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Ram Rahim and that migrant in Mumbai

August 29, 2017 11:03 IST

An unemployed migrant becomes a much sought after Baba right before Syed Firdaus Ashraf's eyes.

When I was a child, a man often dropped in at my parents' home.

This guest had a unique sense of timing. He always dropped in just before lunch or dinner.

Our home was a tiny one bedroom apartment, and his unwanted presence distressed me.

 

I discovered he was trying to find employment in Mumbai. He had tried many jobs, but could not settle down in any of them.

His family was in Uttar Pradesh and he had no place to stay in the city.

He was making ends meet with great difficulty.

I asked my father why this man always turned up at meal times.

He is jobless, my father told me about this distant relative.

"He is hungry, he has no place to go and eat, that's why he comes here."

And then my father said something which I remember to this day and follow like gospel: "If any migrant in Mumbai comes to your home at lunch or dinner, never let him go hungry."

"Why?" I asked.

"I too was a migrant once," my father said, "and I have eaten at the homes of many people in Mumbai. Many families offered me food during my hard days. People opened their doors even at odd times to feed me."

I asked if he had not felt unwelcome.

"When you are hungry with no money, you have few options," my father said.

"Shame is a luxury for the haves, not for the have nots."

I had forgotten about our guest until Gurmeet Ram Rahim's followers created havoc on the streets of Haryana following his conviction in a rape case last Friday.

You may wonder what the connection between Ram Rahim and the person who would come home many years ago is.

More than a decade after the guest stopped coming home, I received a call one afternoon from someone congratulating me on my marriage. I had trouble remembering the caller's name or face.

The man invited my wife and me for dinner at his home.

I wanted to decline, but my father persuaded me to go. The caller was our guest of many years ago.

When I reached his home, I saw a long queue outside. I asked a passerby who assured me that I was at the right address.

When I entered the house, I saw many people seated inside.

Before I could react, a man with a long beard and kohl in his eyes came up to me. He looked mesmerising.

When he hugged me, I realised that he was the man I had come to meet -- the unwanted guest of years earlier.

"I won't be able to see you today," he told all those who had been waiting, "come tomorrow morning."

He told me how grateful he was to my family, especially to my father, because he had fed him at a time when no one in Mumbai opened their doors for him.

How did he become a Baba, I asked.

One day, he said, he had seen his ancestors in a dream, telling him that he was wasting his life searching for a job.

"We are from a Sufi family. Our ancestors had divine knowledge of medicine. I have those books and it has knowledge to cure illnesses," he said.

An agnostic like me could hardly digest what he was saying, but who was I to challenge him?

Not only for medical treatment, he said, people came to him seeking solutions to personal problems like cheating spouses, children addicted to drugs, children not concentrating on their studies.

The unemployed also sought him out, this once unemployed Baba added, hoping he would help them get a job.

He owned two flats in Mumbai, he said, and often travelled abroad to meet patients.

This, I thought as I left his home after dinner, was only possible in the wonderland that is India.

No one was ready to give this man food when he had no job. And today, after he became a Baba, everyone was falling at his feet.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com