He was the kindest soul in the town. The affirmation of his dignity was a very subtle, refined humor, which only a very few possess. He wielded it ferociously while he breathed. The most jocular voice in my neighborhood is gone. Our next door grand-fatherly, immensely popular, Abaji met his maker today.
I really miss people I know. To lose them forever is tragic. Worse still I am never in Kashmir. Personally I love satire and I don’t recall well if the old man – with his endless repartees and wisecracks – did subconsciously shape my sense of droll. Whatever the occasion, Abaji would eventually find humor.
One fine day, perhaps in the winter of 1995, a 12-hour gun-battle shook Sopore. The intensity of the encounter was so profound that the entire neighborhood decided to assemble at one place: In Abaji’s elegant little home. While everyone was busy fidgeting or worrying about what comes next [reprisals by the army on innocent citizenry were commonplace], there was one soul who wasn’t bothered a wee tot. Abaji. Amidst the deafening crackle of gunfire he said with an expression that was his hallmark – a cross between sounding deadpan serious and subtle, ‘Khabar kahyi gasan akh gool’ [How much does a bullet cost?]
When he went to perform Hajj just after 9/11, a local carpenter, not too much in demand, came to pay a visit to Abaji and asked to be remembered in Duvas [prayers] in Mecca. ‘Agar haz banay, myani kori khatir onuth akh abaya teti’, [Could you get an Abaya for my daughter?], the poor carpenter requested. Tongue firmly in cheek, Abaji shot back: Temov chahay Abaya banavin band karmit yana Ambreekas hamla koruk [They have stopped making Abaya’s after 9/11]. Yeti aanus bukra-khreeta. [Get her an ordinary Burqa here].
Comicality apart, Abaji was perhaps last of the old-world Sufis. He would do Khatams [Sufi-style private prayers] and Naat-Khwaani [Singing of odes to the Prophet] – an assaymark of Kashmir’s gentle Islam -- much to the chagrin of the new-age hardliners.
Taravees [special Ramadan prayers] are longish and the Imam usually recites them briskly. Leading one such prayer in the mosque many years ago, he turned to the faithful suddenly and quipped: Speed cha theekhi? [Am I going with good speed?]
Gags such as these and many more shall always endear him.
Abaji will make the angels giggle, I am sure.
Peer Abdul Rashid