place;
Therein lay the importance of the advice
given by the Rainbow Sisters.

Sahla then gently led Abdul to the last in the group,
the lady in the red robe.
Bejeweled and laden with gold,
her face firm and fair, full of fealty.
She wore a ring that radiated a laser-like brilliance.
There were angry red welts on her forehead and wrists.

“This is Catherine of Sienna, as advanced on the path
if not more so than any of us.
She was born a beauty unparalleled.
As a young girl she was much given to adornments,
happily provided by a doting father,
himself a very rich man, belonging to Italian nobility.
But her life changed dramatically
through visions and dreams.
Then many miracles overtook her.
She took the path of celibacy and piety.
Her asceticism is a byword in our world.
She was much given to self-inflicted pain
to cleanse her body and soul.
The ring sparkling on her hand
was given to her by The Christ Jesus.
The red marks on her forehead and wrists
were left from a vision where she was crucified
on the cross.
Her life was wonderfully full;
her death brought on by a body devoid of sustenance.
She literally starved herself to death!
As she was very fond of finery in early life,
she has been given tons of jewels and gold and things.
Now she wears whatever she fancies.”

This was another woman Abdul dared not
look full in the face, her green eyes like emeralds
of the deepest green.

She said,
“Tell the people, Abdul,
that there are different paths and routes
to reach the presence of the Supreme Being.
Tell them to stop squabbling about which is
right and which is wrong.
For the Almighty has enjoined that each be left
to follow their own religion, and this is not a suggestion,
but an order.
Each one will end up here, no exception.

“Myself, I was much misled by the powers of the time
and did a lot of political activism, in the mistaken belief
that I was serving the Lord.
In fact, I was the catalyst who furthered
the temporal interests of fraudsters who purported to
spread the Word and bring humanity to salvation.
They had personal agendas and amassed large fortunes.
Myself, I had no use for the world, but unwittingly
aided and abetted these men of the world‚
Manipulators, masquerading as saints!
I have not seen even one of them
in any exalted company in this world of the hereafter.
They are all far removed from the grace of God!
While we the Rainbow Sisters find eternal peace.
Travelers of different roads, to a single destination,
this magnificent hall of total repose.”

Sahla let Abdul rest for a while;
he was drained, dazed and dazzled.
She gave him a cool drink of milk and honey,
She then let him out, and told him to return
to the other world.


Abdul awoke from the vision.
His fever had left him.
He felt a surge of wellbeing, shouted to his keepers
to bring him food.

Abdul’s recovery was phenomenal.
Within a week, he was back on his prayer mat,
where he now stood for hours without tiring.

He got the wanderlust.
So for the first time in two years,
he decided to visit Tijani.
For this visit, he hired a truck,
put Billu-ox in the rear and arrived in Alipur
riding in the cabin.
He was received by the townsmen
with much affection, for his fame was widespread
as a pious man of God.

He went to the mosque on Friday
met Tijani and was invited back to Tijani’s square.
He sat outside Tijani’s portal, and they talked.

Tijani asked him how he felt about Billu-ox.
Abdul told him that Billu-ox was
the cleanest, cleverest, and most pampered ox
on the face of the earth.
In the last three years, said Abdul
He has never been more than fifteen feet
away from me. I know this
as I have measured the distance.
Tijani said that was good.
He asked Abdul how his other vows had gone.
Abdul said that his life was bland as hell
but he had somehow managed to keep the faith.

Tijani listened with interest
to Abdul’s account of his meet-up with Sahla’s friends.
Tijani was thrilled and took full account
of the happening, sometimes smiling,
sometimes with a lump in his throat.

Tijani said that he knew of the Rainbow Sisters.
Thy were Soofis of the original tradition.
Women, Tijani said, were often
so single minded that it amazed him.
The Rainbow Sisters were obsessive
in their mission for the sighting of God.
What distinguished them was that they
cared not a whit for heaven or hell,
but adored the Omnipotent with a compulsive fervor.
For this unselfish fealty to Him,
they were rewarded with the hall of peace
which has since become
an important station in Soofi dogma.
They are to dwell there until the final dispensation
on the Day of Judgment.

Abdul’s meeting with Sahla’s friends, said Tijani,
was indicative of Abdul’s advancement on the path.
For these were women of an exalted class
in the Soofi hierarchy.

Tijani had also heard of the hyenas matter,
and told Abdul that this again had
shades and shadows of a near-miracle.
Abdul demurred.
He said he still felt inadequate.
He was already so tired, he said.

Tijani told him not to be discouraged.
That his present plight was called ennui,
caused by low blood-sugar, as he had been very ill.
Ennui too was a Soofi state,
lasting in some cases for years.
It was like a mental out,
which visits us all at times.
It was a not-to-worry condition.

