He sat on his chaupaal with a cup of tea and an Urdu newspaper, adjusting his old eyeglasses and a chair that squeaked as he moved. His presence was never daunting to the kids who preferred playing around his veranda while he gulped down his sugarless tea. His veranda was nothing short of a dichotomy of generations where people from different walks of life would pay a visit every time they found him perched.
No one knew where Miya Jellaluddin came from but he had been a prominent personality in Birsa village for years. His opinions and suggestions were welcomed by people from all age groups. Sometimes, people would just come to seek his blessings while leaving for a long journey. His compassion and love for community never allowed any uncertainties settle in dust. He was the father of the village and his command was always assumed as word of God.
His house was small and had nothing but one large suitcase and a couple of clay pots. His rudimentary lifestyle was a subject of astonishment as much his source of living. People saw only as much as Miya preferred showing. Or rather they were too busy mending their own paths with blocks of wisdom paved by Miya to realize something otherwise.
It was the summer of 90’s that Birsa began to burn in the flames of communal disharmony as religious hatred began to spread sporadically. Swords and guns brandished with blood. The village was divided in two parts. Some leaders chanted slogans demeaning other communities while some rich traders offered respite to the ones who had no weapons. Policemen were burnt alive and infants were tortured to death.
It was a dark era that refused to recede for months. Birsa burned and so did humanity. The only well that supplied water to the village turned into an open lavatory. Disease spread and so did death. In some time, Birsa was dotted with graves and ashes. The village now looked like an inferno, ready to consume everything; but Jellaluddin’s wisdom.
The war continued for seven months and surprisingly the aftermath was horrifying.
Miya’s door was always open. It was rather, an invitation for any belligerent radical. And that night, a few radicals stormed into Miya’s house.
‘This man preaches and we now ask him’, they pointed their swords at Miya’s chest, ‘Who are you? A Muslim, a Hindu?’
Miya Jellaluddin looked at each one of them and smiled, ‘I will answer your question but you have to make me a promise’
‘We are not here for negotiations’ they roared.
‘It is perfectly fine then’, Miya looked at them and cried, ‘you can kill me for I am a Muslim, a Hindu or whatever you want me to. I won’t oppose you because I am not as fit as you are and you won’t spare me for that. How would you? You didn’t spare the innocent kids who played at my door.’
As the night grew darker, a few more radical groups joined them to persuade and kill Miya at his chaupaal. Miya, without reluctance walked towards the door.
‘If death comes to me like this, I am ready’ he cried.
They pushed him out of the house and began cleaning their swords. A large crowd began to form to see Miya; tortured and helpless, yet with a mysterious smile on his face.
‘Why do you laugh old man?’ They asked
Miya managed to get up and looked into their eyes ‘Though you may not negotiate my death but I would narrate a story that my father told me. Maybe this would be my last story at this chaupaal’
They looked at each other and decided to let Miya complete his story.
Miya yelled as hard as he could:
“It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.
The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered & protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.
After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other & they began to die, alone & frozen.
So they had to make a choice.
Either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together.
They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the warmth & heat that came from the others.
This way they were able to survive’’
The crowd looked down in despair and pain as Miya concluded the story.
‘’Ages passed. Emperors and tyrants have ruled this world. You may have heard about Hitler, about Gandhi, about Pharaoh and about Moses. Who do you remember? Ask yourselves, this world remembers both; the killers and the victims, the oppressor and the oppressed. But it has never glorified the wrong. One day, you will see the light like others did. That day, perhaps, you would no more need Miya Jellaluddin in your lives.
I am neither a Muslim nor a Hindu. I am a porcupine who decides to take shelter in cold with his companions and eventually die with or without them. But in the end I will have no regrets, for I died in front of them”
Miya’s last words of wisdom sent across an immediate wave of deliberation amongst the warring groups.
Miya was ready now; to die.
Next morning, Birsa began to wake up from a dark slumber. War ended.
A few days later, Miya sat at his chaupaal like before.
‘So Miya’ asked one of his affiliates, ‘why did you ask us to invade your house to kill you? You could have narrated the story otherwise too’
‘My son’ Miya said while sipping his sugarless tea, ‘this is a new world unlike ours. This world needs drama, entertainment and off course good acting skills to persuade people. You see politicians and leaders of today have excelled in that area’
He kept his cup aside and grinned
‘And so has Miya Jellaludin’