Thirty Minutes In The Mosque
By Javaid Iqbal Bhat
08 August, 2010
Each Friday when I am at home mother warns me against wearing costly footwear to the mosque. Since childhood this piece of warning has remained uncontaminated. For she knows congregation in Kashmir means a risk to ones belongings, and shoe-thieves are so common in the mosques. The problem increases when it is raining, special instructions are given to take care of the umbrella. This Friday, muddy and raining, was no different. While latching the outer door fast came the voice from behind; “take care of your shoes and the umbrella, put them in a safe place where no one sees.” The cue for care from behind does not quite match with the surrounding climate. The raining Friday noon is almost same as any other Friday. However, it is so distinguished from all of them.
There is a raging fever in the air which refuses to come down. The danger is that the head might burst out of sheer frustration. Nearly two months have passed and I have been to my university classroom for less than five days, and that too for a few hours. The students are asking about the syllabus and the examinations over phone in a carefully worded language because some hidden ear might be listening to our words. There is no answer; no one has actually except half hearted consolations. This is a place reeking with questions. The questions border on despair and depression.
With Delhi sending more forces in a brand new uniform to back half a million troops, the despair goes deeper into the soul and hope seems to recede away from the horizon. Were not the existing forces enough to insult and humiliate the local population to submission? From across the valley friends are reporting the piteous condition wondering whether God of mercy exists anywhere. There is this old relative whom I went to see to ask about his health. After finishing his prayers before a television on which news was going on a silent mode, he cleared his heavy throat and said “when my father was on his deathbed, there was news of lathicharge on people in the town by the forces of Dogra maharaja. Today when I am counting my last minutes, medicines have disappeared from the nearby chemists. They themselves are helpless. With curfews and hartals, and protests and killings they cannot dare to get new supplies. Our fate has been twisted out of shape. My pain and cough have worsened.” These smaller tragedies, more humiliating than the big, remain eclipsed under the daily dose of deaths.
Fifty people mostly teenagers have been shot dead in the past two weeks. Really I do not know what enemy armies did in Kosovo, what Israelis did to Palestinians, what happened in Auschwitz or what India is doing against Nagas and Maoists, but, for sure, I know what Indian ‘security’ forces have done to the collective psyche of Kashmiris. It is a story which defies decencies of theme, plot and technique. It is awash with despair and innocent blood. The state of denial in which Delhi is wrapped has not only dehumanized the Muslim majority but also delivered a body blow to Hindu-Muslim relationship. The door of the mosque broke the chain of thoughts.
I put my shoes in a dark corner of the shoe rack away from the easy sight of people. How soothing was the very step into the place of worship? A cool stream of air passed into the limbs. A pleasant lightness entered the self. I took a place under a whirling fan near an open window. For a brief moment universe seemed to squeeze into my space. The Imam was narrating and enunciating some verses of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet relating to the ‘Fazeelat’ of the coming holy month of Ramzan. Since I had entered close to the beginning of the ‘Khutba’ (weekly address) it did not take him much time to end his message of the week. He asked the people to line up properly for the ‘khutba.’ Just then an elderly man who was till then collecting money for the mosque in a small box got up to say something. He stood next to the three ‘khutba steps’ on which the Imam had seated himself, and with a slow voice drew attention to the wayward behavior of the youth in the hamlet. Everyone realized that it was an intro to something more serious. Normally, whatever anyone has to say with regard to community matters is said before the time Khutba. His getting up was unusual but it is the insignia of these days in Kashmir; very few things are usual; except the routine elimination of people labeled as ‘antinational.’ From the disturbing mannerisms of youth he turned to his principal motivation.
He referred to ‘nazm’ (discipline) to be observed and the directions to be followed in letter and spirit. There was a hint of hesitation in the speech. Perhaps in the fifth sentence the hesitation melted away and out came the name anticipated. The worshippers were requested not to deviate from the instructions given by Syed Ali Shah Geelani,the unequivocal exponent of liberation from India. The night before octogenarian Geelani, symbol of underlying and overlying hatred of Kashmiris against India, asked people to follow the Quit Kashmir Programme.They must not hurl stones, not raise inflammatory slogans and significantly not set public property on fire. By doing so the loss suffered is not by the enemy. The protests must remain peaceful to keep the moral ground of the resistance very high. The people were under a spell as the speaker brought in Azaadi and Geelani.The emphatic mention of Azaadi as a birthright drew spontaneous waves of ‘inshallahs’ from rows of people. The speech was bold and refreshing. The words Azaadi and Geelani had not been heard for a long time in the walnut enclosed mosque. Exteriorly they had disappeared from the pulpit, the bravest would reflect twice before using them in the composite gathering. Today they were back; one could sense a collective sense of relief at their rearrival. No one asked the speaker to sit down as it was getting late for the ‘nimaz’; as if a precious lost object had been rediscovered and everyone wished to have a view to his fill. For fifteen minutes he continued his speech mixed with plea and passion. The end was expected. As he sat down the people looked over their shoulders at each other mutually welcoming the development with exchange of well-said kind of smiles.
We stood up for prayers but the mind roamed in the sketch he drew of the existing situation. He had done his mathematics; one death in one and a half hours in the past two weeks. The score has reached fifty. Today the two ‘rakat’ prayer turned into a mere ritual without the heart feeling what was read and in which posture. Even prayers are suffused with the passion with which the ardent speaker brought out his mind; distraction is contenting when attention is painful. The prayers done up with it was time to leave. Most people had left and the shoe rack was almost empty. I checked the corner where I had kept mine. It was there under the broom, the mosque broom. Not only had it not been lifted but someone had done a little bit more to keep it safe; he had put a broom on the shoes in order to screen it from the people. Clearly shoe thieves disappear when azaadi and Geelani revive the submerged resentment.
Javaid Iqbal Bhat
Post Graduate Department of English,
South Campus,University of Kashmir