The Town of Kakori: Prophecies and Mango Sex Jokes
The Sufis are a mystical sect of Islam. They believe that God exists within the human soul and that His perfection can be realized through practices of self-purification, asceticism, and the eradication of base impulses in this life. Sufism internalizes Islam, whereas most Islamic belief, like Christianity, externalizes communion with God to a place in paradise. Proponents of Sufism maintain that within all people exists a primordial state of being (fikra), which directs all of one’s actions and motivations toward love of God. Sufi masters strive to restore this state by living lives of love, harmony, and service to mankind. Sufi shrines attract pilgrims from all of India’s myriad religions—Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs—, who visit shrines to receive the blessings of the departed sufi saints.
Last weekend, I visited the town of Kakori to receive one such blessing. And in the process, I also learned how to be sexy while eating a mango.
My Urdu class and I crossed a garden of marble steps and palm trees to a veranda, where we settled, shoulder-to-shoulder, on bamboo matts. An old man, with a long beard and cap, nodded his head to a Hindu woman whose face was half covered in a red veil. She lifted and turned her hand—taut, with papery wrinkled skin and covered in rings—while burbling in Hindi with a speed and passion.
The man tilted his head slightly to the right while he listened, occasionally staring her in the eye with a severe expression, nodding to show he understood. The old man is a descendant of the Sufi Saint, Shah Kazim Qalander, who arrived from Iran hundreds of years ago with the sufi faith.
The Sufi master also had a son. His son studied Urdu poetry in New Delhi, but returned to help his father upkeep the shrine. I asked the son how I should approach his father. While in the presence of a Sufi mystic, I decided that I might as well avail myself of a Sufi blessing. He instructed me to explain whatever problem I had in Urdu. When the woman finished speaking, the attention of the room settled on me as I inched closer to the old man, clearing my throat for what would inevitably be a public presentation. He used the interval to send a quick text on his cell phone.
My request was not as pressing as the woman’s and I didn’t possess the vocabulary to talk at length; my interview lasted a total of five minutes. The Sufi master reassured me that my particular difficulty would find a happy solution. He wrote down a verse from the Quran on a sheet of paper, advising me to recite it every morning and evening one hundred and ten times, until my problem resolved itself.
As I held the small scrap of paper in my hand, scrawled in Nashtaleeq, I wondered how many people in India that day had woken up to recite the Quran over their newspaper and coffee, or immediately after returning from 5:00 o’clock traffic, at this man’s behest. Reciting a verse from the Quran two hundred and twenty times a day, I thought, would create a bigger problem for me than the one I had described. My energies could be more effectively channeled to other areas, as opposed to waiting for God to step in. But such is the pragmatic American way—or, at least, the non-religious pragmatic American way.
I pocketed the verse nonetheless
Following our tour of the tombs of the Sufi saints, we ate Kakori kababs. Kakori kababs are hailed as the softest kababs in the world. My host mother told me over the kitchen table one day that they were created for an old, toothless Nawab (prince)–the Nawab of Awadh–who requested that a special meat be prepared for him that he would be able to eat without chewing. It was with much anticipation, therefore that we waited for our lunch.
The town of Kakori practices purdah, a practice prohibiting women from being seen in public spaces, so we were ushered into different rooms. The rooms had no air conditioning, and were scarcely furnished, with one bed, two benches, and walls with protruding bricks and peeling plaster. We took our seats. When I heard we were eating kabobs, I couldn’t help bug imagine kabobs like the ones in America: chunks of meat and roasted vegetables on a stick. The kebabs were cooked on sticks, but they had already been removed by the time the servants brought them to us on silver platters—still hot to the touch. They were mushy strips of goat meet, which looked something like long turds. But they were delicious, and lived up to their reputation. Immediately I thought of the goats prancing about on the streets on our way into town. They served us a bucket of mangos for desert.
Because we were divided purdah-style, it was man time. I asked one of the men in the room, with a large square face, tussled hair, and closely shaved black beard, what the best method was to eat a mango without a knife. He proceeded to rub the mango between his hands to loosen the juices and grinned at me. “Like in American films,” he said. The other men laughed too. “Then you apply your mouth, and suck.”
The mango sexual jokes began. The others mimicked applying their mouths. Because many of the other students could not yet speak Urdu well, I joked with my elders at their expense. One of the students, Michael, a short nine-teen year old who always wore tucked in polo shorts and cowboy boots, styled his hair into a comb over, and looked bizarrely like a forty-year old Kevin Bacon, splattered mango juice all over his chin. Laughter further rocked the bricks in the sparse room out of their cement sealing.
The mangos were fresh because the owners of the shrine make their living from selling mangos. They are the owners of a mango garden. It is mango season here in India, beginning in late March and ending in June, so I convinced our hosts to give us a tour. Mangos are marvelous fruits. When they are ripe, they drop from the trees, and explode as they hit the ground. As we were walking along the garden path, a gust of wind tossed the tree branches about, leading to a bombing of mangoes. Those who have experienced a hail storm might be able to imagine what this is like. Our program coordinator picked a mango up off the ground. He thrust it at me encouragingly.
“I’ve already eaten ten kababs and five mangoes,” I said. “I can’t eat anymore.” But in the garden, because they were “fresh from the tree.” I had no choice but to down another five.
I was surprised that I myself did not explode.
We rested at the farmer’s hut at the end of the path. Hammock-like benches were brought out for us to sit on. The farmers pump water from pipes into irrigation canals, which is subsequently distributed through the garden, making much of the earth swampy. The water also gushes into a large stone bathtub.
I jokingly asked if I could join the farmers in their bathing. The son of the Sufi man gave his assent. So I stripped my clothes and climbed into the tub, where the water rushed over my head from the iron pipe. With closed eyes, spitting water, and with laughing, grinning, half naked Indians all around me, our program advisor began snapping pictures.
Who knows, maybe my half naked picture will be up on our Urdu class website. Or maybe it will go toward funding industries like those “American Movies!”
(Article Written in Lucknow, India in 2012)