(This short story is dedicated to the children of Shah Daula’s Darbar, many of whom are abandoned and left to become beggars. Please visit the following links to learn more about the plight of the children of the Darbar of Shah Daula (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/122670.stm ,http://www.irinnews.org/report/18638/pakistan-focus-on-rat-children. You can watch a subtitled documentary on the children of Shah Daula at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j85izjuoLTA. The best and one of the longest running charities operating in Pakistan is The Edhi Foundation. You can donate to The Edhi Foundation by visiting this link and contacting their offices. http://www.edhifoundation.com/contact.asp. Thank you. )
Image from http://aconspiracyofhope.blogspot.com.
The Martyr of Shah Daula
By Saleem Safdar
(C) Saleem Safdar, 2013.
I watched Bhai Sahib walking away, dragging his crying wife with him. The baby they were abandoning sat in front of me as my world faded to darkness, crying, in much the same way I had cried when I was abandoned as a baby, although I don’t remember much. The world is fading now. I feel tired. I want to go to sleep. I can hear someone screaming my name in the distance. What is she saying? Oh, it’s Nani Amma. It’s just Nani Amma… She would be proud of me if she had known what I did. I hope Allah is proud of me. My eyes are heavy now. I feel weak. I pray that I see Rasulullah in heaven after crossing the sirat, the bridge, at the fountain of Kausar where I will forget the miseries I suffered in my brief life. I hope I see Prophets Isa and Musa too. Maybe I will see my mother and father. I will not ask them why they left me at Shah Daula’s Darbar. I will be so happy to see them again. I will embrace them and kiss their faces. They will look at me and Shah Daula will be with them. I will ask them if I am really a Chua, if I am really a mouse, as people said my entire life. Ummi and Abu will say “No, you are our precious child.” Shah Daula will put his hand on my head and kiss me on my hair. Allah will bless me and I will smile and everyone will be happy. The angels and people and animals and jinn will all stand in front of Allah that day with nothing but hope for His mercy and fear of His punishment. I pray for mercy. I hope I will see this baby there too. I hope Qayenaat gets her eyes in jannah, in heaven. I know she will. She must. I will miss Qayenaat most as I have missed her for so long now. She is my love. My real love. I must rest now. I am so tired. So tired.
My first memory was crying. I was crying in front of the darbar, the shrine, of Shah Daula. I didn’t know where I was. I was scared. It took so long for someone to come. Finally, a man came and took me with him. He was wearing shalwar kameez, loose pants and a long shirt. I don’t remember much except the band they tied around my head. It was made of metal of some kind. That is why they call me “Chua”, “Mouse”. It is because of the small size of my head. My head is small enough that you could cover it fully with your palm. I was too little… when I grew up enough they told me “Go beg.” I begged. I prayed. I prayed that Shah Daula give people children. I prayed that Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, and all prophets are blessed. Whoever asked me I prayed for them. Whoever didn’t ask me I prayed for them. People gave me money. I gave it to Sahib. Sahib said I should tell people I had no parents and to give me money. In return I would pray for them and their families. I would pray for the couples who wished to have babies. The people say if a couple can’t have babies and they pray at Shah Daula’s darbar they may be blessed with a baby. Somebody made up a story that Shah Daula said they must give up their first born baby to the darbar. This is a lie. I know it was a lie because of what happened one day when I was a child. That was the first day I met Nanni Amma.
It was morning. I was playing with the children in front of the darbar. Pick up stones.
“Allah! Main kee kara? Who will take care of your children, Allah?”
“Acha? You think I am your nokrani?”
The children all giggled.
“May Allah protect you children. I am a helpless widow. Like you, I am at Shah Daula’s darbar for blessings. I clean and get enough alms to eat a little daal, lentils, at night.”
Then she lowered her voice and told us to come closer.
We walked closer. Nani Amma said: “You are all Allah’s flowers. He spreads his light in the world through your innocent hearts. People take their children that they don’t want. The cripples, the mentally challenged, the handicapped, and they leave them here and blame Shah Daula for their own sins. The criminals put instruments on your heads to make them small so they can use you to beg, to make the same people who abandon their children feel good about themselves. I see the play everyday from the veranda of this holy place, but I am helpless. I complain to Allah. I complain to Kamli-walay, the seal of the Prophets, my beloved Muhammad. I am simple woman. But you are blessed children. You are too young to understand. May Allah have mercy on you, blessed ones. There is some roti in the courtyard. Go. Eat.”
All the children ran to the courtyard to eat some scraps of roti. Except for Qayenaat. Qayenaat could not see.
“Qayenaat, do you want roti?”
“Come, let’s go get roti.”
“Can you show me the way?”
“Yes, hold my hand.”
I held Qayenaat’s hand for the first time on that day. From that day on Qayenaat would be in my heart. In my days and in my nights. In my dreams and while I was awake. In all of my prayers. Qayenaat was always with me.
As we walked into the courtyard I saw Nanni Amma smiling at us.
“Haw-hay… Allah de shaan. Ni Sonu, taynu ishq lagee?”
