Thursday, June 9, 2011

Look in his eyes

"When you take a pilgrim ensure that you try to fulfill all their needs, if you cannot, call someone who can" said the trainer to the group. "You will regret it if you do not, it will come back and haunt you, I know it cause I did not attempt it once" he continued. Those two lines echo in my mind even today. I failed to apply it and I may regret about it all my life. I was attending the Hajj volunteer class to help Hajjis of 2010.

I went to Hajj with my Wife during 2009. We left our children in our friends place. It was raining when we climbed the bus and it rained heavily in Mina. It almost drenched my bed since I was positioned near to the entrance of the tent. Unknown to us at that time was the fact that Jeddah was flooding resulting in many deaths. By the grace of God Hajj was peaceful.
During Hajj I noticed the many volunteers that came from Jeddah to help Hajjis. Most of the volunteers were from Kerala and the service they gave was nothing short of remarkable. They walked miles and miles every day with aged Hajjis to take them to their tents, walked them for the rituals, pushed the Hajji's that cannot walk in carts, gave them directions. They were very kind with Hajjis, very patient and smiling even at the odd night hours. I saw many desperate Hajjis shouting at them for small issues but they never snapped. They all worked for one thing, to please Allah by serving his guests. I knew it then that I too wanted to be a volunteer once.

During 2010 I got in touch with a group that was planning unofficially to work as volunteers. I attended couple of their classes, listened to volunteers sharing their experiences, got a jacket and a cap and hit the road to Mina in a minivan. I had a backpack with me that contained some dates and cashew nuts that I wanted to distribute to pilgrims. I knew most of them would appreciate it in a tired day. Since we were unofficial volunteers our directions were simple. No backup plan, No support, No food, No rest place, not even a map of Mina. You are pretty much on your own once they drop you in Mina. If you face any issues from authorities remove your Jacket and Cap and find your way home - that was the one liner given to us.

Mina is a confusing place without a map even for young people. Where ever you look you find similar looking tents extending over kilometers. Most of the elderly people would be easily lost during the initial days of stoning the Jamra. Due to language limitation, size and facilities we were advised to stay in the area that houses pilgrims of India. Even though I had been thru Mina during my last Hajj, Mina took me by surprise. Without a map and directions in late hours we felt helpless. We were equally lost like the lost pilgrims. I almost doubted the worthiness of the whole exercise.

Mina with its hundreds of thousands of Tents

I could see the 'authorized' volunteers at some distance. I didn’t dare go near worrying someone raising an alarm and we taken in by authorities. So there I stood, clueless of the whole place. I started to distribute the dates and nuts and they were almost over immediately. Then came the first couple to me. They were not very old, they had lost their way and had been walking around, based on directions. For them it was never ending walk. I was more than happy but clueless on where to take them. I asked the couple to wait and went to the 'authorized' guys and asked for directions. Their destination was not too far to where I stood. I went back to the couple and explained it to them. The guy pleaded to me, can u pls take me to our tent, don’t tell us directions, just take us there, we had been walking for long now, my wife is too weak to walk and we don’t want to go wrong". I walked the couple to their tent and I took mental notes of the geography.

The next was a group of old people. Their tent was a good half an hour walk - away. Then it started growing. When the people see you in Jacket and Cap they catch you and share their worries. Either you own their worries or direct them to a nearby volunteer. When the lost old pilgrims see you and see your willingness to help them, they pray for you right there, that was very touching and rewarding to us. It charges you to keep doing it more.

The 'authorized' volunteers were more than willing to help us. The fact was the load they had was too much for them and they were happy to share it. Even the authorities did not bother to stop us. Infact they will call us and hand over the pilgrims mainly because they do not understand the pilgrims need due to difference in language. Walking to remote corners of Mina up and down many times had its toll my legs, it felt numb. The trainer in the classes had warned already to be physically fit, asked us all to start jogging for at least 15 days. Now I knew why he said that.

I was very tired and hungry. I had been walking from Magrib and it was nearing to two in the morning. I wanted to eat some solid food and not just snacks that were on few shops. That was when I saw him. He was very old and was sitting on the bench in front of the lost people assisting office. He looked liked an Indian to me, I went and asked him why he is sitting there. He started talking to me in a strange language. I was not sure which Indian language it was. The police man came and told me that he had lost his ID, does not remember his tent number and asked if I can assist. I could not communicate with him at all. I used sign language and asked him if he had eaten anything. I was not sure if he understood, I thought the response was negative. There was no food nearby and I myself was searching for food. I did not know what to do. I left him there and went in search of my food.

I managed to get some food after a long time quite far from that place. Selflessness dissolved selfishness took over. I removed by jacket and took a break after food. I think by that time someone would have helped him. But I did not bother to check, it was too far, too late. Even today I can see his worried eyes. I should have walked that extra mile to ensure that he ate at least. But I was too tired to walk. I failed to serve him. The trainer said it right ‘the hopeful look in his eyes still haunts me’.

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