HARKING BACK: When city and river were prised apart

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Nov 17 , 2014

Description: Most people never return to care for the graves of their dead, but a few do come on a regular basis, while just a handful come almost every day.”  - AP/file

Most people never return to care for the graves of their dead, but a few do come on a regular basis, while just a handful come almost every day.” - AP/file


The other day I decided to visit the family graveyard. After having a chat in silence with my mother and father I moved on to meet an old friend; the grave-digger, now a friend for the last 43 years.

His is a lonely job, though the living do stranger things to the dead than most would imagine. It was a ritual to visit the family graveyard twice a year that is after saying our Eid prayers.

To be honest as a family the male members prayed twice a year, after which we would pack into our car and drive all the way to the graveyard.

There lay three real brothers of our grandfather and lot of other family. Water was sprayed on each grave, after which a few rose petal were thrown on them and a ‘fateha’ offered. The old grave-digger was given his Eidee and once this ritual was over we again got in the car, our crisp clean clothes bristling with life and our minds focused on the ‘Eidee’ and the sweet vermicelli that awaited.

But that is a pleasure that still lives in my mind’s eye, a simple family ritual. Before I return to the grave-digger, let me tell you of the Eidee ritual. We were eight brothers and sisters. We would line up before our father, who would do the needy.

Then we would line up in front of our mother, and she would check our clothes, and those who had not washed well enough, especially behind our ears, she would give a ritual ‘clip on the ear’ (Oh, how I love that phrase), and then we would line up before our old grandmother. Once all eight brothers and sisters were there our grandmother would first make us listen at a poem - a ‘Var’ - written on the death of her husband in 1921 in an accident on his horse. She would first cry and then happily give us our Eidee. And so it was every Eid.

Back at the graveyard I sat with Sadiq, who called for two teas and we sat talking about the graveyard. “We have many important graves here, there is Faiz Sahib, and then there is Ashfaq Sahib, and then as you know we have the king of Afghanistan buried here,” he said as if trying to impress me. We went over the many well-known persons buried there and soon we got on to the eerie things that happen in graveyards.

Which is the strangest thing that happens on a regular basis here, I asked. He gave it a thought and said: “People want to take away a bagful of graveyard mud that puzzles me a lot,” he said. “What the hell do they want with a fistful of graveyard mud?” I asked. He gave a thoughtful answer: “I think they carry out some sort of black magic ritual, but I am not sure.” It was a diplomatic answer so I left it at that.

“Tell me of the strangest thing to have happened at your graveyard”. He smiled and said: “One night a man got out of his grave and staggered to the gate. He had been buried as dead but managed to return to life. He had been digging for hours and finally managed to get out. He was a strong man. Had he been weak he would have died inside his grave”.

That was a strange one for surely some doctor had certified him as dead.

The grave-digger had so many strange stories, more so about the living rather than the dead. It is amazing the bizarre things people do at graveyards. “Most people never return to care for the graves of their dead, but a few do come on a regular basis, while just a handful come almost every day.” It seemed like a fair assessment of human behaviour, after all grief has it limits. Normally the spoilt child of a family comes and sits next to the grave of his mother in most cases and talks to her for hours. After a few weeks this behaviour tapers off and the frequency returns to normal, at least this is what Sadiq the grave-digger tells me.

I asked him the usual question of people trying to steal corpses and he denied any such happening. “It is not that people do not try, and we have caught a few and handed them over to the police, and I will not deny that a few have managed, especially on a dark cold winter night,” he said. I then returned to my father and mother who lie buried just near the main graveyard entrance.

“Oh, just one person comes every four months or so and burns incense,” he told me. That made me think who would do such an odd thing. I thought of a brother who could manage to break into such behaviour. Then the grave-digger went on:

“One old woman comes and leaves flowers and cries at your father’s grave, but even she has not come this year,” he told me. That struck me, but then he was a handsome man in his day by any reckoning. But I leave it at that and let the old man lie in peace. This was Eidee enough for me this time, though on my next trip, if that ever happens, I must ask him about this matter.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2014




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