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Updated: August 16, 2010 19:28 IST

Khan Sahib on the Kanwaria trail

R. V. Smith
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Illustration: Tony Smith
The Hindu
Illustration: Tony Smith

Te story of how a Khan Sahib loved being a kanwaria

Khan Sahib was a cosmopolitan man who had been over half the world. He drank, but like Ghalib, did not eat pork. Dressed nattily, he wore pyjamas only when he went to offer prayers at the Oonchi Masjid near Ajmeri Gate. But during the month of Sawan he became a ‘Kanwaria', just for the heck of it as he loved adventure.

“I'm not a Shiv-bhakt but going up to Haridwar to fetch Ganga jal is a trek I have enjoyed for many years,” he would say while clinking glasses at a CP club. Once he started speaking, one just kept listening for he did have the gift of the gab. And what did he do with the Ganga jal? He stored it in an urn and drank it occasionally like Akbar and Jahangir. “Sawan is a month of ‘mauj-masti', but I am too old to run around with girls. So I prefer to join the kanwarias,” he used to say. Then he would add, “Bhang intoxicates the mind and heart, unlike liquor and gives you visions. Sometimes you are soaring in space or wafting with the clouds and sometimes you are rolling on the ground in ecstasy.”

Khan Sahib would come back with swollen legs and mosquito bites. Once he was nearly bitten by a snake as he stepped on it at night but luckily he escaped by the skin of his teeth just as the cobra raised its hood and he beat the ground with his stick to scare it off. His wife would scold him no end for his trips. But Khan Sahib would shrug off her protests nonchalantly.

It was during one such trip that a widow, pitying his plight, massaged his legs. After that he met her every Sawan on the way to Haridwar and back for she was a great Shiv devotee. As fate would have it his wife died issueless and Khan Sahib married the widow, Shivani (name changed). Like him, she was middle-aged but young enough to bear him twins – a boy and a girl. They were named Ziaur Ram and Kulsum Lata but due to family pressure their names became Ziaur Rehman and Kulsum Bano. The children were up by Khan Sahib's orthodox sister but their mother continued to practice her religion without let or hindrance. They celebrated both Hindu and Muslim festivals, especially Teej, when Kulsum sat on the rope swing in their house and her brother rocked it hard and fast.

When Khan Sahib became old he stopped going to Haridwar and so did his wife. But they were every ready to offer refreshments to kanwarias and looking after their needs. From time to time people raised objections but that hardly bothered the couple. Their children grew up and got married but their inherited love for Sawan continued. Shivani was cremated as per her wishes and Khan Sahib found his last resting place in the graveyard behind Express Building. Rehman and Kulsum migrated to Dubai, where they must have surely missed Sawan and the midnight chant of the kanwarias during their long trek to Har-ki-Pauri.



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