मेरे जैसे अपने को बुद्धिजीवी कहने वाले अक्सर राजनैतिक चुप्पी साध लेते हैं. ये कह कर कि इस देश का कुछ नहीं हो सकता. लोगों ने देश से भागने के चक्कर में जी जान मेहनत की, जुगाड़ लगाए, और नेताओं नें ये रोड, वो इंडस्ट्री खड़े कर दिये कमीशनखोरी के चक्कर में. मज़ाक मज़ाक में देश टैलेंट की खान बन गया, और विकास के हिलोड़ें लेने लगा. इसी धक्केबाजी में मैं भी बिहार के एक गाँव से उठ कर अमरीका रिटर्न डॉक्टर बन बैठा. पर इसका सारा क्रेडिट महानुभाव लालूजी को. भला मोमबत्ती में पढ़ने में जो शक्ति थी वो ट्यूबलाइट में कहाँ? इधर उधर ध्यान हीं नहीं जाता. कागज पे एक गोल प्रकाशित क्षेत्र दिखता, उसके अतिरिक्त सब अंधेरा. जूही चावला की एक तस्वीर दिवाल पे लगा रखी थी. अंधेरे में बिल्कुल भूतनी नजर आती. ऐसे डरावने माहौल में तो आदमी दो ही चीज़ें पढ़ पाए- एक सामने रखी…
Three guys are talking and looking at stuff at a mall. One of them is trying to buy a gift for his mother. The other two are helping him decide what to pick.
ARUN: Will you two stop staring at that girl and do something useful?
MANJIT: Will you look at that douche bag? How the hell do girls fall for these idiots?
IMRAN: Dude, if you are gay, just tell us? We won’t judge. I mean, there is a perfectly hot girl over there and all you can see is her lapdog?
MANJIT: Screw you!
ARUN: C’mon you guys! Help me! They all look the same to me. Why do women need to carry these stupid bags anyway? I mean, it cannot be only for makeup items. The other day I saw a girl about this tall (pointed to his waist), and she was carrying a bag bigger than a 6-year old kid. If all she was carrying was makeup, then I honestly pray that her boyfriend doesn’t see her in the morning.
MANJIT: That makes me wonder actually. There is a very good possibility that I might end up with an arranged marriage. What if my parents fall for the advertisement and when I open the package, there is a completely different product?
IMRAN: Oh, don’t worry. In your case, it would be the opposite. Your parents will paint such a Pandit Gangadhar image of you before the wedding that when she finally learns the truth about your kaminapanti, she will elope with the milkman.
(Ducks Manjit’s punch and turns to Arun)
Right, so what were you thinking bringing us along to buy ladies bags? We have as much experience with these things as Mr. Douche Bag over there has with books.
ARUN: I just didn’t want to be embarrassed alone. Anyway, what do you think of this one? (Shows a green leather purse)
MANJIT: Nah, too small.
IMRAN: He is right. Considering our experience in ladies accessories, it would be better if we stick to what we know.
ARUN: What, geometry?
MANJIT: Well, yeah. Your mom is not going to like any bag you choose. Therefore, the best you can do is get her something that can at least hold some money.
ARUN: Dude, she is my mom. She will like anything I buy.
MANJIT: That is exactly the point. Only because you, her son, are buying the bag.
ARUN: All right, let’s ditch the bag idea. How about saris?
IMRAN: I think I saw the sari section over there, but we have to walk past the lingerie section. You two go along. I don’t want to look any creepier than I’m feeling right now.
(They go to the sari section, dragging Imran physically)
ARUN: All right, so what do you know about saris?
MANJIT: Uh, they are long?
ARUN: Would you cut it out with the dimensions, already? Sheesh! What do you think, Imran?
IMRAN: I think…if that chick over there at the counter had more hair on her upper lip, she could have participated in that moustache competition, My Hair Lady.
ARUN: Oh My God! You two are such useless pieces of shit!