It was more and more important on a daily basis,
Tijani told Abdul,
to practice and preach the Soofi way.
For the planet was being run these days
by a host of oligarchies, and kitchen-cabinets,
whose relentless passion was the acquisition
of Zar, Zan, and Zameen, the three areas
fastidiously avoided by the Soofis.

The single-minded pursuit of power
by the rulers sitting on top of pyramids
based on cruelty and violence,
underpinned by guns and bombs,
needs to be fought, resisted,
or at the very least, condemned.
This is not the way things should be.
The Soofi movement took off
in similar circumstances, centuries ago,
among a few people of decency, goodwill and good sense.
The wheel seems to have come full circle.

The twentieth century, Tijani opined,
was the worst ever.
For the two wars upset all value systems,
and gave birth to social disorganization
on a massive scale.
Also, the inventions of various munitions
that cause massive scourge and terror
are scary in the extreme.
So what does a decent man do, Tijani asked,
except to stand up and be counted,
in his own way of choice.

So, he told Abdul, to keep the faith,
to stay in Alipur for a while, eat well
and sleep a lot.
Tijani told Abdul to take
a sabbatical from Soofiism.


It was good advice.
Abdul went into slo-mo.
He took up residence in Afzal Khan’s mosque,
Billu-ox tethered in the yard,
which was full of pigeons by the hundred.
Visitors to the mosque fed both as act of piety.
Abdul spent hours among the pigeons,
got to know many by sight, could tell them apart.
He said his mandatory five sets of prayer, no more.
Still ate little but slept a lot.
On Fridays Tijani came and they talked together,
sometimes for hours, about Soofi states
that they both shared.
Imperceptibly, from master and acolyte,
the two were beginning to be friends.

Winter followed autumn.
Abdul had a strange experience.
Weather did not seem to affect him.
He continued to wear light summer garb,
and was comfortable despite falling Celsius.
While the people took to woolen clothing,
Abdul would be among the pigeons
in a singlet and long shorts.
Sometimes he slept in the open overnight,
and woke up bright as a bell, wonderfully refreshed.
The townsmen shivered in the cold Punjab mornings
when they saw him swimming in the local canal,
a childhood game he revisited with great gusto.
The imam of the mosque remarked on this,
and the people wondered.

Tijani knew better.
He knew that this happened to the real ascetic.
Their body thermostats go dead.
The Jesuits, the Lamas, the Fakirs,
regularly gambol in the snow.
They go about on their daily routines barefoot
over glaciers, for many of them never buy shoes
considering such expenditure as waste.

There was in the mosque, a municipal water-tap.
Young girls from many houses without piped water,
would come to Afzal’s mosque
to fetch water for their homes
in pots and pans of all descriptions.
They felt safe and secure there;
It was to scores of damsels, a social club
that they could frequent at any time of day
without fear of being ogled at or interfered with.
Afzal Khan had it clearly known
that in case of any complaint of sexual harassment
reported, he would personally horsewhip the offender.
Therefore, the maidens came, drew water, idled, gossiped
and went away twittering like birds.
They would see Abdul sometimes among the pigeons
sometimes bathing Billu-ox., sometimes up a tree
watching over nesting birds.
Nine Alipur girls fell in love with him.

They had grown up together from birth onwards,
so had no reservations in sharing
their secret longings for the handsome youth from Rajan.

Generally oblivious to their comings and departure,
Abdul noticed several of the watching him intently
from over the wall one day.
He took no notice, continued to do his thing.
But the girls started to hang around longer and longer,
sighting Abdul with increasing boldness, conspiring
how to approach him.

They hit upon a plan one day.
They came to Abdul and offered
to give Billu-ox his daily bath.
They said they were good at this
for they bathed their own cattle regularly.
Abdul saw through their ruse.
He told them that he could not allow this.
He told them that they were like his sisters.
To him they were like the back of his mother.
As such, he could not put them to any inconvenience.
That day several young hearts of Alipur,
broke into smithereens.


Abdul lived in Alipur for three months,
then left for home.
He asked the imam of the mosque
to be allowed to carry home
five pairs of pigeons.
The imam happily obliged as there were
hundreds flapping around.

So Abdul said his adieu to Tijani,
put his pigeons in a coop, Billu-ox on a truck,
himself sat in the cabin,
and grandly left for Rajan.
There he was received by a crowd of hundreds,
village folk who came for the sighting
of the pious one‚ considered an act of reverence.
Abdul was now the local holy man!

Abdul had the pigeon’s wings clipped,
and let them loose in the courtyard,
well fed and cooing around.
He went back to his prayer mat,
and the sing songs of Khlas Khan on Thursdays.
It was a balmy spring for all.

