By Dr. Zamir Afsar
You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Is it so hard to believe that every living thing on this earth is somehow connected to every other thing? Perhaps this pattern that connects us all together is some kind of wonderful, or mysterious, tapestry that is so intricate that it’s just impossible for any human being to fathom. This feeling, if you want to call it that, has come into my mind a couple of times in my life. The first time was in March 1994, when I stood outside the home of Ghulam Rasool Bhat in Aishmuqam. His wife lay in bed, dying of cancer and I, along with so many other people, stood outside in the cold spring air, waiting for news of her end. She suffered terribly over the last few months and we all prayed that Allah would finally take her soul to heaven.
Mr. Bhat was an administrator in the medical center in Aishmuqam and his wife used to be a primary school teacher before her illness. They had no children.
We’re warming our hands over a kangri saying little to one another when Mr. Bhat comes outside to see us and we think it’s the news we’ve all been waiting for. His face is still and there’s not a single tear in his eyes. He says each word slowly as if he’s reading from a script and has forgotten the words. I stand near the back of the crowd gathered around him and overhear what he says- that his wife is stable and that he needs a car to go to the Ziaret of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali to pray for her.
Many of us go along with him, including me. On the journey there, I remember my mother telling me the story of how Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali became a Muslim. She would always conclude the story by saying that if your faith is really true, Zamir, then Allah would grant you anything you wanted. The way she put it, made it seem like quite a tantalizing proposition: to have anything you ever wanted and during the annual Urs, I would often dream up a list of all the things I wanted to have. But, today, on our journey to the Ziaret, the only thing I wanted was for Allah to take Mrs. Bhat’s soul to heaven.
We get to the shrine and Mr. Bhat wants to be by himself. We understand. The rest of us gather to read a prayer for his wife instead of trying to console him. I am about to join this small congregation when I hear the sound of Mr. Bhat’s tears that seem like the sound of some beautiful music that hypnotizes you. The prayer begins but I wonder off to see if it is Mr. Bhat who is crying. He is in a corner of the Ziaret away from the sight of other people, on his knees, crying and crying. I think he’s praying for his wife’s suffering to end, just like the rest of us are, but as I get a little closer to him, I realise he’s not. He’s on his knees with his head buried in his hands, crying, asking Allah to take his soul instead. “Dear Allah” he says through his tears, “take me, kill me, please, please, take my life, I want to give my life for her, please grant me this one wish just as you saved Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali, please, don’t let her die”.
He’s crying and I don’t know what to do. I want to go and put my arm around him and tell him what my mother told me that Allah will grant you anything if your faith is true. A few minutes go by and I’m still deciding whether to go and hug him as I peep around the corner of the Ziaret surreptitiously watching him. But the sounds of his tears are broken when people come into the room, passing me by as if I’m invisible. They tell him that his wife has died and Mr. Bhat collapses into their arms.
A few weeks later, Raheela, the daughter of the local Darzi, Haji Qayoom Sahab, is walking to school. She’s in the same class as I am and I can see her walking. She crosses one of the shabby roads in Aishmuqam and stops for a single moment. I was walking behind her when it happened and I could see everything. She stopped in the middle of the road as if someone whispered out to her. She stands there looking at the truck that about to smash her body up. It felt like she knew what was going to happen. Faisal Bashir, the driver, is on his way to Tral and is late. He overslept and is driving too fast. Raheela is thrown in the air when Faisal’s truck smashes into her. She lands about 10 meters away and we all run toward her. She’s breathing, quickly, asking for her parents. Faisal is in tears, trying to explain how sorry he is to the people, some of whom are grabbing him by the collar. It was an accident he keeps saying.
My friend Sonny and I are with Raheela in the medical center. The Doctor is late and we fear that she’ll die before he comes. Mr. Bhat, whose still working as the administrator, is shouting at the Doctor through the telephone when Raheela falls unconscious. He tells us to quickly get her father, Darzi Qayoom Sahab, and slams the phone down on the Doctor. My friend, Sonny, runs off to get him. There’s a lot of commotion outside. I can hear people screaming and slapping Faisal Bashir as he pleads that it was accident. “Close the door Zamir,” Mr. Bhat says and just when I’m about to, I see something that even to this day I cannot explain. Mr. Bhat is on his knees, praying to Allah “please for the love we have for our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), please save this little girl. Please, my Lord, you owe this wish for taking my wife away from me! Please give this one wish; please save this girl Raheela.”
I’m about to close the door but when I hear Mr. Bhat say these words I turn my head back and that’s when I see something incredible. Mr. Bhat is holding Raheela’s hands praying as if he’d willingly give up his life to save this girl and there’s this amazing light surrounding them and shining on her. I don’t know what it is but I’m standing there mesmerized seeing this before me as if time has stopped momentarily and the only thing in my mind is that this really can’t be happening but when I hear the voice of Haji Qayoom Sahab screaming with tears as he runs towards me holding the door of the medical center, I blink.
Raheela is awake and sitting up. Her father rushes in and hugs her. The Doctor arrives to find only bumps and bruises on her body. He advices us that we take her to Srinagar just to be on the safe side but can he see no serious injuries. Even her blood wounds have somehow disappeared. Although Raheela was unconscious during this whole experience, she tells her father and all of us that are gathered around her with wide eyes, looking at her in astonishment, that she could feel her spirit floating away from her body but then as she heard Mr. Bhat praying for her, somewhere, she just came back and that’s why she’s alive.
Tears roll down her father’s face as he kisses her hands again and again thanking Allah each time.
So it’s almost twenty years later now and I still enjoy watching this story play itself out in my mind like an old video whose picture is somewhat shaky in the parts where my memory is fading. Though I no longer live in Aishmuqam, I can’t stop thinking of my old home and old friends, most of whom are no longer in this world. I remember Mr. Bhat, who died a few years ago and was quietly buried by Raheela and her husband, who still live in Aishmuqam. Although, whenever I think of Mr. Bhat, it’s not his tears I remember, on the day he begged Allah for his wife to live, but how he was blessed to save Raheela’s life that day and that when he died he was free. But, most of all, this little story, makes we wonder that, what if, we, all of us- all of you- reading this story today, are just characters of some other amazing story, strangely connected to another in a way known only to the author of this mysterious other story Himself—you know, the one who we pray to every day of our lives.
The author is a research fellow in the United States. He visits Mathematics department of University of Kashmir.