Childhood is bliss; full of innocence, naivety and fun. In our childhood, our mothers and grandmothers were as blessed as children. I strongly believe they were as innocent and naïve as children. They, in fact, were more gullible than children and could be tricked by anyone.
Those days’ mendicants from city, suburbs, and rural areas and outside state would often visit houses in our locality. Some in wee hours and some during the day and some would knock at the door at dusk. Many mendicants donned in saffron loincloth, with sticks in hand and black wooden bowl slinging on their chests would arrive in the city in mid-July. In wee hours they would enter homes. Some of them with huge wooden rosaries adorning their necks with ash smeared on their foreheads and a sack clanged on their shoulders would ask for a bowl of rice or a cup of flour. Cries of these mendicants seeking offerings in alien language still echo for me, sometimes the cry would be solitary, and sometimes they would seek offering in chorus. Bhanji Chawal Atta Daydo- Rub Bala Karay Aap Ka and some time in chorus they would cry Shiv Shankar – Shiv Shamboo. There was hardly a house that would not generously give a bowl of rice, a cup of flour to these migratory mendicants.
Many of these saffron clad mendicants would try engaging our mothers and grandmothers in a dialogue by foretelling them about the future of the family and children. I remember many time our mothers and grandmas would be beguiled by their discourses and would listen to them patiently. Grandmothers in their broken Urdu would often try to know about the future of grandchildren- the questions ranged from marriage of granddaughters to examination of grandchildren.
In our childhood, mother and grandmothers had started feeling concerned about the education of children. In our family, ours was the third generation of learners, but majority of my contemporaries were first generation learners- many grandmothers would get amulets from peers for success of their children in examinations. Some amulets in green or black cloth would be tied on the right arms of the children or put around the neck. Some paper-stick-amulets (taweez) would be burnt with or without incense in the morning. It were not only amulets, but I remember our grandmother during the examination days bringing cups and plates scrabbled in black ink with verses from the holy Quran from one of the prominent Maulvi Sahib for my brother and me. And before we left for appearing examination- water would be poured in the scrabbled cup, and we used to drink this water. Many times, the ink would blacken my rosy lips and make them look like lips of fashionable women with magenta lipsticks. In forcing down blackened water down my throat on the day of examination; other than faith I see it was the growing consciousness in our grandmothers and mothers about importance of education.
Many times in their innocence they would also ask for some amulet from these saffron clad mendicants known in common parlance as gusain. I do not remember if I ever wore an amulet from a gusain, but many of my friends wore them. The amulets from gusain would often be a copper coin amidst yellow threads. Many times they would advice wearing of iron an ring or bangle made from an old horseshoe.
It was commonly believed that these gusain, were ascetics and great devotees of Hindu god Shiva who arrived in Kashmir to die during pilgrimage to the cave believed to be abode of Lord Shiva for achieving eternal peace. There were many stories that we believed as gospel truth that the gusain for achieving spiritual heights would see themselves disabled on the hilly and hazardous mountainous tracks to the cave. The more hazardous the travel, the more were the spiritual attainments believed ‘gusain.’
I heard a lot of stories from Radha Krishan- perhaps only Kashmiri Pandit who worked as a carpenter. He worked as subordinate of my father in the Electricity Department, he often visited our home narrated his experiences about trekking to the cave- he had been to the cave more than once. He told me stories about legendary pigeons in the cave. Poor carpenter, who made many beautiful boxes for my books, some of which still survive in the attic of our old house died a bachelor for his profession died as a bachelor that was unacceptable to his ‘Saraswati fraternity.’
I do not know how popular pilgrimage to the cave was amongst Kashmir Pandits, but I do not remember if any of more than a score of my teachers or colleagues of my father ever trekked to the cave. Those days I think only a few hundred join the annual pilgrimage to the Amaranth- then there was no politics in it, but it was only a pilgrimage for attainment of spiritual heights.
For us, the arrival of the saffron loin-clothed mendicants in our locality announced the date for yet another gaudy and colorful procession. It was also seen as heralding of autumn. We eagerly waited for this procession for that started from Budshah Chowk.- the procession for the Amaranth cave with mace of Lord Shiva started in middle of August from a temple.
I do not know if ‘gusain’ connote Naga Sadhu – but most of the gusain in the procession would be blowing conch shells. They carried tridents adorned with colored threads and sticks in their hands. Some of them smoke a marijuana pipe, known as a chillum or Shiv muli. The procession of about two to three hundred Sadhus would be headed by small posies of lathi-wielding policemen- I do not remember if a policeman those days moved with gun slinging from his shoulder. After the police party, there used to be band of musicians playing into bagpipes and beating the drums. Winding its way through busy streets of Haba Kadal, Faith Kadal reached in our locality- which was predominantly a Muslim majority area. I remember we often used to accompany this procession that was known as ‘gusain jaloos’ to the temples at the foothills of Kohimaran.
The procession would then travel on foot to the cave- I have no exact idea how many days it took them to reach to the cave- but one would hear lots of stories about some or other gusain in his devotion to Lord Shiva jumping from cliffs near the cave
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist