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The Bookseller Dede

by

Ali Allawi

January 17, 2004

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Hajj Hamid was not much of a driver. But neither was Adam for that matter. In fact Adam had no driving credentials at all. He had no recognized driving license, and never had any driving lessons. We didn’t know that though, when Adam offered to drive us all nine of us- from Madison to Milwaukee, in the hired van. Adam had trained as a physicist, but in the last few years had given up on what would probably have been a rather mediocre career, and turned into a professional spiritual seeker. In most of the world he would have been quietly- or noisily- dissuaded from such a profit-less and quixotic endeavor, but not in America. Here, there is a market for everything, including unresolved, life-long angst. Adam moved from crash pads to ashrams and finally found a degree of spiritual stability with a group in Milwaukee, based on some unassuming immigrants from Albania. They all lived within walking distance of each other in a run down neighborhood of the city. It is they who had connected with Hajj Hamid, when one of the group had stumbled onto his website. One thing led to another until Hajj Hamid was prevailed upon to visit the group in Milwaukee, the first time being over two years ago. On this occasion, Hajj Hamid had asked me to join him- and I did. It was a long detour for me, but I hadn’t seen Hajj Hamid for a while, and it was time for us to meet again.

We had just spent the weekend in Madison where Hajj Hamid had been invited to give a talk at the Annual Conference of WiSE, the ‘Wisconsin Seekers after Enlightenment’, an eclectic collection of old hippies, scatter-brained New Agers and Sufi wannabees. The talk went off rather well, not so much because of what Hajj Hamid had said- he prudently spoke in generalities- but because the audience was in a mellow mood. They had determined that they were indeed seekers after enlightenment, and behaved accordingly. There may have been over a hundred of them in the college auditorium where the conference was being held. The majority of them were women. Towards the end of Hajj Hamid’s talk, one garishly dressed woman, well into her middle age, with long graying hair, stood up, raised both her hands, and started to sway.

“All this is so wonderful, it is making me swoon! Freedom comes from dancing. Let me dance, the round dance, the cosmic dance. We are one with the cosmos, and dance is the movement of the divine cosmos. The atoms are dancing and I am dancing!”

Hajj Hamid barely took notice of her, finished his talk quickly, and passed the microphone to the next speaker. The woman kept on swaying but was now also chanting loudly.

The next speaker, a burly fellow with a shaved head and massive handlebar moustaches, took the microphone and shouted at the audience,

“Inhibitions! Kill your inhibitions! Be like Rosamunde! Throw away your inhibitions and dance, whirl, skip and jump. Move, for movement is all! There can be no enlightenment without movement!” A few more intrepid types jumped up and started to dance. One of them, a scrawny woman with mousy hair, climbed up to the podium and started to perform a type of gypsy twirl, complete with castanets. Others in the audience became emboldened and the auditorium was soon awash with people dancing in the most incredible, even outrageous, manner.

Hajj Hamid eyed me intently. I took this as a sign to plan an exit. I quickly turned to Adam and quietly told him to prepare the others for our departure. Hajj Hamid mumbled a few words to one of the organizers, something to the effect that we must be back in Minneapolis that night. The man was completely uninterested in what Hajj Hamid was saying and was in fact preparing to get up to dance with the others. We all quietly slipped away while the manic dancing was going on- and increasing in tempo. Each one of us went back to our rooms, quickly collected our belongings and assembled near our van, all within thirty minutes.

“Hajj Hamid. Let me drive today. You’ve all had a long day and you should relax. I’ll do the driving,” said Adam.

We all piled into the van, with Hajj Hamid, painfully fitting his massive bulk onto the front passenger seat. Adam took the wheel confidently, and with a deft stroke, put the van in reverse gear and pulled out of the parking lot. All was going well. The drive was smooth as we entered the freeway. The mood was quiet, indeed solemn. Nobody said much, and when Adam announced matter-of-factly, “I think I’ll take the scenic route,” nobody paid much attention. It was late afternoon when the clouds suddenly darkened and the first snowflakes began to fall. I was sitting behind Adam and I noticed that he had stiffened. His arms were extended unnaturally at the wheel and his grip on it became visibly taut. Alarm bells began to ring in my head. The van started to skid.

