Do I believe in ghosts? Djinns? Parries?
I don’t know. Or maybe I do. I haven’t seen one but sometimes I have felt some kind of presence. Occasionally I have experienced a sudden chill in the room even though the fan was off and the A/C was not running, or suddenly the air stirred and I felt hair rising on the back of my neck. I have seen shadows and turned my back or changed the course.
Occasionally I have fled with fright, feeling some one is pulling me from behind. But thats something that many people have experienced at least once in their life. I remember ghost story sessions on cold, rainy winter nights when bundled up in blankets and quilts, we would tell ghost stories and if things became too terrifying, the listeners would shriek and tell the storyteller to stop and every one calling every one a chicken,
would try to calm their thumping hearts. Or in summer, when the heat of the night would make every one restless and edgy, our Nani ma would say, “stop fighting the heat. You yourself make your bodies hot by being restless. Stay still and quiet. I am going to tell you a story about a princess who was always complaining about being hot. It turned out that it was a Djinn who was in love with her and wanted her to come out in the Garden every night where he would meet her in the form of a prince.” It would be a long story. I don’t know if Nani ma ever finished it because her narration of the palace events would relax the nerves, cool the bodies and soon every one would be fast asleep.
Nani ma’s djinns and Parries (Fairies) were noble and lovable creatures. There was no reason to be scared of them. It was some other relative who would come visiting for a week or two, bringing stories with them. During those times we used to have really scary or sometimes awe inspiring sessions. It was all so entertaining. There was no TV, no Internet and no PC. People had time to relax with the family and to enjoy each other’s company.These after dinner story telling sessions were actually therapeutic. Sitting to-gather, talking, laughing, sharing views, telling stories – it all has a positive effect on our bodies. Times have changed, traditions have died and the art of story telling is lost.
But before I go any further, I would narrate an incident that is so vividly alive in my memory that even today I can see it happening right in front of me … like watching a film.
We were living in Lahore at that time. It was a small two storied house, nothing like the houses we were used to living in. The main door leading to the hallway was actually a double door; an outside, wrought iron door and then a teak wood door – very heavy and strong. They both closed from inside and were kept closed all the time. Every night mother used to go down to double check if they were locked. I will not go into the details of the layout of the house except that all levels had a room and a small veranda but the main living quarters were on the first floor. My mother, my four siblings and myself used to sleep in one room, safely locked in and cut off from the rest of the house. especially from the two flights of stairs. One coming up from the hallway to the first floor and then after a small corridor, going up to the second floor. It was on the left of the room we used to sleep in.
I was eleven years old, and the youngest was a little over two. Our two older brothers didn’t live at home because of their jobs. One was in England getting trained for the company he had gotten a job with, and the other was in some other city but quite far from Lahore.
It was summer, peak of the season, when there are no rains and hot and dry winds blow. Then it peaks with a sudden clap of thunder and a high wind carrying sand and dust. This is called ‘kaali aandhee’ because dust in the atmosphere makes it so dark that one cannot see any thing. After an hour or so the wind lets up and rain takes it place. A terrifying storm lashes out for another hour or two. This is what happened one evening. Mother checked all the locks on all the doors. Stairs going up to the second floor also had a door at the end of the stairs and it could be locked from either sides. All doors checked, she came in, locked the door and we, all six of us, sat down on our mother’s bed to ride out the storm. I don’t know about mother but all of us were scared.
Suddenly we heard a door burst open. Mother pushed us aside and sat up, very still, very quiet and alert, trying to listen to any unfamiliar sound. Nothing. Then there was a slow, rustling sound. Mother went to the door and stood there, listening. Again nothing. She came back looked at our terrified faces and said “I have to check what or who it is” and with a resolute confidence opened the door and looked out. There were some dried up leaves outside the door. She went up the stairs, closed the door again, picked up the leaves that the storm had brought from somewhere and came in and locked the door again. She climbed back on bed and picked up the youngest one in her lap. “Was it a Djinn, mother?” number three asked. “I don’t know and I didn’t see any.” “Do you think djinns are hiding in these dry leaves?” “these dry leaves? ” she said “no, how can they hide in these tiny leaves?” She paused again. ” I am a djinn, if there is any. Now go to sleep. I have to get up early,” and closed her eyes. It was not raining hard anymore and her saying that she was a Djinn if there was any, put back confidence in my eleven year old heart. My four little sisters and brother also relaxed and fell asleep.
