Whisked away from the comforts of Pearl Continental, I found myself in a small, but decent house in North Nazimabad belonging to Uncle Yusuf and Aunty Zulekha, my relatives, both in their early 80s. They had insisted that I must stay with them at least a couple of days before going back to Chicago. I couldn’t disappoint them, for they were two of the very few relatives who had always cared for me and my family and showered selfless love when we were in Karachi, prior to settling in America.
Having got their seven daughters married off, a herculean feat, they now lived alone in their house, and despite everyday aches and old-age discomforts and inhibitions, managed to get all the household chores done — even enjoy an occasional romantic, candle-lit dinner, a fact which Uncle Yusuf confided in me. After a mouth-watering dinner prepared by Aunty, an expert in the art, I was taken to a room which was supposed to be my bedroom for two nights. It was small but cozy and I hoped to have a good night’s sleep.
Just as I dropped down on the bed, everything turned dark. The power broke down. A usual occurrence in Karachi because of power shortages. They call it load-shedding, and poor or lower-middle-class people must bear it angrily or smilingly. The elite class who live in luxurious bungalows in posh localities don’t have to worry, because as soon as the power goes off, their generators start.
I opened the window to get some cool air, but instead, an army of buzzing mosquitoes invaded the room, and in turn, started feasting on my blood. I picked up an old newspaper lying on a table and tried to beat them away, but it was a futile effort. Covering myself completely with a bedsheet, I tossed and turned around, and somehow passed the night.
“Looks as if you slept well,” remarked Aunty, at the breakfast. I said I did, not wanting to tell her about how I had passed the night. Her love and care outweighed the discomfort I suffered. I didn’t go out anywhere that day, for I wanted to pass as much time as I possibly could with them. It was pleasant to be with such a nice couple, though I had to tolerate a rigmarole from Uncle Yusuf about his adventures in Africa which I believe is only imaginative, the musings of a man who takes pleasure in posing himself as a brave and courageous person. A stern look from wide-open glaring eyes of my aunty prevented further narration from my uncle, who was now bent upon finishing the plate of nuts lying on the table near him. Aunty had her own rituals and mannerisms, the foremost being a rosary in her hand which she continuously used to whisper some Quranic verses, and then blow on my face to keep me safe and healthy. That’s how I passed time with them, not complaining but pleased to be with them.
In the evening I was in for a shock! I was watching a popular program on TV when I heard a deep, heavy voice saying “Allah” at the door. I thought Sabri Qawwal (a famous hymn singer) had paid a visit, as such hymn singers chanting words of faith are common in areas populated by middle class and poverty-ridden people, inciting in vulnerable people deep religious devotion and binding, making them submissive and inclined to give charity. These singers hardly visit the houses of the elite because they are stopped by the guards at the door who turn them away. Having relatives and friends living in posh areas, I know very few are religious-minded. They are mostly submerged in the luxury and comforts that wealth can bring.
Frequently, people invite hymn singers to gatherings of friends and relatives at their places, where these singers enchant with songs praising God and His Mercy, renewing the faith and belief in the religion. In one such gathering, I visited long back when I was a college student I was simply stunned. People threw currency notes at the qawwal amid loud chants of “once more.” After the qawwal took his leave, they all started discussing the importance of being pious and sternly following the dictates of the religion. They all began praying, “La Illaha Illalah” (“There is no deity but God”)
My uncle and aunt, though quite rich, were deeply religious, and inclined to listen to such hymns, welcome the singers, and give in charity.
Presently, on hearing the voice, Uncle, before opening the door, briefed me that Bawa Sai (a sought-after exorcist) had arrived and that I must kiss his hand in respect, because he was an enlightened soul, helping people in distress. It was he who was going to dispel a big jinn (a supernatural spirit) who had invaded Uncle’s house. This came to me as a shock!
I was stunned and couldn’t believe my ears that Uncle could even think of such supernatural invasions. He opened the door, and a tall, well-built, dark-complexioned man of about 40 entered. He was wearing a saffron Qurta and a gold embroidered skull-cap on his head which had a massive growth of hair, flowing at the back. A rosary in his hand, he walked in like a monarch on a mission to bless people.
He was offered an easy chair, and I stepped forward to kiss his extended left hand which had stone-studded rings on all the fingers. Was it marijuana that I smelled? Well, I could be mistaken. After chanting Allah a couple of times, he clapped his hands and submerged in silence, vigorously shaking his head. He started murmuring some “mantra” and went towards a wall. He scratched it for a while, then closed his fists and threw out an imaginary object through the door. He clapped again, breathed heavily, and collapsed on a chair, signaling that he was successful in casting the jinn away.
Bawa Sai was then offered a plate of rice pudding, a specialty of Aunty, which he consumed rapidly and asked for more. I was sure he would finish the whole dish, leaving nothing for me. He burped aloud and turned his gaze on me. Suddenly he began to laugh. “He likes you,” said the aunt. “Now you will be blessed.”
