By Saba Mahjoor
PHUPHEE had never lost a case, until of course she did. She was known for her spiritual powers. People from all over the valley would come to seek her guidance and help. Some would come to ask her to bless a new born so that no evil may befall him or her. Some would come because the cow had stopped producing milk in abundance. Some arrived because a dear one had been possessed by a jinn. People had tremendous faith in her and she in herself.
Once an unusual case arrived.
A chap from the next village came with his wife whom he claimed was the patient. His name was Bashir and his wife was called Maaroofa. They had been married for about ten years and had two young children, a girl and a boy. He had also brought with him a chicken in the form of payment.
Usually Phuphee would never let me sit in on the ‘consultation’ because as she said, “raaz chu aasaan amaanat, ti, amaanatas gatchni khayaanat karun” (secrets are given for safekeeping and you cannot go around breaking people’s confidence in you).
But, on this occasion she called me and asked me to sit with her. I was surprised but excited. I had secretly seen her take jinns out of people but I could never ask questions as that would mean confessing to the crime of having been there in the first place. I saw Bashir hesitate but before he could voice his hesitation she said “yi che mea patteh. Yi che hechaan” (she is the next peerni, she is learning). The thought of being the next Peerni tickled me but I did my best to remain serious.
“Kya daleel che? Dapsa” (What’s the matter? Tell me?), She asked.
“Kyah wanov. Yi chena myean zanaan, yi chi sirif naavich zanaan” (what can I tell you, this wife of mine, is a wife only in name), he said.
“Adsa. Asel paeth wan. Khule paeth wan” (okay. Tell me properly and openly), she said.
He lowered his eyes. He seemed a little embarrassed.
“Amyis haz chu jinn tchaamut. Yelli bae amyis nish chus gatchaan, yi chi diwaan krayke beyi phetraawaan cheez. Bae haz chus pareshaan. Waen kaertov tuhi kyehn” (she has been possessed by a jinn. Every time I try to go close to her as a husband and wife do, she starts screaming and breaking things. I am very distressed. Only you can do something and help me), he said.
“Acha. Acha. Tche kar akh kaem. Tche traavun yi yetii. Shaaman yizi waapas. Khodai karyi soriy theek” (okay, okay. You do one thing. Leave her here. You can come back in the evening). She said to him. And with that he left.
Now it was just us three: Phuphee, Maaroofa and me. We sat in silence. I think, for about half an hour, no one said anything. Then Phuphee took out a packet of her cigarettes and this time she took out three. I was a little confused. Surely, she wasn’t going to try smoke three at a time. She lit the three cigarettes and gave one to Maaroofa — “Mae baasaan che chui zorath” (I think you need it), she said to Maaroofa.
I thought the lady would refuse, but no, she took it and started smoking. It didn’t look like it was her first time. We continued to sit in silence with both of them smoking. When they had both finished, Phuphee asked her “kya daleel chae?” (What’s the matter with you?).
Maaroofa got up and put a small jute bag in Phuphee’s lap — “Dagg. Waen hekne karith” (Pain. I cannot do it anymore), she said, as tear rolled down her right cheek. Puphee asked her to not cry and opened the small bag from which she took out four ripe plums.
“Waliv, daankuthyis manz behmoav” (let’s go sit in the kitchen), she said and we all moved to the kitchen.
At this point, I was quite disappointed. Nothing had really happened. Nothing. Nothing burned. No cleansing. No chanting. No knives. No nothing.
In the kitchen, Phuphee asked one of the servants to go and fetch ‘maettonji‘ (the matron) from the local clinic. There was a small clinic run by an English lady who introduced herself as the matron of the clinic. Everyone called her maettonji.
Phuphee asked Maaroofa to slice a couple of onions, green chillies and also a couple of plums she had brought with her and, in the meantime she cut the chicken into small pieces.
They sat around the daan (mud stove) like a pair of witches around a cauldron about to prepare a potion. On the daan was placed a copper deekche (small cooking pot). Once the mustard oil had been smoked, onions were added. Then green chillies. Phuphee threw in cloves, cumin seeds and black cardamom. Maaroofa stirred. Phuphee added turmeric and fennel powder and Maaroofa a splash of water with which steam rose from the pot. Phuphee added the chicken and Maaroofa added the thinly sliced plums. They took it in turns to stir. Finally, water and salt were added to the concoction and the lid was sealed tight with dough. The fire underneath was extinguished to the point that only a tiny flame remained.
“Shaamas aasi tayaar” (it will be ready in the evening), said Phuphee.
“Mae baasaan” (I think so), said Maaroofa.
The matron had arrived. She was a plump woman with wispy blonde hair.
The matron and Phuphee simply nodded at each other.
“Yemis wich” (see her), Phuphee said to the matron, pointing to Maaroofa.