That said, I come back to my main story about my relative.
I don’t know who she was but she was a regular at my mami jan’s house. She loved hukka and mami jan made sure that there was enough tobacco in the house and of the finest quality. Everyone knew that a djinn was in love with her. sometimes she would go under his spell and her whole personality would change. Eyebrows arched, eyes closed, face red, teeth bared a high pitched voice and an unnatural laugh that would send a shiver down your spine. That lady had high cheekbones and dimples on both sides of her face. Every body said that she was beautiful when she was young , and I am sure she was.
They said that one day after taking a bath, she went up on the roof to dry her hair in the sun. A djinn was also in the vicinity, enjoying a winter sun. Lo and behold, one look at a beautiful girl with raven black hair framing her dimpled face and he forgot to flap his wings and with a ‘thonk ‘ he dropped out of the blue sky right in front of the girl. When she saw a handsome man suddenly appear out of nowhere, she fled down the stairs, screaming and crying, stumbled and fell down the stairs. She fainted. She was not the same person after that. Poor girl could not get married once the story went around. No mother was willing to risk the life of her son at the hands of a djinn.
I only remember seeing her when she was probably in her sixties. Every one in the family knew how this lady’s Djinn had predicted the future of my nani ma and her two sons – my maternal uncles – chhote mamun and barre mamun.
This is how the story goes. My nani ma was widowed at a very young age, with three young children and the fourth one on the way. (That was my mother, born three months after her father died) I do not remember anyone giving me the details, but she belonged to a rich family and it was not difficult to raise her four kids – son, daughter, son and again a daughter. Sons were given a good education but not the daughters, older daughter did her primary school, with Arabic and Persian and got married at the age of seventeen. The younger one was pulled out of middle school and was started on preparing her trousseau. All four of them were beautiful but this one was an exceptional beauty. At eighteen she was still unmarried. since she was born three months after my Nana Abba’s death, she was considered bad luck and people thought that whoever she married, she would bring bad luck to him. Finally she got married at nineteen – too old according to those times.
I am getting side-tracked. Back to that lady and her Djinn. So one day when she was visiting my nani ma, her djinn also tagged along. Sucking and puffing on her hukka, the djinn lady turned to my nani ma ” Shezade, you have taken good care of your sons. Your older son will have a good and prosperous life. I see some gundas giving him hard time but it would go away. Be happy that he would die a happy old man. your younger son would eat and drink out of gold and silver plates and cups. He would go around the world and have his own court.” the djinn fell silent so did every one around her. She pushed the hukka away. ” What did you feed me for lunch Shehzade, I feel so full. She yawned, laying down on the divan, she asked for a blanket and went to sleep but the story never did.
Her prediction was correct, word by word. My nani ma’s older son joined the army, fought in the second world war. He was captured by Japanese. Was a p.o.w for two years or maybe more. Came back with no limb missing even though the gundas gave him hard time in captivity. His captor, the Japanese corp commander used to slap this six footer, standing on a chair. He retired from the army as major general. Died in his late seventies.
My nani ma’s second son won a Gold Medal in Economics and Statistics from Punjab University. Joined civil service. Became Secretary of Finance in the government of Pakistan. Then he was at the UN working for the economic affairs of some eighteen Islamic countries. I don’t know anything about eating out of silver and gold plates but he attended some banquets thrown for the Dignitaries by the Queen of England. Maybe they served in golden plates and silver glasses…. I do not know. Maybe it was symbolically used because he led a very rich and comfortable life. He traveled a lot. To African countries, European countries and of course the Middle East, and Far east.
Does it mean, there was a djinn after all? Does it mean that there are Djinns and parries and ghosts all around, living in our space or we are living in their space? Is it that Sometimes we collide and become aware of each other or one of us becomes aware of the other’s presence and strange things happen? Like what happened on a cold winter night when I woke up in the middle of the night and heard a strange sound like a huge caravan of people was on the move … migrating to unknown destination. A strange quietness befell. No wind stirring, no night owl hooting. A stillness hanging all around and from that stillness a strange marching sound emerging and expanding. I felt something but what!!?
I wrapped my quilt tightly around me and kept hearing that sound till it suddenly died down. Didn’t fade or sound distant. Just stopped. Suddenly. Like a door left open, was suddenly closed.