It was a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1994 in London. After having a sumptuous lunch with Hamraz Ahsan, I was going back to my BBC office in central London. My host was walking with me to the Underground station to see me off. Suddenly we came across a weird character: an uncouth old white man with unkempt beard. Stumbling along the edge of the pavement, a half empty bottle of cheap liquor was visible through his dirty jacket.
Hamraz looked at him, smiled, and said to him in Punjabi, "Assi tuhanu sihaan leya aye" (I have recognised you). The old beggar seemed too boozed up to hear any voice much less in a foreign language. He gave us a confused look with his bleary eyes and kept stumbling along the footpath.
Hamraz had a triumphant smile on his face. I asked out of curiosity, "do you know this Angraiz?" "Yes, I do," the smile became deeper, "he is the new spiritual guardian of our area, with the rank of an Abdaal."
"But how can an Angraiz be a Wali or Abdaal"?
"Why not? Ours is a colour-blind system, and anybody can be chosen as a Pir, Buzurg, Wali, Ghous or Qutb."
"But who appoints them? Who assigns them a certain region, is there a system to assess their performance and efficiency…?" I knew that Hamraz was into Muslim occultism and I had a lot of questions for him but by that time we had reached the station and it was time to depart.
While in London, I never got a chance to discuss that secret hierarchy with Hamraz Ahsan. But 20 years on, I have received his novel in mail which answers some of my questions. On page 176, a character named Yousaf Fakir is described in these words: "…I have no doubt in my mind that he belonged to the hidden hierarchy of spiritual beings who are running this world. In that invisible parallel government, there are promotions and demotions, there are upper ranks and there are lower ranks, there are new appointments and there are transfers. That happens all the time".
Obviously, Hamraz has not written this book specifically to satisfy my curiosity about that hidden hierarchy; he has a very vast canvas before him and the secret order of saints is just a minor part of it.
Hamraz Ahsan is a London-based freelance journalist. He started his career as an Urdu journalist in Pakistan at a very young age, and soon became a household name among the left-wing youth. After several arrests and constant intimidation from the authorities, he had to leave his native country in the 1970s, like many other Leftist writers and intellectuals.
He is a published poet with three poetry collections to his credit. A fourth poetry book that consists of his Punjabi quatrains came out last year. A collection of his Urdu newspaper columns Harf-e-saada (Plain Words) has also been published and he is currently compiling a collection of his English short stories.
Kabuko the Djinn is his first novel.
First novels are notoriously autobiographical but Hamraz Ahsan has very intelligently used his personal experience of occultism and his extensive knowledge about the Sufi traditions. The fairy-tales or the stories of the supernatural that we are familiar with are usually woven around a human protagonist who ventures into the world of demons, ghosts, phantoms and spirits to finally conquer them and return as a victorious hero. In Ahsan’s novel it is just the other way round: a djinn becomes curious about human beings and gets into the body of a newborn human baby, where he resides for thirty long years to have a first-hand experience of all sorts of human joys and sorrows.
Introducing himself to the 21st century reader, the djinn says, "for the modern man I don’t exist, or may be just exist in the world of make-believe. Don’t act affronted, for you must admit that you are obsessed with your own stories and your own existence, and every other creature not approved of by your scientists or your priests, is relegated to the realm of fairy tales and dreams…"
To modern man "possession" is an unscientific concept; therefore our protagonist djinn has to explain it in modern terminology, "… Our body energies vibrate at a much faster frequency than yours, so we are able to possess you by just stepping into your denser, slower vibration bodies as easily as one would step into a warm bath."
Kabuko the Djinn is certainly an interesting story, written in the Indian variety of English with all its local flavours and unique lexicon, but the author seems to be facing a major problem regarding the selection of viewpoint. He has very boldly picked up the voice of Kabuko to relate the whole story but, keeping in view the inherent limitations of a first person narrative, the author feels handicapped when it comes to describe the developments taking place far away from the centrestage.
Here the author takes a big liberty and smoothly slips into the voice of an omniscient narrator who can go anywhere and see anything he wants to. The justification, in this particular case, may be that our first person narrator is not a human character but a djinn who can be anywhere at any time.