MANJIT: Woah, woah! Chill dude! Cut out the profanity. Aunties will start judging us.
IMRAN:(Under his breath) As if they aren’t already. Three jobless youths loitering around the lingerie section.
ARUN: All right, let’s go and check some sari designs then. Let me know if you find anything interesting.
(After checking out a few saris, they pull out one of them)
ARUN: Okay, so why is there no tag on this one? How do I know whether it’s silk or not?
MANJIT: You are supposed to know that from the touch. You see there are various kinds of silks that are used for making saris, like the Benarasi sari.
ARUN: What else?
MANJIT: How would I know?
IMRAN: Do you even know anything of substance?
MANJIT: I know more than you.
IMRAN: Yeah? Like what?
MANJIT: Like the fact that the tent-like thing over there is called a maxi or nightie. Or that, those tight suffocating pants that the mannequin is wearing are called leggings.
IMRAN: Okay, Versace, we know what a maxi is and what leggings are.
ARUN: Hey, that makes me think about one thing. Why do some aunties greet their guests wearing maxis? I mean they will put a dupatta over their heads, but forget that they are wearing nightclothes.
IMRAN: Oh, man, I know. I hate that too. It’s like, “Oh, hey kids, would you like some cookies? And by the way, don’t I look great in my balloon gown?”
ARUN: Exactly! And they will say it while baring their wrestler arms as if to say, “So why aren’t you eating my cookies?”
IMRAN: I know! By the way, have you noticed that when they are flexing their muscles, they shout something back to their husbands with a voice of death, and again turn back to you in a sing-songy voice and go, “Ooh, teehee!” I mean what in the world is that. Is that supposed to pacify my fears or something?
MANJIT: Whoa, whoa, my mom does that! How dare you mock her?
IMRAN: Oops, sorry dude. No offence to your mom. She is different you know. I was just talking about other aunties. (Exchanges sheepish looks with Arun)
(Sensing trouble, Arun takes the initiative)
ARUN: Okay this is not working. I don’t have any clue whatsoever about saris. For instance, this one time my mother complained to my dad that some particular design on her sari was making her look old. I checked the design and there were these straight lines kind of things printed on the fabric. I spent the next few hours looking up the relationship between straight lines and old age. I never found the exact connection; although I did discover that ladies pump shoes actually do not have tiny gear pumps installed in them; and that women blurt like ten times more words than men in one day, which is the alleged source of their power of nagging. Anyway, forget about saris. Let’s go for something a bit more vanilla, you know.
MANJIT: Thank god! If you had listened to me the first time, we would be feasting on tandoori chicken by now.
IMRAN:Oh please! Getting his mother an Adidas cap? Really? How do you not fall over while walking?
ARUN: Guys, guys, cut it out, okay. Look over there, hot girl at 2 o’clock. Wanna go over and say hi?
BOTH IN UNISON: Yeah…right!
ARUN: Your choice. In that case, let’s go and look for something less unique. I’m thinking an expensive pen will do.
IMRAN: Of course, it will do. Soon we will be accompanying you on grocery shopping trips looking for adha kilo piyaz and do kilo atta while referring to a slip handwritten with Sheaffer ink.
MANJIT: You can give her a scarf.
IMRAN:Tum chup raho yaar. Tumse nahi ho payega. What the hell will she do with a scarf in July?
MANJIT: Okay, Einstein, why don’t you suggest something, rather than pathetically attempting to sharpen your sarcasm on us?
ARUN: Yeah. What do you suggest, Imran?
IMRAN: It’s quite simple really. Just give her a hug.
I have travelled to most of the big cities of India except Hyderabad. The one thing that is common in these places of the “mainland” India is that people have very little idea about Assam or the North-East in general.
I remember when I was in Mumbai a few years back, this Marathi auto driver asked me where I was from. When I said Guwahati, he asked, “Is that close to Delhi?”
I replied, “Na, bhai, it’s in Bihar.”
Similarly, when I was in Bangalore another time, this engineer asked me, “Is it true that a bomb goes off almost every other day in Assam?”
