Eid in difficult times


Today is Eid. Here in Delhi, we saw the moon last night. Greetings to you all. I hope that Pakistan finally gets to experience some good news. I’ll make a special prayer for peace in Karachi when I’ll go to the Eidgah for the Eid prayers later in the morning.

Last week was eventful, and I’m not talking about Anna Hazare. I saw this man on Mirza Ghalib street in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century village famous for the shrine of sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The man was wearing a black karakul cap, black sherwani, white pajama, mustard green socks and brown leather shoes. His glasses were rectangular, his hair was long and his beard was wiry. There was no one dressed like him.

The man’s sherwani, with its big black round buttons, reached almost to his shoes. The breast pocket had two pens. A hint of white flashed from behind the sherwani’s collar; must’ve been the kurta underneath.

It was a warm humid night and the man would have been better off without the long coat. Perhaps he was too principled, and so wouldn’t compromise his formal attire for the sake of shifty seasons. His stiff grace was unaffected by the clutter on the stinking street: food stalls, a cooking gas cylinder, and a manhole. His aristocratic fussiness suggested that the winds of change would never be able to bend him in its wake.

He was holding a sheaf of papers. Was he a poet and were they the poems he had newly composed? Could it be possible that he was coming from the nearby tomb of Mirza Ghalib, the 19th century Urdu poet after whom the street is named?

Amid pavement cooks, goats and beggars, the man looked out of place. Did he belong to a time when the world was more ceremonial, restrained and refined? If yes, then that era had shrunk to the edges of his sherwani, making him the last of a lost time. He looked like a pictorial symbol for the current state of South Asia’s Muslims, grand but poor. I did not ask his name. But the day before I met another man and I did talk to him. His story fills me with pain.

Standing against a pillar, his head lowered, he slipped the pink duck-faced puppets into his hands and waved weakly. The passers-by didn’t notice. I’d met PM Sahay on Thursday evening in B Block, Inner Circle, Connaught Place, Delhi’s colonial-era commercial district. A pavement hawker, he was 74, older than my grandpa.

“At this age shouldn’t you stay home?” I asked him.

“I can’t.”

Sahay was a sartorialist’s man. His ironed bluish-white full-sleeved shirt was tucked into his pleated light-brown trouser that had a black leather belt. His brown shoes were polished. With his white hair and brown-rimmed glasses, he looked like a retired bureaucrat.

I followed him as he walked towards the next block. Taking each step was an effort for him. “My legs ache,” he said. “The doctor says that tests are needed but that’s expensive.” The Inner Circle corridor is lined with thick round pillars. Sahay drew energy by supporting himself against these columns, as he walked past them one by one.

“I come everyday from Rohtak,” he said in his frail voice, referring to a town 50km from Delhi. “I’ve a wife, a married daughter and her children to support.” Sahay has a rail pass that enables him to commute daily to Delhi for a monthly sum of Rs 160. He leaves home at 2.30 pm and returns by 11 in the night. At (old) Delhi railway station, a wholesale trader gives him 20 pairs of puppets, which he hawks in Connaught Place, where he reaches by the metro. Each pair is priced at Rs 40. “I’ve sold just two and now it’s time to leave.” The puppets are stuffed in an orange cloth bag hanging from his left shoulder.

Sahay’s neighbours in Rohtak are ignorant of his salesmanship. “If they discover that I sell toys in Delhi’s streets, we’ll be disgraced.”

It was getting dark. The mannequins at a Levi showroom were bathed in orange glow. The corridor’s lamps were lit. Sahay walked out into the open. He sat down on a stack of manhole covers placed beside a rubbish bin. A man emerged from a jewelry shop and gave him chai without exchanging greetings; it seemed a routine service. Sahay took out a packet of Parle G biscuits (price Rs 5) from his trouser pocket.

“I retired as a bank manager. We had a son. He had done chartered accountancy. A few years ago, I spent all my savings for him to start his office in Delhi. But he moved to Bahrain without informing us. Two years ago, we heard that he had died in an accident. We could not even see his body. Now, there’s nobody to earn so I must work.”

Sahay dipped a biscuit into the chai and looked at the shopping crowd. After emptying the plastic glass, he got up. “My train will leave in another hour. Goodbye.”

My dear reader, I feel sad to say but good self-respecting people like Sahay are everywhere, including Lahore, Isloo and Karachi. I don’t know how you could help such honorable men but do help them. Eid Mubarak once again.

Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website and four blogs. The website address: thedelhiwalla.com. The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos.