Calling him uncle will laminate the relation which appears natural as Chacha. English language chains an army of maternalpaternal first and second relations all as `uncles’.
In this league of uncles, he was my piter in clean Kashmiri. Not HathazChacha as is the sophisticated expression of addressing our elders but HoChacha as a closer though cruder and rawer way of calling my father’s younger brother.
Why he merits a tribute and why should my readers give their time. Newspaper space is normally meant for the famous and the celebrated, for the known and the noted, for the successful and the prominent.
Chacha falls in NOTA, None Of The Above. The only link through which he connects to my reader is the fun, the levity and the humour he used as thread to weave a mat called life. He taught me a genre of literature which is born in streets only.
Ghulam Nabi Kathshu died two days ago. (Please don’t google our family name `Kathshu’. It is a tongue-paining surname generated randomly by some prehistoric monkeys after hammering a keyboard in frustration. And for this unique typographic accident, it remains unique since then).
Chacha had a shop. We called it chachunvaan. It was my first university where I mastered every art from lifting to lying to living life to the fullest. Chachunvaanwas like a manicured lawn. It was poetry carpentered on walls with a neat regiment of jars, bottles, cans and boxes on its shelves.
The shop was a harmonious whole where everything had a niche of its own except for one typical hookah locally called jajeer. Amid this flawless poetry, jajeerwas the only free verse that defied the discipline of meter and prosody.
This restless butterfly flitted from place to place manoeuvring itself to the ease of the smoker. A wisp of hair, which resisted being combed flat, always hung on Chacha’s forehead as he bent to take a puff. Longer the drag, deeper the hollow in his cheeks.
With each breath he drew in sank Adam’s apple as softly as it bulged with each breath he drew out. A curl of blue smoke gliding past his face with a faint cough to follow carried the touch of a philosopher. Smoking I hated, but jajeer was a piece apart.
It was like Chacha’s extension. When I saw him in the hospital with oxygen pipes stuffed through his mouth, I was thrown back to that good old jajeerhis real mouth partner replaced by this ruthless artificial breathing apparatus.
My father and my uncle were two contrasting philosophies of life. I watched both, but leaned towards the latter. Roughed up by my father, I hid behind my uncle. My father’s religion was duty, my uncle’s beauty. One was serious and disciplined, the other flippant and carefree. One taught me restraint, the other abandon.
Daddyhad solemnity as his trait. Chacha was a bundle of fun who embroidered a plain talk with colour, spice and a light white lie. Like Oscar Wilde, he preferred a thrilling lie over a dull truth. His lie-brary had stories that never happened. Having graduated from his prestigious institution of lying, I practiced this art throughout my boyhood.
I was a practicing liar who believed in the theory of lie and let lie. If lying was worth an award, Iwanted to be a laureate. If liars had a gospel, I wanted to be their Jesus. Wait. Before you hang me for promoting an evil, allow me to explain my uncle’s version – or perversion - of lying.
His lie is not the opposite of truth, it is the opposite of boredom. It’s not born of corruption, it’s born of creativity. Lie-detectors can’t catch it for it doesn’t cause a pulse-racing nervousness, it comes with calm and confidence.
No judge can convict, no god can punish such liars. The lie that doesn’t harm, doesn’t hurt, is too venial to qualify as lie. It’s fib. Lie we call apuz, fib we call tarr. Lie is fraud, fib is fun. A liar cheats, a fibber charms. It’s from the lie of this kind our literature is born.
I loved my uncle’s idea of God. Hell he said is a rumour which bad people spread to promote their evil. God is all mercy, all love.
A non-Muslim once expressed (what he called) his heartfelt desire to become a Muslim. Such conversions usually excite us, but here the unusual happened. My uncle cautioned him to rethink before he takes this irreversible leap of faith. `Why’? He asked and Chacha replied.
`Beware, you will have to fast in searing heat and pray in biting cold. Remember, ablution precedes prayers. Washing your body parts five times a day in a blood-freezing winter is easier said than done.
And yes, hell is reserved for those who break the regime. If you think you can do it, do it. I don’t grudge your embracing Islam, I’m just warning you, so that you don’t rue the day you changed your faith. Don’t forget, once you enter, there is no exit. Think’.
The man stood mute, looked around, thought a bit and changed his conversion plan in a minute. Actually his `heartfelt desire’ to become a Muslim was hardly felt by his heart, and that was the lie he was selling as truth, and that is where he could not cheat a master lie-detector who deflated the seriousness the smart man was trying to fake.
If pranks have an academic worth, Chacha was a professor. Our neighbour next door, was reciting Quran. Resting the holy book on his thighs, we saw him leaning against the wall. Unmindful of the surroundings, he had spread his legs in a way that looked improper for a solemn act like recitation. My father advised him to sit proper, but the man was unmoved. He told him to mind his own business and not to teach him manners of reciting the holy book. The argument ended.
Minutes after, we heard the man shouting slangs. He didn’t do so when he was objected, why is he doing it now? That intrigued us. I looked around. Left, right, up, down and spotted the man behind the scene. From the rooftop, I saw my uncle slingshotting stone chips which, if allowed to hit, could peck holes in the man’s pencil-thin body.
But Chacha would never do that. He didn’t want to punish him, he wanted to pique him. He banged these splinters against the roof, the windows and the walls of neighbour’s house, so that a variety of noise scares him.
What he threw at him was a weightless spitball, the brush of which caused just an irritating but a harmless itch. Chacha winked at me from the rooftop. It was a signal from a guru to a disciple which I received without leaking a bit to others. No one down on the ground knew what was happening up in the heavens.
The man froze with fear. He was reciting Sura Alfeel - a chapter where God mentions stone-raining birds. Here the man was literally seeing stones pelting down. Terrified with the idea of a divine punishment, he folded flat his body like a deck chair, sat straight, shrank like a hedgehog and disappeared. My father failed where my uncle hit bang on the spot.
The arrival of Ramadan meant God’s grace for others, for me and my uncle it was an arrest warrant. When my younger brother and even younger sister would observe a thirty-day fast without fail, I being the eldest was shamed into fasting.
But how long could I stand hunger pangs. A week made me weaker, a month would suck me dry. Faithless I could survive but food-less I would die. `Gain blessings, lose weight’ was a bad bargain for a reed-thin boy who could be blown away by a breath.
What to do? Chachahad a plan. `Keep fast with them, break fast with me’. He fetched me fruit and milk to let me refill my tank after a half-day fast. That was like fasting and feasting together. Back home, we would break our sham fast together. That time it wasn’t done under wraps, but with the family at a ceremonial evening meal – iftar.
Chacha is gone, but his book remains with me as a guideline to sideline the worries of life. I am the custodian of his pranks, fibs, jests, and the whole jolklore that lives in me. Just one line to end. If God asks Chachaas he enters paradise, what more do you want, Chacha won’t lose a second and say `JAJEER, my Lord JAJEER.
My his soul rest in peace.
(The author is Producer at Educational Multimedia Research Centre, EMRC University of Kashmir)
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.