A Yokel’s Journey
A Yokel’s Journey (A short story about Soofi mysticism in poetic prose)
By; Mohib Asad,
A few things need to be said about this work at the outset.
Firstly; this is a serious effort to understand the Soofi way of life which has over a billion adherents.
Secondly; this story is full of home-truths, clichés, and truisms.
Thirdly; it is a bit of a talking-down-at-you kind of reading, but then that is inherent in this lofty theme.
Fourthly; a purist of the English language may find some of the constructions a bit dubious. To him I say that this is how English has evolved in the Sub-continent in the last four hundred years.
Fifthly; given the widespread cruelty and violence which pervades the globe today, one must attempt to find hope, which this poem does. If you are a cynic by nature or conditioning, you might as well stop here.
Sixthly; this story will, hopefully, lead to a more compassionate re-appraisal of the others’ faith. And.
Finally; this is a love story of many loves.
To all men and women who believe in decency as paramount in life.
Have you ever wondered how many
Different ways are there of spending a life?
Must be in billions, says I.
For of the billions of humans on earth, the billions gone,
And many more to come; no two lives are exactly the same.
This is the true wonder of life,
And if this is not awesome
I don’t know what is.
Present day man, much intoxicated by
By ‘modern’ thinking in this ‘Age of reason;
Believes in choice as the bedrock of his life-experience,
Forgetting that these terms are but a few hundred years old,
While humans have been around thirty million years.
I think that ‘choice’ is rubbish, and a buzzword, no more.
To each of us our destiny, fate, kismet, future, lot,
Cup, doom, write-up-on-the-wall, divine decree;
take your pick.
We walk this earth seeking peaceful times,
Ambitions met, loves requited, hates avenged,
Beautiful offspring, secret pleasures, money and fame.
Long as things go well, we walk tall,
Roaming the planet stomping in shoes stitched
By designer cobblers of Europe,
Gloating that we have things framed, the globe held firmly
In manipulative hands.
Seldom realizing the huge impact of ‘chance’ on our day and night.
And we revel, if well-shod, that we are
to privilege entitled; generally oblivious to the cardinal fact
that death stalks us all; the well-shod as well as the millions
who go through life bare-footed.
( true, believe it or not )
One cell gone bad, one whiff of poisonous air,
One ounce of bad food, one tremor over Richter 8,
One bolt of lightning, a single atomic clot of blood,
Wind, water, ice, snow, fire or stone.
We do not have a choice in how we die, let alone live.
Shakespeare’s ‘poor forked animal’ is weak and helpless.
However arrogant, proud, or vain he acts.
So choices in life we have none.
What we do have choices in life-styles,
These are many of course;
The decent, the charlatan, the rogue, the knave, the opted-out,
( Again, take your pick)
And of the score or so of these, I find the Soofis
Interest me greatly. Guys live in a world of their own,
In what they call ‘universal humanism’
God alone knows where that be.
My friend and I talked the other day,
Of what they were, /are up to?
This band of mystics, wanderers, poets and singers.
There must be something to it, I argued.
After all, Rumi and Rabia, saints for sure, famously belonged
To this hallowed group.
My friend then spun a yarn so stylish,
That it is a ‘must-recount’ and here goes;
In the village of Rajan, in southern Punjab,
this yokel, Abdul by name, small time farmer,
salt of the earth,
worked his ten-acre holding;
keening and turning, sowing and reaping,
the year round.
Living as the seasons turned,
healthy, hearty, and happy as Punch,
at peace with himself and all around.
One spring Friday, while he tilled,
planning the next crop,
he chanced to hear the sermon
broadcast from the local mosque.
He vaguely heard the mulla talk of Rumi,
And how his Musnawi was
The most excellent book man ever wrote.
Not a mosque-goer, even on Fridays,
our Abdul thought he would find out more,
about this man who wrote the book,
the mulla so admired.
That night he went a-visiting, as youngsters do,
to the village next doors,
and forgot Rumi for the time.
He was all of twenty ‚
He had met this little girl, Jani by name,
in a settlement of gypsies.
Nubian to a tee, her hormones going dizzy.
She was all of seventeen.
One night, a month or two later,
during an interlude from passion,
he, in a mood of show-off,
mentioned Rumi; said he knew him,
the man who had written a magic book.
As it turned out, so did Jani.
Her father sang old gypsy songs
at campfires. He was famous
for yodeling Soofi songs.
She giggled and said
she thought Rumi was a sad old man,
who wrote ribald verse.
