Recently I had an invitation to visit Kolkata, India to a friends wedding. Because of work situation (by God’s will, I work as a Technical Consultant which demand quite a lot of mind and its resources as well as time), until the last moment I didn’t know when I would be able to board for the trip. So as soon as I got the chance, I went directly to the bus station after office to get a ticket (Bangladesh shares nearby border with India and can be reached to the neighboring country within 12 hours by bus). I was offered a ticket early next morning which I took and this morning (Monday, 24 May, 2010) I boarded the bus to Kolkata, a city I adore very much for its rich history, heritage and because it’s a city walked upon by many great souls and also because my ancestors came from this part of the world (they originally came from Persia, modern day Iran and was responsible in spreading the message of Islam in West Bengal. A township by the name Sharmastpur of West Bengal is named after my great great grandfather Shah Sufi Sarmast, who was a majestic servant of God and awliya (friend of God), may his final resting place be perfumed).
Ok, back to my story from yesterday. As I boarded the bus I noticed some people with long flowing religious garb came to bade farewell to someone. Standing at the queue to the bus my eye caught to an angelic figure dressed in all white, head covered with a white cloth as well, a man of age about 60 who paused shortly at the bus entry and prayed silently and then entered the bus. I noticed a sense of serenity in the air circling the personality.
Curiously I asked one of the attendee who came to say good bye to this person, about his identity and I was told that he is Hazrat Jaunpuri of India. Jaunpur is a city in the northern India and has rich tradition of spiritual transmission and sufi tradition as well. The Sufis who hail from that region use the title, Jaunpuri at the end of their name to indicate their nisbat (connection) to this great land.
I gathered further information from his disciples waiting outside the bus that Hazrat (venerable) visits Bangladesh every year and stays for few month, travels at different places and give advice / discourses and initiation into the Sufi tariqa. They take their baraka from a number of ancient sufi lineage popular in Indian Subcontinent, namely: the Chishti, the Qadiri, the Naqshbandi, the Mujaddidi and the Muhammadi tariqa.
Knowing that Pir Jaunpuri is traveling all by himself in the bus, my heart was already willing to race to him. Wish I could sit near him, but sit arrangement was such that I was at the back row and he was sitting quite front.
While the bus started, the Pir after saying goodbye to his pupil got immersed in his prayer, sitting quietly in his sit but one could easily see his state of prayer. Eyes closed, the lips slowly moving as if busy whispering words of devotion to his Lord.
As the bus stopped for lunch break at a place called Magura, the Pir was asked if he would like to have his lunch. He said he had food with him and will not need to eat. As it was time for mid-day prayer for muslims, he asked if he could pray somewhere alighting from the bus. The bus conductor, who seemed to know who this man is, was very respectful towards him and told the Pir that he could pray at the canteen premise. When all got down from the bus for lunch, I was waiting for the Pir to have a chance to exchange my greetings with him.
So when he was getting up to alight I approached him. He clearly was a little frail because of his age and probably from the tiredness of the journey. I volunteered to take few of his belongs (a small bag carrying his passport and other papers I guess, two pieces of washed clothes which he wanted to changed into when he stand in the Presence of his Lord in prayer). With a smile he handed over me his belongings. We went together at the canteen where all the passengers of the bus alighted.
While the Pir was shown a prayer place in the not so clean floor of the canteen, I asked the canteen boy if there is a mosque nearby. He told that yes there is one, just behind the canteen. The Pir’s face lit up hearing the news and asked me to lead him to the mosque. He speaks fairly well Bengali language, with a mixture of hindi or urdu words here and there and north Indian sweet accent.
Just beside the canteen, there was a dusty road led to an one story simple mosque building. As we walked in the sloppy path, the Pir held my hand. He was very sweet and charming. Not only he was wearing a very humble garment, but it felt as if there was a permanent garment of humility made of light over him which you could feel and see the way he carry himself. The humility that such people embody is always something to learn from, specially when one is around them.
Upon reaching the mosque, he was again and again gave thank to God saying Alhamudulillah (all praise is due to Allah) for the opportunity to pray at the house of prayer, as every mosque is fondly called the House of Allah. Since a mosque is used only for remembrance, prayer and supplication, its always better to pray in a mosque when one can - the vibration of energy is always higher there because of many soul praying in unison around the day and night.
The time when we went, the mosque was empty as the congressional prayer time was yet to come. Upon arrival he changed into a new cloth and renewed his ablution (islamic mode of baptism that one performs by himself or herself with clean water, in arabic its called wudu, a practice of the Prophets and Messengers).
True Muslims who attain holiness, imitate the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, in every aspect and in all dimensions. One of the prime characteristics of our Beloved Prophet was that he was fashioned by what is titled as “harisun alikum, raufur rahim” ‘concerned for his fellow human beings, very tenderly compassionate’. As the Pir went to take his wudu before prayer, as I wanted to come with him outside, he turned to me and asked me to sit and rest. And also he expressed his concern that the people in the bus must not be delayed due to his time in prayer. There was such gentleness in his being. You can feel the fragrance of a being infused with light of truth when you are near them. The holiness surrounding him was engulfing.
After he came back, he spoke a little to me and couple of other people who were there. He spoke on the importance of prayer as Muslims do with the rhythm of the day. He imparted advice on worship and the necessity to obey what is commanded and not to approach that which is prohibited by God. He counseled about the problem of ‘only to obey which is commanded (fardh) while neglecting that which is forbidden. He gave example that many people pray but at the same time they continue to lie while they speak. To lie is forbidden and you must not only obey God in His positive instructions or commandments but also keep yourself clean from that about which we are asked to guard ourselves from.
I felt very grateful to be able to pray with him side by side. Then we came out of the mosque and with his hand he grasped mine as we walked together. The sweetness of his being has not left me yet. He commented how the people of ‘la ilaha illallah’ are brothers with one another, wherever they are. I said, yes Hazrat, this is a karamat (miracle). Until then I didn’t know that their lineage has a great being by the name Hazrat Karamat Ali Jaunpuri. The word ‘karamat’ reminded him of their great master.
By the time we came back to the bus, everyone has finished their lunch and got into the bus. I was thinking to myself silently, even though we didn’t eat our lunch, we ate another kind of nourishment. While I was thinking this, he immediately spoke on the same. He said, “Mashallah (as Allah wills), we ate something better than what these people ate.” We laughed together. It reminded me of something which is circulated amidst sufi circle that a true Sufi is gifted with the access to inner hearts. The holy ones often knows or secretly sense what people near them are thinking in their heart, thats why they are called ‘spy of the heart’. Thats why its said that be mindful what you think when you are around the awliyas (friends of God) because they know!
Then at the entrance of the bus as I retreated to let him get into the bus first, he said with twinkles in his eyes, ‘no you must go first, you are my staff and staff should be in front’. We laughed at his joke and I gotup to the stairs of the bus and he used my arm as his support to get up.
Even though I was nothing, even less than nothing compared to his spiritual station, his age and experience and his elevated achievements, yet out of his humility he thanked me many times for helping him with his ‘namaz’ (prayer). In the course of time he would mention this many times,
He had few heavy luggage with him, three bags infact, as he was on a four month long trip to Bangladesh. So when we halted at the Indian customs checkpoint, since the authority there recognize him because of his regular journey to Bangladesh as a spiritual teacher, they arranged for him to pass by without formal customs checking etc. He was sweet to ask me to follow him skipping the queue and he said to the customs officers, ‘iye meri shath hae. humko bohut madad kiya, humko namaz par haya.’ (he is with me. he helped me a lot, he helped me perform my prayer).
So thanks to the Pir we crossed the border much earlier than everyone else. Later on I went up to him at the bus for advice in terms of places of blessing to visit and he advised me and gave me addresses to go to a number of places where their earlier masters now rest in peace. When I asked his address, he provided his address as well as his phone number and his address in Bangladesh where he generally have his teaching gatherings every year.
There is another incident that caught my attention. At a bus halt when I went to him to collect his address, he was eating a banana and requested to excuse him till he finishes his eating. Then he quickly got up and got down from the bus to throw the peel of the banana. It was a lesson of ihsan for me. A lesson of always doing that which is beautiful. When almost everyone in the bus including me just put our banana peel in a small plastic bag and left it at the pouch of the front seat, he with his frail body got up from his seat and got down to throw it outside at a proper place. That tells their level of paying attention to every moment and every task.
When our bus arrived at our destination at Salt Lake, Kolkata, when the Pir found out that the person who was suppose to pick him up wasn’t there, without any trace of dissatisfaction or discomfort, he straight went to get a taxi cab to his destination. Before leaving his holiness blessed me many many times for helping him (I only wished if I could do more).
I remain grateful to be able to serve him in a very small capacity, in a very small span of time. May Allah bless him and keep him protected, wherever he may be. I don’t know about the rest of the trip, but I am already very happy for the gift of blessings to glimpse a holy one and to be in his presence in the beginning of this trip. Indeed Allah is Kind and Generous Giver to His servants.
- Sadiq Alam
Coffee House, College Street, Kolkata