Shaukat Ajmeri

When words have no meaning

4-minute read

He sat on the edge of the bed beside maasi, a heart-broken old woman. Unshaven and unkempt, he was in pajama-kurta and a skull cap that Bohras wear. He was hugging his one leg which was raised, bent at the knee, and was leaning back a bit. He spoke in a voice that came as if from a deep well of sorrow, rasping and laced with pathos. You felt a certain attraction (or is it empathy?) for his posture, his voice, his simplicity.

For a fleeting moment you felt like hugging him. You struggled to find words to comfort him. But it is he who had come to comfort us. He spoke in simple words, and wept silently as he spoke. “Who can understand the sorrow one feels in one’s heart,” he said. The poignancy of those words could have melted a stone. You were sitting on the floor, close to him, trying to catch the warmth of the weak winter sun which was streaming through the door. You too shed a tear as you sat there listening to him, soaking in the sun and the wisdom of his words.

How loss can unite even as it creates deep void within. And words feel so inadequate. Beyond platitudes what really can one say? But he said so much without saying much. He was never known for his eloquence. Or for anything else, for that matter. He worked in a government job and is now probably retired. He has lived a conventional life, simple and ordinary. He is a man of God. Perhaps that’s what God intended humans to be: humble, meek and withdrawn. Completely at peace with himself and the world, he’s not a seeker. He seems to know the truth. He has never missed a prayer. At an age when other young men were chasing girls, he was spending his evenings at a dargah sweeping the marble floors.

Every evening you would find him there doing his chores, totally absorbed, and unmindful of the constant traffic of devotees. People would come and kiss the tombstones and were done with it. But his devotion demanded more. He would keep the place clean, dust and re-arrange the gilaf of all the tombstones. And when he did ziyarat it was not just a mechanical act but a deliberate, slow routine. He would reach under the gilaf and caress the bare marble with his hands and then rub his hands on his face as if transferring the divinity from the sacred stone to human flesh. When he was done, he would sit in a corner and read the yasin for hours on end.

Then, you found him weird. Life had so much to offer, it was yours to be lived and be made success of. Why waste it sweeping floors? You were young and arrogant, drunk on reason and scientific temper. You had no capacity to understand a dimension of reality that lay beyond the physical and beyond the visible. Today you think you know better, success and rationality you so prided in did not measure up after all. All things material do not amount to much, you realise. This is a truth that cannot be taught. It just dawns on you, if you’re lucky. That day, as you sat with him sharing common loss, you could appreciate his simple faith. A lifetime of ardent devotion had a meaning, a spiritual logic that cannot be explained. He and you were separated by worlds but you knew, that unlike you, he was in touch with his inner universe. Wisdom does not come from mere workings of the mind. From dry intellect.

Looking out to the door you saw dust particles floating in the shaft of light. How was this life, this planet different from those tiny specks in the air? Wasn’t it all mere cosmic dust? Fragile, fleeting, insignificant. And we make such a production of it.


When I think of you…

When I think of you how can
I keep my heart from breaking
This Neem tree, this shade, this sun
This silence left behind by a life
This desolation that has settled
Like a rock deep in the heart
Cold morning air hangs heavy with
Moisture of raw, melting grief
How much can one cry, yet behind
Dry eyes I hold back a river
Rose petals adorn your bed like
A thousand sweet-smelling regrets
You sleep well, I’ll sit here and
Wait and watch over your dreams
They say it’s time for closure but
Where do I bury your memories
Day by day, sigh by sigh you had
Stolen smiles from a tight-fisted life
The winter chills you so dreaded
Now run down my spine
Your lifetime of love and longings
Tied in neat bundles now sit
Orphaned behind locked cupboards
It was a simple life, ordinary life
Why is it that those who have
Not much to begin with
Have so much to lose
When I think of you how can
I keep my heart from breaking