Friday, March 26, 2010

Rustic India and Pakistan

This is a story way back in 1977. Happy reading.
Going to India? It seemed very interesting to me. I never dreamt of going to India but I was invited to join the group. I kept on imagining how India was all about, can I visit Kashmir and Bombay (Mumbai) which were very famous for its lakes and Bollywood films respectively?
I was quite unprepared or reluctant to join but after they convinced me, I decided at the last minute to join in. This happened when I finished my final year examination at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. The group consisted of my friends and housemates. They were Mohd Salleh, Othman, Ghazali, Baharuddin, Abdul Ghani, Fadilah, Rosli, Zaid and Adnan. We were all final year students waiting for the final examination results. Everything was arranged, the ship ticket to Madras (now Chennai), the accommodation, transport and MSL student cards. This was in February 1977.
From Port Klang to Madras by Ship
We went to Port Klang as we took a ship, Chidambaram to Madras. We all took a bunk class as it was cheaper. We sailed from Port Klang in the evening on 18th February 1977 and reached Penang Port in the morning where many Indians came on board with their goods to India. They were surprised to see us on the ship.
The travel to Madras from Penang on 19th of February took five days crossing the Andaman Seas to reach Madras.
On the ship, during the day, we occupied the upper deck. I could see the ocean and Bay of Bengal which was very calm. There were no big waves like the ones in our shore. We passed through islands of Nicobar and Andaman. There were plenty of birds flying around and found their preys. The whole atmosphere was very calm.
Initially, we did not notice we were “odd ones” among them. Since we were in a group, every eye on board focused on us. The captain was interested in us and talked to us. Later, they knew we were students.
We occupied our time through reading books and kitabs and talking to other passengers. It was fun. I learned a bit of Tamil and Urdu words like kana (eat), pina (drink), sona (sleep), pani (water), chacha (uncle), bhai (gentleman), etc while talking to them. But be careful, mere sona also has another meaning that is my gold (my beloved).
When the meal time came, as usual we were the earlier ones who were queuing in the dining hall at the second floor. The dining area was big enough to accommodate some 300 passengers on board.
The food was good. The menu: rice, vegetables, fish, mutton or chicken. For tea, we had tea and some cakes or assorted fruits. Not bad after all. This was considered cheap as we paid only RM350 per person for the return ticket. This means we were paying RM35 per day while on the ship and that include sleeping berth and food for ten days.
On the fourth day, we reached Nagapattinam Port in the evening. Some of the passengers disembarked here. Nagapattinam is a small city south of Madras. I noticed many Malaysian Indians disembarked at this port. They brought many bags and goods to give to their beloved families in India.
When everything was settled, the ship sailed to Madras and we reached Madras the next morning on 24th of February 1977. This port was crowded with people waiting for their families. It was a busy sea port and very noisy. I saw some of the goods that they brought home were plastic slippers in big quantity, sponge mattresses, and other clothes. All were packed in bundle style.
Listening to Lectures and Sermons
After passing the immigration and customs counters, we went to the arrival area where we were received by a local resident. He brought us to the big mosque in the middle of Madras. I notice it had a large concrete pond in the courtyard for ablution purpose. This pond was rectangular in shape with a drain around it to collect overflow water from the pond. Many people used this pond water to wash themselves.
The mosque administrator took all our passports and kept them in the safety box. The food and accommodation here were free. What we did here were listening to the religious lectures and calling people to the mosque. You may wonder how we call people to the mosque. After asar prayer, a group or groups were assigned to do this job. They started visiting house to house and met the household and talked to them and invited them to the mosque.
The activities in the mosque were almost round the clock. In the morning after subuh prayer, we listened to the lectures until 8am. We had breakfast and rest. Then it started again for group recitation of Kitabs. In the evening after asar prayer, we went out to call people to the mosque with the local guide.
After maghrib, a sermon was conducted in the mosque. The speaker talked about the virtues of brotherhood and other principles of Tabligh (Tabligh is an Arabic word for convey or delivery). We had our dinner after the people have gone home. After dinner, we were free and we engaged ourselves with story-telling such as recording our experience, telling our side stories and writing letters to our families.