I wanted to say, “Oh yes, and I am the ghost of Bob Marley who died when he mistook a few sticks of dynamite for pot-enthused sausages.”
Alas, I just muttered, “Haha, no.”
Then there was the time when I was in Delhi when an acquaintance of one of my friends remarked, “You know, you speak really good Hindi for an Assamese. And you look nothing like a chinki.”
I said nothing. I just made a face like I was getting ready to fart.
Finally, when I was in Chennai three years back, a taxi driver asked me, “Sir, is Assam in Guwahati? And do you need passport to go there?”
Again, I said nothing, and coughed and pretended to sneeze before making my trusted fart face.
As for Kolkata, the bongs are okay. They know we exist. It is possible that the reason may be mainly because many of their relatives live over here. We are also practically neighbours, connected by the goose neck. So not knowing about us would be embarrassing, I suppose.
Now, you would wonder why I am writing all this. Trust me, this is not a rant against all those imbeciles I have had the misfortune to meet during my travels. Such idiots exist everywhere. Assamese folks aren’t all that different. For instance, if you speak Hindi in front of an Assamese bloke, he will instantly assume you are from Bihar. Even if you tell him that you belong from UP or Rajasthan, he will not be convinced. Instead, he will produce ten reasons to prove that you belong from Bihar. Moreover, if you are a Bengali Muslim, a typical Assamese would automatically assume you are an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, even if your family has been living here for more than a century.
Therefore, stupidity is a common disease throughout the country. And this post is not about stupidity.
In this post, I want to share some pictures of Assam that will give you a glimpse into this wonderful place I call home. They might also hopefully entice you to visit us someday. Oh and these photographs are fairly representative of the actual thing. That’s because I’m neither a photographer, nor do I have any Photoshop skills. So I lack the ability to find something beautiful where none exist. Moreover, I don’t own any expensive camera equipment. These photos were clicked on my phone and on a fairly cheap point-and-shoot camera I used to own. Since I have mentioned this point, I would like to apologise in advance for the poor quality of some of these images. Some of the pictures are quite old.
If you are a Muslim, this will resonate with you. The azaan is one of the most beautiful sounds you will hear over your lifetime. As a kid, you aspire to sound as good as the muezzin as he effortlessly carries the notes and exhorts you to come and pray. There is a real skill to a good azaan. From my layman’s perspective, I would say a bit of a nasal tone is required for the high pitch, which is necessary for the azaan to be carried over a large area. You also need to have a good control over your breathing, so as to not change pitch midway. Needless to say, you need to know the correct pronunciation of the Arabic words. Enunciation is of utmost importance.
Most Imams and muezzins have these qualities. However, there are many aberrations too (or if the Imam or muezzin is on leave and someone unqualified steps up for the job). I will list only five of them as I don’t want to offend too many of these pious souls and earn myself an easier ticket to Hell.
1. Mr Reshammuezzin
This fellow takes the nasal thing a bit too seriously, so much so that, you begin to wonder whether his voice originates from his throat at all. He hits such high notes that birds start flying haphazardly. Cows start mooing incessantly. Bricks start falling off rooftops and glasses start breaking (Well, not exactly, but you know isn’t that how people exaggerate). Even the non-namazi Muslims start screaming, “Ya Allah, make it stop. I’m going to the Masjid.” As for my neighbour who is chanting shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita at the top of his voice, it only gives him an excuse to raise his decibel levels to the point where you don’t know who is winning the competition.
2. Mr Distraction Jackson
Every stupid thing distracts him when he is reciting the azaan. His eyes are never in the right place. He will check whether your kurta is half-sleeved and whether the ends of your pajamas are above the ankles or not as he is turning his head during the Hayya‘alas-salāh/Hayya‘alal-falāh part. And if he catches you talking, he will frown at you and make weird eyebrow signals to admonish you. He will also turn his head at other times, like when there is a person walking past the adjacent street, especially if it’s a woman. Now what he does with his eyes or head is his problem. However, the issue arises when he turns his head so much that his mouth shifts away from the microphone and the azaan becomes more of a fill in the gaps exercise than calling the faithful for prayer.
3. Mr Consti von Pation
He is all right in every aspect. He belts out great azaans and can do it consistently. The only problem is that you can never look at his face when he is on the microphone. Every muscle on his face is stretched to the limit. His eyes are closed shut and his brows are joined together furrowing deep into his forehead. Beads of sweat start rolling down his cheeks as he strives to strike that perfect note. If you take a picture of him and crop out the fingers and hands, while keeping just his face, you will find it extremely difficult to ascertain whether he is in the Masjid or somewhere less pure. In fact, his apparent discomfort makes you very conscious of not approaching him from behind in case something smelly happens.
4. Mr Puff Shorty
He often sets the records for the shortest azaans in history. He then goes on to break them himself. The source of his power is his incredible ability to not be able to hold a note for more than two seconds. He has developed this ability over the years through numerous packets of bidis and their cooler cousins, the cigarettes. Of course, the years of shouting matches with his wife at the middle of the night have tuned his vocal chords to match his breathing abilities. There is one plus though. He is the one you can turn to on cold December mornings for the Fajr namaz.
5. Sir Croaksalot
This fellow has no clue whatsoever regarding the concept of qirat. He thinks reciting the azaan equals to shouting over the microphone like an orator. The word besura means zilch to him. He just lives in the moment, and like Mr Reshamuezzin, his specialisation in calling the faithful lies in his extraordinary ability to annoy the hell out of the listeners. If you listen carefully, you can literally hear frogs croaking in unison with him, and saying, “Croak! My ears! Croak! My ears!” The worst thing about him is that he never gets discouraged by the grimaces of the people who have suffered his torture. He mistakes them for grins and picks up the microphone before anyone else during the next namaz.
P.S. I think I belong to the last category. But the people in my society probably caught on to the impending danger during my childhood and made me understand, “Beta, tumse na ho payega.”
(Warning: If you find my normal posts tiring, do not read this. This is so mind numbingly long that it might kill you. And if you still go ahead, don’t haunt me after you die.)
Time: 5:00 PM
It was a hot day. Despite the departing sun, the temperature was still somewhere around the mid thirties. My friend Gaurang checked his watch. Wiping the sweaty glaze off his forehead, he asked, “Do you want to go?”
“Of course, I want to go. But I’m afraid the place will be closed by now. They won’t allow us inside.” I sounded as disappointed as I felt.
“That’s immaterial. This is Ghalib we are talking about. Even standing in front of his closed doors would mean the world to us.”
He was right. We had planned this trip for some time now. Visiting Ghalib ki Haveli was one of our most important objectives. Due to shortage of time and other pressing needs, we had to postpone the visit to the latter part of the day. So what if they don’t allow us inside? We will touch the walls. We will admire the old doors. We will be where Ghalib breathed, walked and wrote; the place where he existed. The rest was indeed immaterial.
“Yes, you are right. Let’s go then.”
Hiring a cab, I searched on my phone for the exact location of the Haveli. For some reason, Google showed two locations. One was in Nizamuddin West while the other was in Chandni Chowk.
The driver asked, “Sir, where do you want to go?”
“Ghalib ki Haveli.” The driver just blinked, utterly nonplussed. He had never heard of it.
“Nizamuddin,” I prompted.
“No, go to Chandni Chowk,” said Gaurang.
After hearing two more minutes of fruitless arguments in the backseat, the driver decided to take us to Nizamuddin. It was closer and free from the harrowing Old Delhi traffic.
We reached the place in less than half an hour. As we stepped out of the cab and started walking the streets of Nizamuddin West, something told us this wasn’t the place we were searching. Even though the alleys had narrowed considerably, we were still too close to the fast cars and the even faster life of New Delhi. Ghalib could not have lived here.
