A Fatal Dream
A Fatal Dream22 mins 384 22 mins 384
Sonapur village in Bhandup, Mumbai lies at the very edge of the Bhandup suburb where it ends and gives way to Mulund. This tiny village consisting of about five to six thousand inhabitants was probably created years ago when Bhandup was growing up as an industrial hub. It is my view that migrant workers from UP and Bihar who worked in the factories or at construction sites must have gathered in Sonapur and lived there ever since. The majority of people in Sonapur village are from these states, and most of them Muslims. Even today one can see groups of artisans, mostly masons, and labor gathered at the tea stalls and pan shops on the Mulund-Goregaon Link Road in the mornings waiting for the trucks lined up on the road to transport them to various work sites.
It was at one of these tea stalls that I heard about Rafiq. I go out for morning walks every day and while returning I visit my favorite pan shop for my daily dose of poison. Adjacent to the shop is a tea stall run by two brothers from Rajasthan. I used to listen to their banter even as I bought my stuff and soon I was strangely drawn to the tea stall. One of the brothers used to manage the shop while the other would take his family to his native home in Rajasthan for three to six months. So, at any given time, one brother would be managing the shop. Both the brothers are enterprising and spoke on a broad range of topical subjects, often political, in front of an audience consisting of migrant labor from Sonapur that I described above. Soon, I started having a cup of tea in his shop, just to be part of the fascinating discussions that happened there.
A friendship developed between me and the owner and some of the regulars who had tea and biscuits there. We had nothing in common and that was the bonding factor. I was perhaps one of the few ‘gentlemen’ who cared to sit in the shop, have tea and talk or listen to the conversations.
Most of the migrants had a strange way of having tea. The owner had thoughtfully placed jugs of water for people to drink. The migrants would come, pick up a glass and order for either a pack of Parle-G glucose biscuits or Good Day. They would then proceed to crack open the pack by splitting it from the middle, take out the biscuits one by one and then eat them after dipping it in the glass of water. Once finished, they would order tea. It would be either the normal tea with loads of sugar or the black tea with lemon juice or tea without sugar for diabetics like me. After tea, it was customary for them to have a pan or bidi or cigarette at the pan shop before they began their day’s work.
The conversations during the tea ceremony would invariably be about the current government and how it was being divisive and tyrannical. The link road, dividing Sonapur and Mulund, is lined with shops, mostly automobile garages, timber, glass, ceramic goods, etc at the edge of Sonapur and Mulund. The government has decided to widen this road and this resulted in almost all the shops losing a large portion of their frontage to demolition by the authorities as they were illegally constructed. The tea shop too was knocked off in part and had lost its roof, forcing customers to sit under the open sky. Beyond the stall was the owner’s house where the family lived. The owner would prepare large quantities of tea in big vessels even as he would talk to no one in particular about the headlines. Interested parties would chip in with their cryptic comments or their own stories. The tea maker could speak in his native dialect, Hindi, Marathi, and some other languages.
I was a silent observer and some of the men would occasionally look at me for appropriate comments, which I dutifully made. I was however fascinated with how the tea stall owner and the two servicing boys remembered their customer’s choice of tea and served without even being told.
It was during one such sitting that I heard about Rafiq and his strange dreams. In Sonapur, everyone knew everyone, or almost. The lanes of Sonapur are labyrinthine and dirty and most structures are shabby and even dilapidated. Commerce drives the village and almost every building and shanty houses a commercial unit; a shop or a manufacturing unit. All around, you will find tons of waste, mostly industrial waste, strewn and heaped in piles. There were half a dozen mosques and, if I recollect correctly, there are no temples in Sonapur village. Sonapur is also home to a red-light area for which alone, a lot of people would have known about its existence. Women from Bengal and other places ply their trade within the narrow lanes of the village.
If you thought people in Sonapur are poor, you are mistaken. This dirty village houses millionaires who have made big money from scrap and other businesses. Somewhere in this dirty village, Rafiq lived.
The tea stall conversation about Rafiq’s dreams piqued me. The men were saying that either Rafiq had gone mad or he was lying. How can Lord Krishna appear in his dreams? This caught my attention and I wanted to know the full story. I asked the man who spoke about Rafiq
“What are you saying? Who is Rafiq and what is all this about his dream?”
“Uncle (most of the workers address me as an uncle in deference to my grey hairs and aged look, thanks to the tea maker). Rafiq is a mystery and he lives in Sonapur. His family is in Jaunpur. Goodman, but I don’t know what has come over him. He says that Lord Krishna appears in his dreams and this has upset him.”
“Why should it upset him? So many things happen in dreams. I see Sunny Leone in my dreams and she does not upset me.” The tea maker laughed and others joined.
“Arre fucker, your wife is inside and will hear you. Have some shame. What do you do with Sunny Leone?”
“Chutiya, my wife knows. I tell her about all the girls who come to my dreams! What would you do if Sunny comes in your dreams? I hope you are still a man, eh?”
“Ok, tell me Rafiq’s story.” These men were being hijacked by their fantasies, and I wanted to know why Rafiq was upset with Lord Krishna?
One of the men shouted “He is lying, Rafiq. Why would Lord Krishna choose to visit him in his dreams? Does God not have other business?”
I said “Why would he lie? What will he gain by saying that he sees a Hindu God in his dream?”
“Maybe he is not a devout Muslim after all! That is why he cannot see Allah.” said another Muslim worker, flicking the biscuit crumbs from his flowing beard.
“Is he upset because he is being visited by Krishna instead of Allah? Anyway, what does Krishna tell him in his dreams?”
Another worker with a red beard and marks on his forehead spoke. He had been quiet all the while. “Sahab, why does Rafiq’s dream bother you? I am his roommate, one of them, and Rafiq is not lying. He has been seeing the Hindu God in his dreams for a long time now but never told anyone about it. These are things one must not talk freely, the times are bad, you see.”
A Hindu worker remarked:” Asif Bhai, times are not bad, they are good. Look, even Muslims are now seeing Hindu Gods in their dreams, it means something, does it not? Time to change, if you ask me.”
“Shut up asshole. Poor Rafiq is sick. Your god has made him sick. That is what your gods do, forcibly enter our homes and even dreams.”
The tension was now palpable and tempers were rising. The whole thing about Rafiq’s dream was acquiring a communal temper now and I hastened to stop the further escalation.
“Arre Bhai logon. It's only a dream, why are you guys losing your head over it? Dreams come and they go, they are harmless.
As the batch dispersed I went over to Asif and asked him
“Is this really true? The dreams? Or is it just imagination and rumor. One must be careful about speaking such things, did you break the story?”
“Why would I? I am really worried about Rafiq. The idiot must have told someone about it. It's true, his dreams, he himself told me and I had advised him not to share it with anyone.”
“What else did he tell you about his dreams?”
“He started seeing Krishna about six months ago. Now, don’t ask me how he knows that it is Krishna. Though we do not go to temples we have seen pictures of the god. Rafiq says that initially Krishna said nothing to him but would just stand and smile and go away after some time. Then it started getting worse. Krishna tells him that he is also Allah and it will be beneficial if Rafiq prays to him also.”
“What?” This was indeed getting complicated. Krishna claiming that he was Allah?
“Uncle, something is wrong in his head. Why should Krishna choose him, of all the people to visit? Does it make any sense? I told him to go home and see a doctor. He needs rest. But he refuses to listen.”
“What does Rafiq think about his dreams?”
“Well, he is disturbed, that I know. Initially, he thought it was a joke or something but now he is seriously worried. He cannot talk to anyone in the community. He tried talking to the Imam but the Imam warned him not to speak to him or anyone again about such heretical dreams.”
“Can I meet this Rafiq?”
