A Boy and a War
S R Shuja
During my next visit to nana’s house I had the opportunity to experience two unique things. One was exorcism and the other one was sanctified stick manoeuvre.
I had heard a lot of stories from Rani apa about Jinn (Genies) and Pari (Fairies). In the villages people had strong beliefs in those. What I learned from Rani apa was that Jinn – the male form and Pari – the female form were made of fire. The Qur’an, Islam’s religious text, stated about these life forms. They were invisible during daytime. Among them there were good types and evil types. It was the evil ones that gave much trouble to men. Most villagers claimed to have some kind of encounters with Jinn and Pari. The general consensus was that while they were unable to harm the strong minded people they frequently took over the mentally weak. Once taking over, they were able to force that person to do things according to their wishes. It was quite common in the villages, confirmed Rani apa. She even told a few supporting stories that gave me goose bumps. One time a Jinn pretending to be a human pushed one of our distant cousin brother into the river. Our cousin brother knew how to swim and was able to save himself. In another incident a Pari had forced a young man to climb up a tall palm tree where she kept him imprisoned for three long days. Later when an exorcist was called and he performed some routines the Pari ran away. The young man climbed down the tree and asked in bewilderment, “What’s going on? What are you all doing here?”
Most villagers believed the bamboo grove was the primary housing for the Jinn and Pari-s. Walking through bamboo groves at night was very risky. There was no way to know if an evil Jinn was waiting to possess you.
Anyway, the whole village knew my junior nani was possessed by one of the Jinns. Normally, she was a jolly, happy person. However, when the Jinn possessed her she would become a completely different person. The events about her encounters with Jinns had spawned many stories, some hair rising. Even the kids knew most of them. They were remembered in chronological order – by year and season. An example would be ‘Summer of 1967’.
Despite having heard tons of stories that were more than enough to make me lose several nights’ sleep I was yet to experience an event where Jinn and Pari-s were directly involved. This time around I got lucky. On the afternoon of the day we arrived, junior nani suddenly collapsed on the ground right in front of the house, no warning given whatsoever. Her eyes rolled up, teeth tethered. We were playing in the courtyard. Within seconds the customary leisurely scene of a village family at the approach of dusk broke into pieces and was replaced by pure chaos. “Junior nani repossessed.” Somebody screamed. “Jinn! Jinn! Come quick.” People ran in from all corner of the village. It was perplexing how quickly news travelled there.
By the time Rani apa and I managed to push through the crowd and got close to junior nani somebody had moved her from the door step and laid her on a handmade carpet on the porch. Junior nani was awake and looked around her – baffled, as if she didn’t recognize anybody. She had this weird, possessed look. Most who gathered around her looked calm, being quite familiar with this situation. Some asked bizarre questions.
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“What’s the current time of Saudi Arab?”
“How many of you are here?” Etc.
The spooky part was that junior nani answered them promptly, her voice turned heavy, rough, manly, nothing like her normal high pitch tone. The Jinn’s name was Islon. He was the only one who possessed junior nani. He lived nearby, in one of the bamboo groves. Of course! He wouldn’t elaborate on which one. The question answer session continued for more than ten minutes. I stood there with my eyes popping out, gulping every bit of the words that were told and heard, while holding Rani apa tightly in one hand.
“Don’t be scared.” She whispered in my ears. “Jinns cannot harm the little kids. We carry angels with us. They are our friends. Bad Jinns cannot enter where the angels are present.”
I swallowed visibly. I had heard the same about the angels. I just hoped they didn’t take an untimely break leaving me all alone to fend off these ghostly presences.
Finally an exorcist – ‘ojha’ in village term, rushed in and stood right next to junior nani. “Get out before I get really mad.” He barked meanly at the top his voice.
“Can I stay a little longer, please?” The Jinn muttered.
“Not even a second.” Ojha warned. “Get out! Are you still here? Hold on. I am going to beat the crap out of you.”
He reached out into his bag and pulled out a thin stick. “Rani Apa, is he going to beat junior nani?” I asked, baffled.
“Not junior nani, actually the Jinn.” Rani apa whispered. “Until he leaves all the strike that falls on junior nani’s body will actually hurt him.”
It was a difficult concept to apprehend. The audience however looked pumped up for the ensuing beating. Fortunately the Jinn left before the beating started. Junior nani suddenly shook his body and sat up erectly. “What’s going on here? What are you all doing here?”
Ojha smiled. “That bad Jinn had taken over you once again, sister. The moment he saw me, he just ran away with his life in his hand. Ha…ha…ha…”
Junior nani quickly pulled her cloths around her body and disappeared inside the house. Disappointed, the crowd disbursed quickly. Nobody thought the Jinn would give up without a fight. It was a big letdown. People had come from far corner of the village leaving their household works. Bad, lazy Jinn! Rani apa pulled me out into the orchard in the backyard.
“Thanks God, it resolved quickly. I don’t like what this ojha does. A few years back a farmer’s daughter got possessed by a bad Jinn. This creep must have had done something wrong because the girl died. I don’t think he knows what he is doing. I told my mother, if I ever get possessed she must not call this ojha for treatment.”
My whole body shivered, a cold feeling ran down the spine. “Are you going to be possessed?”
Rani apa burst into laughter. “No way! Don’t be so scared. I just wanted to be on the safe side. Let’s go to uncle Jobbar’s store.”
Wonderful proposal! I was all ready to bolt. However, Rani apa abruptly changed her mind. “Forget it. That bastard is anchored there all the time, along with his friends. Let’s send the shepherd boy.”
I understood her problem. We sent the shepherd boy to get us two taka worth of tamarind seed biscuits and sat on the grass by the pond and threw rocks and dried clay in the water. In the peaceful surrounding of the ensuing evening the ripples that propagated through the calm water looked very pleasing to the eyes.
