Grandfather folklore!

It is a warm night, bordering on humid, but I accompany my grandfather on his routine walk after dinner. No tales at the dinner table this time, but I am adamant to listen to some anyway.
“Dadabu, you know so much about sufis and saints, tell me a story,” I say to him.
“Well, you know about Hazarat Dataa Ganj Baksh, right?” He begins after a while.
“Yes, I do,” I reply to him instantly.
“Well, he originally lived in Hajver in Afghanistan, but he moved to the banks of the river Ravi in Lahore. It is said that his spiritual mentor told him to move there. It so happened that he set his house right in the middle of the local Hindu community and the house of a certain person whom the Hindus revered.
Everyday, one Hindu or the other would walk past Dataa sahib’s house and go to the above mentioned person to speak to him about their problems. The major problem that he would solve was when their buffaloes did not give them milk. After the Hindus spoke to him, he would do something whereby the buffaloes started to give milk again.
Dataa sahib watched all of this with interest. But he knew this was wrong because that person used magic and witchcraft as the solution to people’s problems. The Hindus were surprised, how did Dataa sahib, an outsider, know he used magic? And did he use magic?
But the Hindus were in for an even greater surprise! For their folks started to die! One by one, in quick succession, they started to die. As the Hindu procession would take one dead to burn him as is their custom, Dataa sahib would say,
‘Another awaits you.’
And when they would go back to their community, indeed another Hindu had died! But as they would take him away to be burned, Dataa sahib would repeat what he said before, and every time the same thing would happen. The Hindus were astonished. They came to Dataa sahib and sat around him.
‘We accept your religion and your God, sahib, for you seem to be aware of things we are not. We accept Islam, as this seems to be higher path.’
And so thousands of Hindus embraced Islam at the hands of Dataa sahib.”
“Whoa”, I am amazed.
“I’ll tell you something interesting, though. You know how there are political governments here? With presidents and prime ministers and kings and dictators? Well, there is a spiritual government, too, and it works much in the same way, except that they handle things when we, normal people, cannot”, he says.
“Really? So there’s a spiritual president?” I ask him stupendously.
“Yes, the president is called the ‘wus-ul-azam’ and the below him we have the ‘wus’, the ‘qutab’ and then the ‘abdal’. Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani was always held to be the ‘wus-ul-azam’, or the leader of the spiritual government. Do you remember the Hakim sahib from Gujranwala?”
“The one who’s house we went to after he had died?”
“Martyred. Yes. You must have met him before but you don’t remember, I suppose.”
“No, I don’t remember”, I say. This certain Hakim sahib was on good terms with my entire family, and had been unjustly shot due to some strange materialistic matters.
“Anyway, he was a part of this government, too, you must have heard how spiritual he was. Even after he passed away his wife could still hear him reciting the Quran after Fajr as was his habit. And it wasn’t just her who heard him; even someone staying over would be surprised by his voice echoing in the house, doing zikr.
Anyway, I met him once during Benazir’s reign, when she was first made Prime Minister. He told me it had been decided in the higher government that her rule would come to end. I asked him why it was so, and his answer is a proof to the importance God gives to people who love Him truly. He said,
‘When Benazir went to Iraq, she visited Imam Hussein’s and Hazarat Ali’s graves and read Fatiha over them, but when she was coming back, she did not bother to go to Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani’s tomb, which was on her way, too. Being the ‘wus-ul-azam’, she should have respected him and paid his grave a visit. The government is not happy with how she behaved, and so it is time to end her rule.’
And three days later, she was indeed chucked out.”
“But Dadabu, maybe she didn’t know?” I asked.
“About him, everyone knows. Especially people who live here, we are all familiar with these great saints. And I’m quite sure if she was really that innocent in the matter, the spiritual government would not have had a problem. They don’t decide like we do with our narrow approach to everyday life, they think ahead. And that’s why, don’t ever underestimate the power the love of Allah gives you.”