“What’s happening!?” shouted Hajj Hamid, suddenly awakening to the danger. “Whatever you do, don’t push on the breaks!”

But that is exactly what Adam did. The van momentarily seemed to stop, only to break out into a violent spin, missing by a few feet a car that was coming down the opposite lane, and slamming, rear end first, into a ditch on the other side of the road. We were all shaken, but no one was hurt. The van stuck out of the ditch at an odd angle, but seemed to be mainly undamaged.

“What was that about, Adam? Didn’t I tell you not to break,” said Hajj Hamid rather angrily.

“Well yes, but it seemed to be going into simple harmonic motion and I wanted to dampen the oscillations,” said Adam sheepishly.

“This is not a physics problem. You nearly got us killed. Didn’t they teach you this in driving school; ‘Don’t break hard when the road is slippery!’” said Hajj Hamid.

“Actually I never went to driving school.”

“What!?” we all shouted.

“I mean I know how to drive but I didn’t go to driving school. I learnt in Tegucigalpa. Somebody gave me the car keys and said, ‘Drive’. I did, and later that day I bought myself a license. I have a license. It’s Honduran, but there you are!” he said triumphantly.

“This is incredible,” laughed Hajj Hamid. “Simple harmonic motion! What on earth were you thinking of? We were dancing with death and you were solving oscillation equations. Incredible! You are peerless, Adam! Peerless! Like that big man with the handlebar moustache this morning! What was his name, the fellow who was sitting next to me on the podium and instructed everyone to dance? The dance of liberation he called it- or was it the death of inhibitions. Whatever it was, what was his name? He was quite astonishing.”

“I think you mean Ruslan Grusilov,” said Shaker, one of the Albanians, a fitter by trade.

“He calls himself Murshid Ruslan. His real name is Art Tannenbaum. I used to know him in an earlier incarnation. He ran a pet shop in Denver. But latterly he has been on the guru circuit. He has quite a few followers,” I said.

Hajj Hamid suddenly went silent. It was palpable. Nobody said a word.

“Somebody should call for help. A tow truck would do the trick. Can someone call for a tow truck, please?” Hajj Hamid quietly asked.

A few minutes passed. It was approaching dusk. I didn’t want to interrupt Hajj Hamid’s thoughts. He seemed to have suddenly wondered into a quiet corner of himself after I told him who Ruslan Grusilov was. I thought it was a pretty amusing story, but it seemed to have had an opposite effect on Hajj Hamid. It put him in this strange and somber mood.

I cleared my throat loudly, hoping to pull Hajj Hamid out of his reverie. It seemed to do the trick. Hajj Hamid spoke out, at no one in particular.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but remember something. How you can find the most astounding people in the least expected places. Even the greatest of Sages. That’s how I met the Bookseller Dede.”

“The Bookseller Dede? Who was he?” I said, expectantly.

The whole van had perked up. The fact that we were stranded in a ditch did not impress us. We were about to be offered one of Hajj Hamid’s treats.

“He eventually did become the Sage of his age- but not before he spent years of apprenticeship. As a replacement sage, as it were. You know for every sage there are six or seven- some say more, even forty- that could replace him in the order of things. It could be a ‘her’ too. I have heard of women sages, and may have met one. I am not sure though,” said Hajj Hamid.

“What do you mean, Hajj Hamid? How can you replace a sage?” said Mamdouha from the back of the van. She was an angular Minnesotan, clearly of Scandinavian antecedents, who had married one of the Albanians with us.

“It is all to do with hierarchies. Every order must have in it the capacity for renewal. If things cannot be renewed then that order will die or collapse upon itself. The substitutes who can carry on the work and sustain the order must be there. Actors have understudies and so do sages!”

Jerry, an accountant, now spoke up. He was seated next to me. He had recently joined the group in Milwaukee and had the keen enthusiasm of a convert.

