God, In The Details

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GOD, IN THE DETAILS

WORDS BY FARHAT ANSARI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

Going to Makhdoom Shah Baba Dargah in Mahim used to be such a big thing when I was a kid. A date would be set weeks in advance, and Mom would threaten to not take us along if we were not nice or respectful towards others until the day of the visit. The terror of the possibility of being left behind and missing the opportunity of going to Makhdoom Shah Baba Dargah was so overwhelming that I would actually behave, biding my time.

On the day of the visit, Mom would wash and clean us more rigorously than on other days. We would be bathed and wrapped in one of our best outfits – preferably the one we had made for last Eid – as going to the dargah was nothing less than a celebration. When I, with all the innocence of a five year old, would question my Mom, “Who stays there? Whose house are we visiting?”, she would reply matter-of-factly, “We are going to God’s house.” This meant the world to me. I felt lucky and privileged to be meeting God himself. Allah, as my Mom would call him. Why Allah’s house looked so different and why were there so many garlands emitting a unique majestic smell was something my young mind wondered about, but never aloud. I chalked all that opulence and attention to the fact that he was after all God. There is just one like Him.

We would walk barefoot on the narrow stone path towards the tomb with Mom keeping a keen eye on the level of the water and the rising/lowering tide.

In our visits to the dargah, I had been exposed to the overwhelming reality of God’s influence. The roads leading to the dargah would always be jammed with worshippers and visitors, and it would take time to cross the narrow road where cars wouldn’t make any room for the erratic humans who were trying to cross without the signal. Next up would be the various stalls outside the dargah that sold fresh flowers, garlands, sheets and sheerni (sugar-y cubes) to be offered to Allah in the dargah. Even my five-year-old self understood at the time the importance of not visiting anyone’s house empty-handed. Removing my shoes at the entrance, arms loaded with offerings for Allah, I would enter the dargah. Made with white marbles, shiny and clean, the dargah looked majestic day or night.

After greeting Allah and paying our respects to Him, we would sit inside the dargah and pray for a while. While my Mom would read one of the holy books found aplenty in any dargah, I would sit patiently by her side waiting for her to finish. After this began my little adventure: more than the prospect of meeting Allah, I was flushed with excitement at what awaited me on the other side of dargah – the small tomb of Khwaja Khijjar-Ale-Salam in the middle of the sea that could only be visited during the low tide by walking on a narrow stone pathway the locals created ages ago.

We would be bathed and wrapped in one of our best outfits – preferably the one we had made for last Eid – as going to the dargah was nothing less than a celebration.

We would walk barefoot on the narrow stone path towards the tomb with Mom keeping a keen eye on the level of the water and the rising/lowering tide. The way to the tomb felt like an adventure: maintaining balance and also avoiding the slippery algae on the stones (for my five-year-old self it was “that icky green thing”). Reaching it was nothing short of an achievement. There were always these green flags fluttering in the sky near the tomb, which to a kid felt like a proclamation of her victory. Standing there on a mini stone circle that encompassed a marble tomb (which is washed with milk and roses every day), you felt as if you were a part of something bigger – something not fathomable to a young mind but still acceptable to it. With the breeze gusting in your face, sea unfolding before your eyes and nothing between you and the never-ending horizon, you felt giddy with joy just to be there.

If the tide was in our favour, we would get to sit there until sunset and then make our way back to the shore. Returning to the shore was always tough because I wanted to stay for longer, and I would keep turning back, looking at the setting sun the fluttering flags sometimes obscured. This was my childhood adventure, and I looked forward to this adventure every year.

Makhdoom Shah Baba Dargah, S.V.S Marg, Mahim (w), Mahim, Mumbai 400 016

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