Musharaff Moulamia Khan, the youngest brother of Hazrat Inayat Khan, was called by his brother to join him in America when he was only fifteen. In an earlier post, we saw him make some preparations for his journey. This passage, weaving together touching customs and a young boy’s tender feelings, shows him going to Bombay and setting sail, alone, inexperienced, and knowing very little English.
On the evening of my departure from home to join Inayat Khan in New York, I came before my great-grandmother, as the head of the household, to ask her permission to go. I touched her feet and bowed low before her, but she caught me in her hands and kissed me, with tears in her eyes. Though she was old and weak, she was firm in will and clear in thought, and there was something fresh and healthy in her. She had outlived her husband and her adopted son and nephew, my grandfather Moula Bakhsh; she had seen both my mother and my father die, and she looked upon my brothers and myself as her own children. “Even the youngest is taken from me,” she said weeping. “Inayat takes them away–all four are gone. This is a real parting, for I shall not see this one again.”
“You may not say that, grandmother,” said my uncle, who was standing beside me; “you may only wish him good fortune. This is a joyful occasion. And your children will come back to you. Even if the four youngest are gone for a time, are we not still here? On our shoulders you are lifted.”
My uncle made a little speech, I remember, as he stood beside me, but my grandmother still wept bitterly. My niece, the only child of my sister who had recently died, took my sister’s place and bound a gold coin on my right arm for good luck, and put a beautiful necklace of flowers round my neck. Then the Scriptures were opened before me and the leaves turned over and moved through the air, as if to sanctify the air I breathed at parting.
After these little customs were done I went away, the men of the family going with me to the station. […] My uncle and my cousin, and Shabaz Khan, these three travelled with me that night to Bombay where the ship was due to leave next afternoon. When at last I arrived on board, my unhappiness became such that I felt I really could not go after all, but I had no words to express this. My uncle was unhappy too to see me go and he suddenly left me, taking my companions away with him, feeling, I suppose, that there was now nothing more to be said. I stood at the side of the ship looking in the direction they had gone. In a moment the pleasure of all my preparations had disappeared.
On the deck were the great baskets of fruit, the lemons and oranges and nuts that had been given to me. I did not yet know about seasickness and how useful I should find these on the voyage. Round my neck hung my beautiful necklace of flowers. My companions had left me so quickly and I had come on board too early. The steamer was still there at anchor and I was still standing in that one spot when I felt a tap on my shoulder. An Indian gentleman, Colonel Pershad, had noticed my depression and had come to tell me not to be unhappy. He knew my grandfather, Moula Bakhsh, by name. He found that my cabin was not far from his, and he told me to come to him in any need or difficulty. And so even before the start I found I had a friend on board.
I heard a gun fired, and I asked what this meant and I was told it was the signal for departure. This was my first quite new impression, and I felt that now I was really off on my new life.
The stewards admired my beautiful necklace, and they hung it up in the dining-room for a decoration there. It was very carefully and beautifully made of pink roses and white flowers tied with a knotted silver thread, and a more beautiful rose hanging in front as a pendant. The stewards also took my baskets of fruit and nuts, for they were too large to place in my cabin. The Brahmins offer coconuts for luck*, for the white substance of the coconut is oily, and it is offered with the same meaning as that of the ancient anointing with oil. The ancient custom signifies good wishes for prosperity, since oil takes away roughness and makes smooth, and also makes supple and gives strength, and thus oil typifies the qualities necessary for happiness and smooth life.
*Musharaff had been presented with a coconut as a parting gift by a Brahmin pupil of his grandfather, Moula Bakhsh. The Brahmin regarded Moula Bakhsh as his guru, and felt that he was the re-incarnation of the great genius of Carnatic music, Tyagaraja.
from “Pages in the Life of a Sufi”
Musharaff Moulamia Khan