“What did she say?” I teased Qayenaat.
“What did she saaay, Qayenaat? I swear I didn’t hear her.”
Qayenaat hesitated as if she was contemplating whether she should answer. “Nanni Amma asked you if you are in love.”
“Well, Sonu, are you in love?”
“You heard me!”
“No, I swear I didn’t. My ears are bad.”
“Your head is bad!”
“Hey! That’s not nice. My head is special. Do you know I get more rupees than the other children who beg?”
Qayenaat giggled. “That’s because you’re stupid and people feel sorry for you.”
Qayenaat was still giggling. “Yes what?”
“Yes, I am in love.”
Qayenaat stopped walking. Her chest heaved through her kameez. “R-really? Really you are in love, Sonu?”
“Yes, I’m in love with cricket! Ha!”
I grabbed my roti and ran off with the boys, leaving Qayenaat behind for the moment. Before I could leave the courtyard of the darbar, though, I stopped and turned around and looked at the girl who I would love for the rest of my life.
Like the creek that flows into the river that flows into the ocean the hours flowed into days into weeks into months and years and with the flow of each day my love for Qayenaat grew. She was my best friend. She was my confidante. She was my life.
The people crowd around me now. They seem worried. There is no turning back now. I am going from this place.
Life was not easy, but at least every day Qayenaat brought the sun and moon to me with her laughter and smiles. I was a begger. I danced the rakhs. I beat my dol. I prayed. To the world I was “Chua”. To Qayenaat I was Sonu.
Qayenaat could not see. One time she was standing in front of the darbar and begging and a man came and tried to take her.
“Come with me.”
“Come!” The man forcibly grabbed her arm and started taking her away. I saw this and started throwing rocks at him and yelling curses at the man. The other children joined.
Nanni Amma must have heard the noise and came running.
“What happened children?”
“A man tried to steal Qayenaat!”
“Was he successful?” Nanni Amma asked mischievously as she looked down the street for him.
“No, because Sonu saved me!” said Qayenaat.
“You make me sick!” said Noor.
“That’s because you’re just jealous that you didn’t save me!” said Qayenaat.
“No, because I have better things to do.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like beating you up, you Chua!”
I remember getting beaten up pretty badly that day by a group of kids led by Noor. It was okay though, because afterwards Qayenaat came and soothed me.
“Are you okay, Sonu? Sonu?
“He is on the verge of death. We must take him to the hospital” I could hear someone shout.
“What use? The bachara is just a Chua.”
May Allah bless you. I will make dua for these people without receiving or asking for any alms today.
They said I was retarded. Mentally. They said I was defect. That I was reject. I had no respect. But Allah was my friend to all the way end. I knew Him in beginning and I will know Him the end. I don’t need to pretend.
Time passed and we danced and played and begged, stole food and I stole kisses in my dreams from Qayenaat. I would bring her a mango from the bazaar chup chupkey so many times. Baba Ji would be so friendly the way he would greet me…
“Salaam beta.. did you win today?” He would say as he stroked his white beard. He wore a topi, hat, and always wore clean loose cloth over his legs with a kameez on his upper body.
“We didn’t play yet..” I would always tell him.
“Well make sure you win when you play, beta, you are my hero.” He would say this and turn to other customers, always singing a tune and smiling.
I would take a mango and slip it under the opposing arm from his view as I would run back to share a mango with Qayenaat.
I would feel guilty but my excitedness at seeing Qayenaat’s reaction to the sweet taste of a mango made me commit this slight to Baba Ji. I hope he understands now, this was for my Qayenaat.
“Sonu, have you ever seen a rainbow.”
“What does a rainbow look like?” She asked as she ate the mango that I had brought for her on the side of the darbar.
“It is all the colors together, Qayenaat.”
“But I have never seen the colors.”
“It is beautiful, Qayenaat, like you.”
“Am I beautiful, Sonu?”
“More beautiful than the sun and the moon, Qayenaat.”
“I have never seen the sun and the moon, Sonu. What do they look like?”
“Qayenaat, the sun is like your smile when you are happy. The moon is like the brightness of your face against the darkness of the night.”
“Sonu, you are crazy.”
“Am I crazy for loving you?”
“No, you are crazy because you have a head the size of this mango pit.” She bellowed in laughter and the mango could still be seen on her cheeks and in between her teeth.
“Sonu, my hands are sticky.”
“Take my kameez.”
“Sonu, will you wait for me?”
“Wait for what?”
“Will you wait for me so we can get married when we are older?”
“You would marry me? Even though my head is the size of an almond?”
“Not an almond, silly, a mango pit.”
“Oh… I forgot.”
“Yes, Baba. I would. You are my jigar.”
“Have you ever seen a jigar, Qayenaat?”
“I do not need to see. I can feel you.” Said Qayenaat as she placed her hand over my heart and felt its thump-thump.
“I wonder what your heart says, Sonu.”
“It says your name, over and over again.”
