The new water pump bought by the committee was not there, the pedestal fan donated to the mosque last summer could not be found and the 60-feet roll of rubber pipe was reported to be missing. I had to make wudu at home for water would not be found at the mosque premises. I could not clearly make up the recitation of Quran in low voice of Master Ji at Maghreb. The noise from the fan beside the Imam would make it hard. I left the mosque even without the usual handshake with fellows. I had to milk the cow, get the chopped woods to the kitchen and above all find out who had devastated my lovely little green ‘neem’ so horribly. I had it brought it, luckily, on 14th August and persuaded my Dada Ji to plant it with me. From the trees ‘I’ had planted to date, it was the only one that survived and grew taller to me.
It was about the same days last summer when our village was ‘Imam-less’. There was no one to lead Juma prayers. Occasionally, Shah Ji from the neighboring village would be kind enough to pay a visit and take the charge. However, he had no beard. How could he lead the prayers? People felt being ridiculed especially if someone had guests from outside the village. Once asked about his beard, Shah Ji argued, “The nature of work I do compels me not to have a beard.” An instant response was, “Shah Ji, Do you work in theater?” Someone died that summer. People were curious and doubtful as to who shall lead and conduct the funeral and post-funeral proceedings. It could not be tolerated further. There had to be an imam, preferably a Hafiz, who would lead the prayers, funerals and teach the children how to recite Holy Quran. If I translate a fellow word by word, it would be, “Does not matter if there’s a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian. We want someone in the mosque appointed right now.”
The Friday prayer was led by a test Hafiz Ji. He made a speech, recited the Khutba and led the prayers. The mosque was filled to its capacity. People stayed after the prayers. Queries from both sides were entertained. Hafiz had studied in a school of thought the villagers did not approve of but they wanted an imam bad enough. Many decided to try him for the time being and settle their mutual differences later on. Others would hold onto sectarian grounds. Villagers met again at night, the next day and even on Sunday. Disparities grew. Two groups were formed in the mosque. Each would pray separately. As tensions grew higher, people took the case to police. The villages settled for hafiz saab and fixed his wages – wheat that he would collect from each house in the village, very small monthly stipend and whatever he could get out of his rapport on marriages and deaths. A good number of villagers were relieved to have been ‘imamed’ once again.
Our own family (Baradri) was divided over the issue. We, as children, were sandwiched among the choices of elders. One would send us to mosque; the other would stop us in the way. If at one hand, I and my friends had managed meals of Hafiz saab when his wife was away, at the same, we had stolen keys of mosque and his house, hidden his clothes, cut off his water and power supply: all on the instruction of our immediate seniors around the village. Local elections added fuel to fire. It was probably being harder, day by day, for the Hafiz to settle in village. People had started to dislike him for their own ‘worldly’ reasons. Some said he had debts to pay, others suspected he was attached to some extreme religious groups which they thought may distract their own children. He would also ask for leaves so often and would always return late. Hafiz had been hired by another village in the surroundings when he broke to us he will be leaving within two days.
I had finished my chores at home and it was after Isha prayers, I was officially informed that Hafiz saab had shifted with his family to another village. Along with few physical entities the village had lost an imam. Once again imam-less-ness prevailed over Chak No. 410 Gulabwala. They said, Molvi Gullo’s prayers had been answered. Hafiz(s) came to village but won’t stay. Within 7-8 years, we had had around a dozen of changeovers.
I hope I will be able to tell those interesting and thought-provoking tales in next part of this article soon.