Mani S. Irani
What's a "moholla"? Hedged between busy streets, a moholla is a quieter locality housing middle-class and lower middle-class families. It has all kinds of interesting lanes and spaces where children play and housewives bargain. It is a sort of private neighbourhood that you can think of as your very own.
In the old days it was called an alley, but now I'm told the word "alley" has an ugly meaning. So let's use the Indian word moholla.
People living in a moholla such as ours are like a joint family, quite heartwarming and caring. In a moholla anybody's business is everybody's business. If one receives good news, everybody helps to celebrate. If a husband beats a wife, everybody is up in arms. None of our neighbours were rich, except in heart. And what with all the weddings and funerals, fights and festivals, life was always interesting where I grew up. Most interesting were the people, but if I were to write about all the characters in our moholla, that would be another whole book.
A number of the moholla residents whom I knew as a child were also known to Baba when He was staying with the family. The characters He recalled years later even included vendors who passed through our lanes selling their wares: samosas, ice-cream, coconut candy, poppadums, and whatnot. Baba specially remembered Gulam Hussein, the sherbet walla with the big moustache. Gulam Hussein pushed his wares in a gay little handcart, ringing the big brass bell hanging from its top. "Clang, clang" went Gulam Hussein's bell, and out ran all the children of the neighbourhood and surrounded him.
I was one of the children surrounding him. He would fix crushed ice at the end of a stick in whatever shape you ordered and then pour sweet syrup over it in different colours. I would suck fast on my iced peacock and beg for more syrup, "Please, please, Gulam Hussein, a little more green on the tail, just a little more orange on the head, please, please...." After a while he always gave in. Nice man — I'm so glad Baba remembered him.
And there was Mowshi, a Goanese Catholic, whom Baba especially remembered. "Mowshi" means aunt (mother's sister), and she was Mowshi to everyone. She was said to be 110 years old and believed to have grown another set of teeth in her old age — no, I'm not kidding. Perhaps they said this because Mowshi was known to chew the toughest meat, bones and all.
This little woman lived in one shabby room near to my aunt's house and cooked her own food in a tiny kitchen. Her life was ruled by the alarm clock and by Jesus. She had His pictures everywhere, and she wore a big rosary with a heavy cross dangling from it. And please note: she had a tin of biscuits on the shelf in her room.
Although Mowshi lived on the charity of the Catholic church, she was demanding in her needs. If she found the bread stale or the meat not pink enough, she would let the Reverend Father know exactly what she thought of the bread and the meat — and of him!
We children were enchanted with this very, very old lady. We were used to grown-ups of all ages, but Mowshi was definitely an overgrown-up!
Mowshi was very fond of me because (she told others) I was very pious. I'll tell you why she said that. It's because every time I saw her, I asked her to bless me. Her eyes would light up. She would fumble with her rosary and mumble a prayer while she blessed me with that cross. I would stand perfectly still while she blessed me, but my eye was glued to the biscuit tin on the shelf. I knew that after the blessing was over, Mowshi would reach for the tin and give me a biscuit from it. On a lucky day I would get blessed several times.
One Sunday afternoon after blessing me, she forgot to give me the biscuit. Oh heavens! What was I to do? How to remind her? Baba, Baba, Baba, please help. I got the answer immediately. Turning to her I said, "Mowshi, I want to be blessed once more."
Mowshi was thrilled. "Again? Oh my good child!"
After this second blessing, her hand automatically moved up to the tin and — oh, the relief — I got my biscuit.
GOD-BROTHER, pp. 19-24
1993 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust