My Hajj Sojourn – By S. Moghal

Was it real,the unequalled-equality, the imperfect-perfection, the divine down-to-earthiness, the unreal-reality, or was it a dream !!

It all started with some weird, undefined, ambiguous changes in my daily routine. I slept uneasy, dreamed of unidentified, surrealistic places… Woke up with an outlandish burden on my heart, and felt alienated the whole day. This went on for days, till, one morning, i suddenly knew,the “call” had come; i must be there.

The moment the formalities were done.. Form-filling, bank-procedures, the burden got off, everything returned to normal, the deep, peaceful sleep came back, the routine hub-hub of life went on unabated, as if nothing new, or at least different, had happened.

Letters from the concerned offices started pouring in, the departure day neared, all arrangements went on smoothly, except that i started getting frustrated with my own attitude. As i knew other intending hajis normally must have started feeling by this time, there was no noticeable change in my own dour mind-set.

Came the leaving hour, clad in “ahraam”, all starting rituals dutifully executed ,i still felt nothing remarkable, no inside-change.. I now began getting nervous, rather ashamed of myself, “wake-up man, you”re off to hajj, only a few chosen ones get the privilege”, all in vain.

Off we were, on-board the jumbo, 400-odd clad in white unstitched chadors, chanting in chorus: “labbaik” o allah, here i am, no equal thou hath, here am i”.. A faint twitch, a deep-down eerie sensation of something incredible happening,a few involuntary tears, still no big deal.

Landing at jeddah, going through the routine, strenuous checkout procedures, the bus ride to makkah, endless counting and identification sessions, finally arriving at the allotted residence, getting a little rest,all went on in a lazy-hazy tone. My trance-like, oblivious frame of mind continued unabated,

indifferent to other fortunate group members, who foresaw and were truly excited about the forthcoming treasures and rewards, i dragged myself towards the harem to carry out my umra rites.. With a stealthy, subconscious intent of just to get free of the “ahraam-bindings”, more like walking in my sleep. I passed “baab-us-salaam”, the preferred first-time entrance and dawdled through the corridors. Suddenly, there it was,the house in black, allah”s trumpeted home, in full glory.

This was the moment it happened, through some bizarre, celestial, unnamed phenomenon, an unnamed living cell detached itself from my worn-out, wrinkled forehead and, within a split-trillionth of a nano-second, grew into my clone.

He looked amazingly similar to me, though the resemblance just ended there,he had my looks, but not the composition. While i was clumsy, blemished with a lifetime of vice and glitch, he was feather-light and lucid, floated in air and looked brand new, almost transparent.

A voice, deep down-under, made me recognize him instantly. He was the “born-again” version of myself, the prized gift all hajis were guaranteed to get…even a clown like me.

He yawned and shrugged, as if waking from deep slumber at the end of a long, arduous journey… Eyed me grimly as a suspicious stranger, and looked around. Suddenly, the spontaneous, sheer realization and joy of homecoming glimmered on his face. He knew he was back home, a lone voyager, long-gone to uncharted lands, had returned at last.

While i just stood there, forlorn, dumbfounded, weak-legged and trembling, my heart heavy with the cognizance of a sinned life, lacking the courage to even steal a peep at kaaba, what to say of the “first-sight prayer`, he, with a childish shriek of delight, jumped in air and floated towards the house, passing transparently right through the crowd. Throwing a quick, passionate kiss onto “hajre-aswad”, he hugged and caressed the house with the warmth and ardor of a long-lost childhood friend.

As i watched in bewilderment, dazzled, astonished, he went round-and-round the house, talking-intimately, sharing all his excitement with his “friend”. Suddenly, clinging to the golden door, he turned towards me and waved, inducing me to join-in. Even in my utter confusion, i heard him say loud and clear: “come-in yaar, you”re allah”s guest.. Nothing to be afraid of .” he waved and waved, the ice inside me began breaking-down. Enticed at last, i mustered enough strength to drag myself on towards the house.

He took my finger, and the world went blank.. Time rewound at cosmic speed. We were now at a strangely-familiar point back in time. The house looked ancient, a parched-stone erection.. Though gleaming with its typically singular, majestic grandeur. The surroundings looked familiar, the faces strikingly friendly.. Rather oblivious of our presence.. They all knew we were here and welcome.

We did our tawaf.. He pulled me through the seven rounds.. Chanting praises, uttering verses and prayers, making me repeat after him,we offered the two tawaf-nafils right behind muqame-ibrahim. He then took me to “zamzam”, wrenched himself with the life-water, and persuaded me to do so to my heart”s content. In the hazy-mist, i nearly saw a playful toddler, left alone in the wilderness, thirsty, rubbing his feet on the ground, getting in return a heavenly gush of cold sweet water.

My confidence now gradually building-up, we took the seven “safa-marva” strolls together, in leisurely gait, in my meditative mindset, i saw a valiant old-fashioned lady, braving around the rough hilly terrain, in search of food, water, shelter… Wary as a mother of any harm coming to her baby left alone in the deserted valley, confident at the same time of no such happening.. Knowing in her heart and believing that all heavenly forces, congruently, are watching-over her dear son… The son who, i wonder if she then knew, was going to be the first and the only one to have ever been sacrificed by a loving father upon the will and wish of the “creator”.

He at last released my finger.. Everything returned to normal in a jiffy. Exiting from the trance, the realization slowly dawned on me.. Good heavens, i had just completed my first ever umra… I had even managed a few mixed tears of guilt-and-joy during the ritual,hurray !!!

Happy and contented, i offered the two “shukrana nafils”, this time with deep and meditated concentration, cheerfully got my head shaved and had a pleasing shower. That night i slept so well, nearly missed my first tahajjud prayers in harem.. Managing just two “rakaats” at the last minute.. Thanks to a fellow haji who woke me up.

Thus started an eerie, hide-seek kind of friendship between us, me and him, lasting the entire hajj sojourn. He kept appearing at will, at the oddest of times and situations, teasing, mimicking me, frustrating me sometimes with his creepy attitude, but often providing the much needed solace. He had an uncanny way of disappearing all-of-a-sudden, and clambering up unnoticed.

He was with me at medina. The darbar-e-nabvi extended its loving embrace to all.. Even to the unworthy “ummatee” engraved within me. He helped me pay my respects.. Making me shed my soul out in overwhelming tears of gratitude and remorse.. Pushing me out swiftly, lest i loose the precious feel of exuberance and respite gained in those blissful moments. The eight days at the prophet”s revered city turned out to be the real essence of an otherwise wasted lifetime.

He kept popping-up at the sacred monuments and memoirs of the prophet”s times. At makkah, he egged me on to even take the steep climb towards the “hira-cave”, making me weep with realization of the toil that allah”s messenger endured while meditating there in seclusion for weeks.

He was there at minah, the arafaat, muzdalfah, the rami-jamraat: stoning of the satan, inducing and guiding me to perform the prescribed rites correctly. He now often left me all alone, assured of me having achieved the right frame of soul and mind for the special occasions and the capability to absorb the true spirit of the rituals.

The apogee of the hajj exercise was between the asr and maghrib prayers during the “arafaat-stopover” ,one begged and begged, wept and wept, reliving the entire past in a super fast-rewind mode, beseeching the pardon and mercy of allah.. Vowing not to ever repeat the heinous misdoings.. Hearts heavy with shame and guilt of a rowdy pupil, who, though afraid of reprehension, yet harbors high hopes of being spared, knowing the loving, sympathetic, remissive nature of the mentor. Even he looked a bit somber that evening, an evening that seemed to fly-by at light-speed.. Leaving behind stockpiles of un-satiated dreams, un-begged pleadings.

Spending the night on the bare earth-bed of muzdalfah turned out to be a memorable, enjoyable experience, thanks to him, he made me know that allah wanted us to realize the true worth, or so to say, un-worth, of one”s self.. Making us handpick the soiled pebbles from the ground, looting the lunch-boxes and juice-packs.. Queuing-up for the lavatory, and sleeping on the cold, earth-bed, he made me thoroughly enjoy all this to my heart”s content.

He giggled at me floating in midair.. In turn making me too grin where i should rather have been grim.. When, during my return amble to minah from muzdalfah, i got stuck in a human blockade. There, i later knew, tens of hajis lost their lives,

days after the hajj passed away swiftly, till the parting night arrived. That night, amazingly, we were two utterly different entities,while he wore his usual playful looks, i had a mountain of departing grief on my heart. Aware that this was good-bye, i tended to cry involuntarily at the slightest of provocation .. My heart, i thought, would burst down with the pain of leaving.

That night, an invisible force grabbed me by the neck and pushed me through the full house to a single-slot on the first floor,which, for no obvious, explicable reason, was unoccupied in the overflowing crowd. The spot offered full-front door-side view of the house with muqame-ibrahim in between. “isha” offered that night was of sheer, unmitigated feelings,feelings i would revere all my life, this, amazingly, was the same recluse who could not even manage a glance at kaaba on arrival and now did not want to miss even a jiff of the majestic view ,

now was his turn to look at me with covetous-disbelief, my last words to the house; an extempore “ farewell o dear friend, god-willing we”ll meet again”, were uttered with so deep an emotion and sentiment that even he was surprised. Realization dawned on me, too late though, that i had truly, deeply fallen in love with the exalted house of allah.. Realization which made me weep aloud and sob all the way back to the hotel.

He now seemed to avoid catching my eye, jeddah terminal was the last i saw of him, looked in a hurry to depart,wary i would ask him to come-along. Just a flashing goodbye-wave and away he went,

the return flight, a sleepy, semi-conscious phenomenon, landed home with a thump, making me feel like waking-up abruptly in the midst of an exotic, delightful dream,back again to the harsh realities of the material world.

Was it a dream,it seemed like a dream !!

As for him, my clone, i know he wanders the serene vistas of that revered land ,free of all worldly burdens,free to go-around, kiss and hug the house at will and roam the sacred, peaceful lanes of prophet”s medina.

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