“Son! Don’t peep into that room,” the warning of Aunt Fatima was ringing in my ears from the past.
Since I received the message over phone from Munir Bhai that “We are performing the tenth day obsequies,” this warning rang in my ears any number of times.
If I could take the first bus and reach the village by noon, I thought I would be able to attend the tenth day ceremony and spend some time with Munir Bhai, Fatima auntie, Gori Ma and others.
“Yes, I must talk to them. Ask them many things, particularly about that ‘Room’!
“Now that Munir Bhai’s Abba (father) has died, what will they do with the ‘Room’? Will Munir take it over as his legacy?”
I could not really make out how Munir received the death of his father. He took over the responsibility of the large family alone when his father was alive. What would Munir do now? What would happen to the thousands of followers of Mustafa?
There were many questions to ask and all of them begin and ultimately end with that ‘Room’.
Mustafa’s life was a very complex painting that changed colours in no time. It looked differently to the same eye at different times. Which of them would really unveil the real life of Mustafa? For me, it was a rainbow of obscure colours.
The whole village believed ‘Baba Mustafa’ was immortal. Coming under the spell of his charming words and people became so irrational as to believe his stories and the myth. And hearing the stories that spread through word of mouth within the village and the villages around, I forced myself to believe, ‘perhaps, it’s true that death will not draw near him.’
People had such unwavering faith in his abilities that if doomsday were to dawn in the form of a deluge, he would dance on its crest; and if it were to arrive in the form of an inferno, he would play with the fire balls. Of course, I did not subscribe to their beliefs. For me, Maulana was Munir Bhai’s father; Aunt Fatima’s husband; and father of my mates Munaf, Mujaffar, Mumtaz, Momin and Mehmooda. Above all, he was one person greatly respected for some time by Gori Ma, whom I like the most. To quote Gori Ma, he “has the Malumat; and isa person who really understood what’s meant by devotion.”
But, he did not hold on to any of them. He liberated himself from all mundane things and walked away into that dark ‘Room”!
When Munir Bhai said, ‘Abba died!’ … I was in a dilemma whether I could go or not! Even if I did go, I was not sure if I could face Munir’s family as large as my own. Somehow I had a lingering feeling within to have a last glimpse of Mustafa. More than that I felt Munir was bereaved and I should console him. But I had no courage to look straight into the face of death
Munir was my bosom friend. In our childhood, we spent a lot of time together though our houses were far apart. Being in the same class, we also studied together. People used to ask us, “Are you twins?” part in humour and part in envy. Though I moved out of the village, there was no change in his friendship. The only difference being that letters were not exchanged that frequently now.
One evening when I was sitting at the threshold of Mustafa’s Room and slowly drawing the curtain out, Momin saw me. Immediately she cried out, “Mommy!” and complained, “Mommy, Afu Bhai is trying to enter into Abba Jan’s Room?” Fatima Auntie came out hurriedly and dragged me away. “No darling, no! If your uncle were to see, he will kill you …” she tried to pacify.
To be honest, I never had any restrictions or strictures on my movement in their home. It sounded rather strange when I heard such words twice too many. But, more importantly, it whetted my curiosity about the ‘Room’.
“What’s there in that Room?” Munir Bhai’s was a very small congested house, that too very old. When one ‘Room’ was left exclusively for hiss Abba Jan Mustafa, it was almost like putting fetters on our butterfly-wings-like feet. When one out of three rooms was sequestered that way, only two were left. For half a dozen people to live in those two rooms meant moving shoulder to shoulder, almost running into one another every time, losing tempers and rebuking each other. That’s all! It was shutters down for our fun and frolic; a full stop for enthusiasm. Thereby, it took quite a while for Munir Bhai, his siblings and me to go out and play under the trees and on the roads.
It also the time when we started slowly comprehended the outside world. And in no time we witnessed Mustafa turning a Baba, moving into that Room, and the Room becoming everything for him.
