Last year, when I reached Irfan’s grave after a year regretting not attending the funeral, there was talk about life and death, truth and lies besides love. And whatever came out, then went away.
Mumbai: The west sun was sinking with its last rays. When he went across the sea, he was leaving his mark on the shore. The beach, which was used as a crematorium, had no bonfire or pyre other than extinguished wood.
That evening itself was extinguished. Right in front of that cremation ground is Versova Cemetery. I entered the cemetery. The guard stopped at the door. Before he asked me who I am, where did I come from, etc., etc., I asked him his name – what is your name?
‘Santosh ji, can you tell where Irfan lives?’
Sensing the intensity mixed in my tone, he said, ‘Yes, the bathroom [स्नानघर] Behind, in the tomb number 54 of Block-1.
Before proceeding further, I asked him for a plain paper. Feeling gamble-by-gamble, I walked slowly to reach Irfan’s place. In his head it was written in English – Late Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan. The date of his death was written on the same stone – 29 April 2020.
Thinking of that fateful day, I remembered that I could not say goodbye to him, because I, like millions of his fans, was not satisfied that he was no more.
His grave was very quiet in the shadow of four trees. On the same black stone is written the Islamic Kalima in Arabic – La ilaha illallah Muhammadur Rasool Allah – which speaks of the unity of Allah and Muhammad as his Messenger, and 786. All this inscription is surrounded by a yellow line which itself takes the form of a mihrab (dome). I walked by the side of his feet and came towards his head and sat on the stone lying nearby. As soon as I sat down, I remembered a verse of Mir Taqi ‘Mir’ –
No one speaks of ‘Mir’ at the head
Right now ‘Tuk’ has fallen asleep crying.
The sun set. I asked Irfan- ‘How do you live in such darkness?,’ His reply came: ‘Where do I live! Here it is waiting. Hearing this, my curiosity increased. Then things went on…
Sometimes I would ask him and he would answer. Sometimes he would ask me and I would answer. Some parts of this Tahrir were written on the same plain paper.
‘let it go.’ Irrfan said in a sad tone. ‘Yes, some loved ones keep coming to meet,’ he added.
You have many fans too. ‘Yeah, I’m not even sorry about that.’ Saying this, he started filling light in Fiza with his smile coming between the lips.
How short and how much is the distance from sorrow to smile?
‘It is as much as life and death,’ Irfan replied thinking something like a philosopher.
The bottomless ocean of people, just like me, could not hold back their old eyes and weeping hearts at not being able to see your face for one last time… Before I could finish my talk, he asked – ‘What is it that is less? Not only did he see my face while I was alive, but he appreciated my work and made the blue sky of his world in my name.
He was always attached to the ground like a fruit tree. I started thinking about his nobility in my mind. One artist is remembering his loved ones even in his grave. Secondly, we are that we have forgotten so many loved ones in our lives. I too was a little late in coming to Irfan’s grave.
I apologized to Irfan – sorry, I could not reach to shoulder you on your death. It was enough to hear that he put his hand on my shoulder like an old man and said – ‘What is it that you are shouldering your life!’
I was annoyed with him for a moment and started saying – Huh! ‘Shoulder to life.’ You also said well Irfan. Doesn’t your saying equate life and death on both sides of the scale? I asked curiously again.
‘Who is alive now? If there is any, tell me. Carrying their lives on their respective shoulders, everyone is taking steps towards their own death. Every evening the sun also gathers its rays. Night mercilessly swallows up the light. You were asking what is waiting! Perhaps I am waiting for the same light that the night ruthlessly swallows. Hopefully! Death would not have to be saluted every evening.
‘The evening that comes after a whole day seems bitter.’ He now gives an example to explain himself. ‘Like a growing child, after applying the juice of neem leaves on her breast, a mother gives milk to a growing child, in the same way the darkness feels bitter.’
I understood what he was trying to say. That life is only till the time a newborn is supported by his mother’s milk. The journey of death starts soon after that.
‘I know what your next question will be?’ Irfan laughed and said. I smiled too. I also knew that Irrfan knew my next question. ‘You want to know how I have used mother’s milk and neem juice in the same sentence, don’t you?’
I said – sure. ‘In this dark hideout, the time is up to doom to worry about the dazzling corridors of the world. If we ever get into trouble again, we will take the matter forward. Till then understand that death has a color of its own, Aamir.
I asked – is there any color in your mind now? ‘You also understand what is going on in my mind,’ Irfan said. I said – why do you change things! Tell me what I want to know.
He started saying, ‘I was brought down to my grave after my death. I often think of those who are alive and forced to descend into the stinking gutters under the ground. Nothing changed. The poisonous stench of the gutter becomes his last breath even today.
‘You were asking what are you waiting for! Waiting for this time to change. I reminded him how fondly he had read Om Prakash Valmiki’s poem – Thakur ka Kuan.
Saying ‘Yes, I remember,’ he kept reciting the entire poem several times to my ear slowly. He finally got up and read the last six words of the poem in a loud voice –
‘…then what about you?
Hearing his scream, not the whole country but Versova cemetery was definitely in sorrow. I have asked – do those who live in the dazzling corridors have no meaning with these things? or is it? Irfan graciously said, ‘The matter is different. What do we mean by those who do not care? Those whose conscience is not straining them. We are in that caravan whose heart hurts. Even if he is not in Parliament.
It was true, but after hearing the last sentence, both of us started laughing.
I insisted – Irfan, listen to that one more time. That famous dialogue of your film ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. After some silence, he placed the condition. ‘I will definitely tell, but then you have to oppose the truth of that line.’
I said – Irfan denied when, but even if there are dacoits in the parliament, it is difficult for me to say whether there should be a rebel in the ravine after you. Hearing this, Irfan started laughing. Now he himself was contradicting the truth.
I appealed to him – how well we had become Socrates on the philosophy of life and death, where are you introducing me to the Gandhi of truth. Irfan started saying – ‘The poison of truth is sweeter than the nectar of lies.’
‘The poison coming down Socrates’ throat and bullets penetrating Gandhi’s chest could not stop the truth,’ Irrfan said, expressing his love for truth.
He was trying to say that those who sacrifice their lives for the truth live longer than their killers. I remembered Omar Mukhtar’s line from the film ‘Lion of the Desert’ – ‘I will live longer than my hangman.’ [मैं, मुझे फांसी देने वाले जल्लाद से, कहीं ज़्यादा ज़िंदा रहूंगा.]
Would it be unfair if I didn’t ask him if he had any complaints with his loved ones? I asked and his answer was, ‘Yes, only one. After my death, when my fans were sharing the dialogues of my films, a dialogue was presented in a very wrong way. He emphasized the importance of letting go of your loved one in love. It was that troubles should not be created in love, the way should be made easy to find each other’s freedom. But quite the opposite happened. People paid attention to the line after ‘Zidd’ in that dialogue. They should not have done this.
I asked about Irfan’s favorite ghazal. He replied non-stop, ‘Bad-e-Naubahar should go with colors in the guls, let’s also come so that the business of Gulshan should go on.’ Now it was imperative to remember the film ‘Haider’. In the film, he is in jail with his friend. His friends are humming this ghazal of Faiz applying ointment on the wounds of the night amidst the blazing bulbs in the chambers.
The thought just made our eyelids wet. I asked him one last question in my eyes – what is the difference between that prison and this resting place, Irfan? He said, ‘Here yoke on the body and pythons do not crawl inside.’
A group of birds was going to spend the night in cages. The twigs had collected their leaves. The wind had put on a cloak of moisture. I had to return too.
I poured water with my hands on the grave number 54 of Block-1, behind the bathroom. Said goodbye to Sahibzade Irfan Ali Khan lying in the grave and returned with his moist eyes. Some part of my being was left there with him, in his grave…
(The author is a freelance journalist.)
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