Hayat-i-Raheem: A Classic in New Avatar

The biography is about a local saint, popularly known as Rahim Shah Qalandar Safapori
Hayat-i-Raheem: A Classic in New Avatar
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Hayat-i-Rahim (Rahim’s Biography) is the latest reprint of a more than a century-old book written by the famed poet of Kashmir, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor. Mahjoor had written it around 1919 (1338H) but published it late according to the prologue to the book (105, numerals refer to page numbers)—strange that Mahjoor hasn’t given any date of publication, nor has the editor tried to find it out.

The biography is about a local saint, who was popularly known as Rahim Shah Qalandar Safapori—his original name was Abdul Rahim Bhat who had passed away in 1334H, that is, four years before this biography was written. Most of his findings in the book are based on what Mahjoor’s father-in-law, Peer Ghayasuddin, who was a disciple of the saint had told him. The other sources were the saint’s brother-in-law, some elderly people in the village, and servants.

The original book is only 175 pages. The book was originally published from Lahore when Mahjoor was working at Baramulla as Patwari. Mahjoor writes that the saint had many educated followers, but none had ever tried to write or note down his sermons and miracles (132). The present reprint has 294 pages. There are four chapters in the book. Chapter 1 is what has been added to the book and contains an intro by the editor, Peerzada Abdal Mahjoor, a 35-page long ‘Introduction’ (muqaddama) by Showkat Ahmad Keng, a 12-page analytical study (tajziyati muta’la’) by Mohammad Yousuf Teng, 14-page review of Mahjoor and Majoor’s ‘naala’ by Dr Shadab Arshad and a 6-page review of Hayat-i-Rahim by Manshoor Banihali. Chapter 2 contains the original biography that Mahjoor wrote which begins with a ‘deebacha’ and ‘tamheed’ where the writer is explaining his purpose behind writing the biography and how he collected information about the saint from different people, especially his father-in-law.

On page 137 is given ‘naalay-e-mahjoor’. Chapter 3 contains the life history of the saint from his ancestors to his death. In this chapter, there are 25 parts, each part contains necessary information about the saint’s life, his disciples and followers, miracles, and so on. The last chapter contains five poetic tributes to the saint by Mahjoor, Peer Abdul Aziz Shah, Peerzada Bashirul Haq and Anjan Kashmiri, respectively. The book is hardbound with a multi-coloured jacket, both containing Mahjoor’s picture and the photo of the mausoleum of the saint. On the right flap of the jacket is a short note by Professor Tayab Kamili and on the back cover are the views, in English, of Dr Abdul Ahad, a historian of great repute.

Why did Mahjoor feel the need to write about Rahim Safapori? In his introduction to the book, Mahjoor explains that he had always wanted to write about the eminent people of Kashmir, especially, the poets but because of his preoccupations and his job he couldn’t do it (129-131). He tells us that he was “introducing himself as a biographer”, but he doesn’t say why of all the people he chose the saint.

Does it mean that Mahjoor chose the saint because his father-in-law who was Rahim’s disciple? Moreover, Mahjoor says that he had been told about many miracles by Peer Ghayassuddin and Rahim’s followers, but he only chose eleven—this shows Mahjoor didn’t want to give much importance to the miracles. It is quite intriguing that Mahjoor had himself revolted against his father and refused to follow his footsteps as a peer, but, here, he was writing about a peer about whose sermons his main source was Ghayassuddin Shah (134). The most impressive event in the saint’s life is related on pages 169-70 which raises his status above all as a philanthrope and man in crisis. In 1878, when the saint was only 39, Kashmir witnessed a famine that killed thousands of people. Some migrated to other places, but those who stayed back, many of them, died of hunger. In this crisis, the saint did a yeoman’s job. He was well off and had four milking cows in his home. He used all his resources and energy to save his brethren from further starvation. Not only did he provide fruit to the needy but also food to whoever he could. However, more than that, the most commendable work he did was burying the dead all by himself after washing them and carrying them to the graveyard on his back. This way 25 persons were buried by him. On burying each one, he would tell them that after leaving this world, he too would find a place near them. He got it and was buried near them (170). It is said that one and a half years before his death, he had got his grave dug by one Rajab Dar from Chadoora which was planned to be made of bricks. However, after the saint’s objection, it was made into a 19 x 19 feet bungalow of wood and stone and completed in 1334H (193).

What is the value of the book in modern times? There is no denying the fact that many classical writers have been forgotten, or very little is known about them for nobody tried to record their lives. Even Mahjoor is incomplete as many events in his life have either been not recorded or deliberately kept a secret. Strangely, the editor of the latest reprint has found it necessary to get its only one aspect highlighted—the saintly life of Rahim Safapori—which the author himself has given very limited space. The views of the professional molvis are nothing but the usual stuff that people of their clan talk about in their sermons. Manshoor Banihali also has highlighted only this aspect of the book. However, Mohammad Yousuf Teng has tried to place it among the literary biographies written in Kashmir and talked about its importance as a history of our past. I don’t know if the new stuff incorporated in the book has added any value to it. I found the actual book more interesting because it helped me peep into our past and see our gullibility in accepting sainthood as our religion about which I have many reservations. The poetic tributes at the end of the book must be read in the light of the Quran that tells us to seek help only from Allah.

The getup and printing of the book are beautiful. History lovers would find in the book many useful glimpses into the times when this book was written.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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