“We are going to see Pir Haji Amin at his place, deep inside the rural area of Sind, infested with dacoits,” blared Ustad Bilgrami, entering my hotel room with springy footsteps.
“We? What do you mean by 'we'? And who is this pir? I certainly don’t wish to step into a dacoits’ territory. They chop off your head before saying hi,” I protested and added, “It’s true, I respect and admire you. Thirty years ago you were not only our sports coach at the college, but also a guide, a genuine friend and a mentor. All the youngsters used to come to you to help solve their emotional problems. You helped me out in more than one situation, but that doesn’t mean that you can put me in a precarious situation.”
Ustad kept quiet for a moment, picked up the receiver and asked the catering service to send us two big glasses of lassi (a beverage made from yogurt). Ustad Bilgrami and lassi were just inseparable.
“You know who this pir is? He is your old college chum Amin. Remember how you and Amin used to fight for the position of twelfth man whenever our cricket team played a match? The whole day you and this fellow sat in the pavilion, eating high quality mangoes supplied by his landlord dad. Whenever a player took a short break from the field, you or Amin took his place on the ground, drop a catch or two and come back to resume eating mangoes. Now when I informed him that you were in the city, he forcefully invited us to have dinner with him and stay overnight at his mansion. Regarding dacoits don’t worry; there will be bodyguards with us. And you should know that I am that person who pulls people out of precarious situations, not put them in.”
“How is it that brat Amin has turned into Haji Pir?
“Yes, he had his weaknesses, but after turning forty, spirituality dawned on him. He got extremely religious, performed Haj and started spiritually guiding and healing the village folks. He has thousands of devotees; some even kiss the ground he walks on. We have to go there also because his third wife, an educated girl, twenty years younger than him, an ex-student of mine, is in distress and wants me to help her.”
It was impossible to disobey him. I packed my overnight bag, and as soon as we finished our lassi, came down to meet two hefty individuals with guns belted on their shoulders.
We were on our way to the pir’s house in his Jeep. It was already dark and the kutcha (unpaved) road in the interior of Sind was eerily lonely. I was getting scared, but Ustad had quietly leaned back on his seat and closed his eyes.
“What if the dacoits attack us?” I asked one of the guys, but he just looked quizzically at me, and then looked at his partner and both of them began to laugh heartily, bending over in their mirth.
“That’s not the answer I want?” I said.
“Babu (Babu means mister), no dacoit can ever dare to attack our pir’s car.”
“And how do they know that this is your pir’s car?”
They again started laughing, this time very loudly, accompanied by a bout of coughing.
“Stop laughing and answer my question.”
“Babu, they all recognize our pir’s cars. All the cars are black with white stripes.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” They continued their fit of mirth. It seemed that in their infancy they were exposed to vapors of laughing gas in some lab.
After about two hours we arrived at Amin’s huge mansion, surrounded by palm trees. A security guard, who had an enormous moustache on his big round face that was proportionately larger than his body, looked at us with piercing gaze, searched us and then allowed us to enter a long corridor leading to a living room. The room was one of the largest I had ever seen. The ground was covered with thick, soft Persian carpet and huge pillows were placed on all sides for the backrest. Here we were made to sit and wait for the Pir’s arrival. He came in pretty soon, with an aura of spirituality surrounding him. Rich fragrance of Rose perfume filled the air as he came nearer. He greeted Ustad cordially, then looked at me and smiled. “I still remember you, twelfth man.” Saying so, he embraced me heartily and asked me to sit beside him. We talked for a while about the foolish things we had done in college. The Pir then clapped his hands and a horde of servants came in and started putting several dishes on a cloth spread on floor, signaling that the dinner was ready..
After a rich, sumptuous dinner, we sprawled on the carpet and rested our backs on the pillows. One servant in particular kept on coming again and again and asking the Pir what can he do to please the guests? Pir Haji Amin got restless. He told him to circle around the pole in the corner till he was asked to stop. The poor guy obediently began circling the pole. Another servant brought in hookahs, placed them at the very far end of the room, lit the tobacco in the bowls. Their long pliable tubes carrying the smoke that passed through water reached us. I was wondering as to why the hookahs were placed so far away, when Amin blurted out, “We should remain as far away as possible from tobacco!”
Ustad Bilgrami had nothing to do with hookah. He went to where the ladies were and got engrossed in conversation with the third wife, probably trying to solve her problem.
Then came glasses of purple-colored milk, and I was hesitant to drink it. Unable to refuse the Pir, I took a sip from my glass. It tasted bitter-sweet. I gulped down half a glass and then it happened! I felt as if floating in space, flying here and there. Everything looked to me upside down. The last thing I saw was the inverted servant circling around the pole.
When my eyes opened, I was lying on a very comfortable bed in a room full of modern amenities, and saw Ustad leaning over me, taking my pulse.
“What happened?” I roared, trying to get up.
“Take it easy,” said Ustad. “You drank datura (a strong intoxicant popular in Indian and Pakistani villages) last night and were knocked out sooner than expected.”
“What the hell is datura?”
“It is a hallucinogen substance obtained from the leaves of a plant belonging to potato family,” he explained. “People here relish this drink.”
“Why didn’t it affect you?”
“Because I never took it. I switched my glass with the third wife’s glass which contained milk sherbet.”
“What happened to her?
”She was knocked out at the same time you were. She is now peacefully sleeping. Now take this cup of strong tea I brought for you. Soon you will be okay.”
“Ustad, this is my last adventure with you!”
After being forced to take a heavy breakfast and receive a bagful of gifts like Achkan(a long traditional shirt),a skull-cap embroidered with pieces of mirror, a shawl and other items, we were allowed to leave and ride back in the same jeep with the same gun-carrying, laughing bodyguards.
“Did you accomplish your mission, Ustad?”
“Of course! The problem was that Pir Haji Amin snores very loudly and that’s a constant irritation to his new wife. I gave her a simple solution. I told her to keep freshly cut cloves of garlic in a Ziploc sandwich bag, put it under his nose as soon as he starts snoring; and if he wakes up, hide the bag. If he snores again, repeat the process. In two or three days he should stop snoring completely.”
“Does that work?”
“Oh, yes. My grandmother used to do that to my grandfather, whose snoring made even the nocturnal creatures in the garden outside run for their lives.”
“Ustad, you are really something!”
On our way back, for no reason at all, the two bodyguards started laughing loudly. They continued laughing and now it got on my nerves. “Stop it!” I yelled. They didn’t, or they couldn’t.
“Negative plus negative makes positive,” said Ustad. “Start laughing.” Both of us began to laugh very loudly. This surprised the bodyguards. They looked stunned and remained stunned till we reached the hotel.