The Triumphant Widow

and other Sufi stories

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

“La ilaha il Allah Muhammed Rasool Allah”, the men chanted, as they lifted the bier. of Baday Nana. They had gathered, all seventy of them in the Sufi brotherhood, to pay their last respects to their departed brother. A sheet of jasmine flowers covered the bier. The air was filled with the sweet aroma of ood.  A mysterious light radiated from the space in front of Badey Nana’s hut.

The men lifted the bier with measured haste. Baday Nana was to meet his Beloved and it was not proper to keep the lover waiting for the Beloved. A dozen shoulders supported the bier, each man edging his way closer to make sure he carried his share.

Men and women of the village lined the dusty street to pay their respects. Some threw rose petals, some said salaam. He was a gem among men, the product of an age when sincerity and good deeds were the hallmark of men of honor, no matter what their rank.

Through the afternoon the women who had come to console the bereaving family departed, one by one. “Do not cry my child”, one old lady with deep furrows on her forehead said to Badi Bi, “To Allah do we belong, and to Him is our return. He is the Owner of Rizq and He will of a certainty provide for you”

Badi Bi had lost her husband, her support and her love. Her eyes were covered with a sheet of tears. They kept pouring out, those tears. Each eye had become a fountain of tears. It was astonishing how a river could emerge from such a small well!

And then there was silence all around. Badi Bi was left alone with her four children. Saqawat, Abdulla, Zainab and Kulthum. Zainab was five and Kulthum was three. The oldest, Saqawat was nine. They were too young to grasp the gravity of the moment but they knew something momentous had happened. Zainab and Kulthum sat in their mother’s lap and the boys clasped her arms, seeking comfort in her proximity as would frightened kittens tugging on to a mother cat.

Badi Bi felt emptiness in her heart. That emptiness seemed to envelope the whole world.  “What will I do now?”, she thought. Baday Nana was a loving provider. As a street fruit vendor, he was always good for a few paise at the end of the day, enough to make the difference between roti and hunger. But now that support was gone and Badi Bi had to fend for herself.

Badi Bi’s brothers had migrated to Big Town the previous year. “Surely, they will help me”, she thought. I will go there and make a new life for myself..

On the fortieth night after the departure of her beloved, Badi Bi stayed up all night, packing up her few belongings in a large towel that she had received as a gift when she got married.  The leftover flour was good enough to make seven rotis. By the dawn, as the muezzin called for prayer, Badi Bi woke up the children and they all said their fajr prayer together. “Thee alone do we worship and Thee alone do we ask for help”, they said all together.  Badi Bi broke up two of the rotis and offered a bite to each of the children, taking a piece herself.  “This will keep the children going until mid-day”, she thought.  And then she began her migration to Big Town, eleven miles away, her total wealth no more than five rotis and a kettle of water.

It was a cool September morning. Badi Bi left her village quietly and started up a steep hill on a dirt road that led to Big Town. The long shadows of the morning cast their spell on a serene landscape as the sun rose from behind the hills. The monsoons had been active that summer and the land was lush green. The farmers were headed to the fields with their bullocks, ploughs on their shoulders. Occasionally, a horse drawn carriage passed them by. Far away, a farmer sang a melodious tune as he ploughed the field.  Up the hill on the right was the ancient Eidgah, now shimmering white in the first rays of the morning sun. Badi Bi remembered the many times when her own grandfather had carried her on his shoulders for the Eid prayers. This was the continuity, of faith, the rope from Allah, passed on from generation to generation.   

By noon, Badi Bi and the children had covered all of six miles. The bare feet of the children were tired and it was time to rest. They stopped in a roadside mango orchard. Badi Bi carefully opened the rotis she had packed. Each child got one roti and a mango pickle. After a trek of six miles, the roti never tasted so good.

There was no time to lose. The sun was past its zenith and there were five more miles to cover. High clouds were beginning to gather on the horizon and the monsoons were still active. “Big Town is not far away”, she thought. “My brothers will surely provide us with food and shelter when we arrive”. They trekked on, without pausing or taking a water break.

It was dusk when Badi Bi caught the first glimpse of Big Town. Far in the distance the kerosene lamps attached to horse drawn carriages flickered like little candles.   The approach to Big Town lay down a steep slope towards a valley. The traffic of bullock carts, of farmers returning from the fields picked up.

Badi Bi was happy that at last she had arrived at her brother’s hut. Tired as they were, the children were excited about meeting their uncle. Perhaps there would even be a warm meal for them.

Darkness had by now enveloped Big Town. The pitch dark of the night was broken occasionally by brilliant flashes of lightning. The approaching thunder meant that rain was around the corner.

With great expectation, Badi Bi stood at her brother’s door and called out his name.  “Ashraf Bhai! Bhabi!”, she called out in loud, sonorous tones. The first call went unanswered. Badi Bi persisted. The thatched door opened just enough for someone to peep out. It was her sister-in-law.

“Why don’t you go to the other brother? There is no room for your four children here”, she said, and slammed the door shut behind her.