She then whispered something in Maaroofa’s ear and then the matron disappeared into Phuphee’s room with Maaroofa trailing right behind.
We waited outside. After fifteen minutes Maaroofa came out and Phuphee went in. Another fifteen minutes went by and both of them appeared. Phuphee took Maettonji to the veranda where there were a couple of wicker chairs. They sat and talked. I heard Maettonji say to Phuphee in her broken Kashmiri, “Bachedaan chus nebaer. Yi na chus asal” (the uterus is outside, this is not good).
Phuphee asked me to go into the pantry and bring a bowl of lavender kulfi that she had made earlier that morning. Maettonji ate with relish, licking her spoon and her fingers.
“Mazza, waariyah mazza” (tasty, very tasty), said Maettonji in her English accented Kashmiri. Before leaving, Phuphee handed her a ripe plum.
In the evening around 7pm, Bashir turned up. He looked both, excited and nervous. We were all sitting in the kitchen.
“Walsa. Beh. Thokmut aasakh. Batte khekhe?” (Come. Sit. You must be tired. Will you have dinner?), Puphee said to him. But it was more of a command than a question.
He sat down. Maaroofa laid the dastarkhan (table spread) and brought a taash near (a copper flask with a copper basin used to wash hands in before and after dinner). She served hot rice on a plate and in a bowl on the side was the plum chicken that they had made earlier that day. He started eating.
“Mazze chus waariyah” (it is very tasty), he said.
Phuphee nodded. She asked Maaroofa to serve him more chicken but to leave some of the plum for her as she enjoyed the taste. I saw Maaroofa separate the dish into two parts. The chicken was placed before Bashir and the plum gravy was placed separately.
“Mae chune zahn yutaa paycheede masle wuchmut. Tche doputh poz. Amyis chu jinn tchaamut magar akh kath che ki mae chune yuth khatarnaak jinn zahn wuchmut. Mae maz chune yutaah taakat ki bae paawan yi jinn. Aem dopp agar bae Maaroofas naeber naere, Bashiras manz atche telli. Mae kor amyis syith waade ki tche gasakhne azeki paeth zanaane nish kehn. Beyi chi akh kath inna amyis kyenh gatchi kyaziki tamis neerith ti achi yi tchai. Mae dapyoav amyis ki Bashir dapyin Maaroofas naer yeti magar amyis khoat tyootah sharaarath ki yi gara hilyoav. Prich yimov manz kansiti” (I have never seen a case as complex as yours Bashir. You are right, she has been possessed by a jinn but this jinn is the strongest I have ever seen. I cannot overcome its power. I spoke to the jinn and it said that if it leaves Maaroofas body it will then enter yours. That will be terrible. I have made a pact with the jinn. It will not enter your body as long as you don’t try to sleep with your wife. But you cannot leave her either. I did try to explore that possibility with the jinn but it refused and this suggestion angered it so much that the house shook. You can ask anyone here)
Bashir looked at Phuphee, incredulous and relieved. I don’t know if that’s even possible but there it was. A man who was relieved that the jinn who possessed his wife had agreed to leave him alone and incredulous because he could neither leave her nor sleep with her.
I saw them leave together. Phuphee gave them her blessings and a taaveez (a talisman) for Bashir to wear for extra protection, just in case the jinn got any funny ideas. We went back to the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She gave me some of the plum gravy and she had some. After we were done I asked her why she could not get rid of the jinn.
“Mardas che baasaan zanaan gaav,goopan. Kunisaat gatchekh doad ti kunisaat woach. Yelli patte che maklaan chis karaan zabah ti chi khevaan amisund maaz. Beyi chis patte maeslas banaavaan booth” (a man thinks a woman is a cow, cattle. Sometimes they want her milk and sometimes a calf. And then when she is finished, they slaughter her and eat her flesh. And then even her skin isn’t spared, because they use that to make shoes).
“But you lost today, you lost a case?” I asked, perplexed.
“Haeki asyith” (it’s possible), she said. “Manze manze paezi insaanas haarun ti, amisith chu roazaan insaan nadaamatas manz” (sometimes a person should lose, it helps them to stay grounded).
“Then why did you give him a taaveez?”, I asked.
“Yuth ne mashid gatches. Marden chu jaldi mashaan” (so that he does not forget. Men forget too easily), she replied.
The story spread far and wide among men about how the great peerni had lost to a powerful jinn. They laughed, their bodies shaking in the process, as they smoked their hookahs, the heavy gurgling of which mingled with their laughter, until you could no longer tell one from the other.
Among the women in the village it became a legend and acquired a life of its own. It was and continues to be passed on from mothers to daughters, quietly, as quietly as the gentle smoke of the cigarettes that are smoked in secret, even today.
- Saba Mahjoor is a Kashmiri based in London. She has studied Medicine and Philosophy at King’s College.
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