It was then that Abdul made up his mind
to find out more of Rumi.
The next evening after the ritual prayers,
Abdul, dressed in a set of formal clothing
rarely worn, went to see the mulla;
gave him a fiver for the mosque upkeep,
and asked for a discourse on Rumi.
The mulla, Sharfu by name,
hee-ed and haa-ed, scratched his beard,
and finally admitted that all he knew
of Rumi was that his ‚Musnawi‚ was touted
to be an excellent book in Islam.
Rumi and his Musnawi were as mysterious
to Sharfu as many other such snippets
he used in his sermons
to sound erudite and scholarly.
Our Sharfu had a quick mind.
Abdul was stumped, his only window on Rumi
shut on him with a decisive bang.
But Abdul was a gritty man, as most yokels.
The only other person in Abdul’s life
who may know Rumi was Jani’s dad.
So enquiry could be made there.
However, this was very dicey and laden with risk.
for if ever he got a scent of Abdul’s ingress
into his household, Abdul was dead as a duck.
An honor killing in public, no less.
But by now Abdul’s wonder for Rumi
was so compelling that despite the danger,
Abdul made up his mind to call on the man.
Khlas Khan (46) was of gypsy stock,
product of a melting pot
in central Asia over millennia.
Part Turk, part Irani, part Afghan,
part Greek, part God-alone-knows-what.
Many cousins, far removed,
lived in areas all over the Balkans,
although he knew them not.
His camp comprised eleven families,
on the edge of the village, on land
owned by some guy who lived in the U.K.,
would come back once in two years,
had given Khlas Khan a lease to dwell;
also a mobile phone to warn the owner
of land grabbers, was the only rent.
So the men and women, asses,
dogs and donkeys, all the children
of this gypsy camp prospered,
doing odd jobs---any work they found,
no chore being too much, no privation too hard.
keeping their dignity intact,
keeping their cultural heritage safe.
Abdul planned for this meeting with care.
Carrying a bolt of silk as gift,
he presented himself, heart-in-mouth,
at Khlas Khan’s canvas tent, one afternoon.
He was received askance; explained his mission,
waxing loud of the reputation of KK,
as a relater of Rumi; his fame as yodeler,
widespread in fourteen villages.
The gift of silk and the butter-up did it.
KK brought out a carpet,
and sat with the young man,
gave him a singeing glass of sweetened tea,
and in a while, recited his best of Rumi,
in high pitched melodious verse.
And Jani returning home from some chore,
saw the two men together from far,
nearly died of a stroke; approached nearer,
and heard her father singing.
She was fully foxed, and then, inwardly smiled.
Her lover had entered her home!
Lust had turned to love, glory be!
KK sang in the Turkic of Rumi’s time,
Pushto, Persian, Arabic,
and mostly a pidgin of them all,
Evolved over time; repetitive, sonorous lilts
to the accompaniment of coarse strings.
And others gathered; it became a party,
of many encores.
Soofi poetry, full of symbols,
full of roses, gardens, buds, bees,
In a class all by itself, drafted by Rumi,
Al-arabi, Hussam, Rabia, Sidi Jamal,
scores of other poets of the ten orders,
which make up the Soofi family.
Long summer evenings, KK’s singing
drew listeners from the nearby villages,
fourteen in number.
Oversweet tea, sorbets of various kinds
would do the rounds.
There always was an evening of songs,
usually on Thursdays.
Abdul was hugely impressed, memorized snippets,
which he crooned while he worked at farming.
He did’nt understand a word.
The summer passed.
Abdul reaped a bumper crop.
He bought himself a four-year old ox,
from Thar in Sindh; a magnificent animal,
silver-gray with purple eyes,
and a two foot horn spread.
Abdul put a beaded collar on him,
to avert the evil eye, oiled his hooves and horns
named him Billu-ox.
His friendship with Jani deepened.
He saw more of her, in public and private.
Life was a song for the youngster.
That autumn came tragedy.
Abdul’s mother died.
Molly had been married, much
after two of her younger sisters,
for she was very plain; though her father
owned half the village.
Abdul’s father was a poorer third cousin,
the graduate son of the local hakeem.
Molly’s father used his clout,
got the two wedded.
It was the nuptial bed, which did it.
Molly’s body odor literally made her husband wretch.
She smelt like a tup-goat.
Rajab Ali, for that was his name,
got caught in a life full
of the all-pervasive stench of his wife’s body.
through his own greed,
and for social come-uppance.