Badi Bi felt empty in her bones. It was a rude shock indeed, as if someone had hit here with a big pole “Why did my brother not even greet me”, she wondered. She had come here with great expectations. The children were tired and hungry. They needed a place to rest.

Human resilience is not suppressed by disappointments; it is reinforced by them. Badi Bi was a resilient lady with a faith as deep as the ocean. She was not to give up hope that easily. She decided to try the other brother.   “Surely, I will have a better reception from my other brother”, she thought. She walked the hundred yards to the second hut. The thunder was getting louder and the approaching storm was evident from the lightning strikes. She hurried to the other hut and called out her other brother. “Amjad bhaiyya”, she called. She had a tinge of desperation in her voice.

“Go away! Go to the other brother’s house”, came a female voice from inside the hut, “there is no room for you here”.

Badi Bi felt empty in the depths of her soul. “How could my brothers be so callous?”, she thought, “Don’t they realize how tired and hungry the children are?”. She had no time to ruminate on the cold reception. The storm was fast approaching and she had to find shelter for the children.

There was a bullock cart parked in front of the hut. The rain had started and Badi Bi hurried under the cart. The children followed her. Badi Bi spread out her saree over the heads of the children and pulled them towards herself. The warmth of a mother’s love radiated out to embrace the four children and they felt secure. The angels watched and spread out the wings of protection.

The rain poured on. Flashes of brilliant lightning lit the landscape in rapid succession. Each flash was followed by earth shaking thunder.  The heavens had opened up and all the rain that was in the sky fell on Big Town. First, it came from the West. Just when it seemed to have ended, it turned around and lashed from the East. Then it poured straight down as if the angels of rain were emptying their buckets.

The children clung to Badi Bi. The heavens may have opened up, but under that bullock cart, with their heads covered with the saree of their mother, they were certain that no raindrop would touch their heads. The saree of the mother was the canopy from heaven.

It rained for a long time. And then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.  The air was still and was filled with the sweet aroma of rain soaked earth. One by one, the children fell asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the day. Badi Bi rested her head against the cart wheel. Before she knew it, she too was asleep.

They slept, supporting each other, for a long time. Sweet are the dreams that spring from a tired soul! That night Badi Bi had a dream. She dreamed she was dressed in white flowing silk robes and rode on the wings of angels.  Away she went into a vast open valley ringed by three mountains of treasure. The first was the mountain of Hilm (forbearance). It had millions of diamonds, each diamond sparkling like a brilliant star. The second was the mountain of Sabr (patience). It had rubies, crimson red, glowing like fireballs. And the last, the biggest of them was the mountain of Karrama (Divine bounty). It had emeralds clear blue like the vast open sky. The angels egged her on to take whatever she wanted. “If I could take but a single gem from each treasure”, Badi Bi thought, “I could build a shelter for the homeless. No orphan would be forced to spend a stormy night under a bullock cart. And if there was anything left, I would take care of my children”. She approached the first mountain and picked up a diamond. As she touched the diamond, her hand turned white. Then she approached the second mountain and picked a ruby and as she did so, her hand turned red. Finally, she picked an emerald from the mountain of Karrama and her hand vanished from her sight. She carefully tied the three precious stones to the palloo (tip) of flowing sari so as not to lose them.

The call of the muezzin from far away woke her up. “God is the greatest! God is the greatest”, it said. How beautiful were those words! The sound of God’s name bathed the landscape as if to wash away the sins of all the people who were still asleep. “It will bring a new day”, Badi Bi thought. “It will be the beginning of a new dawn”.

Then she remembered the dream. She tugged at the edge of her saree to look for the gems. It was full.  And it was empty. “Divine Mercy is here”, she thought. “The help from the heavens is near”.

From far away came the chant of the Divine Name. The chant washed her heart, purified her, and the pangs of disappointment she had felt the previous night were gone. “The new day will bring a new life for me and my children”, she resolved, “and God willing, I shall triumph”.

The roosters heralded the beginning of a new dawn. The birds joined in. The sparrows kept up in an unending chorus.  The mynah bird tuned in too. Even the crows provided a discordant cacophony. It was as if the rain had energized all the birds of the land, pumping new energy into their voices.  .

Badi Bi gently rested the heads of the children on the wet ground and stepped out. The first hint of morning light was apparent and she surveyed the land. The storm had taken its toll on the mango and palm trees. Dozens of branches from the trees littered the land. She studied the terrain and chose a site for her hut.

She picked up four large mango branches and stripped them of their leaves. Using one of the branches as a shovel, she dug a hole and erected the other branch as a pole. By now the children were awake and they joined in the work. Together, they erected the other three poles and tied four cross beams to the poles, creating a sloping truss. Then they covered up the frame with layers of coconut prawns. A coating of mud on the roof was the last layer and it completed the construction.

Badi Bi stepped into the completed hut. “It is so large”, she said, “there is room here for all the angels”. Tears swelled in her eyes as she thought of her departed husband “You would be proud of me, my love”, she thought.

That morning Badi Bi found work as a day-laborer grinding rice for a rich lady. And with it she took her first step towards her precious treasures.