Almost two decades ago while I was fast asleep in my grandparent’s house in Byndoor, I heard a drum beat. Along with the sound of drum was the sound of a jingle. A voice followed the sounds, singing something in a language which I did not understand back then as a child.
The sound did not just wake me up but also scared me. I held my mother, sleeping next to me, tightly and tried waking her up calling for her. She, very casually, said that the sound of the drum was to wake up the Muslim neighbors since it is the month of fasting and they have to eat before the dawn breaks and assured me that there is nothing to feel scared about. I went back to sleep.
After that in the following years, as a child, I must have visited Byndoor couple of times during Ramzaan month and all of these had got hidden under the dust of time.
Last month after a long, real long, time I was in Byndoor yet again during the month of Ramzaan. A set of playing cards kept my cousins and me awake till midnight. Sleep eluded me even after we all hit the bed. After long texting with a friend I was slowly dissolving in slumber when I heard the sound of a drum and jingle followed by a voice saying in tune “Ramzaan ka maheena hai...” and the remaining words remained unclear. Sleep sucked me in again, immediately.
In the morning when I mentioned how I had forgotten about the drum beats waking people up during Ramzaan a cousin, resident of Byndoor, told me, “They come from some far off place and are here only during the month of Ramzaan to wake people up in the morning.” This piece of information, not known to me until then, triggered curiosity in me.
Deciding to stop the man that night, for a conversation, while he comes to wake people up I went to sleep that night asking all my cousins and relatives to wake me up in case the drum sound doesnt wake me up that night.
As I had predicted that night I was so deep asleep that the drum sound did not wake me up. My aunt woke me up saying the “drummer” was in our lane. Jumping off my bed I ran out. The man would go five houses ahead of our house in the lane where our house is located and come back since there are no Muslim houses after that. I waited as he was walking back.
When I expressed my desire to have a conversation with me, as expected, he asked me why I wanted to speak to him and what is that I wanted to speak to him. When I spelled out my wish to know where he comes from and from how many years he has been coming the man said, “I am actually from Hyderabad.” He told me that he stays near the Mosque of Byndoor. When I said I need to talk him at length he asked me to come near the Mosque at 16:00 hrs. Disappointed me asked him if I could meet him in the day time. “I am either in Shiroor or Bhatkal during the day. I return only in the evening,” he said. I remembered my uncle telling me the previous day that during day time the man goes to collect alms.
“Okay then. I will see you in the evening.”
“Fine. Meet me in the evening.”
“What is your name?”
“Rahmatullaa Shaah Rafaayi.”
My plan was to return to Manipal that afternoon which I had to cancel and I did.
But I couldnt wait till evening. Convincing my cousin to take me to Shiroor-Bhatkal on his scooter, I sat on the scooter.
We thought of first checking at the Byndoor mosque if he was around. But he wasnt. In a small shop next to the mosque the shopkeeper said, “those people are called Saahvari. They are here only during the month of Ramzaan to wake people up. On the day of the feast, at the end of month, they accept whatever is given to them, in cash or kind, by the villagers. With that they go back to their place and come back the next Ramzaan.”
“Does every village has a Saahvari coming from elsewhere?
“I dont know if they go to every village. I know there is one Saahvari in Shiroor. I am not sure about Bhatkal.”
He also told me that these people come voluntarily and are not invited by the Mosque people. But when they arrive the mosque provides them with a place to stay.
Thanking the shopkeeper my cousin and I cut through the Ottinenne hill went to Shiroor. In Shiroor we went to a Mosque, crossing the railway line only to find the mosque closed. An elderly man passing by the Mosque told us that the secretary of the Mosque owned a shop in the market place and we could spot him there. Turning our scooter in the market direction we turned the accelerator applying brake only in front of the shop owned by the secretary of the Mosque.
It was a small shop selling fancy items. When I asked him about the Saahvaris he said no Saahvari comes to Shiroor and the responsibility of waking people up during Ramzaan month during the hour of sehri was taken by the villagers themselves till few years ago. “Now there are alarms and mobile phones to wake people up. So there is no need for someone to wake you up with a drum,” he said and made me listen to his mobile alarm singing azaan, which he said was his alarm tone.
In the conversation that followed he mentioned that there were 16-17 mosques in Shiroor alone. So immediately I asked if Saahvaris came to any of the other Mosques? “No,” he said in a stern voice. When I asked him how many Dargaa was there in Shiroor he said, “Four to five,” in a tone that exhibited his irritation without any hesitation. In a restless manner he said, “Some idiots do go to Dargaa, what can be done?” making his intolerance towards the Dargaa culture evident. “See, Ghalib has said,” he said and uttered the lines, “there is no dearth of idiots in the world Ghalib, look for one and you will find a thousand.” When I asked him if Ghalib actually said that his tone changed and he requested, “Please do not write about this. It is just a saying.”