One of the nights, one of our group members from Madras, a professor came to our circle and he started to tell stories of the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet). His narration was very interesting and we always asked him to tell more.
My bedding was very simple. I had a mat for bedding, an air-filled pillow and a thin blanket. Sometimes I used a small bag as my pillow as the air-filled pillow always moved and disturbed my sleep. Normally, I opened my bedding at 11.00pm when it was time to retire and sleep. By 4.00am, I woke up and put my bedding at a designated space, made necessary actions like taking bath and ready for prayer.
Moving around Tamil Nadu by Bus
We moved from place to place with the guidance of the locals. We visited Tiruchirapali, Tanjavur, Kanchipuram and other small towns in Tamil Nadu. While visiting these places, I personally found some difficulty in taking bath or going to the toilet. I was not used to this style of living. For bathing, we were sometimes took bath in the small lake like the locals. Sometimes, the toilet had no water and I had to carry the water with me.
Travelling in this area was by bus. In India, I observed some seats were reserved for the ladies. If you were a man, you could not sit in the ladies seats.
When we were in Madras, I found Madras people like the wrist watch. They wanted to buy at a price. They will pester you to sell your watch. I was approached by them. I told them, “If I sell it to you, I would be without a watch.” Should I know earlier, I would bring the watches and sell to those interested.
One of the days, we went to the coffee shop nearby and asked for roti chanai, but there was no roti chanai available. They have roti prata similar to roti chanai. We ate roti prata as we have not eaten it for many weeks.
In Tamil Nadu, there were many Indians who migrated to Malaysia. However, their families were still there. The family ties were kept intact. Some of them did not bring their spouses to Malaysia. They came back to Tamil Nadu every six months or once a year. Those days the ship ticket was cheap.
Those Tamils who migrated to Malaysia, some of them have large mansions with onion plantation in Tamil Nadu. We visited some of them while in India at their invitation. They were well off being good businessmen in Malaysia. In one of the visits to rural area and mosques, I met my friend’s father, Mohd Ibrahim. His son, Abdul Kabur was my class mate in the University of Malaya. Mohd Ibrahim was a quiet man. His friends spoke to me on his behalf. When I returned to Malaysia, I narrated the incident to Abdul Kabur that I met his father. He was so happy.
In rural towns of Tamil Nadu, I noticed that the animals were left to roam freely. This included the pigs. To us, pigs were taboos but here, the black pigs which looked like boars walked freely in the town. I also noticed that once the cow excreted their excreta, the people rushed to get it. They took the cow dung and dried it in the hot sun. The cow dung was used for fuel. It had a price.
We often encountered the beggars, mostly children and women. Some of them were very professional in their approach. They cried to get sympathy. They even followed you wherever you go until you give them money. The moment you gave money to a person, others would come around you. We were advised to be careful. I remember seeing many beggars lined up the passage to the mosque at the prayer time.
Genuine beggars were sign of poverty. So, India had many poor people and homeless. I noticed poor people made a small hut or tent adjacent to the building wall. There, they slept and raised their family. In the day, they went out to find job or did odd jobs. I also saw, an old woman cutting the wood for fuel in the hot sun. She wore a torn saree. I felt pity on her. Here, they (the poor) found difficulty to survive.
Madras city is full of congested buildings, traffic jams, and noisy too. The population density was higher than the average Malaysian cities. Here I could smell curry as a few factories were producing curry powders and emitting their “smell” into the air.
While in Tamil Nadu, I had the opportunity to watch a wedding procession in one of the villages. The bride and bridegroom were on the horses and were being escorted by many people through out the procession. The horses were decorated with colorful flags. The people played music and trumpet while on the move. When the procession reached the destination, it was followed with the colorful fireworks. The whole environment seemed jovial and happy with people smiling and dancing.
Madras to New Delhi by Train Crossing the Deccan Plateau
After spending 30 days in Tamil Nadu, we moved to the north, Uttar Pradesh. We took the train ride for 3 days and 3 nights from Madras to New Delhi. As the train travelled, we passed many cities such as Guider, Nellore, G√ľnter, Vijay Wada, moving west to Hyderabad, moving north to Naziabad, Napery, Bhopal, Jansi, Gwalior and New Delhi. From the train stations, I found these cities were crowded.
The train fare was half as we were still students. We already registered our names in Kuala Lumpur as members of the international student organization and were given the international student card. With the card, we can get discount on hotel rates or train fare.
At a few stations that the train stopped, I saw many homeless people sleeping on the platforms. At first I thought they were so many dead people around the station. Later I realized they were homeless people. By the day, they disappeared.
The Indian train coach was wide with the timber seats. We booked the coach with the sleepers or berths. During the day, we sat on the wooden seat while at night we sleep on this seat. Travelling across the Deccan Plateau was hot as the temperature was high. The plateau looked dry and arid, devoid of trees. As the hot air entered our coach, we put a cloth or small towel to cover our face. We drank a lot of water. We bought an earthen jar at one of the stations to keep the water. We took the water from the train’s tap and cooled in this jar. We used this water to cool ourselves.
By the third day, we reached New Delhi. This station was crowded and noisy. As usual, we were received by the locals and a Malaysian who had arrived earlier. He is a young man from Penang. He is a descendant of Indian parents and speaks Urdu very well. We took a tricycle bajaj similar to tut-tut in Thailand to the east of Delhi, a place named Nizamuddin. This place is where the Tabligh Centre of India was located. We were given a big room on the upstairs of the mosque. There we took a rest and observed the regulations here.
There were many people in the mosque. Many jamaat (group) came in and went out. We did not go out and observed the programs. The program was almost 24 hours. This included the 5 congregational prayers, the lectures after each prayer, inviting people to the mosque in the evening and individual study at night.
Activity in Nizamuddin
Since we were young (average of 23 years), we were under the supervision of an amir (leader). We called him Amir Sub. This amir was responsible for us in terms of our daily needs and going out. We had to seek his permission. We had the opportunity to meet the leader of this centre whom was known as Hadrat Ji. I did not know his actual name. He was a tall person, the elderly man with white beard. He wore round frame spectacles with thick glasses. I noticed he could read our minds. To see him, we have to make an appointment as they were so many people wish to see him.
I still remember that every time after prayer, a man would give an announcement. One of the news was to be careful and always guard our belongings (saman). He said, “Guard your saman, if not you can not guard your iman (faith).” I was puzzled why stealing happened in the mosque. I thought people who came to the mosque were good people and they did not steal other people’s belongings. I was wrong. There were people who came with the intention of stealing. I lost my trouser (pant), a shirt and sarung while drying them at the mosque roof top.
When I was in this centre, I met a group from Malaysia who had arrived earlier and they were on the way back. I also met a jamaat (group) from England. One of them was Brother Iftikar Ahmad. He was huge and tall. He used to talk to us and read newspaper every day. We shared reading his paper at the roof top.
Iftikar is a Pakistani who migrated to England some years ago. He had a lot of stories and experience. In 1979, I accidentally met him in Glasgow when I was a student there. He came to our campus calling us to the mosque. He was very surprised to see me as he almost forget who I was.
Back to Delhi, outside the mosque, there was a food stall. I was introduced to lassi, a yogurt drink served cold. I liked it as the weather here was hot. You need something cool to quench your thirst. It was my first time I drank cola cola. All these years, I could not sip coca cola, but there, I could drink it due to weather condition that was too hot. Iced cola cola could cool you down.
During the night, I used to wash my clothes with a little powder soap which I brought from Malaysia and hung them on the upper floor. It dried in just two hours.
I had no difficulty with the food here. They served us a big roti with the curry. The hot nans breads were put on the saprah (table cloth) and we ate while sitting on the floor. There was no table and chairs.
For bathing, there were many toilets in the basement. We did not have problem with it. I noticed in each toilet, two items were provided: a small plastic kettle and a few small earth pebbles (for cleaning purposes, istinja). Alternative to pebbles now is tissue paper.
Visiting Kanpur and Aligarh
We stayed here for a few days and went to other cities. We went to Kanpur (which is located to the east) by train. I had a fever and vomited at the New Delhi Railway Station. My amir sub (a lawyer) was so worried about me. I could not be left alone in Delhi. They had to bring me along. Once we reached Kanpur, my amir sub called his friend doctor. The doctor prescribed the antibiotic and paracetemol and he bought it at the pharmacy nearby. It was a practice in India that doctor can only prescribed medicine and the pharmacist discharge the medicine.