One morning all the pigeons disappeared.
Abdul wondered if they had been stolen
then gave up on the thought, expressed disappointment,
whereupon the villagers offered to bring
a hundred pairs of the choicest breeds.
Abdul refused.
A week later, his five pairs were back,
accompanied by several others from Alipur
whom Abdul knew from before.
Thenceforth, the pigeons of Alipur and Rajan
got into a regular exchange program
to the amazement of all and sundry.

Billu-ox had his own fame.
Village women desirous of female offspring
would feed him goodies
and say a silent word in his ear for a girl-child.
If that happened, they would return
with immense silk chadors for Billu-ox.
Funny thing was that Abdul would get
a dozen a week sometimes.
He gave these away and the villagers
would add the chador to the dowries given
to the newly wed as a good omen for fecundity
in the marriage.
Such was the perceived magic of the fabric,
that families started to petition for them.
Abdul was so exasperated by this,
that he called Khlas Khan one day,
and made him in charge of dishing out this favor,
on Thursday sing songs.
There were long queues.
Another legend was born.

Abdul knew it to be the superstitious baloney
that it was, but he also realized that it gave
some odd comfort to otherwise very wise farmers;
so he let it be.
Superstition has its uses, for it often softens
the otherwise hard grind of everyday life for us all.

Billu-ox was in the prime of youth.
Abdul had restricted his access to cows
to save his strength, but the animal’s libido
made him very restless at times.
So something had to break.
What broke was Billu-ox’s feeding trough,
a large wooden contraption mounted on steel wheels.
They would fill it with fodder, oilcake and grain
twice a day.
Billu-ox feasted on other goodies too
but mainly on large quantities of oil husk and cereals.
One afternoon, in a frenzy of sexual need
and not finding a female of his own kind,
Billu-ox mounted his feeding trough.
With his great weight, his forelimbs
went clean through the wooden planks
that made up the bottom of the container.
Billu-ox was disentangled with great effort
from the tangled mess,
luckily with only minor bruises.

Abdul had the trough repaired,
but felt uneasy thenceforth.
For one, he allowed greater access of local cows
to Billu-ox.

For another, he decided to arrange for Billu-ox
another feeding system.

Considering various options, the best choice,
he decided, was to build a brick and mortar trough,
secure, strong, and safe.
Abdul considered a site in the courtyard,
considered all options, and then came to a novel resolve
He decided to build a feeding trough
for Billu-ox atop his mother’s grave.

When told, the people were aghast,
but Abdul was sure.
His mother would approve the plan, he reasoned.
She had loved him, and he her
with total devotion.
And now that Billu-ox was his love,
this, Abdul thought, was the best way
to wed his two loves.
The masons of the village refuse to disturb
the sleep of the dead, until Abdul told them
that his mother had come to him in a dream
and ordered that this be done.

Work was done quickly thereafter.
Jani’s grave was strengthened, and on top came up
a trough-like structure, with a system of hygienic drainage,
the whole thing finished in marble tiles.
Billu-ox would now take his meals,
his silver bell tinkling, morning and evening
in great style! !

Mulla Sharfu was livid.
This was unheard-of sacrilege.
He stormed into Abdul’s house,
and hollered and screamed, calling Abdul a heretic
and thus liable to be killed.
Abdul told Sharfu to bugger off,
that he had no time for fanatics and extremists.
Sharfu went away cursing Abdul
all the way back to his mosque.

The fame of Billu-ox’s feeding trough
spread across the land.
Wonder, awe, disbelief, distaste,
the news were received differently.
Yet many thought this to be
utterly stylish for a Soofi saint.

In his rectangular room,
Tijani heard of this from his mother,
who had heard it from the people of Alipur
to whom Abdul was well known.
“Thank God, ” she told Tijani,
“That you have no ox to disturb the peace
of my grave when I enter it.”

Tijani mused long went into a long reverie.
Then he decided to visit Abdul’s house.


Tijani had not left Alipur in thirteen years.
The last time when he went to Lahore
to attend the funeral rites of a friend
from his Oxford days.

In his previous life, he had kept many cars.
Cars and well-kept animals
had been his manhood passions.
But his vehicle of choice was a maroon Bentley,
that he drove at high speed
whenever he traveled.
His brothers, out of the enduring love
they continued to have for him,
kept his vehicles, though unused
in their garages, fully serviced, oiled
and in pristine condition, though he never asked.

So one morning at dawn, Tijani asked for transport.
The Bentley was brought around,
now thirty years old, yet like-new.
Tijani felt a twinge of pleasure, inspected the vehicle,
was pleased with its condition.
He sat at the wheel, and to the consternation of all,
drove away, again at great speed.
His servants ran for weapons,
scampered into a pick-up, and sped behind,
for security in an otherwise lawless land.

Tijani had never been to Rajan.
He knew the area well at one time, but since,
new roads had come up; the countryside had changed.
Yet he drove to Rajan, without missing a turn
or taking a wrong one.
In an hour and a half, he entered Abdul’s house.