Bawa Sai spread his hands, palm upwards. Aunty got the cue, went to her bedroom, and came out with an envelope, full of currency notes. This, she placed in his right hand. He pocketed it and patted her on the shoulder
I was witnessing a scene, all too familiar in India and Pakistan. Tens of thousands of innocent, gullible people believe that supernatural beings exist and influence the lives of people, bringing misery and ill health. They say that you cannot see a jinn or any such being, but you can feel his presence when something goes wrong in your home or you see shadowy darkness at night about to invade your body and you feel sick. As such, they visit religious exorcists who are mostly fake. Distressed people fall victims to such fake exorcists and get themselves robbed. These exorcists, putting on a garb of religious mentors are making enormous profits. In some cases, they have their own dens, and you must make an appointment to see them, and when you go to them you must pay hard cash at the reception before you can enter their incense-sprayed rooms and be subjected to chanting. You are then assured that your problems will soon disappear like smoke. You now pay the full fees.
I did not want my old relatives to be continuously cheated, but what could I do? This belief is deeply rooted in people and cannot be shaken.
The exorcist then looked piercingly at me. “Now, what is your problem?” he asked. I thought for a while trying to invent a problem. “Bawa Sai, I have a problem. My business has taken a downturn and I am afraid I might go bankrupt. Could you do something for me?”
“Where do you do your business?” he asked.
He raised his eyebrows.
“America,” I clarified.
“Ah, Amrika!” He spoke. “Amrika. Full of jinns. Every third person is carrying a jinn inside him.”
He asked me to describe the location of my place, which I did.
Bawa Sai heaved a long, sonorous sigh and kept quiet for a while, perhaps calculating how many American dollars he could get from me. He looked like a greedy fellow, and I was sure he would demand an exorbitant fee. All wealthy people who are greedy go for the first opportunity to grab. I could see Bawa Sai’s richness from the expensive stones studded in gold on his fingers.
Heaving another sigh, he said, “Bachha (child), I can clearly see two male jinns residing together in your workplace, making a mess of things, and devouring all the profits.”
“Two male jinns, living together?” I asked. “Are they gay?”
He again raised his eyebrows.
“Never mind,” I said. “Forget it. Tell me how to get rid of these jinns.”
“Ah,” he said. “Let me think. Yes, you will have to get me a visa, return air tickets, and provide me with boarding and lodging for 40 days in Amrika. I will pray at your place. You will also have to sacrifice black goats on alternate days.”
“God!” I gasped. He was asking for a cool five thousand dollars!
“Is there an option?” I asked.
He closed his eyes, swirled his hair from left to right. “I’ll have to go to a mountain resort in Mangho Pir and do a chilla (secluded praying) for 40 days. I’ll myself sacrifice black goats to be purchased by you every alternate day and feed the meat to the crocodiles,”
Twenty black goats, I wondered.
“And during this period,” he continued, “you will have to be locked in a mosque with your head shaved. You will pray all the time.”
“I’ll do as you say. Would the jinns leave my place?”
“Definitely! They will come flying here.”
“Will I have to provide them with air tickets?”
He clapped his hands and was lost in a reverie, probably congratulating himself on getting one more victim who would make him richer by filling his pockets with American dollars.
“I’ll do as you say, oh! Jinn-smasher” I lied. “I will be at your place tomorrow morning with cash.”
He did not know he would have to wait a lifetime to get any dollars from me. Through a window, I saw a brand-new Toyota from which a driver came out, opened the door, and Bawa Sai getting in.
Later that evening several thoughts came to my mind. How many clients does this Bawa treat? How much money he was making by robbing people like my uncle and aunt? And he was not the only fake exorcist in the country. I am quite sure there must be a horde of such “healers” making the poor people poorer.
There are also exorcists and spiritualists in the USA and other countries, but in contrast, they do not dupe people by extracting money in the same way. They practice a sophisticated and legal approach to earn money through consulting fees and donations. And instead of jinns, there are demons and bad omens that play havoc with humans and objects. Mike Mariani in an article published in The Atlantic in its issue of December 2018, writes that ‘‘priests are fielding more requests than ever for help in demonic possessions and a century-old practice in finding new footing in the modern world.”
There is an organization called Deliverance Ministry Exorcism owned by Evangelist Dr. Vincent Bauhaus practicing in the United States and London. His exorcisms are supposed to be healing. The organization claims that through them, sick and depressed people are healed. Alas, such exorcism, or binding by oath, is still prevalent in this modern, medically advanced era which offers treatment for every disease or mental problem. Even in countries like the United States, countries considered technologically advanced with all sorts of comforts and luxuries, spiritually and culturally remain superstitious with hopes that alternative methods and faith are better than science.
I sat thinking for quite some time, and after finishing my second cup of tea, took the liberty to address my uncle and aunt. I told them that they have everything that a person has to survive and live comfortably. Why then should they seek the help of such fraudulent exorcists like Bawa Sai? A few Quranic verses uttered daily should be enough to ward off any evil influence.
I left them wondering as I bade goodbye. •