Mustafa’s Room was a clueless mystery to me. Some strange adventurous dream to unfold the mystery behind unsettled me those days and did not let me sleep peacefully. The more they restricted the entry of children into that Room, the interested in it increased unabated.
Gori Ma began teaching us Koran about the same time. It was a custom in our Muslim families those days that children should complete Koran before they turn eleven. After completing the First Reader “Alif Laam Meem” in Arabic, when Gori Ma announced, “Child! You come here straight after the Namaz coming Friday. I shall begin Koran,” my heart floated in the air with new enthusiasm.
Since completing Arabic First Reader, Arabic had become as sweet as ginger-jelly. Oh, I forgot to tell you…. Our day did not begin those days without taking ginger-jelly made by Mira Sahib before we sipped our first cup of tea. Before she actually began Koran, Gori Ma had seen to it that we got some Surahs by heart. They melted on our tongues as effortlessly as ginger-jelly. We loved listening to the Arabic of Maulana at the Masjid every Friday and on those days of ‘Waking Through the Night” we used to stay all night at the Masjid just for the heck of listening to Arabic through his sweet voice.
But all these things changed in no time. Mustafa’s voice had changed; his mien had changed. It seemed as if a new person had metamorphosed from him.
We had no entry into the new world created by Mustafa outside the Masjid… including that Room.
“It is good that you have no entry into that Room! Your interaction is with the Allah above, and not with the Satan beneath!” said categorically Gori Ma one day. All four of us decided that we should enter the Room come what may!
“What’s there in that Room?”
That was the quintessence of our search those days.
To unravel the secrets of that Room, we tried to imagine what all our little brains could imagine. What would be there for us to see if drew the white curtain aside and entered in? Every night Fatima Auntie washed the curtain at night and hung it by early morning.
“Why do you do that aunty?” I used to ask her almost every day.
“It’s all a whim… Your uncle is getting silly and whimsical day by day. When Saturn sits on one’s crown everything in the world looks disarray.
Munir was older to me by three years but it never seemed he understood the developments any better. But there was always a hint of dislike in his words. And, the house was a divide each entertaining his own view about it.
The Room occupied our thoughts and imagination so totally and intensely that we started dream of it every day. We dreamed Mustafa himself taking us inside and showing the strange and wonderful things there; that we felt the exotic things there touching with our hands. We used to share our dreams. After listening to our talk, Munir Bhai used to say, “You people are really getting mad. There was nothing inside, in fact.”
“Did you see what was therein?” we used to question.
“No. Abba never allowed anybody inside,” was his usual reply.
“Then, what do you know?”
“Honestly, I don’t know anything. Neither have I any interest,” he would say and leave the place. When we asked Gori Ma about it first time, she said “Mustafa is suffering from the excess of knowledge. Entertaining untenable hopes and desires, he is living in an imaginary world. Allah will not excuse such people.” That day she got us by heart some Surahs of Al Baqarah from Koran. The greatness with Gori Ma was she never stopped with our getting them by heart; she used to explain the meaning of Surahs very clearly. In spite of that, we imagined a wonderful world beyond her explanations in that Room.
We started imagining there was something beyond our understanding like some hidden treasure there in that Room. Though he never committed himself publicly to us, Munir Bhai seemed he had a better understanding of these things.
Before we could come out of our great suspense, Mustafa’s house turned into a veritable holy place. The tens of people who initially trickled into the place started turning up in hundreds soon. After passage of two months one devotee got another small room constructed a few yards in front of the house. One fine morning before we got up from bed, all the material of Mustafa was shifted into that new room. And opposite to that room, a green flag started fluttering to a branch of a tree. I saw Fatima auntie getting upset. “Mustafa knows not what he does,” said Gori Ma and went into silence, not interested to speak anything further.
But there was no room for silence within me. There was restlessness … as if a turbulent sea was roaring within… a cumulus of nimbus clouds was about to burst… A premonition that something undesirable was happening… and an inexplicable fear that it would inundate the place in its deluge.
Meanwhile, father got his transfer. We moved to a small town nearby during summer. Over time, my place remained just a memory and Munir… a childhood pal. But, the white curtain hanging over the door, and the green flag fluttering in front remained alive before my eyes.