“I heard you guys are going to Khulna.” Rani apa sounded a little unmindful.
“Yes, dad wrote it is not safe in the villages.”
“He is right. People have changed. If a war really breaks down then we’ll probably head for Khulna as well. I heard dad and mom discussing about it.”
“Is there really going to be a war? Against who? India?”
“Nope. Pakistan vs. Pakistan. We are East Pakistan and they are West Pakistan. They don’t want our welfare. That’s why our people are mad. I hope there’s no war. War kills people, wastes girls.”
“How does it waste girls?”
“You won’t understand. There are lot of evil people in this world. During a war not only the enemy, even friends take the opportunity. If the war breaks out I’ll definitely go to Khulna. When is uncle planning to take you guys in West Pakistan?”
“Don’t know. Dad wrote that he is trying. But he can’t find a place for us to live.”
“Don’t worry. He’ll find a place very soon. Do you miss him?”
The shepherd boy returned with the biscuits. All three of us sat by the pond and devoured his purchase.
Next morning I had barely waken up when Rani apa pulled me out of the house. “Totally forgot.” She said excitedly. “Today there will be sanctified stick manoeuvring in uncle Naser’s house. Hurry up. We don’t want to be late.”
I was surprised. “What is sanctified stick manoeuvring?”
“You’ll see in no time.”
I followed her silently. We took the backdoor, hurried through the fruit orchard, climbed over neighbours boundary fence, ran past a narrow trail through a bamboo grove, and finally stepped into the walled courtyard of uncle Naser’s house. Rani apa was right. The place was jam packed with curious onlookers. They stood in a large half circle with a middle aged man standing at the center. The man held a polished piece of thick bamboo stick, seven feet or so in length. He spun the stick in lightening speed over his head in regular interval and viciously cried out , “Go get the bugger! Go get the bugger!”
In one end of the courtyard sat uncle Naser on his high back mahogany chair, his brows furrowed, face grave. Clearly he wasn’t in his best mood. Near him stood three young men – pale as corpse. The middle aged man, who was being referred to as a wizard, looked directly in their direction. A little later, putting together little snippets of information that she could gather from the audience, Rani apa briefly explained the situation to me. Uncle Naser’s golden watch had been stolen. It disappeared right from his room. At stake was honour and not necessarily money. Two days had passed and the watch was still missing, even after he had offered a reward. He suspected one of these three young men had stolen it. They worked in his house as day labourers. His repetitive appeal to them to return the object fell in deaf ears. Finally he asked for the help of Pagla Kanai, the wizard with the sanctified stick. Pagla Kanai looked alert, probably too much, could be the result of some cheap drug in his system. His face was hard and mean; eyes sharp and bulging.
Kanai Pagla gave a sudden scream accompanied by another display of his spinning skill before stopping to pick two healthy young men of his choice from the crowd to assist him in the process. In his instruction the two men grabbed the other end of the stick. A short meditation seemed to send him off to a mystical state as he pulled the stick with monstrous force as the two young men tried in vain to stop his advancement. The stick looked alive in his hand as he pushed his way toward the three sweating day labourers, inch by inch. It menacingly moved back and forth as Kanai screamed fearsomely, “Go get the bugger! Go get the bugger! Give the golden watch back or I’ll eat the head of your mother.”
And to the amazement of the crowd one of the labourers bolted out of the group and fell on the feet of Uncle Naser. His words became gibberish as he broke into a heartbreaking wail. The audience burst into a loud applause. Pagla Kanai spun his stick in lightening speed over his head one last time as acknowledgement. Uncle Naser slapped the thief several times on the face. “Where’s my watch? What did you do with it?”
“I sold it, chacha. My son has eye problem. He needs to be treated. I had no money to take him to a doctor. I beg for your forgiveness, chacha.”
“No forgiveness for you.” Uncle Naser yelled. “My father gave me that watch. Who did you sale it to?”
Another smack on the face and the thief gave up the name. Rani apa pulled me out of there.
“Why did he steal?” I asked, looking for more details.
Rani apa sighed. “During harvest time a rice grain had hit his four year old son in the eye. That eye is about to go bad. If he doesn’t get treatment he’ll lose that eye. I know the man. His name is Aman Ali. He is a good man. Poverty can make people do bad things. There’s too much poverty in the villages.”
We suddenly found ourselves face to face with a healthy young man. I could not recognize him but looking at Rani apa’s grave face I assumed this man was Bashir. He gave a wide smile. “Why do you turn so grave at my sight, Rani? I am not a bad person. Do you know how much property I have?”
“Your dad’s, not yours.” Rani apa bitterly said. “But I don’t care about property. You are much older than I am. Please don’t keep bugging me.”
Bashir smiled with all his teeth exposed. “Age is nothing. Love is all. I am crazy for your beauty.”
Rani Apa gave a quick jerk in my hand and ran away from there. I followed her closely. We could hear Bashir breaking into a loud laughter. A few of his friends joined him too. Rani apa didn’t stop until we reached the orchard at the rear of nana’s house. Both of us gasped for air.
“Bastards like Bashir don’t let the girls get a good education.” Rani apa muttered, once she caught her breath. “Parents have little choice but to get their daughters married early. Their life ends before it starts. I’ll definitely move to Khulna.”
I was ecstatic. “That would be great! We’ll have so much fun. You could stay with us in khala’s house.”
“Let’s see what dad says.” Rani apa thoughtfully said. “Do you want to throw rocks in the pond? Let’s go.”
The pond sent away waves after waves as we kept on throwing rocks into it. We spent hours doing so, quietly.