“Why? Why do you want to meet him? He is not a saint or a film star. And you should not have any business with him, particularly this.”
“Asif Bhai, I am curious, that is all. I have never ever heard of any god in any religion visiting a common man of another religion. Yes, there could be some saints like Sai Baba or Kabir, but Rafiq being visited by Krishna? I just want to know what Rafiq thinks about all this.”
“Look, uncle. This matter may look silly and inconsequential now, but the more such things spread, the more the problem for all of us. Stay out of this.”
“Please Asif Bhai. Just once. Look, I am not the kind of person to exploit the story for any ulterior purpose, I am just a common man like you who is curious about the dreams.”
Asif Bhai said nothing and went away. The tea maker smiled at me and shook his head as if to say that I was making a mistake.
Rafiq and his dream captured my imagination and made me wonder about religion and god. I found it strange that of all the things Rafiq could have dreamed about, he chose Krishna! A devout Muslim dreaming about Krishna? Why?
Dreams, I know, are not controlled by us, we cannot choose to dream anything we wish. They just slip in on their own. Rafiq did not choose Krishna, so was it possible that Krishna chose Rafiq? I have always believed that god and myth are two separate worlds. I believe that we created Gods, especially Hindus because our religion does not have one single creator. Christianity follows Christ and Islam follows the prophet. Prophet Mohammed never claimed to be God and hence Islam technically does not have a God or gods. Just like the Sikhs who believe in the holy book or Granth sahib.
What could Rafiq’s dreams mean? Do dreams have meaning at all? Some believe so while many others don’t. I have had dreams, most of which I barely remember. But Rafiq’s dreams are lucid dreams, they recur and he vividly remembers. What else does Rafiq see in his dreams? There must be something he must have kept to himself. What does he think about the dreams? I must talk to Rafiq.
I met Asif again after a week in the tea stall. I wanted to request him again but refrained. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke nothing about Rafiq. The incident was forgotten by all and only I seemed to be bothered. As I was leaving after my customary cup of tea Asif beckoned to me.
“Uncle, are you serious about wanting to meet Rafiq?”
“Not really, but yes I would like to meet him.”
“There he is”, Asif said pointing to a frail and middle-aged man with a skull cap sitting on the bench and dipping parle G in water. “He is the man, Rafiq.” Saying this Asif walked away.
Approaching an unknown person is not a decent thing to do. Particularly when you have something on your mind about the person. I wondered whether I should just say hello to him or leave him to his dreams. After all, why should I stir him up with my questions when he was already troubled.
“Uncle”, the voice of the tea maker rang behind me as I was walking away. He was waving at me.
“Uncle, you want to speak to Rafiq badly, is it not? Do you want to know why he is seeing Krishna in his dreams? Personally, I don’t care much if Krishna goes every night to meet Rafiq, I am happy with starlets in my dreams. My wife says that my dreams make her happy, you know? What did Asif tell you to do? You do not know Rafiq and Rafiq does not know you. But Rafiq knows me and I know the bugger. Should I make the introductions?”
“What will you tell him about me? That I want to know about his dreams? He will get offended and may shout at me.”
“Arre uncle, you are very decent. You people think too much about everything. Oi, Rafiq, come here!” Before I could stop him, the tea maker called out to Rafiq.
“Rafiq Bhai, this is uncle, my best customer. He is a very nice and helpful person and he wants to talk to you.”
“Sir, salaam. Do you want to talk to me? I don’t even know you! Is it about my dreams?”
“Yes, Rafiq, it is about your dreams. Look, I mean no harm; I am just curious about what I heard from these people here. Don’t feel offended please.”
“Sir, there is nothing to feel offended about. Whatever you want, ask me and I will tell you. Imam says that I should not talk about it to anyone, particularly people of other communities. I say, what crime have I committed? Did I invite Krishna to visit me in sleep? No. Do I talk to him unnecessarily? No. Have I abandoned my religion? Never.”
