‘I Bow Down Into His Arms’: A Rendezvous With ‘Rehbar’
After redefining rhythm and routine, a waning second wave has now restored some old order, including the mosque camaraderie. In this piece, the author talks about one such comradeship curbed by the coronavirus.
When I became a captive of the red zone, that old mosque mate of my grandfather’s age felt like a castaway company.
Some blocks away from my home in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area, that kind soul was fighting a lonely battle with the bug that had invaded his house and consumed his better-half.
In its second sting, the coronavirus had bitten the familiar idea of community comradeship — the one that sustained the strife region during its peak crises.
That’s why, perhaps, many voices do assert in unison now—“What political lockdowns couldn’t do, the pandemic lockdown did it with ease.”
What it did is, it made the community’s compassionate touch untouchable.
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Surmising this shift made my seclusion a wordsmith’s woe.
In my dungeon, I was an incarcerated wanderer—held hostage by the invisible enemy.
But there’s something about this prison life that made that Egyptian reformer pen down upheaval and get it smuggled out of the cell for the world to read.
I was in no mood to write an upheaval but wanted someone to play harbinger and drop my words to the old friend.
But as days became weeks and weeks months, I became paranoid about my platonic pal before they opened the padlocks of the house of God and I caught his familiar sight.
It was a sunny Friday noon and some faithful had finally come out for congregation. I heard his strong and firm voice reciting prayers and blessing with that typical Kashmiri accent after almost every second.
“Shukur parwardigarah, katti anni sua zev yemi seth shukur karrai (Glory to you, O’ Allah, for your choicest blessings),” I heard him saying.
During the Imam’s sermon, his involvement was as uncanny as it always had been.
“Insha’allah, Salallahoalaihiwasalam, Ya Allah… Ameen!” he kept affirming where the cleric expected a response. And in between, his response to an event with Kashmiri words—“Khudai senz kudratt” (Allah’s benediction)—kept pouring in all the time.
My eyes were reluctant to look back. But it was difficult to resist when I had not seen him for almost four months.
Before that, it was a routine to have a seat next to him every Friday in the first row.
“Chearr kyaxi govie (Why’re you late),” he would enquire if I sometimes made it late.
Yet he always made sure my seat next to him by extending his arm and kept some space occupied till I reach.
Since my childhood, this unspoken bond in the deepest prayerful manner with an old man has become a space of solace and may be for either of us.
But the pandemic was to make it inevitable for a thing to be kept infiltrated and affected.
Jal Kak, an epitome of modesty, loyalty, affection and affable nature, had to bear the wrath of the second wave of Covid-19 that took away his spouse of over five decades.
Before the virus would storm and devastate the valley’s resilient life, Jal Kak would time and again wail at the most difficult test of the first wave: “Azmeish cha Khaan-e-khudah nesh dour rouzun (Test remains away from the mosque).”
After spending months inside his home, his arrival back in the mosque was perceived as a blessing.
The old man with a hunchback but full of spirit reflected so in his regular response to the Imam’s Iqamat and in a high tone, “Rabbana wa laqal hamud”.
For years, to me and even others, Jal Kak’s presence in the mosque was marked by the resonating voice after the cleric’s call.
While the second wave seems to be settling down, the SOPs, including wearing masks and maintaining social distance inside the place of worship, have brought some peace to the worshipers longing for spiritual solace in the house of God.
Lately, I also prepared up for my first Friday prayer after almost four months.
While stepping inside, my thoughts were stuck in the loop of believing or not-believing that if it has really passed.
I couldn’t even remember when exactly was the last Friday prayer I had offered in a mosque.
By then I already had walked up to the front row and sat on my regular place, a few feet right from the Imam’s seat.
On my either sides, a tape glued on the surface in cross-shape ensured the social distance to be kept. But it was quite unfamiliar to my eyes that had been longing for the regular sight of my boon companion.
Jal Kak had already, with a sigh of relief, sat comforted right behind me.
The sermons completed and so were the prayers. I started looking around me and most of the people started making their way out.
My eyes craved to look back yet in my mind I was confused about the reaction: “Should I look back now, or I should wait? Say salaam first or shake his hand…”
By the moment I looked back, the moist yet lit-up eyes, the bright shining face, the weak but beautiful old man had already opened up his arms to me.
Now the voice of the man wasn’t firm but trammeling in my ears, “Mulakaat korr Khudah Seabni yexhni seth, nati kya barosi chu yath zindagi peth” (We met with His consent, otherwise this life is so unpredictable).
I had no words but to bow down into my rehbar’s arms.
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