by Ziaul Moid Khan
What was his real name, hardly anybody knew, but they called him Moni Baba, the silent saint. He had a clerical job in Delhi Development Authority; when one day he suddenly turned to spirituality and abruptly stopped speaking. His family was awe-struck with his bizarre decision and they tried their level best to bring him back to sense but to no use.
Now the family locked him up inside a room, and there he was given a good thrashing, beaten black and blue. Still, he was adamant at his decision and did not speak. Only indicated through gestures and body language that now his path was solemnly different, for he was no longer interested in the mundane world of speaking and noisy people. His family had to give way and Moni Baba embarked upon a spiritual journey.
His office in New Delhi pressed him to resign from his post, but he scribbled a slip and handed over to the concerned official. It read: “I regard the office rules but God wants my presence elsewhere, so I’d be on indefinite leave”. The officials put the matter under consideration with the higher authorities, and after a while they lay it in a cold file.
Moni Baba stopped going to office altogether. Put on white attire and made his kutiya, a hermitage, facing west. This place was under a banyan tree surrounded by two ponds en- route to the village. There he would meditate and smoke joints. Soon the village-youngsters inclined to marijuana took a keen interest in Moni Baba and kept his place buzzing.
Moni Baba was extremely punctual and wore spotless dresses. He would wake up at four in the morning, showered and worshiped for hours to Lord Shiva. He had dark complexion, sharp features and long black hair that fell on his shoulders.
That year the village experienced no thunder shower. The monsoon season was almost over, but the weather remained dry. The sun god was spreading his fury and peasants were worried about their crop. The village youngsters discussed the matter with Moni Baba, who gestured them to have bhandara, a public feast.
The villagers were taken into confidence: each family was to contribute a little amount to have a bhandara. The charity was willingly given, the date was fixed and feast was served. For transparency of the donation, a villager kept on announcing, on the microphone through a loudspeaker, the name of each and every donor and the amount donated. The underprivileged and beggars were fed to their-hearts’-content.
The same night, there was heavy rain and downpour in the entire vicinity. People developed their faith and trust in Moni Baba and here onwards, he got popular becoming a household name in and around the countryside.
Henceforth, Moni Baba made it a point to organize a feast every summer proactively for a good rain for the village. His trust was unshakable, and Almighty favored him. Men, women and children loved this silent saint. He’d use sign language to make his point across. His name reached far and wide and in seven years he had a large following.
It was when his silent avatar was purely accepted, one fine morning he suddenly exclaimed, “Jai ho!” People were taken aback. In a little while, it was a rumor rife in the entire region, and people reached his kutiya in thousands to listen to him. Here, Moni Baba delivered his first sermon under the old banyan tree.
Surprisingly the same year, his office in New Delhi issued his pending seven years’ salary to his bank account. He utilized a portion of this fund in the construction of a statue of Lord Shiva, upkeep of the hut and giving rest of the sum to his family.
Right from the day one, when Moni Baba had stopped speaking to seven years later when he’d suddenly resumed talking, I had a fleeting desire to have a personal interview with him. His Kutiya was at a stone’s throw from my residence, and I could easily walk to him in seven minutes, but I could never take time out.
Though I passed by the hermit’s hut several times and greeted him Jai ho, that he responded with vigor and enthusiasm, yet I thought that I should come to visit him well prepared with a diary and a pen. So, I never sat with him. He knew my writing interest and had a high opinion of it. This I came to know through people who frequently visited him.
Precisely speaking, I wanted to write a book on his life and for it I needed a few meetings, and a couple of sittings with him. Those days, I was working on a poetry project; so I kept on postponing this conclave with the legend.
In 2015, I got married and settled in a metro-city with Mona, my wife and lost my link entirely with the village. Still, deep down somewhere, Moni Baba remained active in some compartment of my brain. The wish to have a heart to heart chat with him, and jot down to expose his tale, the higher cause that made him a holy man out of an ordinary human soul, remained there.
On June 20, 2019, I got a routine-call from the village. It was Shuja, my elder brother and we had just general exchanges and pleasantries, when suddenly I asked him, “How’s Moni Baba?”
“Moni Baba is no more,” he said.
“HOW?” I asked, shell-shocked.
“Nobody knows. He was mysteriously found dead in his room.”
“To respect the departed soul there was no bhandara this year; strangely, the village had a good pre-monsoon rain,” he added.
I don’t know why, but I felt my guts wrenching. The regret of not having an interview with this pious soul will forever remain in my heart. For, I remorse to my muses I could not tell the world a detailed story of Moni Baba, the weird saint.
Ziaul Moid Khan is a native of a countryside named Johri in North India. He writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry with equal love and ease. His work has recently featured in Entropy Magazine-Enclave (May, 2019), Onion River Review (April 2019), The Criterion (Feb. 2019), Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (Feb. 2019), The Coachella Review– Blog (Feb. 2019), KAIROS Literary Magazine (Dec. 2018), and Blue Lake Review (Nov. 2018). He teaches English at Gudha International School, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. Zia edits his annual school magazine Sunshine and likes to spend his spare time with his beautiful receptionist-wife Khushboo Khan, and cute two-year-old son, Brahamand. He wants to live some years of his life in New York City. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.