Thursday, February 23, 2017


Imtiaz Khan is a weaver from the holy city of Varanasi. He lives in Lahartara, once a small locality in Varanasi where great saint, Sant Kabir lived in the fifteenth century. Most of the dwellers of Lahartara are Muslim weavers. They can’t be called descendants of Sant Kabir for two reasons. First, Kabir was a celibate and secondly, Kabir was not a Muslim. Kabir was not a Hindu either. He was a humane soul who loved all irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
Imtiaz Khan is a weaver for several generations. When did his forefathers convert to Islam, he is not aware. But the loom in his courtyard is over two hundred years old. He is a devout believer, offers Namaz five times a day. Imtiaz Khan is poor and so are most of his kinsmen and neighbours.
The men weave silk saris and the women do needle work. They work for Hindu merchants who control the entire business. Imtiaz Khan and his people are paid on job rate basis. The former make the kill. During marriage and festive seasons, the profit margin could be three hundred percent or even more.

Sometimes when tired, Imtiaz Khan rests in the sarai – the dingy inn in Lahartara. The sarai is maintained by the Kabirpanthis, the followers of Sant Kabir. He listens to the famous Kabir Dohas- theological couplets. He understands them and their message.

Sant Kabir propagated Vedantic philosophy in layman’s parlance. He brought God nearer to the common man. He was able to establish a rapport between a common man and the Supreme Cosmic Power through the medium of human love.

Imtiaz Khan has been warned several times by the Imam of Lahartara mosque. “You are getting too close to the infidels. Mend your ways lest I ostracize you from the community. Don’t forget, you have six daughters to be married.”
“I will issue a fatwa against you, forbidding Muslim boys to marry your daughters. Remember, the infidels will only use them for pleasure. They will not marry them.”
Imtiaz Khan just smiles. He knows the Imam has an eye on his second daughter.  He has rejected the proposal. His daughter was not even one fourth of Imam’s age.

Besides, how can listening to Kabir Dohas be a sin? Imtiaz Khan is at his wits end, he is not convinced.

On certain days, Imtiaz Khan spends several hours with Hanuman Das, the Hindu merchant for whom he and his family work. He accepts tea, snacks and sweets from him, including the prasad that comes from the Kaal Bhairav temple. Imtiaz Khan accepts the prasad in both his palms like any Hindu believer and eats with reverence.
The Imam never objected to Imtiaz Khan accepting Kaal Bhairav prasad for he knew he survived on donations from people like Imtiaz Khan who in turn had to have cordial business as well as personal relations with Hindu merchants. Still, Imtiaz Khan is worried about his daughters.

“The market is down because the sartorial likes are changing. Hardly any demand for saris. Can’t give you any work.  Moreover, we are pitted against Chinese who have swamped the market. Saris are now coming in fifty metre thaans- rolls. Their designs are more attractive and above all, they are cheaper,” Hanuman Das tells Imtiaz Khan whenever the latter goes for some work or advance.

Imtiaz Khan is familiar with the opening prologue from Hanuman Das. In fact, it is nearly a repeat for years. Imtiaz Khan smiles briefly in response.
Malik, our survival is in your hands. Where else can we go? Unless you give us work, how will our families survive?”

Imtiaz Khan has been working for Hanuman Das since his childhood and his father worked for Hanuman Das’s father.  Unfortunately, Hanuman Das has no children. He has adopted his nephew. There has been mutual understanding between the two families apart from human bonding between them. It’s an unwritten covenant. Religion is no consideration here.

After delivering the homily on the prevailing market conditions, Hanuman Das comes to the substantive part. 
“These saris are urgent, required for a marriage in the coming week.”
And then he suddenly remembers to add, “The needle work in the saris I gave you last week was clumsy. Better get a pair of specs for your begum,” Hanuman Das snaps.
Imtiaz Khan giggles, exposing his stained teeth. He knows it is one of the ways his employer uses to put down wage hike. 
“Slimy old man but considerate nonetheless,” he mumbles within himself.

            Imtiaz Khan always went to Hanuman Das whenever he was in financial trouble, which he often was. There was yet another understanding between the two. Hanuman Das’s acerbic tongue and Imtiaz Khan’s inane giggling were coexistent.

