Thursday, November 01, 2007

His Prayers Take Wing

By Umarah Jamali - Gulf News - U.A.E.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kolkata: Walking past countless workshops where men stitch away readymade dresses in small coop-like rooms, along the maze of serpentine by-lanes reverberating with the noise of continuously clattering sewing machines, you will pass by Noor Nobi Mollah's makeshift workshop.

Hunched over his sewing machine and stitching baby frocks in his makeshift workshop that is squeezed in one corner of a crumbling century-old building, Mollah will easily get lost in the crowd of tens of thousands of tailors in Kolkata's sprawling garment manufacturing district of Metiabruz.

Get closer to Mollah on a Wednesday, when most Metiabruz garment industry workers take their weekly day off, and you will find what sets this unschooled man apart.

After working Thursday through Tuesday, up to 15 hours a day, Mollah takes time off each Wednesday to perform his most "precious duty" - freeing caged birds.

Every Tuesday evening, as soon as his week's production has been bought by the wholesalers, he hands over three-quarters of his earnings to his wife for the upkeep of his five children.

Weekly ritual
He keeps the rest for his Wednesday ritual, something he has been performing for the past 16 years with an almost unfailing regularity.

Years ago, bird sales were banned in India but bird markets still openly flourish where police and wildlife officials have been bribed.

The scene is no different in Kolkata's weekly pet markets where every Sunday village trappers and other bird merchants sell more than 6,000 birds to the city's bird lovers and bird sellers. The sellers pack the birds into rusty iron cages and hawk them in different parts of the city.
The bird sellers know well that they can bank on the "crazy" character of Mollah to pick up a few birds any Wednesday.

"Bird lovers prefer to buy the healthier and more beautiful birds but Mollah looks for those which have remained unsold for days - often sick or physically weak ones," says Golam Kuddus who has sold birds to Mollah dozens of times.

Mollah believes people who confine birds in cages should stop considering themselves bird lovers.

"If I go for beautiful birds, I can only purchase a few of them. Therefore, I look for less colourful and sick or weaker birds that often remain trapped in the mobile cages for longer. To me, it is lives and not beauty that count," he says.

On a good day, he manages to drive a good bargain of 15 or 20 birds for 400 or 500 rupees (Dh37-46) - 15 or 20 per cent of his week's income. He takes the caged birds home to feed them and tend to them. Then, in the afternoon, he goes to a nearby burial ground and releases them one by one from their cages.

Over the past 16 years, more than 15,000 starlings, sparrows, mynahs, Indian flinches and many other birds have had their freedom redeemed by Mollah, the "Birdman of Kolkata".

His unusual ritual stems from a personal tragedy that goes back 16 years, when an accident took the lives of two of his children and a nephew.

"I got cut off from the world. I was blind and deaf to whatever was going on around me. Life had lost all meaning for me," he recalls.

"Then one day, when I happened to look at a captive bird in my house, an unknown force drove me closer to it and I opened the cage - not knowing what exactly I was doing. As soon as the bird took flight, tears rolled down my eyes and it brought me great peace. I felt my soul was freeing itself from the ties of grief."

Solemn prayer
On his Wednesday ritual, as he sits by the grave of the three boys, he mutters something for a few minutes before setting the birds free. Asked about his prayer, he says: "Allah, I can do so little with my limited ability. Please accept whatever little offering I have brought to you and keep everyone in peace, in this world and in heaven."

He has even inspired a book. Veronika Martenova Charles, a Canadian writer released The Birdman, a story book for children, this year.

Rafique Anwar, a noted scholar of Sufism in Kolkata, compares Mollah's sympathy for his winged friends to the divine love a mystic Sufi holds in his heart. "However, being an uneducated man, Mollah himself is unable to realise it."

His wife and relatives have tried to reason with him about the "meaningless" ritual and the local people call him "Pagla Nobi" (Nobi, the madman).

Mollah couldn't care less. "I am not bothered about what people say. For my Allah and for my [dead] children, I shall keep setting birds free until the last Wednesday of my life."

[Picture: Great Indian Hornbill (Buceros bicornis). Image from:
http://www.bird-stamps.org/country/india.htm
http://www.bird-stamps.org/index.htm]

2 comments:

irving said...

This is such a lovely story it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much. I may repost it on Darvish.

Ya Haqq!

Marina Montanaro said...

Salam Dear Brother Irving, you are welcome. I am always happy when my sieve captures a gold nugget from the big Media river...

...so that i can offer it to you and to the other readers of whom you are the spokesperson (so to speak ;D).

