Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The sun is about to set. This is the time every Friday evening the small tea stall of Fakira, near the entrance of the Shamsher Nagar Hut (market place) livens up with livid discussion, loud hindi music, and smoke of biri (deshi cigarettes). This Friday is no exception.
For the large number of unemployed youth this is a favorite gathering place, where they mingle with each other and exchange ideas. Most days’ discussion essentially peters down to the curves of the village girls and real or imaginary exploits of the village Casanovas. Today however, it is different. There are couple alems (religious scholars) visiting from another village who have chosen the tea stall for their fact finding venue for the next week’s urush (Muslim religious convention). Hence the discussion this afternoon is essentially metaphysical.
The huzurs’ (preferred address for the Muslim priests) presence has drawn larger crowd to Fakira’s stall, and even the elders are gathering around. There is less sell of biri today, but Fakira is not unhappy, since he is doing a brisk business of tea, biscuits, and other condiments.
The discussion is profound. Even the young studs are trying to throw a few Arabic words in the mix with their vernacular, to boast of, or, gain respect of the others, and especially the huzurs. The alems are having a field day. They are imbued in the matters, literally, of life and death, and what makes the difference between one’s journey to hell or heaven in the afterlife. After all they are the people of knowledge when the affairs of heaven are concerned, and even college educated people defer to them on matters such as that.
At this time the huzurs are delving in subject profound, such as how much water must be used for ablution so that Allah would not consider it a wastage, or, why whoever wears long pajama touching their ankles, is committing kabira gona (carnal sin); and other vital matters likewise!
Soon the discussion turns to salah (prayer), as the ablution naturally progresses to prayer, and the discussion focuses on the importance of reciting the suras (Quranic verses) correctly.
It should not be difficult to comprehend that the native tongues of Indian Subcontinent are not really suitable for pronouncing Arabic words, the way the Arabs do. Regardless; there is no dearth of people who would insist that theirs’ are the most perfect intonation, some even superior to the wayward Arabs themselves.
In the course of the discussion one alem comments that he finds it annoying that most people these days do not know how to recite sura Fatiha which is the obligatory verse for any ordained prayer. They recite the word wallodowalin as wallojoallin, and sure this is a great offence in the eyes of Allah, distorting His Own word.
Although the two alems were in excellent harmony up to that time in condemning every Hindu, Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist people for their kufri (blasphemy), at that particular time, the laldari alem (red-bearded scholar) found himself a little uncomfortable. He addressed the sadadari alem (white-bearded scholar) and said, “astagferullah bhai saheb, what are you saying, the word indeed must be pronounced as wallodowalin. I have heard this myself from a huzur who just returned from hajj last week?”
Both alems nevertheless, had unshakable belief on how the word must be pronounced, and it did not take long for the discussion to get impassioned.
Soon two groups formed; one supporting the laldari alem, the other supporting the sadadari alem. The elders mostly took the side of the sadadari alem; since they deemed, by applying henna (color) to his dari (beard) the laldari alem was showing imperfection in his religious practice.
As the voice of the alems rose, so did the temper of the young men, and even old men followed with enthusiasm. They embarked on breaking things in Fakira’s stall. The poor man fell at the feet of the alems to save his small stall, nonetheless, by that time it was even beyond them to stop the skirmish.
The two opposing groups took stand by the entrance to the market led by their individual alems, and began quizzing everyone leaving the market how they pronounced the revered word in sura Fatiha. If the answer was wallodowalin the laldari group said, “masallah” (praise be to God), and let the person pass unharmed, however, the sadadari group got hold of him and beat him up.
If the answer was wallojoallin the sadadari group said, “mobruq” (congratulation) and let the person pass unharmed; notwithstanding, the laldari group got hold of him and beat him up anyway.
A small rickety man was standing outside the market, watching the on going saga with fear in his eyes, and was debating with himself whether he should bolt from the area to escape the beating. He was nonetheless, not so sure, if he could run away faster than the young boys in the two conflicting groups.
The man was astounded when he saw a smartly dressed person coming out unbeaten—both the sadadari and the laldari group had let him go unharmed.
As the person came close to him, the small man asked, “Brother, how did you escape beating? What was your answer?”
The man smiled and said, “I told both groups that I do not pray.”