Fireworks on Eid

I winked at Jawayriyah and Rehana and waved to them. They grinned from ear to ear and started racing towards me with all the might that two four year olds could muster. They jumped over broken walls like skilled athletes jump over hurdles; then again, it wasn’t new or surprising for them. They had played “Dodge the bomb!” for as long as they could remember. Swiftly they reached the doorstep of my home, if a couple of shattered windows and hardware pieces can be called a home, and clung to my legs.
“Eid Mubarak, Deeja!” They shouted at me and started pulling me down to their face level so I could properly hug them.
“Eid Mubarak, my little friends!” I cheered with them, “Don’t you look absolutely lovely!”
Both of them shied away from me then, smiling at their torn shoes and fiddling with the ribbons on their battered pink dresses. They might have been wearing clothes more suited to homeless and poor situations, but their faces glowed radiantly with the joy of eid. I fished a couple of sweets from my back pocket and placed them onto the scarred, bruised hands of the girls. Eyes shining excitedly, they quickly pulled off the wrapper and popped it into their mouths, savouring the sweetness and then giving me a big, toothy smile.
“Thank you”, they angelically said, and ran back to their makeshift rooms under the big advertisement board that said “Coca Cola” with a 3D bottle of coke. I leaned against the shaky doorframe and watched them, smiling after what seemed a century. They were so adorable; I could see them rummaging through a pile of bricks and pulling out a ragged old doll with one eye. Laughing, they skipped outside and started playing, Rehana pretended to be a police officer while Jawayriyah was her assistant officer.
‘Jawayriyah, lock this old girl up!’ Rehana ordered in her girly voice, ‘How dare she speak against the Jews!’
‘Sure, officer,’ Jawayriyah replied, ‘she has been a bad girl.’
Each of them took an arm of the doll and threw her into rubble of glass, stones and pieces of wood. My eyes opened wide, horrified to see what they were imitating. Determined to finish this game, I walked to them and called out,
‘Hey! Let’s play catch with the doll!’
They screamed and ran towards me with the doll, and started to throw it to each other. One of my neighbours came out with her month old baby in her hands, and she stood watching us.
‘Eid Mubarak!’ she shouted. We shouted back at her, too.
In the midst of our happy game there appeared a tiny, black ball. Mesmerized, Jawayriyah and Rehana moved towards it, but I pulled them back. I peered at it with narrow eyes, but I couldn’t do so.  They started to sting horribly, and while I rubbed my eyes and tried to breathe in the oppressive cloud that had appeared, I could hear the girls screaming and choking. I followed their voices and covered them with my jacket, then ran to the nearest shelter.
“My baby! No, my baby!” I heard the woman screech as she ran towards us. She bumped into me, and started begging.
“Deeja”, she used my nickname, “Do something! My baby, he can’t breathe… I can’t hear him! No!” she screamed as it dawned on her that her baby was no more, “No! My baby…” She fell down, crying wildly.
“Deeja, I hear something”, Rehana choked. I could hear it, too. It was like a plane flying too near. It seemed to come closer and closer.
‘Rehana! Jawayriyah! Baji! Run!’ I grabbed the girls’ hands and fled – I could hear the shelter blowing to pieces and then Jawayriyah couldn’t walk anymore. A couple of bricks from the explosion attacked us and hit Jawayriyah, who was already short of breath. She fell down and hit more rubble, her already blood stained face now a bright, oozing red. She looked at me with the eyes of angel as she asked for my hand.
‘It’s okay, Deeja, it’s okay.’ She said to me as she held my hand, ‘I’ll tell God everything. I’ll tell Him Eid Mubarak from you too, Rehana. I’m going to Mama.’ She closed her eyes.
Rehana and I buried our little sister on Eid, with the ragged doll with one eye.

Happy Birthday, again

2014

Arsalan sat reading “The Source” when he heard his sister pushing the buttons on her mobile phone and then putting it to her ear.

“Yes, this is Mr. Ahmad’s place … Yes, um, I would like to have the bouncy castle … Exactly, that’s the one … Oh, um, we shall need it on the 21st of January … Thank you.”

