A Pilgrim’s Progress- Around Haji Ali Dargah

By Neel Anil Panicker

Raghav felt a tug and turned around to find sickly fingers pulling at the edges of his shirt sleeves.

The free hand, twiggy to the bones, were clutching a half broken yellowed plastic bowl with more holes in it than the dirty pock marked bylanes through which he had come.
The girl, nee, a child, looked as if she had breathed in all, barely at that, no more than six summers; her cadaverous, bare boned frame, wasted and emaciated, and her skinny legs shone through what looked like a mere apology of an ultra short and faded, much worn and torn, thrice stitched dress of uncertain antecedents.

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Seated on the rickety wooden bench outside Hameed’s Lajawab Kabab, Raghav sipped into his cup of tea. At that instant, the sun fought its way through sky high walls and landed on her bare legged feet illuminating whitish red perforations on skin that had long gone diseased. And when the rays bounced upwards to hit her face, Raghav was all of a sudden struck by the magnitude of callousness on display by an increasingly self serving world that cared two hoots about the sheer pain and agony of childhoods such as hers gone awry.

Setting aside his cup on the bench beside him he called for the waiter.
Later he watched as the little girl smilingly dunk her disease-ridden fingers into the plate of vegetable biryani, ravenously emptying its contents into a fully stretched mouth. The heart wrenching spectacle once again reminded Professor Rags of how cruel life was, and more acutely, how cruel had man allowed it to remain.

‘What man and what society would allow children as young and vulnerable as this one in a near relic of a skirt that barely covered her frail frame to beg’, he pondered to himself.

It was then that he was reminded of a typically expected of but still an utterly opprobrious, sexist comment of a professional politician who recently had wondered aloud if short skirts were not the reason why young girls were raped and molested in this great land of our ours.

‘If hurling heartless comments were an Olympic sport, then this one would certainly bag a medal, if not surely the gold, ‘ Rags chuckled with more than a trace of sardonic humour.

He fervently hoped somebody would walk up to the politico concerned and pull his ears and shout into it that in this country that he avers to represent, women of all categories get raped including girls who shun skirts and wear other ‘respectable’ and ‘socially sanctioned’ attire; girls who wear skirts out of choice; as also girls like this little one who wear them out of compulsion.
Still shaking his head at the irony of it all, he turned around and walked through the narrow bylanes, his steps guided by the sound of the brackish sea waves as also by the sight of the white washed minarets ahead of him that shone bright and resplendent in the mid-August afternoon blue skies.

In no time he joined the ever burgeoning milieu of the faithful all of whom edging forward at breakneck speeds muck like huge armies of ants racing down a hill; men, women, and children pushing, pulling, shoving, edging, nudging, thrusting, bursting, and when required, even kicking their way through the byzantine pathways that led to their destination, the grand Haji Ali Dargah__that majestic islandic patch of faith that beckoned one and all; a tantalizingly towering beacon of hope for both the believers__who come in hordes to wish for the fulfillment of their wishes__ and, the non-believers__who come to figure out what exactly is it in life that was worth wishing for.

As delirious sounds of Allah o Akbar escaped the parched lips of the pilgrims and resonated and reverberated over the arched dome to finally become one with the hot mid afternoon air that blew in from the Arabian Sea, Raghav knew he had come inches close to the sanctum sanctorum.

All of a suddenly the crowd ahead of him broke ranks and raced through as the imposing façade of the world famous mausoleum slowly loomed into vision; a grand mid-fifteenth century monument that was built in memory of a rich man; his chequered life a saga of great riches and magical realism and then much later, mystical atonement and redemption.

As the sea rumbled and grumbled all around him, Raghav joined the multitude and entered, his head bowed down, into the over 600-year-old Sufi saint’s shrine, his mind alive and buzzing with a plethora of questions, answers to all of which he hoped would be revealed to him here.

( chapter 22 of continuing novella A Fair Affair)

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