The muse who shed his masculine identity and adopted the bridal attire, lived in Ahmedabad

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Narrative performance on Musa Suhaag by Avni Sethi and Askari Naqvi near Sanand, Ahmedabad district 

By  Avni Sethi*

Sunaa hai log use aankh bhar ke dekhte hain
So us ke shah’r men kuchh din thahar ke dekhte hain

Sunaa hai rabt hai us ko kharaab haalon se
So apne aap ko barbaad kar ke dekhte hain

(I hear people can’t stop looking at her
So I too decided to stop by her city for a while

I hear she has an eternal closeness with despair
So I too had a tryst with self-destruction)

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Askari Naqvi and Avni Sethi

Ahmad Faraz somehow knew what it was like to have a muse in a city like Ahmedabad. Not that he wrote the above lines in reaction to Ahmedabad, but he certainly captured the essence that still rings true when recited in a mehfil in this city that was home to no less than Wali Gujarati – often believed to be the father of Urdu poetry. Wali died two deaths, one in 1707, the other in 2002. But we barely remember.

One such remembrance lies hidden in the graveyards of Shahibaug: the dargah of Hazrat Musa Suhaag.

Musa lived in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan; he was devoted to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya whose seat was in Delhi. While making a journey towards the darbar of Mehboob-e-Ilahi (Nizamuddin Auliya was called by this name fondly), he encountered women in their bridal attire, on enquiring he understood that they were wedded to their beloveds, they were all suhaagans. 

At once Musa unrobed his masculine identity and adopted the bridal attire with wrists full of bangles and appeared in front of Khwaja Nizamuddin.

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At Musa Suhaag’s dargah

The benevolent saint was amused but accepting of Musa Suhaag. They say that those who have experienced the look of generosity from the saint turn into a Wali themselves. He took a promise from Musa Suhaag that his name will remain a secret between the two and asked Musa to set up his life-mission in Ahmedabad.

Hazrat Musa Suhaag arrived, alone, unknown to the city of Ahmedabad, no family, no friends, he encountered a group of trans gendered people. He sought a familiarity, they wore lehengas and ghararas, bangles and bindis, they sang and danced. Hazrat Musa Suhaag asked if he could join them, live with them. The group agreed, on a condition that he too will have to sing and dance with them, and what a surprise he gave, he danced a magnificent dance.

This was the time of Ahmed Shah; there was a massive drought in Ahmedabad, a city that the Badshah had imagined as Shehr-e-Muazzum (a great city).

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The dargah

Something had to be done urgently, prayers were being made, Hazrat Shah-e-Alam was the presiding saint in the city, his dargah stands tall; this is also where the Shah Alam camp for the internally displaced riot victims of 2002 was set up. He was approached to make the grand prayer. Hazrat Shah-e-Alam refused saying, ‘It will rain only if that Wali who wears women’s clothes, with bangle laden hands, who dances in madness, makes the dua’.

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The narrative performance

A search was issued, Musa Suhaag found, a majzoob all in all, a mad person, it is he who had the power of prayer. Reluctantly he agreed, scared he would be breaking the pact between his beloved and him, his reality of sainthood would be revealed. He made a passionate dua to the heavens with a brick in one hand and bangles in the other, ‘send down the rains or accept me as your widow’ he threatened. The skies poured, it rained, the city was green again and Musa Suhag’s secret was forever revealed. Till this day his grave is visited when people are longing for rain.

This story has been pieced together by collecting oral histories, some from the diwans, khadims and gaddi-nasheens of various dargahs. Remembering and forgetting are fairly contested spaces in this city; both acts requiring a certain kind of tenacity. In Ahmedabad we live with amnesia every day, we forget easily often under the pretext of moving on. We refuse to make memorials; memorials are ways of remembering, of never forgetting, may be in the spirit of developing our futures or possibly in denial of our difficult pasts.

*Performance artiste and the founder-director of Conflictorium-Museum of Conflict, Ahmedabad

(Avni Sethi and Askari Naqvi staged a narrative performance using song and dance at the inauguration of an educational campus called Neembaadi Learning Pathway in Sanand, Gujarat, on the life of Musa Suhaag)

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