Author: Syed Habib, Publisher: Shifa Publications, Year: 2012, Pages: 203Greater Kashmir, SRINAGAR, MONDAY, 18 SHAABAN 1433 AH ; 09 JULY 2012 CE
The book under review is by far the best book on mysticism by any Kashmiri scholar. It has succeeded in celebrating one of our greatest mystics in a language that is worthy of the great man it seeks to bring to public gaze. Publication of the book is an event that should lift the spirits of all devotees of mysticism. It brings about the mystery and profundity of a man whom many knew only through hearsay but who commanded great respect. It highlights beauty of the man whom many knew and feared as a jalali mystic only. It introduces some pages of the great life that lighted the mystical horizon of Kashmir for decades. This book will make its author, like its hero, immortal in the history of mystics and mystical literature of the subcontinent. Exquisitely and cryptically designed to represent the beautiful and profoundly symbolic life and work of much misunderstood or unknown spiritual genius – the glory of Sopore and Kashmir – the book is destined to be a classic piece of spiritual biography.
Habib is not merely a biographer but a poet and a scholar of mysticism who lives and breathes spirituality. He may not be very exact academic at times – he confounds nafs and ruh, misreads the question of transcendence in relation to evil that is best approached at metaphysical plane with the tools of a metaphysician and occasionally may not hesitate to use some terms loosely – but he has mastered both the tools and the qualifications required to write on a complex and sensitive issue in a style that may occasionally overuse alankaras but generally moves, transports and overpowers the reader with its sheer brilliance and magic. Deftly using his tools and resources he succeeds in creating an ambience that helps us appreciate the wonder and the sublime heights and depths of the man who had mastered the art of concealment as malamitis or qalandars often do.
I have been highly impressed by Ghulam Hasan Nahvi’s biography on Merrak Saeb. But I think Ahad Bab has found, in the form of Habib, a greater man and a superior medium to speak to us from the other shore. As Khalil Jibran had attempted to offer the best he could in the form of The Prophet, Habib, as a mark of respect and love for the great Bab, has given us his best – his life blood – in the form of the book. He has exposed many and hinted at many more great secrets of the great man whom many of us loved only from a distance fearing to approach the spiritual dynamite that blasted the egos of many brave and fortunate souls to lift them into empyreal realms. Almost every sentence is chiseled and much of the book appears to be simply inspired and I would characterize it as yet another posthumous karamat of Bab.
Bab’s life has been an open miracle – he was weather proof, usually unprovokable, never using takya or support for sitting, never extending his legs on floor, had great power of mind reading and scanning of hearts besides precognizance and helped to heal all kinds of diseases – witnesses of these and many other “stories” can be found in almost every nook and corner of Kashmir. The book recounts in a style that can only be envied but hardly imitated Bab’s long and hard period of spiritual apprenticeship, his almost superhuman adventures in jungles, his abandoning of family house and sacrifice of family interests for the sake of larger human family as he spent 11 years outside his home at a stage when his children were very young and the family had great economic hardships, his jihad against nafs and world, his spiritual exploits despite the rigour of police nokri, his visits to peers and qalandars of all sorts, his family background that gave him solid spiritual base, symbolism of his “slangy” language, spiritual connections of his family and his inheritors, his love and compassion for his visitors and the unique ways he used to communicate with the insiders and even outsiders, his moral virtues like doing his own work himself, his love for children, his fascination with Sufi music, the misery of flesh fed by worms but the grandeur of the soul that had supreme confidence in himself and his mission, his refined aesthetic sense coupled with deep sensitivity to art and culture and access to perception of metaphysical symbolism and transparency of natural phenomena, his wonderful acumen as an interpreter of the Quran and unique methods of teaching lessons to his disciples, his extreme humility that prevented him to spread his legs on floor and many more inspiring and revealing hues of his colourful personality that many mistook for simply a majzoob among other majzoobs (For his devotees he was more conscious than those who are proud of their sobriety). This gripping narrative helps us to better appreciate the depths and heights of this spiritual genius from Sopore.