I checked my phone again, this time turning on the GPS. A place called Ghalib Academy was showing; and it was almost adjacent to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Sure enough, we spotted a board hanging outside a relatively old building that read “Ghalib Academy.” I also saw a couple of medieval looking doors to our left, which seemed out of place.
A couple of elderly men were sitting at the entrance of the Academy. On enquiry, they told us what we already knew. The place was closed. I asked one of them about those old doors.
“It’s Mirza Ghalib’s Mazaar,” came the reply.
We both gasped. It was like looking for a treasure chest and finding a boat filled with gold. I had been to Nizamuddin’s Dargah a few times before, yet I had never seen those doors. I had never even heard of another tomb at that location. No one even thought about telling us about this place before we had actually sought it. A page lost in history it was.
Racing out of the Academy, we walked as quickly as possible towards the gates of the Mazaar (Mausoleum). A sole guard was visible through the small window set in the door. There was an old woman sitting inside on a raised platform too. We could also see some children playing inside on what looked like a courtyard.
When we approached the guard, he reiterated the sentence we were expecting – it is closing time. We exhorted him to allow us just two minutes as we had travelled from faraway lands. After much persuasion from Gaurang, the guard finally let us in, while the old woman croaked, “Don’t be late.”
As we walked past the gate and turned towards our right past the courtyard, we noticed a number of graves. But those weren’t the ones we were looking for. The guard led us down a small flight of steps, and we emerged upon an opening with a sole decorated grave at the centre. We need not have asked. This was Mirza Ghalib’s grave.
Since we were in such a hurry, I could not stop for ziyarat. However, a quick glance brought to my attention a marble tablet with the following inscription:
“Na tha kuch toh khuda tha, kuch na hota toh khuda hota,
Duboya mujhko hone ne, na hota main toh kya hota.”
I showed it to Gaurang and almost immediately, he breathed:
“Hui muddat ki Ghalib mar gaya, par yaad aata hai
Woh har ek baat par kehna, ki yun hota toh kya hota”
And I thought it was the perfect tribute for Ghalib. Here we were two lost souls searching for the soul who had enraptured so many lost souls for generations. In those few moments, time stood still. We were silent. We just stood there and kept reading those words. We had memorised them long back. Yet here, it felt as if, they had come to life. It was as if, their creator was whispering them himself in our ears.
A gentle prod by the guard brought us out of our musings. It was almost dark now. We also remembered that our true objective was yet to be fulfilled. With a last glance towards the grave, we left the Mazaar, and called another cab. This time we were sure of our destination.
A few minutes later, we were being jostled by the overwhelming crowds and dazzled by the bright sparkling lights of Chandni Chowk, with the colossal Red Fort behind us. Climbing a rickshaw, I instructed the puller to take us to Ghalib ki Haveli. A blank stare told me that even Ghalib’s neighbours have forgotten that he used to live here. And here we were thinking Google was confused. He knew Ballimaran, though; so that is what we told him was our destination.
Soon we were racing past other rickshaws; weaving our trail through the sea of controlled chaos that was Chandni Chowk; twisting our bodies and grimacing as the rickshaw licked the sides of unwary pedestrians on the bustling alleys of Ballimaran; before stepping on the hallowed grounds of Gali Qasim Jaan. A few rushed steps later, emerged from relative darkness, the ancient-looking wooden doors of the place the arguably greatest poet of India lived in his twilight years. Here we were, finally, standing in front of Ghalib’s home – Ghalib’s Haveli.
We waited on the front steps for some time. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine the doors were back to the magnificence of their heydays. The curtains would part slightly and the hushed voice of Umrao Begum would filter past them from the other side.
Shaking myself out of my reverie, I strode inside, into the hallway. A second set of doors on the right were closed, as were the set on the left. Despite expecting this due to the odd hours of our visit, I could not shake off the bitter feeling of disappointment. We were so close and yet so far. However, there was nothing to be done. I looked over to Gaurang, and it was like looking at a mirror, as his face had the same despondent look as mine.