“I don’t know if I understand this, sir. I mean in normal organizations -say corporations or any endeavor for that matter- there must be a ranking of leadership, deputies and so on. But what has this got to do with sages and wise men. Why would they want a deputy- and what would their job be in any case?”

“That’s a trap that you’ve fallen into Abdullah,” said Hajj Hamid with a laugh. He called Jerry by the name that he had recently taken. “I am not talking about businesses or the Boy Scouts! Every thing has its mirror. Sometimes it’s seen but even when it’s not seen, it’s still there. You can’t deny its reality simply because you don’t see it. The burden of any knowledge has to be carried by someone. I mean knowledge of any kind needs to have a knower- at least for it to be of any use. Unless it’s known, it cannot manifest itself, it will be just a theoretical proposition. Without there being another party to do the reckoning, nothing can be realized. Do you agree at least with that?”

“I suppose I do,” said Jerry Abdullah.

“Then you must agree with what I will tell you!” said Hajj Hamid. “It’s a spiritual version of Newton’s Law- you know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We know that somewhere out there is a person who sits, as it were, inside the eye of creation. He- or who knows it could be a she- experiences time, space, matter and all the other stuff of outward existence in terms of their inner meanings. He sees beyond their manifestation in form into their true essences. This is not your usual clairvoyance claptrap. He actually can connect the thread of events in a pattern which is unseen by us. He can actually see where it originates and where it’s going. He has that power-a power of inner sight.”

“I’ve lost you Hajj Hamid” I said, “I don’t quite know where this is leading.”

“Let me put it in another way. The ancients talked about Atlas. To them, he was an actual person who carried the weight of the world on his back. Some mythologies talk about giant turtles carrying the earth. The Plains Indians right here talked about a Giant Buffalo. Well this is to do with the material world. That was their explanation for the unseen physical forces that keep things together- or make them fly apart. The same exists in the world of the unseen. There is such an axis or pole, who carries the secret of creation with him. He is at the center of the spiritual energy that guards the purpose of creation. There has to be such a figure and I know that there is such a figure. I have actually met him. A long time ago. If such a person disappears then there is no spiritual basis to life- for who will be there to understand it? You cannot have a spirit infusing things and beings without a person who can fully understand it. Otherwise, it is pointless. Simply pointless. If there is no life, then there cannot be death- and vice versa. The sun rises at midnight! How wonderful!”

“I think I follow you now, Hajj Hamid,” said Mamdouha. “You are talking about the qutb- the axis- of the age. I have read this somewhere. But surely this is just a metaphor. Is there such a person?”

“Mamdouha!” exclaimed Hajj Hamid, “Not only is there such a person, but I have already told you I have met him- a few years ago, in some scruffy neighborhood of Istanbul. He was nearly on his deathbed then- or so we thought. His time had not come. He had had only a courtesy visit from the Archangel Azrael! A getting-to-know-you, that’s what he called it. An extraordinary man. He was no miracle-worker, or some rope artist trickster. No Murshid Ruslan, either! He had no halo or any other of the exceptional “signs”. But if you were in his ambit, you were simply dragged into an incredible center of light- an invisible light, but nevertheless all the more real for it. You had to be prepared. Otherwise, if you had seen him in the streets, he would not have impressed you as anything more than a retired postal clerk. A thin white moustache; a thicket of white hair; a cap that covered half his head. Nothing much to look at. But if you had your antennae tuned, his energy would have drowned you. Extraordinary! The only person that I have met who may have exceeded the Master in his attraction.”

We all knew the ‘Master’ to whom Hajj Hamid was referring. Hajj Hamid continued,

“He had a small antique shop- actually, more like a curios store, with an antiquarian books section. Nothing exceptional. A week after we had visited him at home, he made his recovery, and the next time we saw him, a few days after that, it was at his shop.” “Who had told you about him? I mean was he known in your circles?” asked Mehmet, another of the Albanians.

“The Master knew of him. I think it was the Sage of Desht-i-Kabir who told him- or perhaps it was Baba Gardun, I’m not sure. But we made the trip to Istanbul when we had heard of his illness. The Master wanted to see him before he died. The Master had a penchant for hunting down these great sages. It seems to have abated since those days. Perhaps he now knows that there is precious little left to learn. He just enjoys their presence whenever they meet. Nowadays whenever these masters get together, all they do is sit, smile and sigh to each other. It’s quite uncanny!”

“What was his name?” I asked.

“We knew him as Hassan Qalamji. But his followers called him the Bookseller Dede.”

“The Bookseller Dede?” said Mamdouha.

“Yes; ‘Dede’ means the illuminated teacher, in Turkish I believe. Actually dede is an affectionate term for an elder person. Anyway Sheikh Hassan or The Bookseller Dede is the Pole of this age. He has all the attributes of absolute authority, and all the great masters, from Fes to Jakarta, from Geneva to Sydney, all recognize his authority. The Sage of Desht-i-Kabir sends him regular greetings and salutations, and I am told that he visits the Bookseller Dede in person- but not in the way that you would understand.”

“What do you mean?” said Adam. He had been quiet all this time, partly because of the guilt he felt that he might have been the cause of our untimely demise. And partly because he was totally absorbed in Hajj Hamid’s story.

“We’ll leave that to later. I knew the physicist in you would rebel at some point, Adam,” said Hajj Hamid.

“No, Hajj Hamid, what do you mean really?” implored Adam.

“Distances and time mean nothing to these realized beings. Hundreds of miles are simply compressed into a footstep; time is not measured in hours and days. It’s all instantaneous. When the work is for, by, and through Allah, time and space collapse. That’s why people can confirm the presence of these masters hundreds of miles away when their own followers swear that they were with them at that very instant. There is nothing to disbelieve. Take away time and space and their measurement, and all becomes possible. It’s not miracle-working. It just happens to these people. When the Sage of Desht-i-Kabir or the Master call on the Bookseller Dede, you know that the Bookseller Dede, just by virtue of this acknowledgement, is the Pole of his age. It’s that simple.”

“Amazing! Simply amazing! I suppose if the laws are apparently suspended, then all kinds of possibilities emerge.” Adam said this forcefully. He wanted to convince himself of its veracity, but the remains of a muted skepticism lingered on. He couldn’t shake himself of it, even in the presence of Hajj Hamid- but he was trying. He must try ever harder he thought, if he were to ever leave the status of a professional seeker. At some point he must arrive, and it might as well be now.

Hajj Hamid continued,

“I know. I haven’t experienced this in person, this communion at a different level of existence, but I do not doubt it. The Bookseller Dede is the Pole. His sole job on this earth is to confirm, by his essence, the submission of all to the Creator. And by all, I mean all! Humanity, animals, plants, rocks, planets, the cosmos, the unseen spheres, the realms of light and might. All! Thoughts in the Divine Realm have their own reality and a form of reality when they become manifest. The Pole is the interconnecting thread between these divine realities and their manifestations. If you turn him inside out as it were, you enter the Realm of Majesty.” Hajj Hamid stopped abruptly and sank into thought. Several minutes passed and we did not interrupt this reverie. He just held his quiet. At last Hajj Hamid turned to the back of the van and said:

“What I have just said may not be intelligible to you now. Lord knows I struggled with this before it became a second nature. When you can see things in their outer form and in their inner meaning, then you will know of what I speak. Otherwise I can understand people saying that all this is gibberish. It’s not their ignorance that bothers me. It’s not an ignorance born of not knowing something. That’s easy to resolve. You just teach people the realities. But it’s more sinister- it’s an ignorance that refuses to see things in any way except in their grossest form. Thick, dense, heavy- and sensual. The grossness of it all!!”

Hajj Hamid peered out of the van window and looked vacantly at the falling snow. It was a wet snowfall, typical of November in these parts. No sooner had the flakes touched the ground then they melted.

“It’s nearly evening, I hope the tow truck is on its way,” said Hajj Hamid.

“I’ll check now, Hajj Hamid,” said Mehmet.