It was Abdul’s wont, to pray for most of late night,
his vigil culminating with the dawn prayers
enjoined and compulsory for all Muslims.
He then bathed, drank a glass of milk,
and went to sleep.
So when he arrived,
Tijani found Abdul snoring softly.

Tijani sat on a cot in the courtyard
and watched Billu-ox chomping away
at his breakfast out of the trough atop Jani’s grave.
This ox was truly superb, decided Tijani.
Silvered skinned, purple eyes, golden horns,
Billu-ox was digging into his food
with great gusto, bravado and style,
his silver bell going ding-dong.

In Soofi practice, it was often done
to have an object of love
which would then be converted into a vehicle
whereby the love for the Supreme Self
would be transferred.
Billu-ox was Abdul’s medium of expressing
his devotion to the Divine Reality.
Tijani decided that Abdul had chosen well.
And now the placement of the feeding trough
atop his mother’s grave was proof
that Abdul had supplanted temporal love
with the spiritual love he had generated within himself
by his devoted discharge of established Soofi mores.
His ascetic ways, negation of desire, and prayers
had lifted him to an altogether higher plane of living.
Tijani was very impressed, wholly humbled.
For an instance, he felt a surge of pride
at being the teacher, who had done his job,
Then put away the feeling with humility.

Tijani’s arrival had caused a stir.
His servants armed with automatic weapons
stood at the door of Abdul’s courtyard
as if they owned the place.
Moreover, Ajju did not know how to react,
being aware that Tijani was of superior class,
and a Soofi to boot.
Here was double jeopardy.

So he did what came naturally.
He started to make preparations
for a huge breakfast for all these guests
who came unasked.
But this was the custom. Feed first,
ask questions later.
Almost at once, eggs, liver, fish and fried pancakes
and jugs of tea were on the way,
Tijani was entitled, in Ajju’s mind,
to sumptuous hospitality.

The villagers took time off which was not an issue,
and gathered in small groups to watch the goings-on.
But when word got round that the saint Tijani
had, in an unprecedented gesture
come a-visiting Abdul, their local holy man,
there was a great buzz.
Soon, Tijani’s guards had their hands full
keeping order among the large crowd
that now surrounded Abdul’s house.

The unusual noise broke Abdul’s sleep.
And when he came out of his room
he saw Tijani half reclined on a cot,
watching Billu-ox with soft eyes.
An emotion he had never known before overtook Abdul.
His whole body tensed with elation,
and he stood rooted to the spot‚
In a while Tijani turned around
and saw Abdul, smiled and arose.
He embraced Abdul and kissed him five times
on the forehead.
The sight of the graceful greybeard,
neatly gowned in a striped nightshirt,
holding the lanky youngster
in his singlet and long shorts was so impressive,
that many onlookers clapped,
without knowing why.

Tijani asked for the people to be sent back,
and to return for the noon prayers
which he would lead himself.
In the meantime, he ordered
that he wished to be alone with Abdul.
A huge breakfast was laid for him,
which went back untouched
for neither ate, only drank tea.

Tijani then spoke with Abdul.
Of how his quest was nearing fulfillment.
For the trough he built for Billu-ox
was an act of such finality,
that there was not much left undone.
That Abdul had taken a leap forward
in progress along the Soofi way.
Because the animal symbolized
the love-object Abdul had selected
to be his vehicle of outreach to God.
This was a cardinal milestone on the Way.
Said he, “Abdul, one of our teachers, Al-Arabi
has said;
“Whoever starts a journey shall reach its end”
You are now, in my reckoning,
very near to graduating.
I myself have yet not reached
your level of humility and submission.
You have outstripped your teacher.”

Abdul dissented strongly.
He said that the warmth of Tijani’s flame
had worked wonders for him.
That Tijani was his qutab.
That Tijani was like a generator,
which provided power for a million lights.
Abdul punctuated his accolade
with heavy and pronounced gestures, common to the yokel.

At noon, Tijani led the prayers.
The entire village turned up.
The mulla Sharfu found himself alone,
even his acolytes living in the mosque,
abandoned him for the ‘sighting’ of Tijani.
(An act Sharfu believed to be a heresy)
Mulla Sharfu sat alone, nursing the hurt.
For the first time ever, he prayed alone.
There was nobody to stand behind him.

Tijani led the congregational prayer,
then gave a short sermon.
He extolled Abdul’s virtue, and charged the villagers
to value him.
He told them to defend and guard him against enemies.

Then Tijani said,
“This boy you all call Abdul
has but half a name,
for sitting here among you are many Abduls.
However, all of you have some name of Allah
attached as the second part by which you are addressed.
Today I will complete the lad Abdul’s name.
Now in this I had a problem
for among the over hundred names of Allah,
all of which, by the way, are valid
being anchored in the Book and the traditions,
I find one, which is incontrovertible.
It is the name ‘Baatin’ which means the Hidden,
This name has a special significance
in the Soofi consciousness as we are on the quest
to sight the ‘Baatin’- - the Hidden One.

