Poverty and disability do not seem to deter the spirit of Ramadhan for this Seharkhan in Ganderbal district.
In his late 30s, Mohammad Rafi Parray while living a life full of challenges and financial struggles has been a vital part of Wahidpora neighbourhood of Ganderbal district.
In 2016, Parray managed to buy a drum so that he could wake people up during Ramadhan and since then there has been no stopping.
“I don’t have a voice but Allah has made my arms and hands my voice with which I wake people up by beating the drum. It gives me immense pleasure that despite odds I’m voicing the spirit of Ramadhan,” Parray explains in sign language, which his sister helps translate.
Parray along with his wife lives in a humble household of Wahidpora area of Ganderbal.
It has been six years since his drum sounds have added to the spiritual aspect part of this area every Ramadhan without a break.
Inayat, who lives Parray’s neighbourhood, said “The ability to wake up hundreds of people from their deep sleep in the middle of the night despite having no voice is ironic yet mesmerising. It tells you a lot when Allah wants you to be a part of a good deed, it doesn’t matter if you are deaf, dumb or have any other kind of disability. I feel my Suhoor incomplete without listening to the high pitch of his drums every midnight during Ramadhan.”
In the auspicious month of Ramadhan when Muslims are supposed to wake up in the dead of the night to eat their pre-dawn meal ‘Suhoor’ or ‘Sehri’, Kashmir has had a tradition of ‘Human Alarm’ since time immemorial.
Seharkhan (drum beater or drummer) is a person who goes around his neighborhood streets beating his drum loudly to wake people up for Suhoor in Ramadhan.
Unlike other drummers chanting the wakeup call ‘Waqt-e-Sahar’, Parray, neither being able to speak nor hear has been the voice of the area despite being voiceless.
His inability to use his own voice has never made a difference for his neighbours who love him like every other neighborhood in Kashmir loves their Seharkhan.
Parray in his sign language says, “My passion for waking up people at Suhoor is more of a religious thing. Even if it doesn’t help me earn enough, I await the reward from the Almighty Allah in the hereafter.”
Known for his humble nature and multitasking abilities, Parray does a number of menial jobs to make ends meet but he does not love anything as much as he loves the service of Seharkhan as it has a ‘spiritual touch’ to it.
“Sometimes he volunteers to light up Hamaam in the Masjid, sometimes works as a chef (Waza). Whatever he does, he does it with full enthusiasm,” another neighbour said.
Walking through the empty streets and alleys for almost 3 to 4 kilometers every midnight, Parray wakes up at 2 am and puts on his blue blazer which he bought from Jammu long back.
Taking his well-decorated drum and drumsticks, he starts his journey of ‘human alarm’ every midnight to wake up the faithful.
His sister, who has come to visit Parray, said that he makes sure people wake up on time so that they do not get late and can have their pre-dawn meal without any rush.
He dresses up properly to wake up people despite knowing the fact that there would be no one to see him on the deserted streets in the quietest and darkest part of the night.
“I don’t ask for money, people give me whatever they want. Some people offer me rice sacs, others with whatever little money they give as a token of love and thanks. I accept everything they have to offer because I have to feed my wife as well as myself. I have to live. I am happy that people rely on me to wake them up in spite of them having every sort of technology that could wake them up on time,” Parray says.
It is on the first day of Eid, Parray visits the Masjid and collects remuneration at the end of his month of service.
Despite living his life in misery, Parray says he is interested in whatever he does because he is doing it for Allah.
He feels blessed and says it is Allah who has chosen him for this and how he could be unhappy about it.
Voiceless Rafi, the symbol of hope and perseverance, while struggling with his personal life makes his presence felt every year in the society without having to say anything.