Long Past Memories of Shab-i Barā’at & 15 Shābān of my Childhood

Memories and memories! As one crosses the “halfway mark” it is only the fond memories of days gone by remain. They may have been mundane when they took place, but now as you look back in time and recall them, they tickle your whole body and your brain yearns for them! The feeling further gets aggravated when you realise that those people who inhabit that world in your memories are never going to come back, nor the incidents are going to repeat themselves as they once happened! Even if the persons in your memory are still alive, they are now not the same: they too have transformed with time! A chirpy fun loving young child is now a greying grumpy sober pot bellied boor! Or a once shy girl is an elegant and sophisticated woman: quite a disconnect from what she was in your fond memories!

Today as I was woken up by my sister at dawn “to lighten the candles” on the birth of our Living Imam, and as I did so in the lonely silence of the house where every one was deep in slumber, I was transported back in time when I was a child, and was along with my long dead (40years) father on way to cast my arīza in a river stream flowing some miles from Aligarh…..

Shab Barāt and 15 Shabān used to be occasions we waited for! It was a time when we would not only get a variety of halwas to eat, but also firecrackers- the ātishbazī, the sparkling phuljharīs and anārs, the “rockets” which would fly high sparkle and then explode, the ear-shattering “sutli bombs” and other types of myriads of patākhās!

Weeks before the event Abba and Ammi would buy us the ātishbāzi from the shops in “shahar” – for the Dodhpur Chauraha was still a sleepy hamlet with only a few shops: for everything one had to go across the kathpula to the real “city” and its bazārs.

In the city, just below the “ghantaghar” was the shop of Mazhar Chacha from where Ammi would buy everything (except the grains) and the firecrackers. Rawa, chanā, sūji, ghee, shakkar etc were all to be bought for the preparation of the various halwas. Sometimes I would also accompany them (especially Ammi) sitting on the lap as the rickshaw meandered its way to the bazār!

After shopping, when we returned, Ammi along with my sisters would engage herself with the servants in measuring and weighing and segregating the various ingredients for each type of halwa. An old tarāzu (weighing scale) would be used along with the various bāts (weights: sērs). A small scale was also brought out for the dry fruits needed. And then of course the sill batta, packets of silver foils (chāndi ka waraq) and bottles of kewra would also be out.

We children meanwhile were on the other hand given the important duty of daily drying the firecrackers in the sun! A sheet would be spread on charpais on which the firecrackers were laid out. Another bedsheet would then be used to cover them. For days this vigil was carried out: laying out the firecrackers in the mornings and then removing them to be stored up for the night!

On 14 Shābān, the day of shab-i barā’at, the full festive mood would be on display. From morning till afternoon all the women folk would be busy making various type of halwās. Ammi’s speciality (now imbibed by my sisters) was the “chaney kā halwā”! No one could match the taste which her preparation had!

From around 4:00 pm the ‘ceremonies’ of the day would commence. The venue would be the namāz kī chauki ( the wooden pedastal for the prayers) of my father. After the ‘zuhr’ (afternoon prayers) Abba would sit on the chauki, Ammi would be there along with the entire family along with large trays of various halwas. She would dole out a handful of each variety in a large white porcelain plate and keep it on the jā namāz spread before my father. The Nazr and Fatiha would commence. It would be a long drawn affair. First the nazr (offerings) would be made to all the Prophets name by name, starting with Hazrat Ādam and would end with Prophet Muhammad. Each of these plates would be emptied in a large vessel kept aside for the purpose. Then would start the nazr of all the Sacred Women: Janāb Sarah (the wife of Abraham), Janāb i Maryam (Mary), Prophet’s mother, Ali’s mother so on and so forth. This would end at the name of Nargis-i Khātūn, the mother of the Living 12th Imam. Then would come the turn of all the 11 Imāms, followed by the martyrs of Karbala.

After the nazrs, fātiha would commence. Here it was the reverse order of our genealogy would follow, starting with the fatiha of Dādā Abba, my grandfather. My father would keep out calling name after name: “so and so son of so and so aur unki zauja (wife)”! What intrigued me were two things, first the changing surnames of the ancestors over generations: Ali ibn Ali, Hasan ibn Hasan, Uddin ibn Uddin etc! Second was that zauja was always singular, except in the case of my grandmothers! By the time our genealogy and that of my mother’s side was over, all of us would be extremely tired, eyeing the tempting halwa and waiting for the chance to go out and explode the patākhās! But then the ritual of fātiha was unending!

After the ancestors the fātiha of the recent dead of the family and acquaintances, well known Shi’i figures and a long list of Ulama would be held! Not satisfied with this long unending list, my mother would recall names and urge for fātiha for their souls on the pleas that they had no one else to do it for them!

And then we would all rush out to our large court yard and the ātish bāzi session would commence! It would generally last an hour or so! By now the whole house would be illuminated by diyās! We would then all sit to write our letters (arīza) to the Imam which would then be individually wrapped and put inside ātā (wheat flour) balls.

Late nights except for us, the children, everyone would perform āmāl, prayer vigils which would last till around three in the night.

We would now all be ready to go to drop the arīzās. Abba would have arranged some vehicle for us to be taken a few miles away to a stream to drop the arīzās. Under a dark sky resplendent with sparkling stars we would reach the stream. Sometimes a bus load of the other Shias from our town would also be there. They would be generally accompanied by Naqqan Sahib if he was in town. If he was there everyone except my father would offer morning namāz behind him. If he was not there, my father would lead the prayers on the banks of the stream. After the prayers, qasīda khwāni would commence and many a poet recite verses welcoming the birth of the Imam! At the end, when arīza had been thrown in the stream, namāz offered and a celebratory mahfil held, everyone would distribute the halwa which they had brought along. We would then board our vehicle, as the others would get on the bus and head back home!

It was a perfect culmination of the night of redemption (Shab-i Barā’at) and beginning of the 15 Shābān, the Birthday of our Living Imam!

Today as I stand alone lighting a few candles in my deserted room with only my daughters around me, I recall the rich and vibrant past: the past when Abba and Ammi were besides me, and I was holding their hand and sheltered by their protective embrace!

Wish you all a Happy Maulūd-i Imām-i Zamāna!

Also wish you all Happy recall of past memories: for what are we without them!