Anya ended the call and threw her head back, “One done.”
“Why did you order that?” Arsalan inquired, his eyebrows raised.
“You know why. My son is turning five”, she snapped.
“God, why don’t you people ever think rationally?” he said exasperatedly, “Why do you celebrate the fact that you have one year less to live? And even bring presents for the happiness of it all! It’s all so very illogical. Think about it Anya.”
“It’s just an excuse for fun”, she rolled her eyes, “Be a good sport.”
“But have you ever questioned where this ‘fun’ came from? Have you never wondered at all?”
“You do it, you seem to be enough for the two of us”, Anya said, annoyed.
“Why did God ever give you a brain?” Arsalan shot back.
“Hey, we don’t have those kinds of intentions”, she replied.
“But on the day we’re raised, we’re going to be asked how we spent our time! How we spent our money! Will you tell God, ‘It was only harmless fun and getting together with family’?” Arsalan said.
“He’s forgiving”, Anya grew irritated, and rang the bells to summon the servant.
“Yes, He forgives when we actually listen to Him. We aren’t allowed to follow traditions of past people, especially pagans either”, Arsalan continued, “Why can’t we start bringing some sense, question what we follow and follow it not because of society, but because we believe it’s true?”
A servant entered and stood by Anya’s side.
“Yes, madam?” the servant deferentially asked.
“Next week is Shehryar’s birthday. Take out the chocolate fountain, and remember to pick up the Woody the Cowboy cake”, she ordered, “Don’t forget the clown and all the other arrangements I spoke to you about. Get Aliya to mow the gardens evenly and sweep the play area.”
“Yes, madam”, the servant bowed his head.
“For now, get me a glass of water”, with that she dismissed him, and took a breath.
“There’s no concept religiously”, he murmured, picking up his book.
“And since when did you become so religious? Besides, Arsalan, nobody cares about whatever concepts there are, and our social class requires we do this”, Anya carelessly flipped her hair, “What will people think?”
“You care about people? People make up all sorts of stories. If society jumps off a cliff, we don’t commit suicide.”
“This is hardly suicide”, Anya scoffed.
“Then what is it? Show-off? Pride at being rich?”
“No, it’s just fun”, Anya stubbornly resisted with stern eyes.
“If you know where this fun comes from, how are you still willing? There’s so many other ways of having fun”, Arsalan reasoned, “I mean, you’re planning this a week in advance, what’s the sense in that?”
Anya rolled her eyes and left the room.
  *      *        *        *        *
“Sir, could you please lend me five thousand rupees?” Maryam, the Christian cook, asked Arsalan as he watered his garden. He loved his plants, and preferred to take care of them himself instead of handing them over to the servants.
“Is everything okay? You got your pay cheque last week”, Arsalan was confused
“Well, you see, my son is also turning five, and he insists on a party. You must understand, sir, there is a lot of social pressure these days”, she answered looking at his shoes. Arsalan sighed.
“Why do you celebrate birthdays anyway?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Because, sir, a child enters a new year!” She spoke enthusiastically, “You people celebrate it too, and if Jesus’ birthday is celebrated, it must be a good thing!”
“Maryam, a year of a child’s life ends”, he explained earnestly, “And Jesus never celebrated his birthday. In fact, Christmas isn’t even his birthday. His disciples never did so either.”
“Honestly?” Maryam was genuinely surprised.
“Yes. You don’t have to succumb to social pressures; people do all sorts of strange things. You should do what you know to be right. Do you believe this to be right?” Arsalan spoke in a calm, amiable way.
“The way you put it, sir, things would be so easier of everyone understood this”, Maryam replied with a tone of interest.
“Do you understand?”
“Absolutely, sir”, Maryam humbly said.
“Even in my religion, there is no such concept. Birthdays were a pagan rite before Judaism, Christianity and Islam were revealed, and all three religions do not allow the practice of rites followed by the unguided before them”, Arsalan smiled at her, “But of course, your son is unable to understand. Here’s some money, but make sure you tell him one day.”
Maryam pocketed the money saying gratefully, “Sir, thank you, I shall return it as soon as possible.”
“Don’t return it, keep it. I wouldn’t like you to be in that difficulty.”
                                      *        *        *        *        *
Arsalan was visibly upset. He had never before realized the effect they, the wealthy, had on the poor. How the poor tried so hard to follow the footsteps of the upper class and make the same mistakes they did. When they could not do so, they watched with anger, envy and a sense of injustice as people spent thousands of thousands enjoying all sorts of fancy parties and posh dinners. It was cruel.
He hadn’t been able to find a religious point justifying these parties either. The only two things nearest to signifying birthdays were – at ten years, it was obligatory to perform prayers, and the Prophet Muhammad used to fast each Monday (the day he was born) as a thanks to God that he had been sent to guide humans. None of the Holy Books even mentioned the birthdays of the prophets.
Then why did the populace celebrate birthdays? Worst of all, why wouldn’t they accept the truth?
                                      *        *        *        *        *
Encyclopedia Judaica: “The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual.” (vol. 4, pg. 1054)
Christianity: “Therefore ye shall keep mine ordinance, that ye not commit any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus, 18:29-30)
Islam: “You would follow the ways of those who came before you step by step to such an extent that if they were to enter a lizard’s hole, you would enter it too.”