Well, the opportunity I was looking for was right here in front of me, but I was simply staring at him, not knowing what to ask. What were my questions?
“Ask whatever you want Sahab.”
We parked ourselves on a vacant bench and I asked for some tea and biscuits. I needed time to compose my mind and focus on what I wanted to ask Rafiq.
“Rafiq, people here tell me that you are a good man, but your dreams are disturbing you.”
“I don’t understand at all. Why am I having these dreams? Why is Krishna visiting me every single day? What does he want me to do? How does he know me? I am a poor man sir, and poor men do not dream about gods or Allah. I do go to the mosque on Friday and keep fast when required. I have a family to feed and look after. I have nothing to do with any God. I want nothing from Him except maybe that He should not get me into any trouble.”
“What does Krishna say in your dreams?”
“Sir, at first he appeared for a few seconds or minutes and went away. But those few seconds were as clear as I am seeing you now. Then he came and started staying for more time. He just stood there in front of me and kept smiling.”
“How did you recognize him?”
“Sir, it cannot be anybody else. He was just like the picture on the calendar in Tiwari’s saloon. Even the cow was there. Who else could it be? As I said, he started staying for longer periods, maybe ten minutes or more. I tried opening my eyes to make him go away, but the moment I closed my eyes he was there.”
“Does he talk to you?”
“Initially no, he just stood there with his smile. But then, about a month ago, he started speaking.”
“What does he tell you?”
“He told me that I am his brother, Balram,” Rafiq said this and paused to look at me to see how I was taking it.
“He told me that soon I will be facing a lot of problems but I should not worry as he will protect me.”
“He did not tell me. I asked him again and again but he would not tell me. I even told him that I did not care about any problem and I did not want any Hindu god to protect me as Allah will take care of me. I told him that he should not come to see me every night as it was disturbing my sleep.”
“What else does he tell you?”
“I told him to go,but he still comes every night. Sometimes he says nothing at all and sometimes he says that he comes only to protect me. Once he asked me to see the Imam and tell him about my dreams. I did talk to the Imam but he warned me not to talk to anyone about it. He advised me to read a chapter from the holy Quran every night before sleeping. I do, but it is not working.”
“Why do you think Krishna is talking to you?”
“How would I know? All these gods and religions have caused nothing but problems for man. No one understands them clearly but everyone is afraid of them. Islam, Christian or Hindu, all say the same things in different ways. Now this Krishna of yours is causing problems for me,knowing well that I am Muslim and do not believe in him. Why? Why does he want to protect me alone? Am I the only one on earth to suffer? Why is he talking in riddles? Do you make any sense of all this? I would go home as Asif Bhai says, but I have nothing there to make a livelihood. My wife and children would die of starvation. Does your Krishna want that?”
I did not know the answers to his questions,but I liked what he said about gods and religion. We are unfortunate to be born into our religion without even knowing about it. We are unfortunate to be told to believe everything that is said about it just because they existed for thousands of years and will exist for thousands more. More new religions will be born,just like Islam was born with the Prophet and Christianity with Jesus. Some old religions will go out of fashion,like those of Parsis and Jews. For the poor man-god is just an excuse for his misery; why poor only? For all of us, gods are excuses for our woes.
A week later at the tea stall two men were enquiring about Rafiq.
“O Bhai, give us two cutting, black with lemon. We hear there is some crazy chap who talks about meeting Lord Krishna? Are you aware?”
The tea stall owner,normally genial,clammed up and went on alert.
“Bhai, many people come here and go. I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Fucker, seems to have disappeared. He has moved out of his Koli suddenly and no one knows where he is. If he comes here tell him that Lord Shiva came. If we hear that he is still talking about his dreams, tell him we will dispatch him to Kailash. He can personally meet our gods there.”
After they left, the tea stall owner looked at me.
“See, God has sent his messengers for Rafiq.”