Occasionally I heard about Mustafa Baba being referred in people’s conversations. Once in a way, Munir would call to speak about every development, except his father. I saw an attempt to erase the character father… and, of course, I saw the traces of it when I was there. After coming to the town and from what I heard about Mustafa from others, I felt it was quite natural that he did not mention anything about his father.
That Room was a motif of hatred for Munir.
It was a dark den.
It was an incomprehensible curious vortex of either supreme knowledge or utter ignorance
But, then, what did Mustafa do in that Room? One thing is for sure, the Room had been a bridge between his material and internal words. Beyond that he had no familial duties or responsibilities. Neither Masjid, home, wife nor children… except the devotees that throng to see him; their worshiping him and the divine communication he did on their behalf in that Room.
Every time the devotees vent their griefs before Mustafa, he would go alone into that Room and reappear after half an hour. Many rumours circulated about what Baba Mustafa did during that time.
As the prayers and worshiping for Mustafa was on the increase day by day, Gori Ma had warned him any number of times: “Mustafa! You will have no answer on the judgement day. What you are doing is a grave sin. It was nowhere advocated in Islam. There will be no salvation”.
But Mustafa never heeded. However, the redeeming feature with Mustafa was that he was not money-minded. He was of the strong conviction that whatever he did was sacred and spiritually lofty.
In another way, that turned out to be a liability to the family. After Mustafa transformed to Mustafa Baba, the burden of the family fell on the young shoulders of Munir, and he really struggled like hell to manage it. Everybody turned antagonistic to Mustafa for his ways. Gori Ma tried to reason him out asking time again, “What is true Ibadat (devotion? Is itleavingyour people destitutes?”
“This is my chosen path for the present. Leave me alone,” he used to say and retire into his Room.
Before he disappeared into the Room, Mustafa did Namaz five times a day. The black mark on his forehead looked like Allah’s signature… as a mark of his devotion.
Every one of us eagerly waited for his speech in the month of Ramadan. The Surahs in his sweet voice were a treat to ears. We thought life was a waste if we did not read Koran. And in those days, Gori Ma had great faith in his word. For that matter, everybody respected his word in the village. Suddenly, Mustafa went into bouts of spiritual thinking and started living without any sense of time. And slowly he settled into it. “Mustafa lost his way confusing ignorance for devotion. There is nothing that we can do,” declared Gori Ma one day. I could never make out what Mustafa was doing going the way he was. Sometimes I felt if he was burying alive in that Room.
But before I could find an answer, we moved to another town. I was getting information about Munir occasionally… either when he himself called me over phone or through friends.
And from the few words he spoke over phone, it was hard to understand Munir Bhai. I was still in a dilemma how he would receive the death of his father. It’s as enigmatic as Mustafa’s Room.
By the time I got down the bus, Munir was waiting for me at the bus stop.
I was in a dilemma how to begin the conversation. It was true my mind was still pre-occupied with that Room.
“Let’s take tea here,” he initiated.
At the tea-stall near bus stop, server Raju recognized me and enquired, “How are you?”
“Fine!” I said and Munir and I sipped tea standing under a tree. All through, Munir enquired about me and my people but never touched about his. I was also not inclined to ask about him immediately, and decided to broach the subject as we walked our way home.
Munir was taciturn by nature. And his present demeanour made it clear that he had become even more recluse. His face looked weary. Half of his hair on the crown turned grey. He was looking very weak. It seemed he was exhausted in every way. He was a living example to indicate what a failure Mustafa was as a man, after turning into a Baba. His back really seemed bent having borne the burden of the family for long,
Before I could decide where to start about Mustafa’s demise, we reached his house. Fatima auntie, Munir’s brothers and sisters were happy to see me. Gori Ma was also there. She hugged and blessed me caressing my head. I felt so happy to Gori Ma after a long time. There was the same stoic peacefulness in her face. I was sitting in the foreyard, looking for the Room of Mustafa. After the customary formalities of the tenth day were over, and after the few relatives had left, Munir took a nap in the chair.