“I am beginning to understand you, Hajj Hamid,” Adam said. “It has taken me years just to begin to break the barriers, but it’s like a massive door that you have just managed to pry open. You can see beyond but only through the small crack. The door is not sufficiently ajar to pass your whole body through. You’re still on the outside. But where I stand I do see fleeting figures of the Master, you, even the Bookseller Dede now. I see fields of light occasionally, but far more moments of darkness where nothing is perceptible. And this massive door-sometimes it appears as a barrier, and at other times it is a bridge. I had a dream one day about this very subject. I was somewhere in space when I came across this crystal city, suspended, hanging. All those crystal skyscrapers jutting out, and where I stood it was a wondrous sight. As I walked towards the crystal city I could not find any entrance. I walked around it, and still there was no way in. I shouted out to whoever was there, ‘Open up! Let me in!’, but no one responded and still there was no way in. I turned away from this crystal city feeling sad and empty. All of a sudden a voice from the crystal city rose up and said:

‘The path into this city goes through you first.’ And I woke with the verse on my tongue:

And none shall earn it except those with great fortune

I know it is something that has to be bestowed, this access, this ability to have an inner vision. But it has been gnawing at me all these years and I will not cease my efforts. If I can’t do it then let me be at least in the company of those who have done it.” Adam was visibly moved when he remembered this dream. He never paid much attention to his dreams and could hardly remember two of them. But this one he could never forget.

“I sometimes wonder whether this is the fate of all those who try too hard,” said Adam.

“Don’t try too hard!” exclaimed Hajj Hamid, “You’ll start developing furrows on your brow. You already frown too much! Some people are turned around in an instant- for others it unfolds slowly and then dramatically. For others it unfolds gradually and incrementally throughout their lives. Each path is unique to that person. The Bookseller Dede’s pathway to becoming the Pole of his age is one of the strangest. He came from a middling family in one of those small Anatolian towns-more like large villages, actually. His family were minor landlords of the type who were the backbone of the Ottoman Empire. They doubled up as court scribes and magistrates, hence their surname Qalamji. Stolid, religious, loyal- but quite unexceptional. Provincial in the full meaning of the word. Then a bomb dropped onto their quiet lives- actually several bombs. The Great War, the defeat of the Ottomans, the Greek invasion of Anatolia and the overrunning of their town. The disasters followed one upon another in rapid succession. When the Greeks entered the town Hassan, the future Bookseller Dede, was about fifteen years old. The story runs that this youth rallied the town, which sat astride a major road to the interior where the resistance was being organized by Mustafa Kemal. For thirty days, the Greeks held the outskirts of the town and in spite of repeated attempts could not breach its defences. They say that they lost nearly a brigade of infantry in the battle for the town. How did Hassan rally the town, when most of its men were away- either dead from the wars, or with the Anatolian army or in some prisoner-of-war camp? They say that women, children and eighty year old men were holding the position, led by a fifteen year old! The Greeks gave up and pulled out, to assemble their forces for the big battle of Inonu. A message was sent to the defenders of the town from the Grand National Assembly, asking them to send their leader to Ankara to meet with the government there. Well imagine their shock when they saw this beardless youth. The generals thought they were going to meet some mighty warrior or at least one of the town’s notables. Here was Hassan Qalamji, son of Rifat Qalamji the local magistrate, being ushered into the headquarters of the army to meet all these generals. One of them then asked him:

“How did you hold out against the Greeks then?”

“Ya-Sin,” said Hassan. “By the power of Ya-Sin.”

“What do you mean Ya-Sin?”

“Doesn’t the Book say:

If Allah supports you, then no one can claim victory over you

Well that’s the power of Ya-Sin. We had already won before the siege had started. It was ordained and so it was. We were merely instruments of His promise.”

Hassan had known that his power, his planning, his strength, his will, were a mere shadow, a very poor reflection of the Original Source. And for him he was simply stating the obvious. That didn’t sit too well with the generals. They wanted to turn him into a national hero, a sort of prototype of the new man that they wanted to invent. He was quickly sidelined, but he had created powerful enemies. He was oblivious to their enmity and when the New Order came into being, it proceeded to hound him at every step. But all he could see was Allah’s Mercy everywhere. He was indifferent to his fate, oblivious to all that was done to make his life difficult and miserable. In the end, they forgot about him and Hassan simply grew into the Bookseller Dede with no effort or exertion on his part. He flowered into the Pole of his age. Sometimes in the 1940’s I think, after the War, Mirza Abbas of Kirman, the greatest seer of his time, came to visit the Bookseller Dede in Istanbul. At the same time, Sheikh Ahmad al-Kindi, the Master of the Dervishes of Aleppo, also turned up in Istanbul to visit the Bookseller Dede. What transpired then is not known in detail, but it has been said that never have two masters from the two rivers confirmed a person’s status at the same time. Another person came to visit the Bookseller Dede later- a Frenchman or Swiss who was living in Tripoli. It was extraordinary. I don’t know who was the Pole of the Age then, but it was clear that both Mirza Abbas and Sheikh Ahmad knew him, and knew that the Bookseller Dede was his substitute. It all falls in place. I told you that the Pole has to exist and his substitute is there and the substitute of the substitute is there and so on until the pyramid is complete. Take a stone away, and the whole structure would crumble. The End of Time.”

“The End of Time?” asked Adam, quizzically. “Why the End of Time? Can you say, Hajj Hamid, that all of creation is held up by this Pole of the Age? Surely not. How can you abrogate this function to a mortal? So if the Pole is run over by a truck, creation will stop- or actually collapse upon itself. Surely not.”

“It has nothing to do with the physical or biological existence of the person. It has to do with his metaphorical existence. You must learn to see things in their various dimensions, inner and outer. Yes, the Pole can be run over by a truck, and yes, he will die if he is struck badly enough. And no, the world will not end and time will not stop. This is at one dimension. His biological existence terminates. But the symbols of perfection that were his inner condition, these cannot end. Can you conceive of a world where there are no godly traits-none? Where none of the attributes of beauty and majesty exist? Where there are no manifestations of divine power, will, generosity, love, patience, and all the other traits that give meaning to creation and existence? The answer is no! There will be no such world. In fact such a world cannot exist because it is shorn of the manifestations of the creative force. Therefore, it will cease to exist. The End of Time! QED!” And Hajj Hamid laughed out aloud when he said “QED!”

Quod erat demonstrandum. My Latin is weak but there it is! Actually I don’t believe in logical proofs for supra-logical issues, but you are still trying to square this with your reasoning. Abandon this all of you. You will drive yourself bananas!”

I wasn’t sure whether some of the Albanians understood this, but they all nodded in unison.

“I am trying, but please bear with me for a while, Hajj Hamid” said Adam. “I do not accept that the hierarchy of realized people- all those poles and substitutes- can in fact account for the continuation of existence. That is surely a function of the never-ending divine act of creation and not because of some static pyramid of virtues. You are giving god-like qualities to mortals-or worse, assuming that these mortals, really no different than you or I, have the power to determine our fate.”

“That is precisely what I did not say. In fact the opposite,” said Hajj Hamid, rather testily. “When we saw the Bookseller Dede, he was quite uninterested in whether we recognized him as a Pole. I believe he was indifferent himself to his exalted status. He was just that. It was a given for him, not something that you would trumpet around in the streets. He was too absorbed in the Realm of Oneness to ever be influenced by the disturbances around him. But he noticed things- oh, how he noticed them! He must have read every newspaper in town. He had one of those early transistors and he used to hear the news from the BBC on the hour. Every hour, he used to turn this radio, with its infernal crackling sound, fidgeting with the antenna to get the right reception, listening to the news, and then commenting on the news to whoever was with him. When you were in his company, you had better brushed up on your current affairs. He would fire questions at you on whatever caught his interest that day; or if you had come from a foreign country he would ask questions that went to the hearts of the issues. It was incredible how he could make you discard years of reasoning and abandon hardened views and positions simply by formulating his questions in an entirely unexpected way. When you had to fit your answer within the parameters of the question, you came up with truly novel ways of seeing things. Familiar and comfortable patterns simply dissolved away and nothing of your notions remained. You were suddenly stripped bare by the question. Such people do have this effect. It is to do with seeing things as they really are- not how you fancy them to be or how others formulate them for you. The simplicity of the question is the mirror of the complexity of the answers. You could give a treatise in reply but it would answer nothing in reality. You know the Bookseller was imprisoned many times. They stopped harassing him sometime in the 1960’s. They had other fish to fry. Although I hear he is still sometimes hauled for questioning in front of some public prosecutor about some trivial issue. Nowadays though, it doesn’t carry the physical risks it did as in the bad old days. It was worse in the 1930’s. He told this story to the Master and I. One day- he was then in internal exile in some village in the Trebizon district- the flunkey who represented the powers-that-be came to his house. The Bookseller Dede had to report daily to the police as to his whereabouts- this in a village of not more than a thousand souls where the police station was about fifty yards away. You may know of the petty humiliations and tyrannies in which Eastern officialdom specialize, but I suppose they had their orders from headquarters. They were trying to break his spirit, not knowing that his spirit has nothing to do with this terrestrial world! It just so happened that the Bookseller Dede did not emerge from his house that day. It might have been because he was ill, he didn’t say. In any case he didn’t report to the police in person as was required and this official showed up, banging on his door and demanding to see the Dede. The Bookseller Dede was doing his ‘Asr prayers, and he wouldn’t answer the door. Actually, I doubt if he had heard the banging, immersed as he was in the divine dialogue. So this official put his shoulder to the door and managed to break in. He saw the Dede in prayer and started screaming at him, something to the effect that he had deliberately insulted the representative of the state no less, and that he would pay dearly for this affront. The Dede completely ignored him, so this official took out his stick and raised his hand to strike the Dede in prostration. But then he froze. The Dede finished his prayers, got up and saw this man looking at him, transfixed. A minute ago he was about to break the Dede’s back and now he just stood there, with the stick in his hand. The Bookseller Dede looked at him and said:

‘You tried to strike me, but instead you were struck. You tried to humble me, but it was you who were humbled. You tried to waylay me, but it was you who were waylaid. As you were about to hit me, I had already started to recite:

Is it not time that the hearts of those who believe should be humbled to the Remembrance of Allah

It moved from my silent lips to your heart across the chasm of your forgetfulness.’

The poor official was dumbfounded. He threw the stick away and fell at the Dede’s feet. From that time on, he devoted his life to the Dede and became his personal guard and servant. He left his position, abandoned his possessions and became inseparable from the Dede. He had no children, but his wife, who reveled in the dubious honor of being an official’s wife, couldn’t understand what had happened to her husband and after a short while she left him. I saw this man at the Dede’s shop. He never said a word to anyone except to the Bookseller Dede. I think his silence was his way of atoning for his dreadful acts when he was the Dede’s tormenter. There are many such stories about the works of the Dede. I am not saying them to prove that he is a miracle-worker. He is, but his miracles are not the usual stuff of legend. They are more subtle, more profound, and all of them are to do with the turning of hearts towards a higher principle.”

We all pondered this story for a while. It seemed to require a great leap of imagination- or belief- to transpose this story onto the larger canvas of hierarchies, substitutes and poles that Hajj Hamid was trying to draw for us. Nevertheless, the story of the Bookseller Dede and the official resonated with all of us- I could tell- and at that moment we would all believe that the Dede had a unique power. But whether it was the power that confirmed anything in particular was another matter entirely. We might not have been able to assimilate the full significance of the story while we were cooped up in that stranded van; but then again we might well be able to in the future. Who knows? I for one, kept this possibility open.

“Hajj Hamid, I believe that the Bookseller Dede was a great presence and a realized being,” said Mamdouha. “But a Pole? I don’t know about that. What about the Sage of Desht-i-Kabir and all the others, where do they fit in this hierarchy. And the Master himself, where does he fit into all of this?”

Hajj Hamid moved his frame sideways and opened the van door. He stepped out into the muddy ditch. He looked out for a few minutes and then turned to all of us in the van and said:

“The tow truck is here.”

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