“Where is he?”
“Only Allah knows! He does not come here anymore. Maybe he has returned to his village.”
Another week later, I met Asif at the tea stall.
“Asif Bhai, where is Rafiq? Do you know?”
“We asked him to vacate our Koli. He is mad and dangerous and will get us all in trouble. I don’t know where he went. Even the Imam is disturbed. Rafiq would not listen to his advice and even argued with him.”
What happened to Rafiq? Where did he go? Did he get into some problem as Krishna had told him? Did Krishna protect him? Perhaps these questions would have remained unanswered and I would have happily forgotten Rafiq and his dreams had it not been for my fateful journey into the lanes of Sonapur one day.
Sonapur is the place we go to for resolution of all our mundane problems like a broken cooker handle, torn clothes to be mended,clocks and watches needing battery or some treatment and shoes and footwear needing minor repair.
That day, my wife asked me to take some of her clothes to Babban the tailor for mending. Babban would seem a Muslim name, but he is a Hindu. He has great respect and regard for my wife and does not object to anything that she asks him to do. He is a small-time tailor and local ladies in Burqas frequent him for stitching. He also has some bulk contracts for uniforms, bags or some such items.
On my way to Babban I met Sitaram,the cobbler. Sitaram, like Babban, is our go-to man for footwear, handbags, purses, and umbrellas.Every time I pass by him he would stop me and offer tea (black), which, I must confess, was quite tasty. He would then talk about his sons and daughters and how he had worked hard to get them educated. Today, I refused to accept Sitaram’s hospitality. I had some other work and was keen to hand over my wife’s clothes to Babban.
Babban was effervescent as usual and made enquiries about my health,sugar level and stories. It was as if your relative was showing genuine concern for you. I asked him about his own state of health, his back problem and blood pressure and of course,his family. Babban’s shop was located deep inside the bowels of Sonapur and you reach the shop after passing by strings of restaurants with kabab and other meat products slung on rods hanging outside.
I was just about finished with Babban when a person from one of the restaurants dropped by and hailed Babban.
“Babban, what’s happening?”
“Arre Iqbal,what will happen in Sonapur? You sell food and I stitch clothes. Arif sharpens knives and Maqbool sells detergents. We have been doing it for years.”
“I am not talking about this Babban. Did you hear about that chap who was saying that Lord Krishna spoke to him in his dreams?”
“Who,Rafiq? Poor chap, what happened to him was not right.”
My senses went on the alert. They were talking about Rafiq.What happened?
“What happened Babban? I met Rafiq at the tea stall on the main road a month ago. He then disappeared.”
“Bhaisaab, Rafiq is dead. Yesterday, his body was found outside that Dargah, stabbed to death.”
I was stunned. Lord Krishna had promised to protect Rafiq. How could such a thing happen?
“Who killed him?”
“Who knows? He had antagonized both hindus and muslims. The imam had warned him several times not to talk about his dreams but Rafiq went mad and started telling every Tom, Dick, and Harry about his dreams. People here thought that he had converted into a Hindu. I also heard that some Hindu goons were looking for him. The police have been asked to hush up the death for it can cause a riot in Sonapur and elsewhere. Who wants trouble over a fool’s absurd dreams?
Poor bastard really believed that Krishna spoke to him. I have been praying to so many gods all these years but not once has any god visited me! Kyun,Iqbal bhai?”
“Arre, my forehead has worn out doing prayers five times every day for so many years. Gods don’t just appear before you just because you believe in them. Fucking stupid Rafiq. I really pity his family in Jaunpur. Their lives too are destroyed.”
Rafiq’s death did not even cause a ripple. No paper carried the news. No one mourned for him. I don’t think even his family was officially informed. I heard that his body was bundled in a sack by the police and whisked away for disposal.
I met Asif in the tea stall,but I did not ask him about Rafiq. Neither did he talk about Rafiq or his fatal dream.