Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The naked dervish

When I was growing up in Sopore – a tiny whistle stop town – there was a lot of violence. The militants of Sopore used to be the fiercest and the security forces perhaps got an additional briefing or two before they were dispatched off to this front-line township. There was a lot of hostility in those days between the Indian army and the locals, much to the glee of militants.

Night-long gun-battles were routine. Since Syed Ali Geelani, then in his 60s and fiery best, came from a hamlet near Sopore, his iconoclastic following was at its pinnacle in Sopore. Winds of mutiny blew rapidly from Wular. I was very young but I remember vividly. There was only one solace to a large number of people in this mayhem: Ahad Saab Sopore. The naked dervish.

Ahad Saab upset a lot of believers because he walked naked. Stark naked. Even in winters when it snowed for days. I must have seen him all of a dozen times – walking always -- and let me admit, as a child I used to freak out at his very sight, not because of his unclothed state, but because of his gaze, which was quite intimidating. He would look at you with blood bellowing in his ears.

I froze in my school bus when he walked past. Ofcourse I would be baffled about how he managed to survive the freezing temperatures, when everyone wore a Pheran [loose warm tunic] and held a Kangri [fire pot made of clay and wicker]. It was only much later an American professor explained that there is a state known as Fana-al-Fina (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a very deep, mystic concept of unconsciousness. And it drives Wahabis all bonkers.

A lot of people used to visit Ahad Saab and they did things which the vocal Islamists promptly clubbed with polytheism. The home of the mystic was like a carnival where people would come, get-together, reflect, weep, talk and at times sleep. In absence of any other outlet to give vent to their emotions, they found Ahad Saab’s abode a spiritual watering hole, where they went – again and again – for some sort of spiritual communion, perhaps.

Sometimes the public opinion was split in the middle: visiting the dervish was blasphemous, some would suggest, yet people kept pouring in. Sufism has its own intellectual culture, the physical artefacts of which are these mystics, his followers felt. And the one man who never spoke while his detractors and acolytes clashed was Ahad Saab.

Inspite of the growing trend of pan-Islamism which has swept across the Muslim lands and engulfed Kashmir also, the valley still has at its heart a very syncretical ethos. Dastageer Saab, a very reverend saint in Kashmir writes about Tasawwuf [spirituality] and Dervishes: A mystic can do nothing and is nothing in his self-being. But Lord gives him a helping hand. [The Sultan of the saints: mystical life and teaching of Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani]

And yet you will meet people in Kashmir who vouch for numerous inexplicable things and occurrences that Ahad Saab was capable of. I don’t wish to negate what is attributed to the ascetic but there is no doubt that he was a common focal point who tied so many human beings together.

Ahad Saab died last night. Naked. The peripheries of his soul never felt bound within his body. He tore clothes and shrieked when attempts were made to put a blanket on him in sub-zero temperatures. People came from far and wide to have a look at his face. Hear him speak. Yet he would rarely open his mouth. There is something companionable about silences, sometimes. ‘But he is naked and he looks unhinged to me. Looks awkward. Isn’t this be-adabi [indecency]?’ I asked someone long years back.
‘Love is be-adub’, pat came the reply. Sufis.

Ahad Bub
Patron saint of Sopore