Ya Allah!
Mus/Marina (editor)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

His Prayers Take Wing
By Umarah Jamali - Gulf News - U.A.E.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kolkata: Walking past countless workshops where men stitch away readymade dresses in small coop-like rooms, along the maze of serpentine by-lanes reverberating with the noise of continuously clattering sewing machines, you will pass by Noor Nobi Mollah's makeshift workshop.

Hunched over his sewing machine and stitching baby frocks in his makeshift workshop that is squeezed in one corner of a crumbling century-old building, Mollah will easily get lost in the crowd of tens of thousands of tailors in Kolkata's sprawling garment manufacturing district of Metiabruz.

Get closer to Mollah on a Wednesday, when most Metiabruz garment industry workers take their weekly day off, and you will find what sets this unschooled man apart.

After working Thursday through Tuesday, up to 15 hours a day, Mollah takes time off each Wednesday to perform his most "precious duty" - freeing caged birds.

Every Tuesday evening, as soon as his week's production has been bought by the wholesalers, he hands over three-quarters of his earnings to his wife for the upkeep of his five children.

Weekly ritual
He keeps the rest for his Wednesday ritual, something he has been performing for the past 16 years with an almost unfailing regularity.

Years ago, bird sales were banned in India but bird markets still openly flourish where police and wildlife officials have been bribed.

The scene is no different in Kolkata's weekly pet markets where every Sunday village trappers and other bird merchants sell more than 6,000 birds to the city's bird lovers and bird sellers. The sellers pack the birds into rusty iron cages and hawk them in different parts of the city.
The bird sellers know well that they can bank on the "crazy" character of Mollah to pick up a few birds any Wednesday.

"Bird lovers prefer to buy the healthier and more beautiful birds but Mollah looks for those which have remained unsold for days - often sick or physically weak ones," says Golam Kuddus who has sold birds to Mollah dozens of times.

Mollah believes people who confine birds in cages should stop considering themselves bird lovers.

"If I go for beautiful birds, I can only purchase a few of them. Therefore, I look for less colourful and sick or weaker birds that often remain trapped in the mobile cages for longer. To me, it is lives and not beauty that count," he says.

On a good day, he manages to drive a good bargain of 15 or 20 birds for 400 or 500 rupees (Dh37-46) - 15 or 20 per cent of his week's income. He takes the caged birds home to feed them and tend to them. Then, in the afternoon, he goes to a nearby burial ground and releases them one by one from their cages.

Over the past 16 years, more than 15,000 starlings, sparrows, mynahs, Indian flinches and many other birds have had their freedom redeemed by Mollah, the "Birdman of Kolkata".

His unusual ritual stems from a personal tragedy that goes back 16 years, when an accident took the lives of two of his children and a nephew.

"I got cut off from the world. I was blind and deaf to whatever was going on around me. Life had lost all meaning for me," he recalls.

"Then one day, when I happened to look at a captive bird in my house, an unknown force drove me closer to it and I opened the cage - not knowing what exactly I was doing. As soon as the bird took flight, tears rolled down my eyes and it brought me great peace. I felt my soul was freeing itself from the ties of grief."

Solemn prayer
On his Wednesday ritual, as he sits by the grave of the three boys, he mutters something for a few minutes before setting the birds free. Asked about his prayer, he says: "Allah, I can do so little with my limited ability. Please accept whatever little offering I have brought to you and keep everyone in peace, in this world and in heaven."

He has even inspired a book. Veronika Martenova Charles, a Canadian writer released The Birdman, a story book for children, this year.

Rafique Anwar, a noted scholar of Sufism in Kolkata, compares Mollah's sympathy for his winged friends to the divine love a mystic Sufi holds in his heart. "However, being an uneducated man, Mollah himself is unable to realise it."

His wife and relatives have tried to reason with him about the "meaningless" ritual and the local people call him "Pagla Nobi" (Nobi, the madman).

Mollah couldn't care less. "I am not bothered about what people say. For my Allah and for my [dead] children, I shall keep setting birds free until the last Wednesday of my life."

[Picture: Great Indian Hornbill (Buceros bicornis). Image from:
http://www.bird-stamps.org/country/india.htm
http://www.bird-stamps.org/index.htm]

2 comments:

irving said...

This is such a lovely story it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much. I may repost it on Darvish.

Ya Haqq!

Marina Montanaro said...

Salam Dear Brother Irving, you are welcome. I am always happy when my sieve captures a gold nugget from the big Media river...

...so that i can offer it to you and to the other readers of whom you are the spokesperson (so to speak ;D).

Ya Allah!
Mus/Marina (editor)