That is why I donot celebrate birthdays.

Happy Birthday – continued

It was the day dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Aleta and Chrystal led the way to pay homage to her, Bartlett behind them carrying a round cake decorated with lighted candles. They walked up the rocky mountain to the cave which had been carved into a temple for their goddess, Aleta and Chrystal hopping from one rock to the other, dodging a slippery pebble here or a spiked bush there. Bartlett followed carefully; his movements were measured and calculated, while the rest of the group hovered around him, forming a sort of close protection around the sacred cake. The cake was a tribute to Artemis, the roundness of the cake symbolized he roundness of the moon, and the lighted candles signified the glow of the moon. So, the cake carrier treaded with caution, lest anything should happen to the cake and he be eternally cursed. The orange, yellow flames danced on top of the waxed columns.
The temple was finally reached, and the cake was offered to the one it had been painstakingly and meticulously made for. The worshippers proceeded to kneel to the ground and prostrate obediently to the grand statue that stood watching over them in the temple. A strange hum resounded from the little group of people as their foreheads touched the ground. A sort of praise intermingled with a plea to solve all their troubles. It echoed in the stone temple and finally resided. Then, one by one, with their eyes lowered – not daring to lift their heads in front of the stone picturization of the goddess – they slipped out of the temple, their backs bowed till they exited.
Aleta and Chrystal rubbed together a few sticks and started an immense fire outside the main door of the temple, while Bartlett arranged the group around the fire in a circle, himself included. He spoke in hushed tones,
“We now pray. Let no one pray with their tongues, and only use your hearts, for Artemis hears everything. We have done our duty; now let us hope the smoke of these flames is not wasteful, and that it carries our wishes, desires to the goddess above.”
The company closed their eyes and directed their heads to the starry sky, visualizing the moon and their revered goddess seated on a great throne, and prayed with intense devotion and belief that she, Artemis, would certainly be looking out for them from the vastness of the night sky.
                                      *        *        *        *        *
Roman was troubled with the most helpless situations. He had lost his job as the Emperor’s cook and with the loss of his job; his home too had been confiscated. It was a cruel time indeed, his friends and relatives had all left him because he had no resources and so associating with him would only be a wound to their status, and of course no one wanted that to happen. Roman was left with no choice but to pray, and so that was what he did.
He sold the one ring he always wore, it had been a gift from his friend the day he had been appointed Royal Cook, but that seemed ages ago. He had no use for it now; it would only bring back unpleasant memories, something Roman sought to avoid. So he sold them, and got himself a couple of candles – those sacred, magical things. He obsequiously placed them in the corner of a gymnasium, surely nobody would mind him there, especially when he was there for only a short time and when no one else was using the place, and lit them one by one, being careful not to let any of them blow out. Then he sat on his knees facing them, a sort of semicircle he had made, and started to sway side to side, as if he was possessed. He breathed in deeply, closed his eyes, and started to pray, having faith in the powers of the miraculous candles and believing that they would make sure his prayer was fulfilled.
                                      *        *        *        *        *
It was little Fritz’s birthday. It was one of the first to be celebrated of a child, anywhere in the world. Germany led the way to “Kindlefeste”, a little party for the kid whose birthday it was.
Fritz was in the highest of spirits. His friends and relatives would be coming over, with lots of nice flowers and presents for him. Presents were the most important part of the whole event – if not for presents, the atmosphere would not have been so very cheerful. Birthdays were not supposed to be bad days; no, everybody ensured that the birthday kid stayed happy and in good spirits.
It didn’t take them long to arrive. In burst everybody, singing birthday songs and laughing at the jokes Uncle Ludwig was always coming up with. Fritz was glad, and after a while he was even gladder – for now mother brought the round little iced cake with the candles on top too! Chocolate with vanilla ice cream – Fritz’s favourite. He eagerly bounced towards it, his family surrounding him. Fritz’s father handed him the knife, and while he cut the cake, beaming with delight, everybody around him sang,
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to Fritz dear!”
“Go on, honey, blow out the candles and make a wish. Remember not to say it out loud!”
Fritz shut his eyes tight and took in a deep breath, and then he puffed all the candles out.
“I hope you have a lovely year ahead!” Aunt Mirjam cried out, ruffling his hair lovingly, while the smoke from the candlewicks journeyed to the skies.
                                      *        *        *        *        *

