Brother Abdul Rehman
(Amarlal Hingorani wrote this true story in Sindhi. T.H. Advani translated it into English. For better reading I have slightly modified Advani’s text.)
Abdul Rehman was tall, lean and tan. Some thought him half mad; others considered him a dervish, a wandering fakir, or God intoxicated. He went about wrapped in a thin quilt, locally known as Gudari (light quilt) and visited all manner of places of worship of different religious labels. To him all of them were houses of God. In the city of Sakkhar in Sindh, opposite the railways goods office, some Hindus used to meet and recite Sanskrit verses of a Sindhi poet Sami. Brother Abdul Rehman would join the group and listen with pleasure. Occasionally, he would mutter to himself, “Brother Abdul Rehman, are you following it? When will you begin to see light?”
One day as he stumbled over a stone, he said to himself, ‘how proud and arrogant you are walking with an erect neck. If you had looked down you would not have stumbled.’ He had not gone a few steps when he pulled himself up, how selfish to leave the protruding rock where it was. Some other walker might stumble over it. He went back and flung the rock out of the way.
He was in the habit of talking to himself. He addressed himself as Brother Abdul Rehman and gave advice quite audibly so that others could hear. If someone invited him for a meal, he would turn to himself and ask, “Brother Abdul Rehman, he wants to know if I am hungry and would like to eat.” Then he would answer after a moment of considering and sometimes repeating a line of wisdom, ‘one must eat to live, not live to eat.’ In this manner he would always confer aloud with himself before answering a question. It was a good practice because it prevented him from quick reaction to whatever happened. He heard the others carefully and gave a well thought out reply.
Abdul Rehman was quite an accomplished poet and scholar. He had memorized the Koran, and much of the poetry of Sindhi writers Shah Abdul Latif and Sami. Of Saint Sachal, a famous Sindhi poet, he was a virtual disciple. He knew Urdu also. When letters came in Urdu, from Punjab, Brother Abdul Rehman was sought to read and interpret them. He ate sparingly, needed very little of other material goods, and coveted nothing that others possessed. He was quiet and always gentle. His gudari was always wrapped around him in hot or cold seasons. At night it served as the covering. He never complained of either the scorching heat of summers or the freezing cold of winters. No one knew what secret conversations he held with his Divine Beloved under the cover of his gudari.
One day an innocent man found himself involved in a criminal court case. He was accused of having stolen a gold watch belonging to a wealthy Muslim merchant. The police had searched him and recovered the watch in front of witnesses. The evidence against him being strong and the merchant a man of influence, the poor man seemed not to have any chance of acquittal.
The accused stated that he one day passed by the Seth’s house and the Seth somehow got the idea into his head that I had made a lewd gesture to his womenfolk. As a consequence the Seth’s men beat him up. They would even have killed him had Brother Abdul Rehman not by chance appeared on the scene. The accusation that he had stolen a gold watch was a trumped up just to punish him.
Even after Abdul Rehman’s intercession the Seth was not appeased. He thought the fellow had cast an evil eye on his honor and for this he should be killed.
Abdul Rehman reasoned, ‘The Seth will not desist, for his honor is very dear to him. He has a 35 years old sister for whom he has not found a husband because he would then have to pay a dowry of a size appropriate to his wealth. But Brother Abdul Rehman did not wish to lift the veil from another man’s affairs.’ However, he had mumbled the above loudly so that the Seth and the others could hear. The Seth decided to drop the case and thus the poor man was saved.
But gossip began to spread all over town. Just to save his reputation the Seth filed another case. He denied all wrong doing and bought off 3 of the 4 witnesses who either did not appear in court or pretended ignorance. Abdul Rehman remained as the sole witness. The counsel for defense doubted the sagacity of putting such a man in the witness box. But the accused had implicit faith in him. Being a God fearing man, he thought, he could be relied upon to tell the truth.
Abdul Rehman received a summon to appear as witness in the court. Out of concern to show respect to the court of justice he acquired a pair of shoes. At every hearing he went to the court in his gudari and carrying his shoes in his hands following the custom of the Sindhi villagers. When called to give evidence he put his shoes on with ceremony. His gudari was folded lengthwise and worn like a scarf around the neck. He had hardly stepped in when a liveried peon asked him to leave his shoes outside, as other low status men did. Abdul Rehman told him that he had bought the shoes only to show respect. So he walked in with the shoes on.
On seeing him the magistrate laughed. After he had taken his seat in the witness box he asked him why he was wearing his gudari around his neck. Abdul Rehman answered that as it was a custom among the Hindus to wear a dupatta or a scarf around the neck on important occasions, he was doing likewise.
A subordinate officer called Saristedar turning to Abdul Rehman to administer the usual oath: In the presence of God I swear that I shall speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Abdul Rehman repeated the oath respectfully.
“What is your name?
“Brother Abdul Rehman.”
There was laughter in the court. The magistrate after enjoying the situation for a while began to show annoyance. A lawyer tried to explain that conversing with his inner self was his normal practice and he always meant well.
After long contemplation Abdul Rehman recited Saint Rachal’s following words:
I am neither Hindu
I am what I am.
Saristedar was not sure if this answer would do for the record. So he turned to the magistrate for guidance. “Write him down as a Muslim,” the magistrate ordered.
Brother Abdul Rehman said, “Since the magistrate answered my previous question, let him answer this one also.”
The magistrate was angry and he thundered. “You jat! Make your statements sensibly and properly. Don’t forget you are in a court.”
Abdul Rehman asked, “Who is a jat?” The honorable magistrate shouted, “A jat, you fool is an illiterate person.”
Abdul Rehman answered, “I can read and write Sindhi, Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit and Hindi, i.e. five languages. May I know how many languages does the magistrate know?”
The magistrate brushed him aside and triumphantly said, “A jat is one who does not know English.” He was sure this would crush his queer customer.
There was whispering and tittering in the court. Abdul Rehman smiled and said, “Sir, you say a Jat is one who does not know English. You of course know English and cannot be called a Jat, but does your father Topanmal know English? Did your forefathers know English? If not, would you call them Jats? If yes, what would that make you?”
“None of your presumptions, you insolent rascal,” roared the magistrate. “Will you show cause why you should not be charged with contempt of court? I order you to cease talking and submit a written deposition.
Abdul Rehman stepped out of the witness box, went to a table and wrote as follows:
“Honorable magistrate sahib, Brother Abdul Rehman is not guilty of contempt of court. If anyone is guilty of such an offence, it is you. On this day alone you have abused several witnesses. But your abusive language will not even touch the fringe of my gudari. Though you sit in judgment over people, you are not their lord and master. You are their servant. Witnesses do not come to your court on their own accord, they are summoned to assist you in the administration of justice. Let me give you a bit of advice.
You should treat them with respect, and never ever insult them? Who will bother to come to your court if you shower abuse on them? Will you show cause why you should not be dismissed from service for contempt of court? Brother Abdul Rehman, in accordance with the oath administered to him by the court, has spoken the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
Signed: Brother Abdul Rehman
June 28, 2008