“Thousands of us through the ages,
have done only this, struggling to behold
the visage which will be there after all else is gone.
I now therefore, rename this youth Abdul,
as Abdul Baatin.
Henceforth address him thus.
I charge you once again,
to watch over him jealously,
for such men are priceless rarities
who grace communities once in a hundred years.
Feel lucky, therefore
to have Abdul Baatin in your midst.”

Tijani then prayed for the collective well-being,
For good health, prosperity and joy
of all present, the supplications ending with hearty Amen..
The assembly dispersed
on a note of public rejoicing.

Tijani went back to Abdul’s house
for a sparse lunch.
He told Abdul Baatin that it never ceased to amaze him,
why followers of the Abraham’s dogma
should be daggers drawn.
He thought that it was the clerics of various faiths,
who had dug trenches
between the great religions over centuries.
The Prophet (upon him, peace,) therefore,
forbade priesthood in Islam.
The prophet had enjoined that if a deformed slave
had greater knowledge of the Book of God,
he was to be heard and obeyed.

Tijani thought that the leadership groups
of populous faiths were politicians
rather than scholars.
That they did immense damage to their people
by giving hard-core politicians
swing votes, and pressure groups, and bargain chips.
Tijani felt that the people were duped again and again,
whether it be democracy, dictatorship or anarchy.
It was all very sad.

Abdul asked how the people would ever ensure
‘The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’
Tijani said, that to his mind
there were two possible ways.

One, said Tijani, was the Soofi-king,
who could ensure justice and fair play
But such a character would last
no more than half a day in congress, assembly or senate
for he would be quickly abandoned,
by pelf-mad and clever guys,
who sat on upholstered leather seats
in various poses of body disarray.

The other, Tijani said, the other hope
was technology.
There will be a time when all people
would be in consultation together,
through a universal network of user-friendly gadgets.
They would then have personal ingress
to national policy.
Then, and only then, would collective wisdom
take over and marginalize
the present day manipulators who rule the planet.
Such a time will surely come,
provided some mutated virus, or the A-bomb
does not wipe out humanity first.

Tijani stayed at Abdul’s house for another hour,
then drove back to Alipur,
again without a single wrong turn.
His visit on Abdul and the public endorsement
of Abdul’s high status put him in another class
in the public consciousness.
For the public draws much comfort
from such men, who, as goes general belief
are protectors, intercessors, guides,
philosophers and friends.


Abdul went on a high for a week,
depressed for the next, and went flat ever after.
Like the way he didn’t feel the weather,
similarly now his soul lost touch,
with human emotions of joy, grief, envy, etc, , etc.
A great determination to do good, irrespective,
took over his whole existence.
His devotion to Billu-ox deepened even more.
Abdul, now a graduated Soofi, had reached the plateau.

The mulla Sharfu was livid.
He belonged to a school of thought
where anything other than fundamental faith
was heresy, forgetting that billions of common folk,
had created other comforting easements
and why not?
As long as they believed in the God of mercy and grace.
However, to mulla Sharfu, men had to be unbending machos,
and females to be subservient and ill-used.
Saints, Soofis, sages, seers and suchlike,
were anathema to Sharfu.
Any set-off from the strict code was to be fought.
The paradox was that Sharfu did not know
even the fundamentals of faith in their entirety
as he had never read a serious commentary
on any of them.
His thought process was fashioned
by the teachers at the seminary to which Sharfu,
an orphan at age seven, was sent by his uncles
who wished to be rid of him, and whom Sharfu
never saw again.
His childhood and early boyhood
at the seminary were so painful, so lonely,
that he went into lifelong trauma.
He was given to waking up most nights
in cold sweat, out of one or the other nightmare.
Sharfu was made socially dysfunctional
by the elders of the seminary; base men
who were in business in a big way,
and had an agenda, mainly monetary
which Sharfu was quite unaware of.

Sharfu ended up semi-literate, bigoted, and dogmatic.
He rose through the ranks of his seminary’s network,
till he ended up as the prayer leader at Rajan.
As we have seen before, Sharfu had a quick mind.

Sharfu’s Friday sermons were
now entirely devoted to hate.
Hate for the superstition among the people,
who went flocking to Abdul’s house.
Hate for the whole creed
that was embedded in humanism.
Hate for all the attention that Abdul got.
and hate for Abdul’s new status.
His sermons didn’t go down too well
with all the talk of hell and perfidy,
with the people of the village.
His Friday audience began to thin.

Sharfu never got over the day
that Tijani had led the prayers in Abdul’s house,
and Sharfu had been left all alone.
He was mortified by jealousy, envy and shame.
His constant laying into Abdul
infuriated Abdul’s uncles who told Sharfu
that in case he did not mend his ways,
they would run him out of the village.
One day, Khlas Khan, now the chief lieutenant
of Abdul’s setup, came calling.
He showed Sharfu an auto-pistol, told him
that his annual shooting drill to calibrate the gun was due.
Only this year, Khlas khan said, he was looking for
a living target to test the accuracy of the weapon.
Khlas Khan was not smiling when he asked Sharfu
if he wanted anyone bumped off.

The culmination of Sharfu’s isolation
came one afternoon, when Rajab Ali, Abdul’s father,
highly upset over some abusive term
which Sharfu had used for Abdul,
walked up to him, slapped him, and spat in his face.
Worse still, none of Sharfu’s acolytes helped.
In fact they smirked and sniggered,
while they helped wash his face.
Sharfu’s cup of self-disgust brimmed over that day.
He nursed his hurt in private, plotting a comeback,
but didn’t know how.

Abdul heard of Sharfu’s discomfiture,
but couldn’t care less.
In fact, he had difficulty recalling
who Sharfu was.
He had clean forgot that it was Sharfu
who had brought Rumi into his life,
one warm summer afternoon four years ago.
In the Soofi consciousness,
the dogmatic had no place whatever.


Several weeks passed.
Summer gave way to autumn.
Abdul had another vision of Rumi.
The saint came walking on silent feet,
as if walking on air.
He said to Abdul;
“Our garden is all the lovelier,
due to your entrance in our assemblies.
For you are like a rose,
albeit of the miniature variety yet.
We love your color, scent and shape.
As there is none other like you,
The Rainbow Sisters and I have decided
to exhibit you in next years Rose Show
that we organize as a ‘new entry’.
We are sure you will get us a prize.”

Then Rumi went into a wild whirl
astonishing for such an old man.
He spun like a top,
perfectly poised, balanced, and graceful
beyond belief.
Then, on soundless steps, he went away.

On a short visit to Tijani,
Abdul told him of his latest vision.
Tijani asked Abdul to recount Rumi’s exact words,
had them repeated twice.
Tijani asked Abdul the color of the robe
worn by Rumi. Abdul said, “Blue”
Tijani told Abdul that the difference between
a common dream and a vision
was that we dream in various shades of grey,
while visions and significant dreams are in color.
So this was certainly a vision.

Saying this, Tijani, in an unprecedented happening,
went into a torrent of weeping,
loud, raspy, and palpably forlorn.
Abdul sat watching him, until the Soofi was spent.
Abdul asked Tijani what had upset him,
got no adequate answer, didn’t bother to ask again.
Nevertheless, the Tijani-watchers of Alipur
looked askance at each other, regarded Abdul with wonderment.
He seemed to eke out some unseen
and unheard-of human quality n their otherwise
stone-cold saint.

Abdul returned to Rajan, asked Khlas Khan to add
dances by men at their weekly singsongs.
Thenceforth Thursday evenings at Abdul’s house
got to be another thing.


Mullah Sharfu sat alone.
It was well past the night prayers.
The autumn evening set early.
Now it was nippy and dark.
One of his acolytes came into his room,
and said that there was a woman outside
who wished to see Sharfu alone, and private-like.
She had a large donation to make for the mosque
but did not want her men to know.
Sharfu jumped up and donned his gown,
bade his boy to show the visitor in, then leave himself.

The visitor was swathed in a cloak
that hid her face and form.
But once satisfied that they were alone,
she threw away her long cover.
The girl was dressed in white, crinkled muslin
and her pink body peeked through the light fabric.
She wore no bra.
Sharfu was face to face with a girl
so comely and sexy that Sharfu just sat
and leered at her, mouth agape.
In a while, he took a hold of himself,
and asked what brought her here.
Who was she? he asked.

Her name and identity, she said,
was inconsequential,
that she would like to be anonymous.

She then asked him what he thought of Abdul.
On the mention of Abdul’s name, Sharfu’s lust ebbed,
replaced by such a mix of emotion
that his beard bristled like a peacock’s tail.
He looked different suddenly, and a bit funny.
“Abdul is a heretic, a heathen, and a hell-fiend.
He is coarse, cruel, and a contagion,
mislead and misleading.
In my book, he should be killed,
the one doing this noble act
would enter heaven without hindrance.
That is what I think, but why do you ask?
Where is the money for the mosque? ”

The girl arose
and from somewhere out of the cloak
she had discarded, she fished out a wad of notes,
and handed it over to Sharfu.
And while handing over the money,
she held Sharfu’s hand a trice longer
than a social touch.
Sharfu thought of getting hold of her,
as was his practice at times
when village women came calling
for religious guidance, or some other help.
Sharfu had never married,
but never lacked sexual outs, whether boy or girl.
Abdul’s mention had intrigued him, though.
So he asked the girl what else was there.

