Updated: Jun 27
| This is the 346th story of Our Life Logs |
Did you get a good look at me? Yes? Look closer. You will see how I carry a laugh in each wrinkle and a song in each one of my beard hairs. And that’s not all. Wherever I go, my body shines with all the happiness I’ve ever known. How do I do that, you ask? At every dawn, I shed the sadness that I have lived and I receive a fresh spirit of joy, for I have much to be thankful for, and much to share. Would you care to hear an old man’s journey?
Back in the day, I’m not sure exactly when, my parents met in India while they were dancing in the streets. It was not at a festival or at a parade. Rather, they met as whirlers.
I’m sure you have one big question at this point. What is a whirler? You have been very patient, so I will tell you. A whirler, or a Malang, is a person who spends their life in search of god. The way they praise is by singing Sufi songs, dancing, and whirling—usually while wearing bright clothes. Most do not know exactly what god they are praising, but it does not matter, for when you sing and shout for the creator of all existence and of all purpose, any name would be too small.
And so, my parents were both Malangs and for years they twirled in the streets, filled with adoration and love, singing praises to god while onlookers gawked at their elation.
After they were married, they had their first child—me. I suppose this was sometime around 1953, which would make me around 66 years old now. No one is for sure because there are no records of my birth. It does not bother me, I never really cared one way or another. Together, my parents and I spent the first few years of my life in my birthplace of Hyderabad, India. Thereafter, we migrated to Pakistan, where my parents had each of my three older siblings and continued their life of whirling.
If you can imagine, my family was very, very poor. Malangs hardly make any money at all because, to be quite honest, that’s what the concept is. Worldly things are to be of zero importance. They never made enough money. In fact, my family didn’t own a home, we simply occupied a small area situated in Data Darbaar, a shrine located in Lahore. It is a very large place with immaculate marbled floors and arched ceilings that holds the prayers of an entire city. It is also home to hundreds of homeless people who are given medical care when needed and three meals a day. This made life easier, so, perhaps a good meal in stomach was the only thing that mattered. The weather, the bills, the cars, the schools and the education never mattered and wasn’t needed.
Still, I used to wonder why my parents chose to live this way. As a child, all I understood was what I saw. I watched my parents leave our spot when the cool air of early morning rose, and return empty-handed. My siblings and I spent our days wandering aimlessly around the shrine, sometime meditating, sometimes not. I remember pressing my tiny knees to the ground, praying to god—any god—asking for our parents to bring something other than the food we used to get at the shrine. Prayer after prayer, day after day, my parents came home sun-kissed and contented. Part of my heart was happy for their presence again. The other part was bitter.
I was 12 years old when I accompanied my father out to the streets. It was really one-of-a-kind experience. As morning broke, we ambled into the veins of our city, dawning red and green robes. At first, I felt so heavy. I knew the onlookers considered us stupid and crazy because I had heard the whispers. Each set of eyes that rest upon me and the other whirlers made me want to hide my face. It was as if time went more slowly than it did in the shrine.
But then…I sent up a prayer to the sky above—I don’t even remember what I said, but I must have said it well. I began to move my arms and my legs. I began to clap. I listened to the god in my heart and danced for his honor, rather than my own. After some time, I felt more alive than I had ever before! Though my father used to tell me how important it was to live the kind of life God wanted us to, which was nothing but modest, simple, comfort-free and jubilant, I had never understood just what that meant. Now I knew! In my whirling, I felt like I was offering myself to serve divinity, I felt like I was on my way to find god!
The first few days were quite an adventure, and while I must say that it wasn’t easy to roam around and dance in ecstasy in search of God, I will tell you that I came home sun-kissed, contented, and happy. It was then that I committed my life to god. I promised to take up the path set before me, to whirl around and move from one place to another and keep living my life until my god wants me back.
Since that fateful day as a young boy, the life happening outside my dancing was not so easy. My father died of a heart attack when I was about 20 years old. My mother passed away not long after. I remember that I continued dancing and whirling, for while my heart was tender, I did not shed a single tear. I knew that god was to be praised for calling his creation home. Still, their presence was indeed very important for me, and their absence did leave a certain and inevitable kind of sorrow in my life.
It was during this time when my younger siblings walked out of my life. They never took much interest in the venture my parents invested so much in, so I was expecting that they would leave. They had always had different plans in mind. They thought it was stupid of us to whirl around and roam the city and return just as poor as we had been the day before. They wanted to do something different and gaining.
My brothers moved to somewhere across the city to get married and to start a new life. My sister got married to a guy she met at the shrine and moved away too. The little contact I had with them grew to nothing after my parents died, but that was okay. Perhaps we were not meant to be family-oriented people. Perhaps that is the Malang way, for divinity to be our only aim in spite of what happens on earth. I must have faith.
So, that is my story for now, and truly, I am thriving! It’s fun watching kids and others laugh when they watch me dance and behave weirdly. It may be weird to them, but it is what keeps my life going! My life has been no sacrifice, especially because I just know that god is up there, watching over us. With god, never have I ever felt alone or miserable. Rather, I have felt empowered to struggle for the better afterlife, to dance for my creator, and to find true ecstasy.
This is the story of Shaffi Ullah
Shaffi Ullah should be somewhere in his mid-60s, he’s a whirler who has spent his life in search of God and life. And although many of us would think that his life is a difficult one, he enjoys it and wants to live it to his fullest. For him, his life is one-of-a-kind and he wants to spend the rest of his life in the same manner. He has no regrets and no complaints. Whenever Shaffi is not out doing what he’s destined to, he prefers to sit by the shrine and watch people come and go from making their prayers.
This story first touched our hearts on June 3, 2019.
| Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Colleen Walker |