Happy Birthday

These stories are fictional, but based on factual events. The historical significance of birthdays as mentioned has been researched and is true. This is actually why birthdays began.

Ptolemy V sat on his majestic stone throne, bedazzled with precious gems embedded in magnificent swirling designs which filled the viewer with awe and a certain inferiority in front of the Egyptian king. The king, though not unaware of the fact, did not then care of exhibiting his power and grandness – indeed his face displayed something quite contrary to the two qualities mentioned above. Expectant, yet wary, his fearful eyes rested on the bent, bald head of a shriveled old man, who was at that moment juggling some very curious objects in his hands, the largest of which resembled a sort of dial. A sizeable telescope was standing in the corner of the glass dome-like roof, which had been specially constructed for the incredible purpose it had been assigned.
“Aapep, do ask the man to reveal to me his work. I have been waiting the whole day”, the young king impatiently said to his bodyguard. The man at once bowed dutifully, and walked rapidly to obey his orders. His steps approached Panhsj, who had his scales and papers spread in an awkward fashion on the expensive mosaic floor, and the old astrologer’s head immediately snapped up. Not oblivious to the bodyguard’s task, he took hold of a small table placed by his side, and helped himself to his withered feet.
“King of kings! Today is your birth-date, and I am honoured that you have bestowed upon me the kindness of telling you your future. I do not wish to make you wait, you who have suffered through so much! Do forgive me.
“I see a change, I see the winds of disturbance move in the opposite direction – these destructive forces now benefit you! They give you something extremely valuable, and that valuable thing benefits you even more. Oh king, you shall see contentment”, the old man then looked over his shoulders to the latticed doors behind him, from whence entered a confident, muscular man in the style of a distinguished and wealthy class. His gait was strong and his big footsteps quickly reached Panhsj, where he bowed gracefully to the king.
“You have arrived Bestet”, the king joyously exclaimed, “I have had a good birth-date this year, come let me tell you all about it.”
The advisor reverently sauntered over to King Ptolemy V Epiphanies, and wished him a happy birth-date indeed.
*        *        *        *        *        *                                       
“Alexandro! I hope there has been no trouble this day?” Aesop asked his brother as they both wandered in the spacious open courtyard in the middle of their home.
“Not yet, Aesop, but I am mighty thankful to the gods that I have friends and relatives. Those spirits could not possibly harm me now”, he sighed.
“And that is why you have no reason to worry at all!” Aesop brightly said, and clasped Alexandro’s hand tightly.
Birthdays were no small matter in Ancient Greece. It was the birthday of a person when he would be remembered by all sorts of spirits and demons, it was the birthday when they decided to visit him, to either bring him happiness or curse him to a fatal destiny. So, Alexandro had every reason to be worried – it was his birthday, and the demons might be on their way to cause every kind of unwanted trouble for the boy. He might not even survive the day – the mere thought sent shivers down his backbone. His face turned white with fear.
“One of my friends fell from the top of the roof of his house on his birthday because he had nobody with him, he swears now that he saw the demons – they were laughing at him as he almost smashed his head”, Alexandro hysterically announced.
Before his sympathizing brother had a chance to soothe his fears, the doors behind them opened to reveal the brothers’ aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours and friends. Each of them briskly walked to the unlucky one, and gave him a bear-sized hug, singing poems of happiness to chase away the demons and invite the spirits of goodness to bless the boy under attention. The girls covered the entire house with flowers and talked enthusiastically, hoping to introduce a cheerful atmosphere. Laughter richoted off the walls as everyone sat around Alexandro and wished he had a very happy birthday, each of them in their frightened hearts praying desperately for the salvation of the boy.
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These stories have been divided into a series. This was part 1.