MEHER, my tenant, was not handsome to look at. He had green eyes set in a broad Mongolian face, which was dark and pockmarked. He had powerful shoulders and a deep chest. His limbs were magnificent, his strength like a bull's but he had a way of looking at things through the corner 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 Pashtoon village who, besides his many other portfolios, is also 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 had 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 his 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 I, because I am neither a prophet nor a general. I am a poet. I would much rather see a stallion rear and buck and gallop and jump with the grace and joy of youth than tie him in a stable and make him chew fodder.
Anyway, Meher escaped that doom. He died of typhoid. When I went to see him he was in the last stages of his life. His gigantic body had refused to melt or surrender but his eyes were tired.
His family were in despair. They had all the doctors I had recommended one after another, and paid dear money for colored and smelly things in hotels. Then 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 yet he is overcome". She had told her old husband it was a disease, one of these big doctors would known it and given him the right medicine. They could not cure him because it was 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 , he said to 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 kind of trouble which no one could cure until they brought the Shah Sahib of Fairies. He found the evil charm and saved his life by the grace of Allah and the kind spirit of his Masters. 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".
I 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 know, it may save Meher."
"All right, get him the old man. And a curse on your mother for her long tongue", Said the old man. As he found it rather uncomfortable to stay at home 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 Sahib s greasy throat and ask him to use all his magic to wriggle out of my hands. For, the magician, the priest and the charmer are the greatest enemies of man. They pour darkness into the soul and deaden intelligence. They slant 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 , she said. 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 humming breath all this time. Mother thinks 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 in 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 faith wavered. Shahji pointed to another spot and asked him to dig. After he had dug for about ten minutes, Shahji got up from the pit and began to look for another spot. Usman lost more faith. He looked hurt and angry. He dug away 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 2 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 signaled 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 to Meher s mother. 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 duly mystified and overjoyed. Shahji removed the pins and burnt the doll in their presence. "He mumbled prayers from the Quran and blew them into Meher s face. Alter blessing the crowd and threatening dire revenge on the unknown girl, he took his leave. Meher's mother touched his feet and kissed his hands with thankful tears streaming down her face.
After he had gone out, she shouted to Usman to serve Shah Sahib some tea and cream for which Shah Sahib came 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 years to 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 nest 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 Khan Abdul Ghani Khan is charged for murder, you will know I have met him.