Kashmiri Pandit on the pulpit for Moharram
‘Aashura’, the tenth day of Moharram or the day of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom, will be Nov 15 this year. All of us, seven brothers and sisters, will be in Mustafabad, the Qasbah in Rae Bareli where we have our family home.
This will be a particularly poignant get together because this will be our first Moharram without mother who passed away with as much sweetness as she had lived, at the age of 94 with 40 of her children, grand and great grand children in and out of her cheerful hospital room. Lucky, ma.
She would have gently rapped me on the knuckles at this parochial narrative, for my having restricted the circle of her affections to the immediate family. She knew no nuclear family, having spent the most impressionable years of her childhood with the children of nine brothers and sisters. The eldest cousin was automatically the eldest sister or brother.
The turnstile of her much smaller house in Lucknow was in constant rotation. This network and their progeny were always in attendance. One of my brothers, the real one, often complained of having experienced a sense of neglect because of this invasion by the extended family.
The family was not the only culprit, neighbours were too. Every year they invited my father to be the president of the Neighbourhood Association. A detail which never occurred to my parents may be inserted here in deference to the foul times we live in: the neighbourhood was 100 per cent Hindu.
A great deal of this Catholicism was passed onto the choreography of Moharram in the Qasbahs of Awadh. For instance, Pandit Trilok Kachru would sometimes turn up for the climactic days of the solemn observance. In Iran, Southern Lebanon, Najaf and Karbala, some Shias including clerics were intrigued by my descriptions of Moharram in Avadh, but they understood its syncretic elements.
What flummoxed them totally was something else. That the sermon from the pulpit even on the most important days of Moharram could be delivered by a Hindu, a Kashmiri Pandit to boot, was something they could not digest. Well, I said to them, come with me to Mustafabad, and you will see outside the main Imambara, a large white placard with uneven lines of amateur calligraphy:
‘Kehte hue jannat mein chaley/ Jaaen ge Mathur / Shabbir ke Qadmon ke Nishaan/ Dhoond rahe hain.’
(I shall walk into paradise. If checked, I shall tell them that I am following the footsteps of Imam Hussain)
The poet, Mathur Lucknawi, is one of a handful who have survived the assault on composite culture. Another, Sanjay Mishra ‘Shauq’, my mother invited last year to be the main poet at Hazrat Ali’s birthday. She personally supervised all the ceremonies for his vegetarian meal.
Haziest outlines of our composite culture were available in the early Urdu poetry in the Deccan, but this culture was institutionalized in Awadh, as an elaborate choreography around Moharram. IANS