Priest, Magic and Charms Ltd.
Meher, my tenant, was not handsome to look at. He had green eyes set in a broad Mongolian face, which was dark and pock-marked. He had powerful shoulders and a deep chest. His limbs were magnificent, his strength like a-bulTs but he had a way of looking at things through them comer of his shifty eyes that always succeeded in irritating| and annoying me. He was the best farmer and the biggest thief in my village. As the Khan of a Pathan village who, besides his many other portfolios, is in charge of law and order also, Meher and I did not like each other. He hated the customs and laws of our society as much as I did. Only he always had the pleasure of breaking them and I the duty of drilling them into his thick obstinate head. For cruel and oppressive as the customs and laws are, they are the only binding force of our culture. A strong horse needs thick ropes to save him and the world from its mischievous youth and destructive strength. I had to break in this youthful’ stallion to the law of his race and he hated it. So did 1 because I am neither a prophet nor a general. I am a poet ^ would much rather see a stallion rear and buck and gallop and jump with the grace and joy of youth than tie him in 2 stable and make him chew to order.
Anyway, Meher escaped that doom; he died of typhoid. When I went to see him he was in the last stages. His gigantic body had refused to melt or surrender but his eyes were tired.
His family was in despair. They had tried all the] doctors I had recommended one after another, and paid- dear money for coloured and smelly things in bottles. Thief his mother had looked with panic-stricken eyes at the heroic struggle of his body and shouted: “Black Magic. Why, look, his body is big as a mountain and yet he is overcome!” She told her old husband, “If it were a disease, one of these big doctors would have known it and given him the right medicine. They could not because it is not a disease. It is black magic”. “Woman’s talk,” said the old man to his son Usman, who was standing frowning nearby. “Listen to him, said the old woman.”He sits with his educated Khans and consequently does not believe in prayers and charms, but don’t you remember, Umar had the same kind of trouble which no one could cure until they brought the “Shah Sahi of Fairies.” He found the evil charm and saved his life by the grace of Allah and kind spirit of his Master’s. It took a long time but he is still alive. Don’t you remember? You and your Khans can say what you like. But it works. He is saving people every day in all the villages.” Usman assented with his head.” Let us try it. There is no harm. We won’t discontinue his English medicine, and give the Shah Sahib a chance also. You never know it might save Meher.” “All right get him,” said the old man. “And a curse on your mother for her sharp tongue.” And as he found it rather uncomfortable to stay at home after this, he went to his field grumbling and muttering.
Usman went away and returned in the evening with Shah Sahib. The whole thing was a secret from me, because I held rather strong views on magic and it is a dangerous risk for a magician to be within easy reach of my hands. I had expressed on several occasions a great longing to close my fingers around Shah Shahib’s greasy throat and ask him to use all his magic to wriggle out of them.
For, the magician, the priest and the charmer are the greatest enemies of man. They pour darkness into the soul and deaden intelligence. They stunt his growth and fight against knowledge because they flourish on ignorance. They steal not only the hard-earned money of the poor, but also their brains. They lead him into darkness in the name of light and make him worship the devil in the name of God. They carry the bacteria of rot and stupidity and infect the mind. They are the national plague No. 1. Being a very conscientious Director of Health of my little village, I wanted to meet Shahji.
Shahji is a slim little man. There is a look of genteel breeding and refinement about his face. His delicate grey beard is neatly combed. His long grey locks are oiled and curly. He wears the white turban of the priest and is dressed in dignified white robes to suggest purity. He is serious, mysterious and prophetically calm and composed.
As soon as he approached the village, all the farmers rose respectfully, for he traced his descent to a famous saint. He went straight into the Zenana where Meher was twitching in agony surrounded by women. Shah Sahib is always happy among women, they are sympathetic; they understand. He looked at Meher’s eyes. He frowned and mumbled something. “Ah! ” he said. There was sensation all round. The women opened their eyes wide and waited. Shah Sahib looked at Meher and noted the young age and the powerful body, so he said “Ah !” again and then finally, “It is a girl.” Great sensation. Meher’s mother was satisfied and felt proud. “Did I not tell you it was some evil woman who loved my handsome big Meher.” All the old women looked sharply at the young and unmarried ones, which made them feel hot and confused.
Shah Sahib sat down, produced a book full of charts and magic formulae, took out a plain sheet of paper and started drawing, writing, reciting and calculating.
His face was serious and his brows remained knit for a long dramatic period. Then he woke up with a look of joy in his face and turned to Meher’s mother who had been holding her breath all this time. “Mother, I think we shall be able to find the evil charm. Pray for our success, mother.” He turned to Usman, “Come, my boy, pick up a hoe,” and marched out, leaving the old women howling their prayers to heaven.
Usman went with him alone. The crowd was asked to stay behind. Usman was made to dig one place for a foot or so, while the priest searched the earth with his fingers. The charm did not appear. Shahji looked dismayed. Usman’s Ifalth wavered. Shahji pointed to another spot and asked him Ito dig. After he had dug for about ten minutes, Shahji got up |from the othe pit and began to look for another spot. Usman He looked hurt and angry. He dug away I from lost more faith furiously. Shah Sahib came back sadly and motioned him to stop. Feigning a sad surprise at his own failure, he said, “Well, I don’t understand it. Usman, you search the dug-up earth this time, while I try to find another place. Curse the evil girl!”
As Usman turned up the earth he came upon a tin bottle about three inches long (a convenient size for the pocket as well as the palm). “Holy Father,” he shouted, “here it is.” His eyes were blazing. He had recovered his faith. He signalled to the villagers and shouted to his brothers. They all came rushing and surrounded them. Shah Sahib took off the lid from the bottle. Inside was a neatly made cloth doll. He pulled it out, and examined it. “Oh, cursed woman,” he said,” poor Meher, look at these pins stuck into the charmed doll. Each one is like a sword in Meher’s side.” Great sensation. Even Meher’s father was dumb with amazement. The news was broken to the women. They were fully mystified and overjoyed. Shahji removed the pins and burnt the doll in their presence. He mumbled prayers from the Holy Quran and blew them into Meher’s face and after blessing I the crowd and threatening dire revenge on the unknown girl, I took his leave. Meher’s mother touched his feet and kissed his hands with thankful tears streaming down her fact.
After he had gone out, she shouted to Usman to serve Shah Sahib tea and cream, and come back. While, Shah Sahib was basking in the warmth of the villagers respect and admiration, Usman went to his mother. She took out a bundle of dirty old notes, their only family saving of vears of toil. “Give it to Shah Sahib as a thanks giving.” “But mother” protested Usman, “this will buy us a good bullock.” “Is a bullock better than Meher?” she snapped scornfully. Usman was subdued. He went out, took Shah Sahib aside and pushed the notes into his hands with humble apologies. Shah Sahib accepted them graciously and said that he really would not dream of taking payment for his services, but the charm would not work unless the thanksgiving money was paid.
He came back, wrote another charm to be tied around Meher’s head and left for his village in the tender care of several devoted villagers.
Meher died the next morning. I paid his funeral expenses. His father borrowed from me to pay the priests who said prayers over the grave. He sold his bullocks to pay for the food which his friends and relations ate when they came to condole.
I am still looking for Shah Sahib. If one of these days you hear that Ghani Khan is charged for murder, you will know I have met him.