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Pilgrims’ bliss

Freed from the need for Mehram, two women from Delhi Patriot spoke to, travelled alone for Haj and came back full of happy memories about the once-in-a-lifetime experience

Razia Naseem and Najma are two women who travelled this year to Mecca for Haj. They were part of a team of 11 women (from Delhi) who went without Mehram — an immediate male family member; the first year time this was allowed from India.

The women spent a month abroad, in what would be perhaps an adventure of a lifetime. For Razia, though, there was a little bit of fear of the unknown which kept her and the three other women she was teamed up with from exploring the city.

But we start from the beginning, as Razia recalls her time there. We met in her home just over a week after she returned.

There were many firsts in this journey. It was the first time she travelled by air, that too alone. “I didn’t feel scared at all”, she tells us, the thrill of finally going to the destination she had discussed many times with her late husband coming true.

Her husband passed away two years back from complications arising out of diabetes. The prospects of going for Haj seemed impossible as it would have meant having to pay for her son’s expenses as well as her own.

Liberated from the need for Mehram, she made it. Their first stop was Madina, where they spent a week and then took a bus to Mecca where they lived in the “Green zone”. Razia explains that this category means one is close enough to walk to the mosque thus benefits such as a kitchen in the lodgings are not made available.

“It was very expensive eating out all the time. So, I couldn’t bring back anything even for the kids”, she says. Razia, who wasn’t in her group but with two other persons, says this was hard as it took most of their money “but we would think we have come here so might as well eat what we want”.

“We got five days of food provided by the government”, the rest of the days, “we decided to take turns to pay”. But the silver lining she says was that since “We would come back tired to the hotel, it was nice to just buy the food instead of having to cook it.”

A complaint Razia has is with the team of coordinators looking after their welfare. Unlike the Delhi Haj Committee team here, she says the ones in Medina and Mecca didn’t really take care of them. “They dropped us at the hotel and never came to check on us.” She compares her situation with those who had come from Kerala. Apparently with a team from Kerala looking after them “All of their needs were taken care of. They would always come and check on them. They would also come and ask us, ‘Ma, tell us if you have any problem’. They were very nice.”

Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had said that a total of 620 Haj coordinators, assistant Haj officers, Haj assistants, doctors and paramedics have been deployed. But this large contingent wasn’t of much help for Najma.

What further cemented her discomfort with them was one night in Mecca. They left their hotel and went to pray at the mosque around 10:30 at night. After spending about three hours there, they decided to walk back to their hotel.

“We didn’t remember which turn we had taken and it was just us four women. Then we saw some policemen on duty to whom we managed to explain our situation”.

They were helped on a cab which would drop them to the hotel. But the night didn’t end there. “That taxi fellow drove us around from one corner to the other. We were very scared so we told him to just stop and let us get out of the car. He kept saying “Sabar sabar”, (patience) but we were so scared as we were new to the city”, so he took them back to the Mecca Mosque.

“There we asked people around and only managed to reach the hotel by 5 in the morning.” And that is how a long night came to an end.

This scary episode made them restrict their own movements, only going to the mosque and back. Except for a tour of the city. “The hotel had helped us get a bus and all us ladies went together and saw the city.”  Razia adds that in the city one had to always walk everywhere. While she was fine with this, she says, “We felt the need for men, which is why we would go solely for Namaz.”

But Razia points to Najma, who was with another group. She says, “Najma is a very strong woman, unlike me. They would go sight-seeing”.

Najma has been living alone in Delhi for the past two years. Her parents are no more, her brothers too, and the lone sister with whom she lived died two years ago after suffering with diabetes.

The home has been in her family for generations — and one where she has lived since childhood. The now 63-year-old keeps herself busy looking after a grocery shop which she shut for a month before leaving for Haj.

With not much to look forward to or spend on, her neighbours persuaded her to apply for Haj.

We met one of them, Mohammad Hafeez who led us to Najma’s home as we wandered the tiny inner lanes of a street in Chandni Chowk.  He told us candidly about Najma living alone since her sister’s death. “All of us here are very close. No matter what the time of day or night if something is wrong, we come to help each other…”, he explains. He justified their persuading Najma to spend money, “which she has” to go to Mecca.

When we meet Najma, she corroborates this meddling and tells us with a smile about how she finally made the decision to apply.

This was the first time she flew “but I wasn’t scared. I had a great time. We would go out and time would just fly, we hardly stayed at the hotel. We would have our breakfast and leave and then only return by dinner time. As we had gone all the way, we thought why would we waste time in the hotel?”

She gives one piece of advice – knowing the way properly, “because they all look the same. The roads are so good there, big and very well built. And mountains everywhere — even out of our room one could see mountains. It was so nice,” Najma adds excitedly.

She had a great experience, spending time with her two roommates and eventually becoming friends. “It becomes lonely here”, which was one of the reasons why she first applied for Haj. Since her sister passed away, “I feel very sad because I have no one. Being alone is not great”.

Since coming back she has spoken to her new friends every other day.