I was looking closely at his sleeping face
I noticed both a kind of unrest as well as serenity in that face.
There was grief but at the same time a streak of tranquillity flittering imperceptibly.
Sometimes, Munir would appear to me like a warrior of Karbala. In that Karbala battle field, there were at least few survivors. But in this Karbala battle field, I always felt he was a lone warrior. How many battles have to one wage in a lifetime! Spirituality could be a great détente; or, it could be a great war.
Life for sure is a chaos of innumerable battles. Unable to wage those wars, did Mustafa settled for the lone struggle of spirituality? Maybe! I was not aware what Mustafa is fighting against. Nor, Munir knew. Once when we asked Gori Ma what spirituality was, she said very simply that, “It is an endless plateau. One should be able to see the horizon, the cosmos above and the chaos beneath. But never is it a narrow four-walled Room.” Is it? Allah mentioned about seven skies but did he mention about seven lands? I was not aware. I was not aware of so many other things.
Mustafa built an easily accessible heaven for people here. Satisfied with that, people saw Allah in Mustafa. But he was a Satan for his own people. Where was the difference? Waking from his sleep and snapping my train of thoughts, Munir proposed, “Shall we go for a walk?”
“Take Chai before you go out,” suggested Fatima aunty and before we could even complete yes, she placed two glasses before us.
Her two eyes are two serenely flowing rivers. If you throw a stone into a river, the river would drag the stone to its bed but never lets a single ripple dangle over its surface. They are two pure, simple eyes that can suffer any event with the same stoic dispassion.
How did she feel the moment when the body of her husband with whom she lived so long, and bore so many children for him suddenly turned cold? Did she wail her heart out like everybody else banging her hands to the ground? Probably not. Did she sit silently in a corner like a lamp that just went out? Maybe or maybe not. I could not think any other way.
“Come on, let’s move out,” said Munir after he finished.
“Well I wanted to ask you this but was hesitating fearing how you will take it. Did you not announce the death of your father for people in other places?”
“People of this village knew, but those in other villages are not aware. I did it deliberately”
“We are against all this. You know, Mother, Gori Ma and I did not like this from the beginning and kept our distance.”
“Of course. Auntie was totally opposed to his way”
“If you ask me it is not a way… but digression. God is a mask… devotion is a conceit.”
“I can understand. But, when the person is no more, I don’t think it is necessary to comment about his ways”
“I don’t know why… it created a lot of frustration in us. A smouldering fire lying low for years. It has almost become unbearable.”
I did not like him suffer any more prolonging the subject. After all, I was not unaware how they felt about it.
“What about the Room?”
“Want to see? Come on. Let me show you.”
He took me to the tree where the green flag fluttered and to the place where there was the Room earlier. The moment I came here, I noticed that the Room was not there. But then I thought I was mistaken.
“This is the place where the Room was once,” he showed. It was a level ground. One could never guess that there had been a room there earlier.
“We demolished it the day after Abba died,” said Munir.
“Is it? So soon?” I could not hide my surprise.
“Yes. We did not want any extension to the story. We thought it would be fair for us and to the world to put a full stop to it. “ Munir was very clear about what he said.
Sitting on a stone seat nearby, I imagined about the Room. The Room that haunted me from childhood. It had become a mere memory now. Just that! I felt the soul of Mustafa was wandering around the missing Room.
“Enough! Let’s go,” said Munir casually, making no pretence of having recognized that the Room still existed in my thoughts, though he actually did.
“That Room was a dark impenetrable cave. I believe that God exists. But I don’t believe, whoever says, that he exists in these dark rooms, in caves and magical powers. I got great relief from darkness when I demolished it,” said Munir.
“So, the story ended this way.” I blurted out.
“Yes. Sometimes, we have to deliberately conclude some stories ourselves,” said Munir
Those words did not let me sleep that day!
Read the Telugu Original ముస్తఫా మరణం … Afsar
1100 th Post