After taking the pills for some time, I slowly recovered. My amir sub was so happy. While my friends were busy doing their activities. I remained resting in one of the rooms in the mosque. I really appreciated my amir sub. He showered his love and concern for me. I learnt that love and care is much needed when you are sick. This is true especially when you are in a foreign land and felt home sick.
Next city after Kanpur, we moved westwards to Aligarh passing cities of Etawah and Firozabad. This city is located in the north west of Kanpur. It was famous for its Aligarh Muslim University. I was told this university has a special dress for its staff and student which looked like a long coat (knee-length) with a special collar.
We visited this university and met some professors there inviting them to our activities. Surprisingly, they came. They were attracted to us because we were students from Malaysia. Through our discussion with the professor, I realized that Malaysia is a green pasture for Indians. I notice that the professors rode Lambretta scooters which were affordable to them.
Here in Aligarh I had a strange experienced while using the toilet in one of the mosques. The toilet was a “rural toilet”, the bucket toilet. It was high above the ground. I noticed a pig was eating the excreta down. I was frightened and rushed out of the toilet and communicated the incident to my friends.
After spending many days in Kanpur and Aligarh, we went back to Delhi. In New Delhi, I had the opportunity to explore Old and New Delhi. We went to the city by taxi and while in the city, we took horse cart and rickshaw. Getting on the horse was interesting as I had no previous experience. However, it was smelly due to the horse excreta not being properly disposed. The horse was in front of you and certainly you get the foul smell.
We visited Old Ford, Jamiah Mosque and the Market. While visiting the Jamiah Mosque, I saw a lady who sat on the staircases leading to the mosque called us and told us she had friends in Malaysia. She could speak Malay. She yelled, “Adik-adik mari sini. Kamu orang Malaysia? Kamu kenal ke si polan…. brother, come here. Are you Malaysians? You know this guy…… ” We did not know her and we were advised to ignore her by our guide as she might be a member of the organized crime group.
Time flew so fast, without realising we spent our time in Uttar Pradesh for a month. When I visited New and Old Delhi, I notice that the city could not avoid congestion and being noisy. Those days, underground trains were not available in New Delhi.
Delhi had many monuments and old buildings that could be turned into heritage buildings. This was especially so with the Railway Station, Red Fort and Jamiah Mosque.
Later, we made arrangement to visit Pakistan. We purchased our train tickets at New Delhi railway station. Our destination was Lahore. We made farewell to our amir sub. He sent us to the railway station. He gave me his address. From this, I learned that he stayed in Hasan Manzil, Allahabad. His name was Shahid Masoud, a lawyer.
The Journey from Delhi to Lahore
We took a train to Lahore from New Delhi in the evening. We passed stations like Panipat, Karnal, Ambala, Ludhiana, Jullundur, Amritsar, Attari and finally reached Lahore. Attari was the last station in India linking to Pakistan.
We reached Lahore station in the morning on 16th April 1977 and were received by the locals who happened to be three students from Lahore University. We were bought to Raiwind town by train. Raiwind was the centre of Tabligh located in the east of Lahore, Pakistan.
In Raiwind, we were welcomed by the ulamas there. The mosque in Raiwind was designed in such a manner to accommodate activities of tabligh. It had a big compound compare to the ones in Delhi. The first thing the caretaker of the centre did was to collect all our passports and put them in the safe. “This is a routine matter. You have to deposit your passports with us as many people lost their passports while on the move,” he said. This uncle (cha cha) meant what he said. He narrated stories what difficulties we had to face if we lost our passports. We just followed his instruction and surrendered our passports to him. He collected our passports and kept in a safe box in his office.
The activities in the mosque were routine as in Delhi and Madras. We followed all activities. I notice some people were fond of rubbing perfumes (attar) to your palms when we were starting our prayer. They wanted to share their good perfumes with others as they considered it a charity.
The foods served here were rice (chawal), beef, plain yogurt (tairu) and salad. The people were nice too. At the beginning, I found it difficult to take tairu with rice as I was not used to it. After a week, I could accommodate it and I like it very much as I feel good about it. Tairu aids in digestion and cool your body too.
