Saturday, February 16, 2019

Macabre Tales of Hakeem Sahib

Sketch of Human Anatomy from
Tashreaat Jism-i-Insani.
by Syed Hakeem Ahmad Shah. Urdu.
 Kashmir Library.
I have previously written down and dramatised a Hakeem Sahib story [Electric Fish, 2012]. The tale was narrated by an uncle of my father few years back. On that day he told me another story of a Hakeem, I left it to be written for some other day. A few months back, a relative of my wife told me another story of a Hakeem Sahib, a seemingly similar story and then it hit me that there is a genre of folktale told in Kashmir that has Hakeem and his bizarre "treatment" as the central motif. 

Thus I now narrate the two tales with some noon-mirch.

Tale 1

There was in Kashmir once a very famous Hakeem who could judge a disease merely by listening to the pulse of mareez. His fame had spread far and wide. Hakeem Sahib was once visiting Bombay for a personal matter. It so happened that the news of his stay in Bombay reached a rich Parsee who suffered from a condition that all the great medicine men of the great city had described incurable. Parsee man sought an appointment with Hakeem Sahib one morning but the request was turned down. Hakeem Sahib who was staying in a local hotel told him that he was visiting the city to settle some personal affairs and he was not in town to meet the incurables. The Parsee man was desperate and begged Hakim Sahib to stay with him for a night as a guest, enjoy his hospitality, finish his personal work and then perhaps if time permits, he could treat his host as a patient. Hakeem Sahib knew the moment he saw the man that this was a body in lot of pain. Hakeem Sahib relented and shook his hand. Parsee man took him to his house. Although rich and old, he lived a lonely life in a mansion all white. All he had for company was a Persian cat and a loyal Gujrati house help who had mastered Parsi cooking. The cook was underpaid and the cat was over-loved. Parsi man treated the cat like one would treat a child of his own. To the Hakeem all these things mattered. Hakeem Sahib thanked Parsi man for the hospitality and suggested that the night's dinner be Kashmiri Chicken Korma. How could the Gujarati cook a Kashmiri meal? Hakeem Sahib insisted that he would instruct the cook. We must have Kashmiri food. What about the disease, the permanent pain in his stomach? After dinner, the matter will be looked into. Parsi Man found it queer but then accepted that greatness comes with a certain degree of madness. Both men had business to attend in the afternoon and agreed to meet at night. Hakeem Sahib decreed he would get the chicken on the way back in evening. And if possible some saffron for the special curry. The thought of saffron cheered up the Parsee. Perhaps that was the cure. Where will he find Saffron in this fish stinky town? "No worries, leave all that to me. Perhaps in an Irani tea shop". Parsee man felt a knot untie in his stomach. He was already getting better. He looked forward to the meal cure at night. It was going to be stupendous affair even if the Parsee man was never hungry at night.

The two men met over dinner. The house smelt sweet with the aroma of strange spices. God knows what Hakeem Sahib put in the deg. The dish came out beautiful. However, when they sat down to eat, Hakeem Sahib excused himself, refused to eat and started walking out of the room. Why? "Why do you think I am in this port city. I am trying to catch a ship to Mecca, it was the month of Ramzaan, the month of fasting and one of the best times for Umrah. I can't eat, it is not time yet. See me after you are finished." Parsee Man couldn't process it all but then it dawned on him, "Hakeem Sahib had cooked a special meal just for me. This is the cure. Bless this man!" With this thought, mustering courage to summon hunger, he dug his fingers into the dish, mixed it with some rice and with each morsel felt his life force returning.

After dinner, Parsee Man sought his Persian cat with a leftover morsel in his hand. "Here kitty-kitty! Here kitty-kitty!" He roamed around the house. "Here kitty-kitty! Here kitty-kitty!" Hearing the call, Hakeem Sahib appeared and asked him what he was doing. "I just want to feed this fine dish to my cat." Hearing this Hakeem Sahib started laughing like a ghoul, "Hahaha...that would be quite a scene if it was possible!"

"If it is possible? What do you mean? What is so funny"

"My dear host, what you had today for dinner was a finely cooked degi Persian cat. The Kitty is inside your tummy!"

Hearing this the Parsee Man suffered a violent convulsion in the pit of his stomach. He started to vomit out the kitty. The kitty, the bits of it were all over the cook. Bitter and acidic. It went on for quite some time. He was crying and bent over. "There! There! Get it all out!" Hakeem Sahib held the Parsee man's head back with the palms of his two hand for support. It was as if the Parsee Man wanted to vomit out a whole cat out of his body.  When it was over, exhausted, still crying but with a hint of anger, he screamed, "Why? Why the poor cat? That's all I had."

Handling a towel over to the Parsi Man, Hakeem Sahib explained, "That is the only cure for too much worldly love. If the love overpowers your pulse, it becomes poison, it binds your nafs... you have to sacrifice what you love the most. You are lucky the object of your affliction was a cat. What cured you was not what you ate but what you threw out. You my friend are now cured."

Tale 2

A man once arrived at the gates of Hakeem Sahib with a disease that he was told could only be cured by the great Hakeem Sahib. With much expectation and hope he had knocked at this door. One look at the patient and Hakeem Sahib wanted to turn him away. The man was young but he was turning brittle, muscles dissolving, dark circles under the eyes, cheeks sunk-in till only a long beak was all that remained of his face, earlobes drooping under their own weight, his throat a small cage for a large Adam's apple with taunt veins sticking out as if in anger. The man must have suffered all this transformation only in last few months. His cloths were misfit, they were still meant for his old healthy frame. One look and your could tell this man was dying. Hakeem Sahib knew he could not help this dying soul, but did not wish to leave the man hopeless. "Let him live a month in hope". Hakeem Sahib pretended to check the man's pulse, and asked him to come again next month with the excuse that it will take a month to prepare the medicine.  The man however was so frightened of eminent death and Hakeem Sahib seemed such a miracle cure that this man started to knock on Hakeem Sahib's door everyday. A few times Hakeem Sahib entertained him but then started to find ways to evade the man. Every time the man turned up, Hakeem Sahib would watch him from his upper balcony window, duck and have his house help announce that he had gone out and his cure was getting prepared. Hakeem Sahib cursed himself for the torture he was enduring and the torture this dying man had to bear, walking everyday to this door only to be turned away. Hakeem Sahib expected the man to stop after a few weeks as the disease would be nearing its destination. But, the man persisted and kept coming. Hakeem Sahib perhaps had discounted a man's will to live. As the month was about to end, Hakeem Sahib started worrying how he would now face the man. "How could I get the time of death wrong?" he wondered.

Finally, towards the end of the month, he decided to tell the man his truth. The door was opened and the man was let in. That day Hakeem Sahib observed the patient more clearly and not from the distance of balcony window. The cloths were still a misfit but the veins were gone, throat was all fine, there was semblance of cheeks taking shape on his face when he smiled and the dark circles were still there but a shade lighter. All this may have escaped a normal man's eye but not those of Great Hakeem Sahib. Hakeem Sahib went straight for the patients wrist. "His pulse! His pulse is strong as a mule!" This was a man under a cure. Hakeem Sahib felt a pang of shock and shot at the man in anger, "Couldn't you wait for the cure? Didn't I tell you I was working on it? Who did you goto for cure and what did he give you to eat?" The patient was shocked at the time of questioning. "Hakeem Sahib, I am still waiting for your medicines to arrive. I haven't been anywhere else. Why else would I come here every morning?" Regaining his composure,  Hakeem Sahib was now a bit embarrassed. He changed his tone and asked the question that really mattered, "You have partaken something that has set your body on correct path. Have you been eating anything new? "

Now it was patients turn to be shocked, "I am cured! Shukraan Hakeem Sahib! Just by knocking at your gate, I evaded sure death. You are great. Greatest of Great!" With that he started kissing Hakim Sahib's hand.

"Foolish man! Stop this drama now and just tell me the truth. What have you eaten this whole month?"

"This month?  All the same that I have been having for the rest of my life. I tried nothing new. Nothing new...expect.."

"Except what?"

"Hakeem Sahib...every day on way to your house...I would stop at the chowk and have some Gostaba from that new Hawker. He is one fine Waza and makes the finest Gostaba meat balls I ever had - softest and the juiciest. He now has quite a following."

"Gostaba you say. Makes sense. We will have to meet this great meat masher. Let's go right now."

On reaching the chowk, Hakeem Sahib grabbed the Waza by collar and making a fist with his hand, said, "Swear on Allah, I am going to make mince meat out of you if you don't answer this question correctly: Where do you get your meat from?"

Hakeem Sahib squeezed Waza's Adam apple as the man tried to squeal, "From the market."

A gentle squeeze from the expert hand and out poured the truth: "From the market not....from the graveyard...from the graveyard...I am a poor man...where do I have the money...I do this for my family. From the dead bodies."

Hearing this the former sick patient started to vomit. Hakeem Sahib started laughing like a hyena, "Hehehe... take your time. You ghoul of a man. Bring it all out. Had you died, this Waza would have made soup out of your feet and sold it in the market. Yes, bring it all out. The moment I saw you, I knew it was anger that was eating your inside. An anger that has not explanation, anger as if coming from pits of hell. Anger was eating up your soul, it was eating your body. Unchecked anger is a cannibalistic desire. The only cure for it is that it needs to be fed some other human body.  I could have never recommended that to you. So I was waiting for you to die. Your cure is not what you are throwing out, your cure is what you took in."


A brief origin of terror blasts

A brief origin of terror blasts
it was the 50s when terror first arrived
it came as blasts...
the plan was the same.
timed to a bomb
In Srinagar, the first target was a cinema hall.
"Sardar ji park your bag"
Then was blown a bridge here and a truck there.
A certain Kid "Parwana" crossed border
he was looking for a bride
returned with a bomb
got caught
he is listed in the "conspiracy case"
you can look it up
the grand plan for Kashmir
you can't look up name of
Any of the victims
On it went
A blast near Maisuma mosque
In Jammu Residency Road was first
then a temple for balance
it was a bomb squad from Sialkot
Remember before all that
before those cities
the wave it all started in Dilli
At Jama Masjid there were
what the newspapers called "loud" explosions
Nehru was meeting Chinese
Embarrassed Nehru had no clue
Foreign Hand
Invisible Hands
Police worked, overworked
caught some Kashmiris
among them a pandit too
some non-communist communist tribe
nothing was proven
it was 1956 when terror first arrived
in Delhi at Jama Masjid
it came as blasts...
the plan was the same.
timed to a bomb
by 1957 reached Jammu and then Kashmir
back then the numbers were small, deaths less
yet this was probably the year Sahir wrote:
"ho rahi hai loot mar, phat rahey hai bum"

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