The girl said that she wished
to work with Sharfu so that together,
they would hurt Abdul.
She told Sharfu that she hated Abdul
with a fixation beyond belief.
Sharfu asked her why?
She said that was none of his business, that
it was enough that they both shared the all-pervading,
deep and deeper hatred for the Soofi sham,
that Abdul had become in the last five years.
He had to be brutally punished
before she found peace in her tortured life.

So they needed to arrive
at some agreement to work together,
towards the fulfillment of the common goal,
to somehow hurt Abdul where it mattered the most.
Sharfu suggested murder;
The girl said that Abdul
was not to be killed on any account.
He had to live and be made to suffer over long years.
But Sharfu was the man,
so what else could he suggest?
Sharfu persisted that his act of choice,
was murder with intent.
He could find more than a few youngsters,
willing to kill for money at his old school.
He could also motivate a couple,
to do a suicide act.
The girl was firm and said no.
Death was too passé, and banal.
Her kind of hate had to be expiated over years.
She said she wanted Abdul to suffer
in his mind and spirit, and that too,
for the rest of their long lives ahead,
he the sufferer, she the watcher.

Sharfu then suggested castration, blinding,
breaking of limbs, burning by acid,
and other such acts of everyday violence
endemic in the country.

The girl laughed aloud.
She said she knew Sharfu to be stupid,
but not so crassly inane.

She had come tonight to test the wind,
to see if Sharfu was willing
to be her partner- in- crime.
She already had a scheme worked out.
She would come back next week, she said,
and explain things in detail.
There was more money for the mullah
on the way as well.

She arose and picked up her shroud,
and in full view of an ogling Sharfu,
languidly covered herself, one sinuous movement
after another, a quiet smile on her tremulous lips.
Then she left

Sharfu was restless in many ways
until she came back ten days later.

She was dressed as seductively as before,
gave more money to Sharfu.
She reminded him of their earlier talk.
She said her own scheme was simple,
and involved no risk at all.
She had brought with herself
a deadly nightshade, a poisonous herb
ten times stronger than arsenic.
All that Sharfu needed to have done
was to mix the handful of leaves
in the fodder they gave to Bill-ox.

The love of Abdul’s life was that animal.
A painful death for the beast,
in front of Abdul would set him back for years.
Also his fraud of Soofi practice
would get a huge setback,
as a major pivot of the system,
The ox, so loved by the people, would be removed.
Maybe Abdul would give up this way of life
if there were no Billu-ox.

Sharfu was doubtful.
Killing an ox was not his thing.
It was an act so cheap and demeaning.
Also it would have no long time effect,
for Abdul would buy himself another ox,
so what.
The girl said Sharfu did not understand,
never would.
Sharfu said that slaying an animal
except for food was against his religion,
for animals were helpless and weak,
and deserved respect for being an important part
of the rural scene.
No, he said, he would not acquiesce to this.
She needed to come up with a plan,
that would of certainty remove Abdul
from the scene.
The more sadistic the scheme, Sharfu said,
the more willing a partner he would be.

The girl then played her ace of trumps.
If, she told Sharfu, he would have the ox killed
exactly as she had asked,
she would spend time in Sharfu’s bed.
As a preview, she bared a shoulder
and let Sharfu have a good look.
Sharfu took no further time, agreed at once,
to do as she wished, for he was now her slave.

The girl went away.
Sharfu started to plan how he would
get the nightshade into Billu-ox’s trough.
He considered several options,
and then hit upon a simple solution.


The next morning, after the dawn prayers,
covering himself with a woolen chador,
he walked to Abdul’s house.
He approached with caution,
and looked around carefully.
It was a cold morning.
Cow- dung smoke hung all around
as families awoke and prepared breakfast and things.

Abdul had just gone to bed
after his nightly work, there was none around.
Sharfu walked over to Billu-ox’s feeding trough
and mixed the poisonous leaves well into the feed
already prepared overnight by Abdul’s staff.
Billu-ox was far away, dozing in the room
next to the one where Abdul slept, snoring softly.

An hour later, Billu-ox was let out of his room,
and ambled over to his trough.
The animal dug into his feed, as was his habit.
He fed solidly for twenty minutes,
after which, as was his wont,
he backed off from the trough
to ruminate at all the juicy stuff
in his cavernous belly.

But today, instead of the tasty morsels,
what came back was a fatal dollop
of Sharfu’s deadly concoction.
Billu-ox collapsed full out,
and went into a paroxysm of shudders,
almost like an epileptic fit.
Blood and gore bubbled out of his mouth
in quick, labored breaths

The servants of the house, alarmed,
ran about in a confused melee, till someone
had the obvious thought of going
to fetch the local vet,
who arrived on the double, and knew at once
that Billu-ox had eaten something really poisonous.
It was not uncommon, but usually fatal.