Three male students from Lahore University were always with us. They were Arshad Mehmood, Inamullah Khan and Zahid Ahmad. I used to send letters to Arshad as only his address was with me. When we gave sermons to the people, they were the ones who translated into Urdu or Punjabi language.
Raiwind and Chiniot
While in Pakistan, we visited a few places. For the first week, we stayed around Raiwind, a small town to the east of Lahore. For the second week, we went to Chiniot and had to take a train at Lahore. This time it was under the leadership of amir sub who was an engineer.
At Lahore Railway Station, many jamaat prayed zuhur at the platform even though it was the time for the train to move. I found the station master was so caring. He did not permit the train to move until the jamaat finished their zuhur prayer. Once the prayer was over and they got into the train, then the station master allowed the train to move. I was told this practice is common in Pakistan.
Chiniot was a rural town. I remember I used to walk up the hilly area where there were many villages. I observed children played on the road and the ladies with black veil carried water container on their heads. The narrow road leading to the villages was made of stone.
Here I started to ask lots of questions to amir sub on the why and how towns in Pakistan were planned and constructed. But my amir sub did not give many answers as he was not a town planner. Talking about towns, I know Pakistan had a number of cities with large population. There were Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Islamabad being a “new town” is the capital of Pakistan.
In Chiniot, we visited many mosques and meeting students. We communicated with them in English without any interpreter. After a week in Chiniot, we went back to Raiwind again.
Skirmish in Sargodha
The week onwards, we went to Sargodha, a small town on the west of Lahore. Sargodha had an air field. I met many military officers (air squadron) here. They were very kind as they knew we were Malaysian students. I got the feeling that most Pakistanis adore Malaysia as a Muslim country. They were proud that Malaysia hosts International Quran Recitation every year. They knew Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj, Malaysia’s first prime minister.
At that time there was a political turmoil where people were angry with the Prime Minister, Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto. I saw people burnt the roads, the cars and even the post office. They were “at war” with the riot police. My amir sub advised us to calm down and seek the refuge in one of the local mosques. After the incident cooled down, we were allowed to go out and meet the people.
Looking at two cities outside Lahore, I noticed Pakistan was still an agricultural country. They were vast land and irrigation canals for agricultural purpose.
Final Year Result
When our final year university examination results were out and we received letters from home telling us we had passed the examinations. Our parents were earlier told which addresses they should contact us if there were messages. We were all overjoyed and started telling our amir sub. I have decided to go for the convocation and had communicated this intention to my amir so that he could allow me to go back to Malaysia.
Taking a train to Delhi
On 16th May 1977, we were ready to go home. We took back our passports from the caretaker. We made a farewell to our friends in Raiwind and went to Lahore Station. Six of us departed Lahore for Madras. Other three, did not want to go back. They continued with their journeys. We took the train to Delhi. Our host sent us to Lahore Railway station.
Each of us was given a small sack of Pakistan mangoes. While waiting for the train to move, we ate the mangoes. Peeling the skin was not difficult as we had a small knife with us. These mangoes were sweet, semi-pinkish in colour like the Fuji apple.
Harassment by the authority at the border
When we reached Attari in the evening, a border town in India (between Pakistan and India), we had to wait for the train to New Delhi. If we miss this train, we have to wait for the following day. When the train arrived, we were ready to embark with our belongings. However, the officers kept on delaying our departure. The customs and immigration officers here seemed to take advantage on the students like us. They just grabbed what they wanted from us such as ball point or whatever that was foreign to India.
Once I saw that, I quickly hid my pen from them. They wanted to take our fruits away and warned us if they did not allow us to embark the train, we would have to wait the next train. The next train would be the next day. Where do we stay for the night? There was nothing here. We could not do much to please these officers.
I told myself if I were a lawyer, I will bring them to court for their unbecoming actions on us. As we were helpless, we decided to say “La ila ha illallah Muhammadur Rasullah” (there is no god but Allah, Muhamad is the prophet) to these man. We recited the verse and blew it to their faces. Suddenly, it worked. They panicked and allowed us to embark the train for Delhi. The train departed Attari five minutes later. We thank God. He helped us to ease our predicament.