We came out of the hallway and stood on the front steps again. Many people were passing by; yet no one even turned their heads to look at this place. It was as if Mirza Ghalib was just a name from the history books; a remnant from a bygone era; just another Djinn in this City of Djinns. How sad it was that while his words found home in the hearts of people all around the world, his own people had forgotten him; forgotten that he was only a human. That he too had a home; that he too needed people to visit him, think about him, and ask him if he was all right. Maybe, he was wrong after all when he had said:
“Dil hi toh hai na sang-o-khisht
Dard se bhar na aaye kyun”
Maybe, the hearts of men are made of bricks and mortar. Perhaps, compassion and remembrance are just words. Words written by mad poets like Ghalib.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone said, “Come back after an hour and talk to the night watchman. He will let you in.”
While we were lost in our thoughts, an old roadside shopkeeper had been observing us intently. He must have read the disappointment on our faces, and wanted to help us out. He told us that with a little “persuasion,” the night watchman would let us in for a few minutes.
I could hardly believe him. Was there hope after all? Would we breathe the air inside Ghalib’s home? Was it possible that we could hope to be his mehmaan? Who was this old man? How did he know Ghalib? Wasn’t that name lost? To add to my amazement, he also offered to talk to the guard himself on our behalf.
Therefore, accordingly, we waited for an hour, and the night watchman let us in. Finally, after all that effort, we were invited to Ghalib’s abode. We already knew it was a museum these days. There were stone busts of Ghalib and replicas of his Diwan. There were murals on the walls with his pictures and couplets. These were all fine, but these were not the things that almost made me shout out loud in happiness. It was the fact that we were inside Ghalib’s Haveli at a time when it was not accessible to visitors. We were alone with him. It was dark outside, but I was glowing on the inside. Everything around us said Ghalib. Everywhere we looked, there was Ghalib. Every moment we spent there, it was with Ghalib.
As we left the place and started walking towards the Lal Qila, Gaurang started reciting Gulzar’s memorable lines on Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan:
“Ballimaran ke mohalle ki wo pechida daleelon ki si galiyan
Saamne taal ke nukkad pe bateron ke qaseede
Gud-gudaati hui paan ki peekon ki wo daad wo, wah-wa
Chand darwaazon pe latke huye bosida se kuch taat ke parde
So, the other day I bought a journal. It’s a Pierre Cardin one, with a green leather-like material on its cover. The decision to buy was impulsive, with no rational thought whatsoever. It cost me approximately 400 rupees.
Now if you are anything like my friends, you will ask me the same question they did, “Dude, you spent 20 times more money on a notebook because it looked pretty on the outside and had a fancy name engraved on it?”
Normally, I would retort that it’s called a “journal” and not a “notebook,” you simpleton! But I won’t, because I would be lying. Beneath the veneer of sophistication, lies regular old paper with regular old lines. So who are we kidding? It’s a notebook as in notebooks usually are in general terms of speaking. Then the question arose: what do I do with this thing so as to make it seem like a worthwhile investment to my friends.
*Ting* Write nonsensically abstract poems, of course. Of course. I will then say this is where I keep my art. No one questions art. They will think, “Oh, I don’t have a clue what he is talking about, but I’m sure it’s something that transcends my levels of comprehension. And it’s great that he keeps something so beautiful to record his creativity.”
With that crooked thought in mind, I made the first entry into my “journal.” Here you go:
Do not leave me marooned Out on this lonely isle.
No one to tend my earthly wound
No one to share my painful smile
A place it is for fulfilled lives
A place it is for happy souls
But the essence on which my being survives
Cannot be nurtured by its worldly goals
Can’t you take me there, where
Time stops and prayers pass?
Past the need for things to repair
Past lands beyond the Looking Glass
Where neither hope nor despair live
Where tranquillity and peace lie
For I cannot find the will to forgive
That which made you immortal,
and left me to die.
And just so you know how regular the paper looks, here is a click: