Desi Mystery Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

In the latter part of the 17th century India, there lived a fakir well-versed in black magic who was purported to resurrect the dead. He gained some prominence although eyewitness accounts and testimony of his feat were sparse and scanty.  

It is presupposed he hailed from an ancient syncretic faith of Hinduism, Sufism, and Islam. Although Quran forbade the performance of black magic, there has been history of the occult in Islam, none other than the famous book Shams al-Ma'arif being the most well-known among them.

Legend once had it that if a seeker read the Quran backward he could control Nature and commit other supernatural crimes as such portended the backward motion of Time.

Of course, such tread-on-thorn pathways were surefire hell to Satan’s altar. 

The fakir wore a small pointed beard on which he regularly put henna. He could have been 5’5” or 5’6” as accounts of Portuguese settlers and other soldiers from the Dutch East India Company often varied in reports. 

His beady eyes were tucked under several folds of skin and his face was bronze and beaten from staring days on at the sun. He wore a small white cap and carried rosary at times.

Clad in a loin-cloth he was gaunt. He looked so frail, especially when he spoke sheepishly, it seemed like a featherweight would knock him over!

But, the lore of his siddhi was plenty. It is said he could subsist only on water for 900 days as evidenced by many sources in his former town of Bihar. He was also buried alive for 20 days which he accomplished by mastery of pranayama. Further, his devotees witnessed on many occasions their master taking carrion and flinging into the air which would convert to a crow before fluttering away against the banshee of night’s sky of caw and howl.

The fakir lived with his wife and his son near a mosque by a pond among banana leaves and frogs on lily pads clad with lianas. Devotees would often make pilgrimage for days if not years to receive a darshan of him. 

Although there were very few witnesses of his miracle, people often took it on faith that he could resurrect the dead and eventually it became common knowledge as word of lore spread far and wide.

Every ten years the fakir performed his miracle of resurrecting the dead under a crescent moon. People would flood before his hut begging for the godman to bring back their sons and daughters and other deceased members of their family. Of course, there were those occasional hapless romantics who would wait for nights praying to him after offering rupees to bring back their ‘Lailas’.

It all started many candle-wick and apple-john years ago when he performed the first resurrection on a dusty evening under the orb of a dying sun and a pink sky before the presence of 200 village folks. 

He would bring the victim and hypnotically place him on a wooden stretcher amidst the teeth-clenching percussion instruments against a dissonance of tablas and harmonium. As the commotion would die down and the crowd stop to grow, he would make a circular motion over the supine person sprinkling attar, or rosewater, and would gently wave a talisman over his head. 

It was his son. 

He would continue reciting a concatenation of surahs and a mixture of mantras in Sanskrit blending with the sfumato of chandan-tree or sandalwood incense lost in a trance… and reverie as he would plunge the dagger dab in the middle of his belly.

His son would ululate like a sacrificial cattle and spew blood through his mouth as the fakir would continue the same ritualistic carnage rhythmically. After forty wounds or so on various parts of his cadaver, and having been satisfied that the deed has been done, he would collapse on the ground. His lackeys would douse him with water from the lota and give him a rag to wipe his face. The fakir would feel like throwing up, but after a quick gulp of whiskey or ‘holy water’ he would seem to regain all his vim and composure.

He would beckon two of his assistants to slide in a coffin. They would put the corpse in it, close the lid, lock it, and cover it with a blanket before tying it with a hemp rope. Again he would motion his chelas to burn some more incense as the fakir would dust his face with some vibhuti pouring some on the bolted coffin. 

Then the magician would make a counterclockwise motion with a tabiz or talisman (which curiously held a verse from Quran written backward in a small cinnamon-colored chestnut). Next, he would command his fellowmen to undo the whole process. And voila! Just as predicted - upon opening the casket- a man would be seen scrambling his way out of the box staggering onto his feet. Immediately the chelas would give him some water and help him with balance as the son would open his shirt to reveal all the stab wounds.


On the third night of the month, everyone gathered in front of his hut. It was that time of the year when the fakir would perform his miracle. Those who witnessed his first account would vouch for other similar acts- about five or so. Yet, the theatrical releases dropped.

The fakir would now only give his demonstration at chosen times. On occasions people were fortunate enough to receive such darshan, they would spread the tale of this ancient Sufi mystic as pilgrims would seek him out. The problem was he was very hard to pin down as he never stayed in one place more than 3 months.

