Bashir Manzar

Aga Sahib, as I know him

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I and a few of my friends were having tea with Aga Ashraf Ali (popularly known as Aga Sahib) at his Rajbagh residence way back in 1997. He offered us Qatlam (a Kashmiri bread) saying these have come as a gift from Zadibal area (Shia dominated) of Srinagar. One of my colleagues had no appetite and didn’t touch it. Aga Sahib told him: Tche Kiyaze Chukh Na Khewan. Khe. Ath Cha’n’e Thu’kh Travith. Ye Che Timou Sozmetch Me’i. (Why are you not eating? Eat. It has not been spitted upon. They have sent it for me).

We all broke into laughter because Aga Sahib had hinted to an age old myth prevalent in Kashmir. Decades back, Sunni Muslims of Kashmir would avoid eating food from any Shia Muslim. The reason being, someone, sometime during the history of Kashmir, had floated a rumour that Shias spit on the food that they have to serve to the Sunnis. Aga Sahib was referring to that baseless and unfounded myth.

That was my first encounter with Aga Sahib. I had heard lot about him from JKLF chairman, Muhammad Yasin Malik. Malik was a close friend of Aga Sahib’s son, Late Aga Shahid, whose poetic collection – A Country Without A Postman – will always be there to satiate inquisitive and genius minds.

From then onwards, I used to be in contact with Aga Sahib. Being with him was always a treat. History, literature, culture, education – his association with stalwarts of Indian Freedom Struggle – while chatting with him, one would relive the history.

Socialist to the core, democrat to the boots, secularist to the soul – Aga Sahib was what India needs today, nay, what the world needs today.

We were a young group of journalists. Had launched Kashmir Images Weekly in December 1996 and were too enthusiastic to do “something different” – (you know how the young dream and believe).

Beyond reporting the traditional reports of “two die, five injured”, we tried to broaden the horizon. Had several mind boggling discussions and came up with an idea. And the idea was – Involve and make civil society to speak up. We decided to have public discussions on issues related to education, violence and Sufi culture of Kashmir.

That is how I got in touch with Aga Sahib.

His commitment to non-violence was ultimate. He himself was a great Sufi and education was his forte. And we connected well.

We arranged a lecture in Radio Kashmir, Srinagar Auditorium for Aga Sahib on education. The format of the programme was very simple. The anchor (Raouf Rasool) would invite Aga Sahib to enlighten the audience on the subject. There would be no more lectures but just a question-answer session.

Following Aga Sahib’s thought provoking lecture, a young boy from the audience, who became an environmental (and sometimes political too) writer with the passage of time, rose from his chair and said: “Aga Sahib you just made a submission……”,

He was cut down by Aga Sahib, saying, “Young man, I don’t make submissions, I make a statement.”


From that day onwards, I had several wonderful sessions with Aga Sahib. I strongly believe that he was a Darvesh. Reason being, when with him, you never needed to ask him anything. Once with him, he would always start deliberating on the issues that you wanted to discuss with him. And you would simply be dumbfounded.

And his memory – my God! It was unimaginably terrific. Gandhi Ji, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Prof Mujeeb, Dr Zakir Hussain – it was all stored there in his fertile mind, which age failed to fiddle with. You just needed to give a prick.

He once told me: “Adam was exited from paradise. Most of the people think that it was a punishment for touching the “Shaj-r-e-Mamnooha”, the forbidden tree. No it wasn’t. It was a blessing from the Almighty to let him experience and explore, to seek wisdom, to unravel the mysteries. And we, as his progenies, are still on that mission. Seek knowledge and spread knowledge.”

I firmly believe that, in the world hereafter, he will be giving sleepless nights to, what he used to call “Kat Mulas,” for their faulty and illogical explanations of Islam. Aga Sahib had understood the basic concept of Islam – seeking and spreading knowledge and wisdom – and he did the same all his life.

A friend of mine, a government teacher, Ghulam Nabi Ganie, narrated this to me:

“While doing my B. Ed, we had a session with Aga Sahib one day. When he started his presentation, he said that if there are some Kat Mulas in the audience, he will not speak.

“Anyway, his presentation was over, a teacher from the audience questioned: “Do you believe in God?”

“Aga Sahib left the room. Went, probably to rest room, and once back on the stage said: ‘Nabi (Prophet Muhammad SAW) says there is God. He is Sadiq (the truthful) and He never lies and therefore, I believe in the concept of God’.” He said and added, ‘so there are some Kat Mulas here’.”

And that is the Aga Sahib which I loved, adored, respected and these are the memories of him which I want to live with.

My tribute to Aga Sahib is that I don’t want him to rest in peace but be as restless as he was here. Restlessness is life, even if it is after the ‘so called death’.

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