Monday, July 26, 2010


The cemetery is about 20 minutes into the craggy Hajar mountains of northern Oman. To reach it, you have to turn away from the shiny, perfumed, soft life of the coast and face the unforgiving interior. One quick turn from the highway of life and the world falls away as you drive further and further into the Oman that encircles the mirage of your safe city life, the Oman that always was and forever will be - silent, sparsely populated, immortal, ever vigilant. God speaks to Man here.

The cemetery lies in the middle of the mountains in a vast flat valley of rock and stone that is now neatly organised into plots and graves. They also have a registration office, a small mosque, and baths for the ablution of the dead. I wonder if my grandfather, in the greater part of his 87 years on the fertile Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India - where he lived through World Wars, the Indian Freedom Movement, the creation/separation of India and Pakistan, Indo-Pak wars, Hindu-Muslim communal riots, the loss of a spouse and some children - had ever imagined that this is where his final destination lay, here, in this secluded maidaan on the Arabian Peninsula. I've wondered about that for 10 years now.

I should've worn flat footwear today. I kept my eyes to the ground as I walked in between graves - some just marked with numbers on short wooden posts - trying to catch up with my father ahead. The ground was covered with small stones, dry patches of desert grass, and cracked caked pieces of soil. I could already feel the hot ground heating up my JCPenney shoes and the soles of my feet. Sunset was probably a couple of hours away.

I looked up from the ground to see where I was going. Beside me was a grave with my name on it. She had died 10 years ago in the month of Sha'baan at the age of 30. I am 29. Today is also Sha'baan. Tonight is the Night of Emancipation.

Translation of the inscription on the tombstone:

In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful;
There is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is His messenger;
The late Khadija;

Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return;*
The late Khadija daughter of Abdu'Rahmaan Khan Mohammad;
Tribe of al-Zadjali, died on a Wednesday;
Date 3 month Sha'baan year 1421;**
Equivalent to 1-11-2000;***
Age 30 years;

* Quran (2:156)
** Islamic Hijri calendar
*** November 1, 2000

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