Disappointed by the response and the failure of not finding Saahvari I moved out of his shop. Ten steps from his shop I must have walked before taking a right turn, staring at the notes I had made till then when I saw four Saahvaris getting down from an auto.
One old man. One young man. One adolescent and one child.
Greeting them I introduced myself and expressed my desire to speak to them. “Afternoon namaaz time is nearing. Can we talk in the evening?” I said I had to meet the Saahvari in Byndoor that evening. “He is my brother,” said the eldest one among them.
Agreeing to talk to me for two minutes the eldest among them introduced the other three to me as his son Mohammad Baasha, his another brother’s son “Hussain” and his younger brother.
His name, he said, is “Irfaanulla Shah Rafaayi,” who has been coming to Shiroor every Ramzaan from 35 years now, “sehri uthaaney kay liye,” (to wake people up for food before fast begins.)
He had first come to coastal Karnataka with his uncle who would be coming to a place called Nagoor “sehri uthaaney kay liye.” Along with him first came Irfaanullaah and chose Shiroor “sehri uthaaney kay liye.” From 35 years, he said, during his visit to Shiroor during the month of Ramzaan he stays in the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa in Shiroor. With his ‘daff‘ like instrument called ‘daayraa‘ which makes the sound of a daff with jingles, and singings ‘naath’, he wakes people up before the dawn breaks around the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa. During other months of the year they all are in Hyderabad and in the Dargaas in and around Hyderabad performing their rituals.
“It is time now,” said Irfaanullaa and gave me an option of seeing him by the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa after 15:00 hours.
“Can you sing one kawwaali for me now before you leave?”
Making a slightly sad face he said, “Come after 15:00 hours. I will sing a kawwali for you.”
Promising him to see him by Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa my cousin and I went to Bhatkal. Finishing our lunch and shopping a bit in Bhatkal we hit the national high way yet again to reach Shiroor.
Breaking away from the National Highway we took to the tarr road and after a while diverting from the tarr road we entered a mud road and came close to a very narrow bridge which could be crossed only by a cycle. Across the bridge stood Jungleee Peer Baba Dargaa.
Stopping our scooter we crossed the bridge constructed over a rivulet. It was a beautiful sigh. Clicking some photos of the environ I walked to Irfaanullaah who was resting my the river under the shadow casted of the narrow bridge.
While speaking to him I recollected the words spoken by the Secretary of the Shiroor mosque. “Some sects with Islaam do not approve of Sufism,” he said and added to it, “Yes, there is no need for us now since alarm and mobile phone have come into existence. But still we come for the love of the people who we know for over three decades now and for the devotion of God.”
Our conversation was interrupted by two young boys who in a harsh tone asked me who I am and why I had clicked photos of the Dargaa. I explained my purpose.
“We dont mind you talking to him. But why click photos of the Dargaa?” Skipping through the photos in the camera they recollected an incident where a “media person” had photographed and video-graphed the Dargaa and then created a “controversy” relaying “false news.” No photo in our camera appeared objectionable to them and let the interview continue.
Irfaanullah said his uncle had first come to Bababudan(giri) first years ago and from there he got down from the western ghats and reached Nagoor for the first time. In Bababudan(giri), he said, a yearly ritual takes place attended by followers of Sufism. “Now my uncle is dead. So there is no Saahvari in Nagoor to wake people up during Ramzaan,” explained Irfaanullah. It seems his uncle had no children.
“Will your son come to Shiroor after you?”
“Yes. Dont you see, he comes even now with me.”
Irfanullaah laughed saying so. His son laughed. I laughed and even the boys who interrupted the interview laughed.
That evening when I met Rahmatullaah in Byndoor he had the contrary to say. “My children are not interested in this. I cant even force them to do what they do not like to do. So I am the last Saahvari coming to Byndoor. There will probably be none after me. He has been coming to Byndoor from 30 years now and has learnt Kannada too. He kind of echoes his brother when he says he comes “sehri uthaaney kay liye,” even when technological advancements have made their work redundant for “muhobbat” and “puraani pehchaan.”
During the other months of the year Rahmatullah is a seller of gems and precious stone. “I have my business to make money. I do this for the love of people and love of God,” he says. “In recent times,” said Rahmatullah, “in other parts the Saahvaris have been facing objections from people not following Islaam.” Their objection is to the sleep of non-Muslimas are being “disturbed” when the ‘daayra‘ is beaten and ‘naath‘ sung to wake Muslims up. “But thankfully no such objections have been faced by me in Byndoor nor by my brother in Shiroor,” said Rahmatullaah with a smile.
I feel sad that I couldnt speak more to Rahmatullah and Irfaanullah and that I couldnt extract more information and insights from them. I lacked preparation too not just time and the two seemed lacking in rooting and also also communication. So several questions remained unasked and unanswered.
Where to go for those answers, I do not know. For how long will Rahmatullah and Irfaanulllah will come to coastal Karnataka also remains unknown to me.
[Originally written for Karavali Karnataka website for my column Shadow of Life there]