The only chance to save the ox,
was to get the animal to disgorge.
The way to do this, said the vet,
was to pump in a saline solution,
into Billu-ox’s, through a hollow bamboo tube.
To do this, Billu-ox’s head had to be held
still for a while.
The vet had brought along the implements required.

Abdul was woken up by the din of the goings-on.
He emerged from his room,
and saw Billu-ox lying on his side, his huge body
shaking with huge convulsions,
his golden horns steeped in thick, congealing blood.
The vet had arrived and looked on gravely.
Abdul stood pale in shock, but calm and collected.
He said a short prayer.
“That from Him we come, and to Him we shall return.”

When the vet asked for someone
to hold Billu-ox’s head steady,
Abdul stepped up to Billu-ox,
and crooned to him and caressed him on the forehead,
urged the animal to quieten down.
Hearing Abdul’s voice, Billu-ox went still.
Abdul bent down, and firmly held
Billu-ox by one golden horn.
The vet inserted the tube, and pumped in his concoction
with a flit- gun, at which Billu-ox moved again.
So Abdul exerted all his strength, all body weight
to keep Billu-ox still.

Three things happened almost together:

Billu-ox’s huge body jerked.
His great neck, colossal in strength
from carrying the yoke for ten thousand years,
stiffened in a giant spasm.

Abdul, now weighing half of his original bulk,
for all his fasting and harsh lifestyle,
was thrown a foot high, clean in the air.
When he landed, he landed
impaled on Billu-ox’s sharp horn.
The tip of it entered Abdul
on the left of the sternum.
It came out an inch or two
from Abdul’s back, from between his sixth and seventh rib.
Abdul died instantly,
his heart literally blown apart.

Billu-ox relaxed in death.
A spurt of blood from Abdul’s mouth,
mixed with Billu-ox’s blood and gore.
A complete hush fell all over.


The village called Rajan turned upside down.
Ahmed Tijani came, riding his Bentley.
He led the funeral prayers, dry-eyed throughout.
When asked to comment on the sad events,
he said that Abdul Baatin had arrived
in the Soofi hall of fame.
He said he knew this would happen.
Rumi had told Abdul in the last vision,
that Abdul would not last out the year.
He had to be in the annual flower show up there.


Abdul found himself, this time with Billu-ox,
on the self-same shore
where he had met the Soofi-saint Sahla
now years ago.
In a while, he beheld Sahla on her mule,
coming across the sea,
her mule’s long ears parallel to the water.
Abdul mounted Billu-ox, splayed himself atop the animal
as he use to do in the village.
Then he egged Billu-ox to proceed
and welcome Sahla bint Minhal,
she of the Rainbow Sisters fame.
They met, exchanged happy smiles.
There was no need for words.

Together, the two sets of animal and person
turned and went into the sea,
the giant Billu-ox with Abdul atop,
and the small white mule,
carrying the slight frame of Sahla.
Together they sailed over the sea.
To the beginning of another journey.


Denizens of the fourteen villages surrounding Rajan,
turned Abdul’s house into a shrine,
He lies buried there,
his grave between Billu-ox’s massive grave,
and his mother’s grave-with-the-trough.
somewhere in southern Punjab.
The shrine is famous for the quality
of its music and mystic dances where
both men and women participate together
irrespective of gender, caste or creed.
This happens every Thursday.
Pilgrims from over the land
travel here to supplicate the Creator
for female offspring.
Billu-ox still rules.

The legend of Rajan was made the more wondrous
for two other events.

On the second Thursday after Abdul’s death,
a mixed group of devotees dancing
the ritual dance called ‘dhamaal’
got into an ecstatic frenzy, as is common.
One of the females shrieked and stabbed herself
with a knife hidden in her cloak.
She then fell on Abdul’s grave, and died there,
moaning plaintively.
The shocked assembly uncovered her face
so far hidden, and found that she was
Khlas Khan’s daughter, Jani.
The assembly was shocked but not surprised,
for she was known
to have gone a bit wonky since her wedlock.

She would sit for hours on the canal’s bank,
and chortle loudly for no apparent reason.
At other times, she was seen sticking pins
in dolls she made at home, intoning pidgin verse.
The people avoided her for they thought
that she was possessed.
They buried her and never spoke of it again,
because in the rural subculture,
you never, but never, scandalize the dead.

The same night, Mulla Sharfu was bitten
by a cobra, and died.
He had raised alarm and asked his pupils
to run and get a doctor, but they took no notice.
They presumed the mulla was raving,
having another one of his nightmares.
They well knew, as it was common knowledge
that cobras hibernate in winter.

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