THE SALVATION OF PIR SAHIB
It was the evening of Friday, August 14, 1998, and I was in a car bound for the Wagah border with Kuldip Nayar, Nayar Sahib has been doing this pilgrimage for some years. On the evening of August 14, he punctually reaches the border at Wagah with a few writers, artists and intellectuals. While the troops on either side beat the retreat at the sunset, this motley crowd shouts slogans in support of Indian-Pakistan friendship. And at midnight, they light candles to welcome the new day of Indian Independence.
The road was long and straight. As evening fell, Nayar Sahib said, “If we drove straight on down this road, if no gate or wire came in our way, if no one asked us for visas or passports – then I could have taken a quick trip around Pakistan. Tell me, would I rob that country of something? Anyway, there are robbers everywhere – they scarcely have to travel overseas in order to rob.” Then, after a spell of silence, he added. “After all, that too is my land. So much of me is still there, in that country.
My eyes probably betrayed askance, for he explained, “My master Dinanath and Maulvi Mohammad Ismail…my primer of the Urdu alphabet… my school bag – all belong to that land. Our roots are still out there. We could only lop off the branches and bring them with us.”
Nayar Sahib’s voice was choking. He had mentioned Sialkot, his hometown, several times that day.
“All my uncles and cousins lived nearby. There was a big square right outside our house, an unfenced commons. There were other houses on the far side of the square. There was so much land that the question of grabbing it never arose. On our side of the square there was an old, shady peepul tree. Beneath it was a grave. Who knows whose it was but Ma had everyone believe that it was Pir Sahib’s.
“Ma would put a tilak of the puja sindoor on the trunk of the peepul and light a lamp at the grave. After putting the vermilion powder on the tree, she would wipe her finger on a brick of the grave –then she would perform the puja, present the light of the lamp to the peepul and then place the lamp in the broken alcover of the grave. The peepul would get the Prasad and so would Pir Sahib. If she was unhappy about any thing at home, she would rest her back against the tree and talk to Pir Sahib. Some times, she would sit there and weep. After a good cry, she would feel lighter and return home, bringing her Pir Sahib along with her. There was no salvation for the poor Pir Sahib. Examination time, festival time; happy times and sad, it was essential for her to have Pir Sahib participate.” In a very earthy Punjabi, Nayar Sahib was saying: “If something bothered her, she would pose a question to Pir Sahib. When we tried it, we never got a reply. But Ma would always get an answer from him. Sometimes, Pir Sahib would come to her in her dreams and give her detailed information about what would happen and what could not.”
We had reached Wagah…
The day was coming to an end. The flags of the two countries were being brought down with elaborate ceremony. There were a few people on that side of the border, and a few on this. Raj Babbar joined us. Asma Jehangir was expected to be present on the other side, but she could not make it. The Pakistan government had prevented her from making the journey.
At mid-night we lit candles. Cameras clicked. We raised Indo-Pak friendship slogans. And so we returned from Wagah with our throats somewhat dry and our voices choking.
Next day, we were en route to Delhi, but I wanted to linger on in Sialkot. So I asked about Pir Sahib.
“Nayar Sahib! Your mother had seen Pir Sahib in her dreams. Didn’t you ask her what he looked like?”
Nayar Sahib was bemused. Smiling, he said, “I started my career with investigative journalism. So it was only natural for me to put her this question. And you know, he turned out to be just as Mother described him.”
“What do you mean?…You met him? How come?” Nayar Sahib smiled at my confusion and continued with his story:
“The year was 1975. the year in which Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the country. Political leaders were arrested. so were intellectuals, and I was among them. That was a Friday too, and the date was July 24. I was put behind bars in Delhi’s Tihar Jail and told that I would be released in a few days. I wanted to know who had ordered my arrest. The jailer just said: `Madam!’
“A few days passed, with no indication that I would be released. I asked the jailer to have some of my books and notebooks brought there. The good man complied, and even got me a table and a table lamp.
“When the term in jail seemed to extend indefinitely and I started feeling uncertain, I asked him in my heart: When shall I be released?”
Nayar Sahib watched me in silence. Slowly, his statement sank in . I asked : “Who is this `him’? Whom did you ask?”
“Pir Sahib,” he replied immediately.
“And he came to me in my dreams. He had a flowing white beard and he was dressed in green. This was how Mother had described him to me. I do not remember if he was wearing something on his head…’
“So what did he say?”
“He told me that I would be released the following Thursday.” “Did he say anything else?”
“yes, he said that he was very cold and that I should give him my chaddar,” Nayar Sahib laughed.
“And were you released on Thursday?”
“No! I was very uneasy. I didn’t mind jail, for I was quite comfortable. But I wanted Pir Sahib’s promise to be fulfilled. I wanted his words to come true. As per my routine, I worked late into the night and got up late.
“The next day was Friday, September 11, 1975 and the jailer came and told me that my release orders had arrived. Surprised, I asked him when they were delivered. “The orders came last night. But it was late when I came on duty. You were at your table and your standing instructions were that you were not to be disturbed when you were working,’ he said.
“I almost shouted, `Yesterday – so the orders came on Thursday!’ `Yes!’ said the jailer, a little taken aback. `Did you get news of it?’
“Happily, I said, `Yes’ I did.”
Nayar Sahib had yet another episode to narrate. His mother told him: “Beta, you must go to Sialkot and place a chaddar on his grave. For he must actually be feeling cold.” Her eyes were moist.
“I could not go immediately, for it was not easy to get a visa for Sialkot. But when Mother died in 1980, I felt compelled to go there and place a chaddar on Pir Sahib’s grave. When I got there, I found it was altogether a new place. Sialkot had changed. Strangers lived in our homes. Small shops crowded together in the square and it looked like a full-fledged market. But I simply could not locate the grave. I asked many people, but no one seemed to have seen it. I reached the approximate spot where the peepul tree used to be. But neither the tree nor the grave was there.
“I kept running into this shopkeeper who said that he had never seen a grave there. The day I was to leave, I met him outside the market and he asked whose grave it had been. I told him that it was the grave of a Pir Sahib in whom my mother had believed. After some hesitation, he told me: `Yes, there was a grave next to our shop. We were Mohajirs (refugees). We had to live in the shop. There was hardly any room, so we removed the grave. The needs of life snatched away yet another grave.’
“I returned to India and one day, I went and placed the chaddar that I had taken to Sialkot at the dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi.”
“Did you ever see Pir Sahib in your dreams again?”
“No. Often, I wished he would come to me when I was troubled. I wanted to ask him something, and I knew that he would have had the answer. But I never saw him again. It seems Pir Sahib found his salvation with Mother.”
(Translated for The Little Magazine many years ago and a painting by Raj Kumar)