Our coach was invaded by the crooks
In the train, we had two Afghans in our coach. They were very tall and tough. When the train stopped at Amritsar at 10pm, suddenly, a group of hooligans embarked the train and crowded our coach. There was no available seat yet these guys invaded our seats. We were sandwiched by them. I noticed these men behaved like crooks. They did not respect us at all. They smoked cigarettes as they like and made noises. Our two Afghans guarded us against those notorious locals and warned them not to disturb us. We were lucky that the fight between the Afghans and the crooks ended abruptly.
For the whole night we could not sleep. When we reached New Delhi in the morning, my friend, Ghazali realized that his purse was lost. All his money and identity card were gone. He was lucky as the international passport was still with him. I did not remember whether Ghazali reported this stolen purse to the police or not.
In India, it was common to see people boarded the train without tickets. Some stayed on the roof and some found places in the people coach. In the morning, these guys vanished with the dawn.
From Delhi to Madras by Train
Upon reaching Delhi, we went back to Nizamuddin, the Tabligh Centre. We stayed there for a few days and went to Madras. Again we took a train to Madras for three days and three nights. We had a similar experience while traveling on the train passing the hot Deccan plateau to Madras. In Madras, we stayed for a few days. To cut short the story, in Madras we visited the professor again and he arranged our transport to the seaport. Another person sent us to the seaport.
From Madras to Penang by Ship
The trip to Penang was enjoyable. We got a room. No more sleeping in the bunk class. The room came with a view where you can see the ocean. We were not alien anymore as we knew where and when to move around. The vast ocean waters gave inspiration to us. I wrote notes in a small book.
We sailed the ship from Madras Port on 25th May 1977 and reached Penang Port on the fourth day. It was already dark when we reached Penang Port. We were not allowed to disembark. The captain told us we could only disembark the next morning.
While waiting for the captain to give permission to disembark the ship, I discovered some noises outside our bunk window. I looked out, I saw many bamboo baskets and boxes were thrown into the sea from the ship. It looked like the onions. There were people in a small boat collected them. I suspected that these were smuggling activities.
The next morning (30th May 1977), we disembarked the Chidambaram at Penang’s Port Cornwallis. The port was congested with people and goods. We took 30 minutes to disembark the ship, passing through the immigration and custom counters. Once we were outside the port area, we quickly walked to Acheen Street Mosque.
I realized that I had a sore throat and was advised to go to a government clinic nearby. I met a doctor there and he gave some pills. We spent our night at Aachen Street Mosque in Georgetown. After spending a night in Penang, we took a ferry ride to Butterworth and bought bus tickets to Kuala Lumpur.
While waiting for the bus, we took our dinner at one of the stalls at the bus station. My friend, Zahid was so disturbed when he saw cans of beer being sold in the stall owned by a Muslim. He straight away told the owner to stop selling those drink. The response was that, the owner just nodded his head and did not say anything.
We reached Puduraya Kuala Lumpur in the morning and walked to Jalan Masjid India where we spent our day with our friends there. I bought a bus ticket and went back to Kuala Terengganu at night. In Kuala Terengganu, my family commented that my face was so dark and was very thin. They seemed did not like I kept my beard. I replied that I walked a lot in the sun. I shaved my beard eight months later.
The experience that I got from this journey from February to May 1977 was really tremendous. You could not find it elsewhere. The hardships, the excitement, the brotherhood and the learning process were really fulfilling and not everybody could stand this journey. It was unlucky for me that I did not bring my camera on this trip to record my journey.
The hardships were about the travel on foot, train and lack of rest. The excitement was about you learn new things especially on the hadith and the sirah of rasul. The brotherhood concerned how the group treated you with love and protected you when you were in trouble. The learning process was about the continuous learning from morning to the night. I also learned that those brothers in India and Pakistan who welcome you and supported you with accommodation and food for free. They really believed in charity and they did it with utmost sincerity. I suppose, you could not find this in other groups.


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  2. your story is interesting.i wonder how you still remember those incidents very well.Do you keep the diary?


  3. fadhilah,

    Most of the narrations were from my memory and passport.