The Saint of Vessu village
The story of the Saint of V e s s u village ordained itself in the bylanes of Habba Kadal to me and my family. It would have been simultaneously been played to many a others in the valley of Sufi Kashmir. The place truly was engulfed in the mysticism of Sufi Islam enveloped by the magical fables of Shavist Hinduism, equally mystic.
Sone Sahab, as he was fondly known to his disciples, was evoked in my memories and exalted in my young mind by my Dad, who had a chance encounter with the revered saint while serving as the Manager of J&K bank in Qazigund. Dad worshiped him and we would soon realize why.
The ritual began every Sunday. Me, my brother, sister and at times, well most of the times, my Mother too, would freshen ourselves with whatever water the rusty old and partly dirty taps of Habba Kadal could afford to deliver and follow my Dad into the by-lanes of the locality. A quick ‘matador’ trip to the local bus stand was cherished. I don’t know why. I would love to stick my head out of the moving van and breathe the fresh air blowing against my face. Matador wasn’t a Spanish relation but a name bestowed on the local carrier that would transport one through the streets of old Srinagar. It would house, literally house some 15 people comfortably and 30people uncomfortably. Once we would reach Lal Chowk, one would take pacy steps to the KMD bus stand. KMD stood for Kashmir Motor Driver’s Association, a rag tag concoction of rickety Tata buses that would take donkey’s years to be filled. The hallowed journey had a sense of religiosity to it. There was a strange faith that would overcome you as you set foot on those buses to the eventual village stop. A quick stop at Anantnag, still reeled as Islamabad by the ubiquitous bus conductors, meant a change of the vehicle and onwards through Wanpooh to Vessu. Islamabad was like a spear piercing your heart. It always was Anantnag until some zealous Jama ti’s decided to set forth on a journey to rename the town. They couldn’t and haven’t till date.
Vessu was magical. The kilometer long lane to the Saint’s house would mean greeting a lot of faithfuls coming back after seeking his blessings. We would greet each other almost in a clinical fashion. The mud paved road wasn’t tarred and yet felt strong. It had a sure element of strength lined with a few solitary Chinars but lots of walnut trees. That’s what made the walk magical, aromatic and soulful. I would keep picking small pebbles and stones and throw them helter-skelter . It was a ritual of sorts. The muddy road would take a sharp bend, past a few village shops selling daily groceries, loose tobacco and all things mundane. The constant crooning of the cocks and the pecking noise of the chicken was almost theatrical. It had actors playing a part and yet unmindful of what was happening around. Did they realize the had a noble soul amongst them? I would think yes. Past a flowing stream of pristine water populated by young Kashmiri women in their long frocks and “phirans" cleaning their household wares, was a beautiful thatched roofed mosque, small and unassuming. Peer Sanaullah or Sone Sahab lived right in front of this mosque right on the tip of the streaming rivulet, as if it flowed under his house. The pecking noise of the chicken mixed with the grazing of the cows and calves. The air was full of dung smell but nobody closed his nose. It wafted and smelt heavenly.
The staircase to the saint’s room was comical, bent at strange angles yet would carry one fine. On entering the room, one would often get shocked. Here’s a young man, possibly in his early thirties’s when I first saw him way back in late seventies. He was covered with woolens and often a steaming “Kangri”, the famous Ka shm iri fire-pot would be seen under his clothing. How could a man bear so much of heat even in the warm climes of the month of July. That was simply unfathomable. Rows of people would hang around in utter discipline, no one breaking a line to take his turns as if scared of the saint. The saint was known to have a fiery temper and no one would take chances. However what would stand out was something else. And that was the practice of sufism at it’s best. He would exhort Muslim faithfuls to render the verses of Koran and to his Hindu Faithfuls, he would often extoll to sing Bhajans. And both the faithfuls would render these at the same time, in the same room as if in unison. I would often wonder then and even now after so many years, how could a bunch of people perform their religious hymns at the same time under the same roof, howsoever thatched that was. The naughty me would never be at rest. I was young, very young and restless and I wished to explore. I wished to explore the mosque, the streams around, the cattle and what lay behind the long muddy wall that was at the end of the saint’s house. Very often I would hop over the wall, walk a long mile, alone and stumble upon the ‘batta colony”, a group of houses where the Kashmiri Pandits lived, peacefully with their neighbors amongst a small Shiv temple close to a bigger river flowing past. All the village rivulets would end up in this bigger river and often you would see young boys somersaulting in the flowing waters. The fruit laden walnut tree branches would almost reach the flowing rivers, nearly kissing the fish swimming along. Pure magic at play.
All of this was a Sunday ritual, hence a larger number of faithfuls would be seen around, all with some issue of else and seeking an almost godly redressal from the saint. He would dispel people off by listening constantly to them and hand over a talisman here and some revered mud there for people to consume. People would keep flocking, in long lines, seeking solace. The saint had some foresight. I recall once he was reclining on his bed and suddenly he saw a tall strapping young man enter his room. The saint got up, grabbed his walking stick and ran after the man. No one knew why. He ran after him for almost a mile and finally caught hold of him and started thrashing him. We were all perplexed, wondering aloud as to what had hit the saint. Later my dad confided in me that the young man at the receiving end was violent towards his wife and would often beat her up. How did the saint come to know?
The beauty of the day ended in alate lunch. The saint would see off people by almost 3 in the afternoon and very often my dad’s
cousin would volunteer to cook food, sparse, spice-less and yet fulfilling. All those in the room would sit down together, unmindful of each others’ faith, dig into the mounds of rice and cup fulls of green vegetables especially the famous Kashmiri “hakh”. Dad would often tell me not to waste a single grain. To him it was “ prasad”. To the muslim, ’toubruk”.
Return journey would mean seeking the blessings of the saint, an ‘ijjazat” of sorts and set forth on the path back home. Against the setting sun one would often wonder about the place, the saint, his radiant face, that amazing energy to withstand the heat, that true meaning of a sufi living and the mud road long away to the bus stop.
A day came when we all had to flee our beloved Kashmir. I am yet not sure what did the saint, sone bab think of it. He would have been crying. Or maybe not. He was praying for all of us. Till one day someone thought of putting an end to his life. Sufism died another death that very day. I guess that was the only way he hadn’t preached all his life and it came to haunt him. Kashmir died a thousand deaths with that.