The book is studded with profound insights and Sufi interpretation of scripture and history. The fact that the Prophet of Islam received soothing winds from India is interpreted as his recognition of the treasures of gnosis in India. There are cryptic allusions to a host of verses which defy usual commentators and are best understood through Sufi exegesis.
For Habib Ahad Bab is everything as Shams Tabriz was for Rumi – he uses the choicest metaphors and epithets for him. He is Shahanshah, the king of kings who rules the hearts of not only his thousands of mureeds but aam kashmiri. Darbar-i-Ahad used to be a great meeting hall where all and sundry would come and go and Bab disbursed his spiritual blessings. No king of Kashmir can dream of such a darbar where people from all walks of life would come and stand in absolute awe of the great man.
Sahib knew hearts and minds of all and sundry and helped countless people in his own way. He showers his praise and devotion on almost every aspect of his personality. He interprets his conceding the wishes of visitors or sayils who implored him to sit in their cars or visit them or sick persons as a variety of mujahida. Even in cars he used to sit in a typical posture that involved tucked up legs perhaps indicating humility.
Almost all pages have powerful passages that deserve to be quoted in full and as there are too many I can’t reproduce even one but hope our magazines/newspapers carry them on weekly basis. That would be a contribution to Kashmir literature, art and mysticism. It is treat to read his long prose “odes” to Sufi music, to nun chai, to local craftsmen, to love, to moral and spiritual beauty of Bab.
Ahad Bab is a legend and the book has admirably presented the same for us. After reading it one comes to appreciate the mystery and beauty of the man with which Sopore shall be proudly identified forever. The book is a gift to Kashmiris in general and the people of Sopore in particular. The author has put his everything in it and that explains why its price has been kept open or optional. There can be no price for devotion and love that has been poured in writing and designing this book. It is a privilege to read it and readers can understand only to the extent that they can participate in the great cosmic dance, the dance of the soul that the life of Bab symbolizes. The book throws a lot of challenges to scholars or critics who want to approach mystical literature or mystical life. The appropriations of mystical literature which include author’s own moving and beautiful poetry and Quranic verses that help to elucidiate life and work of Bab add to the rich tapestry of soul’s journey – the journey of you and me, of all the children of Adam – that the book tries to depict. The book is a spiritual biography of modern Kashmir and the way it comments upon diverse cultural expressions from samawar and nun chai to pashmeen sazi or Islamic architecture it appears to be a unique contribution to both aesthetics and mysticism of Kashmir. A letter to Samawar and musings on nun chai, for instance, shows how mysticism can be aesthetically read in cultural expressions.
It is not easy to write on mysticism and that too on such mystics as Ahad Bab whose very name or presence sent shivers in many souls. Bab is a spiritual dynamite with which feeble minds or weak souls can’t afford to play. One has to observe all the aadab of a salik to write it. The book is dedicated to Bab in a touching manner. It reads “laghye waendith.”
The book is feast for the senses as well as the soul. It is recommended for reading to all those interested in Kashmir and its mysticism, its literature and its culture. For those whose third eye has opened to certain extent it is a tabarruq. The book is also recommended for all those for whom Ahad Bab life’s was a “scandal” of spiritual propriety as they will come to understand something from the other side or inside of the sanctuary to which only few had access though all were invited. The point of certain mainstream Sufis/ulama regarding the manners of visiting apparently intoxicated souls who don’t care for clothes and don’t talk “decently” deserved more nuanced and detailed treatment.
Habib combines virtues and qualifications of a rare scholar of mystic literature with a rare command over Urdu language and huge poetic talent besides the key qualification of discipleship and thus being an insider – bapeer – allowing him to do justice to a topic which deserves not only great scholarship or academic credentials but also grace from the great Bab. The author is a good translator also as shown by his Urdu rendering of many important Persian and Kashmiri verses in the book. He deserves our gratitude. Urdu literature is richer after the event of this publication.