One late evening Hanuman Das’s wife was returning from a religious function from her relative’s place on a rickshaw. The road is narrow and dark. Unfortunately, her rickshaw was hit by a car with such an impact that the rickshaw toppled throwing the old lady on the ground. The rickshaw puller a young man was soon on his feet but the old lady lay flat on the ground howling with pain. The car driver took her to the hospital and rang Hanuman Das urging him to reach the hospital immediately.
The doctors told Hanuman Das that her left femur was broken and she needed to be operated immediately.  Hanuman Das was person of poor nerve. He was extremely upset to know that his wife needed to be operated and that he should find volunteers to get three bottles of blood from the blood bank. He remembered Imtiaz Khan.

He alone can help me at this deathly hour. He thought and rang him narrating the whole scenario. Imtiaz Khan reached the hospital and saw Hanuman Das sitting on a bench, nervous and downcast.
“The doctors want three bottles of blood. Where do I find the volunteers at this hour of the night?”
Imtiaz Khan took the hand of Hanuman Das in his and told him to relax and not to bother.
“I and my two sons will donate the blood and if need be I will call half a dozen boys of Lahartara. Please tell the doctor that the volunteers are ready. He can start with me and in the mean time I will ring my sons to come over and also alert the boys of the locality.”

The operation was successful. Hanuman Das’s wife was discharged from the hospital after a week. A couple of days later, Hanuman Das asked Imtiaz Khan if he could compensate him for the blood donation.
Malik! Please don’t hurt me by offering money for a small act of humanity. What’s the use of our long relationship if we cannot come to each other’s help?” Pausing a little, he added, “Don’t we live in Lahartara, the abode of Kabir?”    

Akhtar, Imtiaz Khan’s son was a very active lad, known for activities outside his madrasa, especially in climbing trees. He was called when jamun or mango trees were fully laden. Akhtar didn’t believe in plucking fruits singularly. He would climb a tree and shake its branches. The ripe fruits would fall on ground in hordes. The Lahartara boys called him a baboon.  Young Akhtar would swing to the farthest branch and shake it. Caution or fear had no place in his psyche.  
In one of such foolhardy adventurous move, Akhtar was on the top branch of a mango tree. It had rained precious evening. The bark was wet and slippery. Before Akhtar could get a firm grip on the branch he wanted to shift to, he lost control and fell to the ground.

The news of Akhtar’s fall upset the entire family He was the youngest child of Imtiaz Khan. In fact, he was born after six sisters before him. Akhtar was thus a pampered child. They all ran out to the place of accident. Akhtar was lying on a cot. He was in severe pain, howling hoarse.   
Imtiaz Khan took him to a nearby clinic.  
“There is a major fracture in his thigh bone, needs immediate surgery.”
 As usual Imtiaz was out of pocket. He had taken a loan from Hanuman Das the previous week for the festival of Eid. The family wanted to have a nice meal after a long time. Imtiaz Khan had spent the money on food and small gifts.

The clinic attendant asked him to deposit thirty thousand rupees. Akhtar was crying in terrible pain piercing Imtiaz Khan’s heart.  
“The child is in severe pain. Please start the treatment. I will deposit the money at the earliest possible,” he begged.
“Please deposit the money first.  Nothing can be done before that. This is the policy. I am a mere employee,” the clerk at the counter told him.

            Imtiaz Khan left Akhtar in the hospital with his family members. His only hope lay in Hanuman Das. He took a rickshaw and asked him to pedal fast to the sari bazaar.

How I am going to plead and be prepared for the tongue lashing from Hanuman Das?  All through he was preparing himself.

            Hanuman Das was sitting with his munshi, taking stock of the day’s sale and cash. Imtiaz Khan’s sight was ominous.
            “What makes you come here at this unearthly hour,” Hanuman Das asked in his normal caustic way.
            “Maliki… Malik… Malik … Imtiaz Khan could not continue. There was lump in his throat.
            “Stop this nautanki. I know you excel in histrionics. Don’t ask for money. That’s the last thing I want to talk about.”