“You are such a bird brain…”
I enjoyed being a clown for Qayenaat. I loved her smile. I loved Shah Daula. I loved Gujrat. Even though I was a poorly fakir I loved and loved and people loved me. That is, until they took my Qayenaat from me.
“Bechara Chua will die like he was born… alone.”
What they are forgetting is we all are born alone and die alone… but at least I had known love… I had known Qayenaat.
It was Friday, the holiest day of the week. Jumah was always the best time for us fakirs to make money. People were more generous when they left the masjid after Friday afternoon prayers. I was excited to tell Qayenaat my plans of saving enough money and leaving this life of beggary.
When I reached Shah Daula’s Darbar, however, Qayenaat was no where to be seen. I asked everybody. No one knew where she was. The whole day passed and I didn’t see my Qayenaat. All the previous days I had begged I had often faked crying. Today I was crying for real. I thought my tears would never stop. I didn’t know what to do. I realized I was as the others had said I was. I was retarded. I was no good. I was nothing but a “Chua”.
“Nee merey bachay, what’s the matter?”
“I can’t find Qayenaat Grandma. I looked for her all day. I tried to get the words out between my tears and swallowing of my breath. I looked everywhere. Even Noor helped me look.
“Beta, listen to me. They have taken Qayenaat away.”
“Where? Where is she, Nanni Amma?”
“They took Qayenaat to be a nokrani, a servant, in the wadera’s house.”
I was confused. “Will she come back?”
“No, I’m afraid not, my sweet, innocent son.”
Nanni Amma placed her arm around me and kissed me on the head. “She loved you, beta. But if Allah wills you will see each other again one day, in this world or the next. It is my belief in love that has kept me at this darbar all these years…”
Nanni Amma sighed and walked away… whistfully asking Allah “My Dear Lord, I know Your wisdom is greater than my small mind can comprehend, but why must this life hurt your servant’s heart so much? Why must every love story be a tragedy?”
I didn’t return home that night. Where was I to go anyway? I had nowhere to go and no one to call my own after my Qayenaat had been taken from me. I started running. I didn’t know where I was going but I was going to find out where the Wadera lived. I ran and ran until I found myself thirsty and delusional in the desert of my mind. I remember not remembering who I was. A Sufi looking man found me and asked me who I was and I said I was Qayenaat. He tried to feed me and give me drink to no avail. He prayed for me and sighed, saying these verses:
My Beloved, what is your slave to do
When everywhere he turns he sees You?
Then he brought me back to the darbar and kissing my forehead, departed.
I didn’t speak to anyone or move from my spot. People continued to throw money at me in my disheveled and distraught state. It was two days later, early in the morning, when I became beloved to Allah.
The dawn prayer had finished. People had left. A rooster crowed in the distance and I recalled when Qayenaat and I used to chase the chickens in the village. A man appeared in the distance with his young wife who wore a head dress, a dupatta, draped around her head. He was broad and strong. She looked beautiful, like she had a glow. Her dress was brown and her dupatta revealed a baby that she was cradling. She looked distressed and under duress. I watched as they approached.
The man yelled at his wife.
“Leave the baby here! We’ve made an oath to give our first born to this darbar and we must!”
“Fear Allah, I don’t want to. This is my baby, my flesh. This is our baby!”
“We must. Besides, the baby is a retard. He will be of no use to us. He will be better here with the rest of the Chuas.”
“No, he won’t!” I protested.
“Chup! Shutup, Chua. You don’t know anything! You are a mere fakir!”
“He is your son, you should keep him. Allah wants you to keep him. Hazrat Shah Daula wants you to keep him.”
“Sweetheart, please listen to the boy” pleaded the man’s wife.
“Shut up, woman! This is all because of you!” shouted the man as he pushed his wife to the ground.
At the moment the man pushed his wife I could see in my mind’s eye an image of Qayenaat in the Wadera’s house, being pushed to the ground. I ran towards the man and he picked me up and threw me against the ground. I guess my head must have hit a rock because I started seeing red everywhere.
The baby cries and cries but I am helpless to do anything. I was a child beggar in life. I was abandoned. I was abused. I slept on the streets. I was exploited. I was spit on and preyed upon by vultures. As I die I return to what I did in life… prayer. Ya Allah, have mercy on this baby. Whose lane is this? Is that you Qayenaat? Your smile is my sun…
Some Useful Words:
”nokrani” = female servant.
“Rasulullah” = Muhammad (Peace and Blessings on Him).
“Isa” = Jesus (Peace and Blessings on Him).
“Musa” = Moses (Peace and Blessings on Him).
“Allah” = arabic word for God.
“Wadera” = wealthy land owner.
“Hazrat” = an honorific title in Urdu and Arabic.
“Chua” = rat or mouse.
“Nanni Amma” = Grandmother.
“Sufi” = a Muslim ascetic or mystic.
“Darbar” = shrine.
“Shah” = an honorific title.
“Fakir” = a beggar.
“Gujrat” = a city in Punjab, Pakistan, where the Shrine of Shah Daula is located.