Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
All those who live in Mumbai know of Haji Ali. For some the Tomb in the water is a place of immense faith and devotion. For some it’s a beautiful landmark. For many the very sight of Haji Ali Dargah, about five hundred feet into the Arabian Sea, like a floating palace, brings forth memories, completely unrelated with God, Master or the city.
Being born and brought up in Mumbai, Haji Ali Dargah, holds many memories. I spent nine years in a boarding school in Panchgani, The Billimoria High School and when in Mumbai, I lived with my maternal grand-mother and cousins at Charni Road, which is opposite the ocean very close to Chowpathy.
The first time I remember seeing Haji Ali Dargah Sharief, was when I was fifteen years old. I had just completed giving my tenth exam. The results were a few weeks away. My track record in studies was rather way below sea level. I had even flunked in the ninth standard and my passing tenth grade was a very controversial, debatable, sensitive topic at home.
So one day my dad skipped work, came over to my maternal granny’s place and along with my grand-mother, the three of us got into a black and yellow, Padmini fiat cab and I remember dad telling the cab driver that, “ Worli, but take it from Haji Ali, we need all the blessings and prayers and miracles”.
The cab guy took one look at me and nodded his head in agreement with my dad. It was an old cab. Every nut and bolt in the car sang a strange song. I distinctly remember telling my granny that forget my passing tenth, this cab proved God existed as the darn vehicle still moved. I heard a grunt from dad seated in the front and a philosophical smile from my grand-mother.
Everybody was tensed in the car.
“So where are we going dad?”
“We are going to see Nawab Saheb.”
“He is a medium.”
“That is wrong English and not very polite. One should never judge a man by his height. Short, medium, tall….”
“He is an instrument…”
“He is a medium instrument?”
“He is a medium or an instrument or a channel who receives God’s Energy and answers questions.”
“So why are we going to see this instrument?”
“To ask Him how badly you are going to fail in the tenth standard, though why we are going to a medium to ask whether you are going to fail or not I still don’t know as all of Panchgani and half of Mumbai knows that you are going to fail.”
“Hmmmm. Why has somebody made a house in middle of the ocean.”
“That is Haji Ali Baba’s resting place.” My grand-mother informed me.
I saw my father look towards Haji Ali and pray frantically. Then he turned towards me rolled his eyes and continued his prayers.
My grand-mother prayed too. Seeing everybody pray, even the cab driver bowed down in reverence. So I looked at Haji Ali and told Him, whatever happens, let this strange medium say I am going to pass or the coming back trip is going to be highly entertaining for all concerned.
So I prayed to Haji Ali for the first time. “I know I have copied well but I don’t know what I have copied Haji Ali Baba. Please make sure whoever I copied from knew what she was writing.”
We reached Nawab Saheb’s place. It was in Poonam Chambers or Apartment. A tall building and I remember it was truly a beautiful day and we sat in this nice hall and there were a few people waiting and my dad shut his eyes and looked as though he was in direct commune with all Gods and Goddesses, while my grandmother talked to me about my exams and I told her, don’t worry I had copied well and the girl really looked the intelligent and studious type.
Eventually our turn came. A really kind though tired looking gentleman, must be in His early fifties or something, he walked and bowed and greeted my grand-mother, my dad and ruffled my hair.
We entered the room. I prayed to all the Gods and now included Haji Ali’s name too.
Nawab Saheb asked for my roll number and then opened the tiniest of the Koran’s. It was so small I mean I still remember me looking at Him and the Book and was about to pass a comment when my dad coughed and I knew the sound of that cough; less bronchial congestion and more exasperation.
“He will get seventy one.”
“Seventy one what?” Exhaled my father. “You mean he will get only seventy one marks out of six hundred marks?”
“No. He will get seventy one percent.”
“Seventy one percent! Him? Have you got his name and roll number properly. I just want to know whether he will pass. Please see again. He getting seventy one percent is not possible.”
Those days every second kid didn’t get ninety nine point nine percent. My days even a first class was really good.
“He will get seventy one percent. I know it’s strange but They are never wrong however impossible this prediction may sound.”
My dad came out and announced that Nawab Saheb had lost it. My grand-mother was all smiles. On our way back I thanked Haji Ali. “I know there’s been a mistake in the prediction but at least for the next few weeks there will be peace Haji Ali.”
I got seventy one point two percent. Forget my parents, all of Panchgangi was shocked.
When I was twenty three I used to spend virtually every evening, sitting on the parapet, with the water in front and then Haji Ali Dargah a little away, all lighted up. I used to meet a close friend and we sort of spent an hour or two sitting and talking and often involved Haji Ali in our talks too. We would go on and off and pray to Him within the Dargah and just sit and see the Ocean.
I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing books but eventually had to take up a job. The Bank of Tokyo wanted somebody for six months. They must have been desperate as they didn’t mind employing me. I remember I got this news while staring at Haji Ali Dargah. Should I take this job Haji Ali? I mean I don’t know jack about banking and accounts. And then it happened. Twice I saw the lights within the Dargah go on and off. I sighed. Damn, that meant take the job.
I nearly destroyed Bank of Tokyo, by once making a truly outstanding blunder. The entire management was on their toes running to and fro, while I sat oblivious to my mistake, writing a quote, for my new book.
So who is Haji Ali?
There is not much information about Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. All that we do know is that He is from ancient Persia, Iran, now Uzbekistan and that He was called Qutub-E-Zamaan (Highest Saint of His times).
One day when He was still in His home town, He was in prayer when He heard a woman cry aloud. Something was obviously bothering her gravely as her loud cries could be heard by one and all. She was carrying an empty vessel and when He inquired as to why was she wailing, between her sobs she revealed that her husband was a very hot headed man, prone to violence, and she would not be spared as she had spilt all the oil she was supposed to take home. Haji Ali, a Man of God, kind hearted, couldn’t see the plight of this woman. He told her to take Him to the spot where the oil had been spilt. He reached the spot and pushed His thumb into Mother Earth where the oil was spilt, and in moments oil began to gush out of the sand and the woman collected her oil and happily went back home to her psychotic husband.
That night Haji Ali got disturbing dreams that He had hurt Mother Earth. He had done Her harm by pushing His thumb into Her. He woke up and found Himself sinking into sorrow and depression. It is said that He was a very affluent man but one can make out that He was tender, sensitive and the thought of hurting another being was beyond Him. The fact that He couldn’t see the plight of the crying woman or the sadness of Mother Earth, shows how tender and compassionate Haji Ali must be, is and will remain so.
There are various stories as to how He landed in India. The most convincing one is that along with His brother, He left for a voyage soon after. I feel He went to Mecca to pray and seek forgiveness for hurting Mother Earth. Then He found His way to Mumbai, India. He wrote a letter to His Mother seeking Her forgiveness and handed it over to His brother. His brother left for Iran and that was the last time His family saw Him. Though another Legend says, that His Mother came to Mumbai, as She could not do without Her Son and stayed with Her Son, and in fact even outlived Him.
Whatever be the case, the fact is that Haji Ali spent the remaining years of His life in Mumbai. Always close to the very spot where His holy body has been preserved. He spoke with all those who wanted His help and guidance; caste, creed, religion, did not play a role.
He was of the firm belief that each day passes away like clouds in the sky and thus every time you have an opportunity, do good. Don’t waste a moment of your life in doing wrong things, but focus on good and spreading inherent goodness to all of Creation.
He also taught one and all that if one through love feared hurting God, then the individual would be free of fearing anything else. Don’t fear God, love Him so much that one fears hurting God by ones thoughts, words and deeds.
His third philosophy was that if you go within and really know yourself, you will know God, as God resides within each one. So know yourself. Like Ramana Maharishi would guide one and all to go within and question themselves as to, “Who Am I?” The day you know your true self, that moment you know God.
In the year fourteen hundred and thirty one, February sixteenth or seventeenth, (February sixteenth or seventeenth of this year i.e. two thousand fourteen is the conversion from the Muslim calendar of it being the sixteenth of (Rabi-ul-Aakhir / Rabi-al-Thaany) seventeenth Shab) Haji Ali told His followers that when He left His body, they should put Him in a casket and release the tomb in the water in the Arabian Sea. Wherever the casket would resurface would be His final resting place. The place where His Dargah is built is where the casket carrying Haji Ali Baba’s body resurfaced.
Through all the floods and all the storms, Haji Ali’s Dargah has remained unscathed. In nineteen forty nine, there was a storm in Mumbai which damaged most of the buildings far away from the sea face. But Haji Ali’s Dargah had no damage. In fact there were people who were in the Dargah and they thought there would be no way that they would survive the high waves. But however high the wave would be, it was as though that when it appeared in front of the Dargah it bowed its head and thus, those who were inside, people of all castes and religions, were spared not only their lives but it has been reported that even their property was left unscathed. That night countless diya’s (chirag’s / lamps) were seen floating on the water, in fact on the waves, although in reality, the wind, the waves and the storm should have made such a happening impossible.
In the olden days people would make a makeshift path during low tide to visit the Dargah. Later on, one day in the year nineteen forty four, Mr. Mohammed Haji Abubaker, the trustee of Haji Ali Dargah at that time, wanted to make a proper pathway to the Dargah. He wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible or feasible. He was undecided. One day an old man approached him and told him of a dream which he had a few nights ago. In the dream, Pir Haji Ali asked the old man as to why had he stopped visiting the Dargah. The old man told Haji Ali Baba that since there was no pathway, he being an old man found it virtually impossible to go and pay his respect and offer his prayers. Haji Ali Baba told the old man that he could visit him as a proper road, a pathway from the main road to His Dargah now was constructed.
The old man recounted the dream to Mr. Mohammed and the latter realised that this dream was in reality a confirmation to him, to go ahead and make the path and that all would be well with Haji Ali Baba’s blessings.
Now the way to Haji Ali Dargah is a proper pathway through the water. During high tide nobody can go in and those who are inside the Dargah can’t come out. Legend says that in earlier times every night the high tide would come in and in the morning the pathway was free to be used for homage. I have gone often in the rains and It’s beautiful. From There you can see Mahalaxmi Maa’s Temple and to the right there is another Dargah, who many feel is that of Haji Ali’s Mother. The rumour is that Haji Ali’s Mother loved Her Son so much that She wanted Her resting place where She could see Her Son even from the Tomb for all of eternity. Some say that the Dargah is that of a woman who used to sit on that spot and pray for her son whose name was Haji Ali too. She had immense faith in Haji Ali Baba and wanted to be next to Him even after leaving the body. Both the stories are filled with love for Haji Ali Baba. Whether His Mother or somebody else’s mother, it is about a mother’s love.
The last time I went to pay obeisance to Haji Ali Baba was with my two older kids. After that I haven’t had the heart of ever going inside. I see Him when pass by and say a short prayer and remember my first trip with my dad and grand-mother, both have passed away. I miss those days, the loved ones, that beautiful Mumbai, those innocent times.
I remember a fifteen year old boy sighing seeing Haji Ali Dargah majestic and comforting, in the middle of the Ocean, even then aware that all is well with Mumbai, with Him surfing the waves.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha