Between spirits and couriers

I was sitting with my chin propped up in my palms, cross-legged in my bed for last two hours because the 4th chapter of my doctoral thesis was not going anywhere for last six weeks and the supervisor was getting impatient in Australia while I was in Pakistan. My mother got worried about my situation and thought some relative had put a spell on me to hinder my progress in education. So she talked to the part-time cleaning lady who seemed to be in touch with everything in the universe. She took my mother to a medicine man or pir or shaman where they both discussed the possibility of removing all the invisible hindrance in my education. The pir sahib told them he needed to see me to really figure out the invisible forces working against me. Next day I went along with my mother and the maid to a dark house between GOR II and Samanabad. The house smelled mildewed and sunless. Into the farthest room we walked. The floor was without cement or tiles. A willowy, bony man with sunken cheeks was sitting in the middle of the room with his eyes close and a knife in front of him. He sat there motionless despite the noise of our arrival. After a while, he opened his eyes and signalled us to sit on the floor in front of him. The maid pointed towards me. He nodded as if he understood the gravity of my epistemic concerns. Then he picked up the knife, drew a circle with its tip in the ground, mumbled something and plunged the knife in the dead centre of the circle. His face had become stern.

"Yes. There is a spell against the progress of this young man," he announced.

"When is your next chapter due?" he turned towards me.

I said in a month.

"How do you send it?"

"By international express mail."

"Just send this maid to let me know when you post it next time. I will send two of my most kamil (proactive) spirits with the mail and your chapter will be accepted."

I nodded. We all left. On the way back, I was thinking about the ironies of the situation. My thesis was, in a nutshell, on the conflict between Western modernity and Oriental traditions and, here, my thesis itself had become embroiled in the mess of an esoteric tradition. I was still lucky that the pir sahib promised to send "two spirits" along with the express courier service and did not promise to deliver it through the spirits themselves. Of course, in due time, because of sheer perseverance, the first draft was approved and I was to submit a final bound copy.

Between the first draft and the final draft, I got married. New life situations produced new delays as I was also teaching in a university in Lahore. This time my legal relatives got worried about the delay. A different pir was consulted. This pir was media-savvy and also appeared on a TV channel regularly. He asked them to bring me along and also bring a T-shirt regularly used by me. We arrived in a house in Johar Town. The old man spread the T-shirt on a table, measured its width at the chest and started reciting something. After he finished reciting, he measured the T-shirt again. In his way of measuring, the T-shirt had become two inches larger. He said, again in a grave tone, that indeed there was a spell but a mild one. A really dangerous spell can increase the chest size of the T-shirt up to seven inches. Then he gave detailed instructions for me to follow. I promised to follow the instructions and left. Divided between tradition and modernity, I typed away on the final draft and, occasionally, tried to follow the instructions of the pir sahib thinking about the sociological concept of "participatory observation." Towards the weeks leading to the submission of the final draft, I had become a living example of all the contradictions of the subject of my research: technological reason vs. metaphysical agency. It was time to finish. The social experiences that I could not analyse in the research were, in a certain way, outside the realm of bibliographies and footnotes and that is how they are to this day. There are no definite conclusions in life.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated January 04, 2009