            “Malik, Akhtar is in hospital. He has broken his leg. The doctor wants advance before starting the treatment.”  
Hanuman Das gave a searching look at Imtiaz Khan.
“Bloody dirty trick, once again. I say aren’t you ashamed of yourself. What happened to the advance I gave you last week? You think I have a mint here?  Get lost.”
            Imtiaz Khan was crestfallen to see his only hope crashing. He made another attempt.
            “Malik, please help me. He is my son. Sooner or later he will work for you. My ancestors worked for your ancestors. My father worked for your father and I have been working for you. One day Akhtar will work for your descendants. Please help me… please…,” he couldn’t continue. The helpless father burst in to tears.
            Hanuman Das didn’t react. He was back to his business, counting the day’s collection.

            Heartbroken, Imtiaz Khan turned back empty handed. He didn’t know what he could do to help his son. Suddenly he remembered he had collected five silk saris from Hanuman Das, the previous week. They were all costly ones. Imtiaz Khan decided to do what had never happened in his family.
            He sought the forgiveness of Allah the merciful and decided to pawn the saris to Radha Kishan, another merchant, one of the competitors of Hanuman Das in the sari bazaar. He narrated his woes to him and pleaded to accept the saris as surety for a loan. Radha Kishan saw the saris and told Kabir, “I will give you twenty thousand.”
            “Malik, these saris are worth eighty thousand in the market. Please at least give me thirty thousand. I need that much to give to the clinic.”
            “Imtiaz Khan, make up your mind. I will not give a penny more. Decide.”

Imtiaz Khan had no choice. As he was picking the money, Radha Kishan asked him to sign a paper. “This is the acknowledgement of pawning these saris to me of your own volition.”
Imtiaz Khan looked at the paper. The amount received was mentioned as thirty thousand.
 “Malik, please give me the amount I am signing. I need it badly.”
Radha Kishan snapped at the money. “Get lost. You need money and still dictate terms. Listen, you will get it on my terms. Take it or leave it.”
Imtiaz signed the paper, picked the money and rushed to the clinic. On his way, he was contemplating the plea he would make before the doctor.
 I will mortgage my house in doctor’s favour. He decided.
Imtiaz Khan’s heart sank as he saw none of his family members in the courtyard outside the clinic.
It seems the doctor has turned them away.
He went to the counter clerk who smiled and said, “All is well. The doctor has taken your son to the operation theatre.”
How could that be? I am yet to deposit the security money. Imtiaz was flummoxed. He rushed inside. There he saw his elder son and daughters. They had a glint of satisfaction in their eyes. And then he saw Hanuman Das ambling out of doctor’s chamber. Imtiaz Khan’s heart froze.
Has he come to know of my misdeed? Oh God, how am I going to explain it to him?

“The doctor says Akhtar will be all right. He will run … no, no climb the trees as usual.” Hanuman Das said grinning.
Imtiaz Khan could not meet him in the eye.
Malik, I am a sinner… I have done the meanest thing in my life… never done by anyone in my family.  I… I have betrayed your trust…” Imtiaz Khan could not continue. He was cursing himself, sobbing and hitting his forehead with both his palms.
“Imtiaz Khan, take care of your son and yourself. God willing, Akhtar will be up and kicking in a week.”
Imtiaz Khan was speech less. And then Hanuman Das whispered, “Don’t worry about the saris you pawned. My man followed you after you left abruptly.  I wanted to check the veracity of your story.”
Hanuman Das waited and then continued, “You only did what any father would have done for his child. Don’t worry. I have retrieved the saris after settling the matter with Radha Kishan.”  And then he added with a smile, “I have settled the matter with the hospital also.”
Imtiaz Khan was dumbfounded. He was shaken to the core; visibly moved. “I am extremely sorry. I was helpless.”
Hanuman Das came forward and patting him on his shoulder he said, “I am not a Kabirpanthi but let me do this much,” he said leaving the hospital.
Imtiaz Khan looked at Hanuman Das leaving the hospital and thought.

Why did he do so much for me? How did parental love sprout in this childless parent?  And brooding over the matter for a long it occurred to him.

Of Course, he too belongs to Lahartara, the abode of Kabir.


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