Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1989 Volume 3. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Tales Told and Retold"

Once Upon a TimeExcerpts from the unpublished childhood memories of Hidayat Inayat Khan

These few remembrances which I am humbly venturing to put into words, are offered herewith in an earnest longing to communicate some aspects of the fairy-tale atmosphere that prevailed in those days, when our Beloved Father was with us. But it is of course very difficult to evoke such remembrances without repeatedly experiencing an outburst of emotions, especially those which were awakened in our hearts, ever since our Father departed from this world, at a period in our lives when we were still so very young.

As the years went by, our childhood intuition revealed more and more to us the tragic importance of what we had really lost, by the absence of a Father with such a most luminous magnitude; a Father whose loving guidance, experienced in our young years, was always based on that high God Ideal which was the soul force of his constantly inspiring example.

Ever since those early days of once upon a time, the memory of such a precious example awakened each day anew an untarnishable longing to hear our Father's voice silently saying, "Your Abba's loving presence is always there, hidden in your lonely hearts."

Murshid's Children

Each time that one of us was born, our Father's first tender approach to the new-born baby was to call it Pir-Zade or Murshid-Zade, meaning son of Pir or son of Murshid. The daughters were called Pir-Zadi or Murshid-Zadi, meaning daughter of Pir or daughter of Murshid.

Later, when we were older, our Father often asked us, "Have you really behaved today as a Pir-Zade or as a Murshid-Zade? Have you really thought of the responsibility which you have as a son or daughter of Murshid?"

When we were naughty, our Father reminded us of that responsibility which we had, rather than scolding us, and on hearing those words, we immediately stopped all naughtiness, with sincerest feelings of shame.

I must admit that I was called Murshid-Zade in a scolding more often than the other children, because I was always naughty. However, it did happen sometimes that I was good, and on those occasions, my Father called me "Murshid-Zade-Guru, Mera Beta." Naturally, these very loving words always touched me most deeply, and were for me the most precious reward that could ever have been received.

Murshid's Majestic Personality

Murshid was also like a Father to some of his disciples. To others, he was the 'Murshid,' the Spiritual Guide. But all, whether consciously or unconsciously, responded to the 'Breath of the Message,' as symbolized by Murshid's sublime radiance. His approach was with a smile. His words communicated happiness. His piercing glance was like a torch in the darkness. His loving presence was ever-uplifting.

Murshid used to say, "I don't want to ever see my mureeds having a long face." In fact, it really was impossible for anyone to have a long face in Murshid's presence for longer than a few moments. Murshid would always turn an imaginary tragedy into a comedy, but he also saw the tragic side of an apparent comedy.

One could best illustrate Murshid's loving personality as being a living example of tremendous intensity in all aspects of human expression, of Nobility and Majesty.

Murshid often went for short walks around the block, dressed very characteristically in a long black cloak, and with a kingly topi on his head. He also carried a walking stick with a very beautiful silver handle, and his black shoes were always spotlessly polished.

Murshid's 'topi,' as he called it, was specially made for him by our Mother, according to the design which he made himself, a cross-model between the very noble Persian hat and the real, old aristocratic Russian one, which had much impressed him during his visit to Moscow, where our sister Noorunissa was born, before the war of 1914.

Murshid's shervani, or Indian costume, was also specially made for him by my Mother. It was a cross-model between the Indian and the Russian traditions, which Murshid had also designed himself. It was black, like the topi, buttoned all the way down on the right side, with a high collar and a plaited rope around the waist, ending with tassels at both ends.

Murshid's majestic appearance impressed so much the people of Suresnes that they used to stop in the streets and salute him, thinking that he was a king. When he entered the tram, everyone stood up, offering most respectfully their seat. Wherever he went, people called Murshid 'Le Roi.'

A Workman Digging in the Street

One day, while Murshid was going out through the gate of Fazal Manzil, holding my hand tight so that I would not run wildly across the road, as I often did, he was most astonished to see a workman digging a deep ditch just in front of the house, under pouring rain, and with hands and clothes covered with mud.

Murshid walked toward the workman and gently took off his hat to him; and then, while shaking hands, Murshid said, "Bonjour, Monsieur." But obviously the poor workman was absolutely spellbound at the thought of being greeted by the 'King' in such a most friendly way, and he stood there for a while, completely panic-struck, till Murshid walked a few steps away down the road, where some mureeds were waiting and had seen what had happened.

Surprisingly enough, instead of showing their feelings of understanding for the precious example of sympathy, kindness and humility which Murshid had so beautifully illustrated, those who had just seen Murshid's friendly approach, said to him as he came toward them, "But Murshid, you just can't do that here in the West. Don't you know that you are not supposed to shake hands with a workman?"

Murshid became of course very sad, and with deep emotion in his voice, he just only said to them, "Are we not all children of one and the same Father?" After which, all walked away in silence.

Many years later, while I was walking up that same road, an elderly man came running behind me, all out of breath, asking, "Who was that King who lived in the large house just there, up the road?" And while pointing to the house, he told me that years and years ago, he had been digging in a ditch; when suddenly the King came out of the gate, and, "Although he had never seen me, he shook hands with so very much compassion, while also lifting even his hat in such a most noble way. And," he added, "although I am just a workman, and have never learned to read or write, nor did I ever believe in God, yet at that moment, I really felt as though Heaven was being offered to me, by the grace of that kind King. There were flashes of light in his eyes, which I still always see so clearly ever since, even after so many years. The mysterious magic, which that King performed on me that day has protected me during my whole life, and has given me the strength and the courage to endure all the cruel hardships in this world; but more than anything else, those moments have been the happiest that I have experienced."

Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me, "Who was that King? Do you perhaps know who he was and where he is?"

"Yes," I said, "He certainly was a King; perhaps a Heavenly King; and now, from out of Heaven, he constantly sends us sparks of heavenly light, shining as flashes of blessings, always present in our hearts, whenever we open our hearts to his loving guidance."

Then I told him that I was the little boy who was holding my Father's hand while we came out of the gate together; and I retold him the whole story with all the details which he himself had experienced; after which we both fell in each other's arms with tears rolling down our cheeks.


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