SUCH A LITTLE THING!
“On the first night of Ramadan, a breeze (‘Al Museera’)stirs from beneath the Majestic Throne_ it rustles the leaves on the Paradisic trees creating a gentle susurration; it passes through the doorways (of the heavenly abodes), making the door handles jangle, creating a melodious sound so beautiful, the like of which has never been heard before…” (from a hadith of the Prophet SAWW narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas R.A)
I felt the freshness in the air; of the evening merging slowly into those blessed first moments of the first night of Ramadan. I felt the vigour in my step as I walked out the gate just after the pre-Ramadan study circle in my neighbourhood had finished. We had studied a collection of ahadith on Ramadan_ of the springtime of faith and the ethereal blessedness it comes wrapped up in. And it had touched some deep buried cord somewhere in the recesses of the soul.
I have walked the short distance from the neighbourhood weekly Quran study circle back home many times. Meeting on the way many a sidewalk bystander ogling to pass the hours away. I have met many a prying gaze of a passing vendor, a house guard, an urchin. Outside my weekly ‘haven’, another world awaits. From the surreal to the rudely real… the eyesores of a degenerate society. Sigh.
There he comes, yet another… a street vendor perhaps. I braced up for the unnerving stare, catching in the process, a glimpse of a face_ the kind that expunged the tautness, putting me so strangely at ease.
It struck. Instantly. The white prayer-cap and the beard removed the ‘otherness’. The gaze that lowered itself, the humble step that gave a freer passage, the innocence, nobility written all over was strangely comforting_ unlocking, decoding, bringing home a message: a beautiful heart. The recognition came in an instant.
It unfurled an identity. I noticed the deep sun-tan with those long days of labour. I noticed the rough white Shalwar Kameez well-worn, having endured many washings, creased up, patched in places. I noticed the loosely hanging empty jute bag slung across the back of his bicycle and the two folded up paper bags of used cement. Clearly, this scrap seller hadn’t made a business today. Yet he persisted as the day receded… still calling out to the many affluent perhaps still dozing away amidst the buzz of the air conditioners behind thick walls and locked doors. ‘Loya raddi waich lau’ (Sell off scrap metal and paper), he called out in the empty, darkening street, perhaps the only listener to his own persistent cry. He pedaled on speedily, not completing his round to the end of the street but turning round half way to make his way back_ perhaps having learnt that there were no listening ears behind the thick walls, no one to hear or make out his locally accented cry; to notice that hole at the border of his Kameez, the empty loose sack or the well-worn, cracked up, mud-stained slipper quickly pedaling on_ perhaps to make it to the masjid in time for maghrib prayer.
It was in seconds. I felt the connecting, the bonding up. I didn’t think it up but surprised myself by suddenly calling out to him as he rode on past me, ‘Bhai!’ ‘My brother’_ effortlessly, in a spontaneous outpouring came the words. ‘Bhai zara rukna. Aap raddi bechtay hain?’ (Brother, please stop. Do you sell and buy scrap?)
He couldn’t perhaps register it as he cycled on, used to the stony, unrelenting, indifferent silence in affluent localities. For an instant I thought I had missed, and I felt the heart sink. Till, having rode a few yards ahead, he turned back to look and finally stopped, getting off the bicycle, dusting off his hands and shirt and, still with that ‘Muslim’ gentility and modest gaze that had held me, waited for me to approach. ‘Ji baji.’ (Yes, sister).
The evening cast darker shadows, the first night of Ramadan waited in the wing to gradually suffuse. Al Museera: the susurrations of the leaves in Paradise, the stirring breeze jangling the door handles… these sacred moments…
And this muddied scrap seller here with his sunburnt face irradiated, ennobled, beautified by the Sunnah… I saw it all in one radiant flash. ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’ I said. ‘Mere paas yeh Ramadan ka chhota sa tuhfa hai aap ke liye,’ I said (I have a small Ramadan gift here for you), handing out whatever I could rummage through my pockets.
Visibly surprised and at a loss for words, he said, ‘Jazakallah khair baji.’ (thanks, sister). Silence. And then, gathering himself, he added, ‘Allah aap ko iss ka bohat ajar dei. Aap ko bhi Ramadan Mubarak.’ (May Allah reward you greatly for this. Ramadan Mubarak to you too.) I noticed the flawless, unaccented Urdu and wondered where he had got it from. The labyrinth of destiny, who can make out?
Realizing perhaps the insufficiency, the inadequacy of my gesture, the unspeakability of that strange link, I added, ‘Bhai duaon mein zaroor yaad rakhye ga.’ (Brother, do remember me in your prayers).
As I made my way on, I felt lighter, unburdened, relieved. And I saw his frail figure, the beard, the cap merging into the twilight’s colours, soon a silhouette against the far end of the road.
And I wondered who he was, what was his name, where he lived… regretting not having asked. ‘Bhai’ (brother) I had called him, not feeling the need to call by a name, not feeling the need for statistics to identify. ‘My brother’, striving on life’s rocky road, striving among the pain and toil to keep to the straight and narrow, a lover of my Prophet (SAWW), a slave of my God…
As I sat on the prayer mat on the night of first Ramadan, I thought of the nameless scrap seller who must also be engaged in prayer somewhere. And I knew that the power of prayer, the faith we share creates the sacred link_ undying. I felt the indissoluble, ever-present link of Muslimhood, that thing called ‘love for Allah’s sake.’
‘What a little thing
To remember for years,
To remember with tears!’