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Black Hills And Fakir Mohammed’s Ibadat

About Amrit Ganger

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based poet, raconteur, curator and historian. He is curatorially engaged with the National Museum of Indian Cinema being set up in Mumbai. He has written several books in English and Gujarati on cinema and Mumbai city, besides having edited and co-edited a number of books. Recently his book Rupantar has won the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi award.
For the past decade he has been engaged with his theoretical concept of Cinema Prayoga and has presented it at various venues in India and abroad. He has been on juries of numerous film festivals. He is on the international advisory board of the Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) published from London.

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He has no clue about his date of birth but would say in elegant approximation, ‘panjaa manjathi panj baad’ (fifty minus five). Yes that was the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, he definitely remembers. ‘Munjhe janam jo din Ramzan Id wo,’ he would say in mixed Sindhi-Kachchhi, often uttering Allahmdulillāh with rosary in ibādat. The local shepherd, Fakir Mohammed, was born on the holy day of Ramzan Id and he is pious in whatever he says or does. There is an indefinable sorrow in his eyes. He looks up at the sky every moment as he speaks with you, wiping his eyes with his original Sindhi ‘ajrak’ shawl around his shoulders. On his waist is tucked the ‘jodiyā pavā’ (double flute), which he would sometime play while scaling the black hills up to the shrine of Pachchhmāi Pir. He has been going to this shrine on every Eid right since his birth. First ten years piggybacking his father, Gulam Hussain, and then on his own, with his sheep and goats, and a black dog he had named Shyam. Well…

Pachchhmāi Pir’s is a mystical story around the deserts of this tortoise-looking land mass on the western side of the map of India. Surrounded by the Great Rann and the vast grasslands of Banni little southwards, the western part of Kachchh, known as Pachchham, is interesting. Miles of empty, desolate land is sometimes dotted by small jhils or hamlets settled around water, wherever there is. The conical bhungas, huts of the local cattle herders are an ‘architectural’ marvel.

Both Little and Great Rann of Kachchh defy the classical notion of a desert. The eastern stretch of bleak, desolate, salt-flecked ‘desert’ or the Little Rann cuts off Kachchh and Sindh to the North. Rising above the flat surface of the Rann are a number of semi-islands including Pachchham, which are accessible on foot for half a year, but are cut off during the monsoons when the flood waters are out. The largest of all these tracks, the Banni, was at one time an island like the rest, but it is now joined on to Kachchh, like a peninsula.

At the edge of the Rann is the Pachchhmāi range of hills whose 1525-feet high black hills or Karo Dungar, are the tallest in Kachchh. They also have their white counterparts, the white hills or Dhoro Dungar. The ancient black hills, however, are mysterious as they hide several unique legends in their womb. One can reach the black hills’ peak riding a camel who knows all the hilly topography in minute details even in the middle of the darkest night.

Atop the mysterious black hills situates a tiny shrine about which there is nothing picturesque, nothing gorgeous. No statue of any deity but foot prints are engraved in marble. You wonder why this austere temple stands on the black hills on such desolate, dry hills in the marshy desert!

As the sun sets, the temple priest shouts ‘long, long’ holding a metal vessel full of some raw sweetmeat made of wheat flour and jaggery. As his words echo back from the range of hills, you see hordes of four-legged animals rushing towards him to consume the food offered by him. They are jackals, the old denizens of the hills. The food is actually the ‘prasād’ offered to Pachchhmāi Pir by human devotees, the remaining portion then is given away to the jackals. The priest offers it to them twice every day.

You try to deconstruct the word ‘long’, and you discover a legend of a unique ascetic. The word ‘long’ is distortion of the word ‘lo ang’, which means, take my limb or flesh. As the legend goes, many years ago an ascetic came to the black hills for meditation. Kachchh was gripped in a terrible drought then; human beings as well as animals were dying of hunger. One day, an old jackal passed by the meditating ascetic. He thought the ascetic was dead and wanted to eat his body. But as the animal went closer to the ascetic’s body, he fell down for some mysterious reason. Dropping the idea of eating the ascetic, the animal found it wiser to lie down there doing nothing.

When the ascetic came back to consciousness, he, very compassionately thought of the poor animal’s plight. Immediately, he cut off a portion of his body and threw at the hungry animal, repeating the words ‘lo ang, lo ang’. This is how he saved the animal from hunger. For this life-saving noble work for all living beings around, the local people revered him as Pachchhmāi Pir. He was none else but Dattatraya, as many Hindus would worship him too. Centuries have gone by but the ‘lo ang! lo ang!’ resonating legend is still alive after centuries. It is still enacted by the priest of the shrine on the Karo Dungar of Kachchh.

Generally, the Sodhas of Kuran village, blending Muslim and Hindu cultures, on the plains are the regular devotees of the pir. They offer ‘prasād’ at the shrine. According to the popular belief, if animals eat up or accept the food, it means the pir was pleased with the human devotees offering their oblation to him. If not, it would mean that they would have to do it again until the animals accepted the food. In other words, the devotee would always look up to the animals with awe in order to please the pir and get her or his wish fulfilled. Rarely do the animals disappoint humans.

Certainly the ‘panj baad panjaa’ Fakir Mohammed would, on every day of his fasting, climb up the Karo Dungar at dawn and bow down before Pachchhmāi Pir. On the day of the Eid-ul- Fitr, he was not alone. Fatma, his wife joined him and forty five of his flock of sheep and goats too. After offering to the pir, Fatma would feed all these dear animals with seviyan kheer, preparation of which consume their whole year’s savings. On the holy day of Eid-ul-Fitr, the sky up above would, as if, turn into an infinite ‘Bāndhni’ (tie-and-dye) bridal sari with little stars twinkling on its expanse. On the final festive day of the Ramazan, jackals in the crevices of the hills would wake up early and sing in chorus ‘Eid Mubarak dear Fakir Mohammed, dear Fatma…’ Sheep and goats would bleat in unison:  ‘SubhanAllah! SubhanAllah!’

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