The women in saris carried the last remaining earthenware back to their huts from the village pump. The urchins stopped chasing the wheel made out of a long bamboo shaving. The little girls stopped hopping on the hopscotch pattern on soil as other kids put away the lattu and wooden dolls. Grandmothers shelved away the ludu boxes they were playing with the little ones as fathers would quickly grab a plateful of rice after a day’s work with the plough or sawmill. The imam would dawn his fez and walking-stick before stepping outside as muezzin would usher Maghrib like a town-crier.

As they idled in one by one, they would eventually read that there may not be a demonstration today. There were no wooden stretchers nor the band that regularly accompanied him or other accouterments. Instead, a sullen-looking fakir was seen crouching on his knees with his arms over his head in the most distraught manner.

People stochastically thinned as whispers died to a coma. A swollen somber atmosphere weighed down the whole place. The villagers eagerly waited. Then after a few minutes of silence, the fakir stood up and slowly began to mumble:

“Friends and village-people. I am honored and humbled by your presence. For many months, you have come to me with requests that only divine could accomplish. I never turned any of you away. You see it all started when I attempted my first feat…” And then the fakir narrated how he would kill his own son before resurrection as a testament to his ultimate sacrifice to the dark spirits.

“My friends. I did it for years and years. I never knew the illness of such crime would catch up to me. Today as you all gathered to witness such occasion I can only say there will be no such show.”

A murmur swept by.

“In fact, today, it is indeed I who come to you needing help. It is I who wish to beg you to perform a miracle. It is I who come to you on my knees asking for all your prayers. It is I who ask you for my son's life.”

“What do you mean?” Cried the fat milkman.

“Yes… we don’t understand!” Shot back another pot-bellied farmer.

“Bolna! Bolna!”

“Explain yourself, pir, explain!” Three women hissed like the witches of Macbeth.

“Patience, patience…” The fakir raised his hand. “My dear friends and fellow-villagers, what I have done year after year was nothing more than dhokebaazi. It was all a sham!”

The whole village was stunned.

“I deceived you all. And then after the deed was done in one village, I would roll up my mat and flee to another in search of more willing and unwitting participants.”

The whole town listened. They all patiently gave him his due time as he relayed the gore and sang-froid mentality with which he butchered his own son.

“You see. My first son…. Ismaeel… was born with a patch under his feet. This birthmark was sign of death. It was a… defect. It marked the end of all our family had we not all decided to act for the greater good. Since he doesn’t have any sense of awareness due to his lack of intellectual capacity we convinced him to undergo this procedure. It was our only hope. That was the only way to placate the gods!

“That was the ONLY WAY!!” He thundered.

Then the man fell prostrating before the townsmen breaking down in tears. “I beg for your forgiveness. Oh! I bring my both hands together and plea you for forgiveness…”

“That means…” a small child of ten couldn’t resist. He breathed out in incredulity.

“As you guessed, I exploited the resemblance. They were twins. Twins! And Ashique survived. He would emerge from the basket to exhibit some fake wounds while the corpse would be dumped in a hole on which the coffin was placed with a small trapdoor. 

“And I would repeat the process sensing great fortune, notoriety, and fame. I never stayed at one place to avoid suspicion and fled to different towns to seek out other people who were twins or had strong resemblances to their siblings. Either I would bribe their family with gold to let go of their dark sheep or blackmail them to keep the secrets before taking them to a town where their face was not well known.

“The cult of thuggee was enough sometimes to back me up as Ranvir Das Singh owed me when I saved his three-year-old son from drowning.

“He would extort many families. Upon chance occasions when the person would not cooperate, his resistance would actually give it a more…realistic touch. All efforts would be futile and the gundes of Singh would make sure he wouldn’t dare escape. One time a chump yelled: 'It’s all fake.. It’s all fake…' to which the whole audience laughed and from then on I instructed my men to gag them with rags. Other times, I would intoxicate the victim with afim before bringing the stretcher.

"There was even a time when I sacrificed a young virgin by name of Nandina after paying her family a hefty fee and borrowing her sister Smita. She lost all senses as she was considered unwanted for having an affair before marriage. It took many threats and cajoling even though she was completely out of touch with reality. I convinced her that her sister would be finally pregnant should she choose to go along with this sacrifice. Surely she would do this for someone she loved so dearly! And then one night she obliged under influences of sharab.

“At first I carried out the charade several times. Then the… shall we say the resources started to die down. 

“But… But…today... My other son Ashique is dying. He is dying of a skin disease. To which I have no answer.” 

At this, one of his henchmen pulled the curtain to reveal his 33-year-old son Ashique lying inside his hut with flies hovering over his face.

“Look at him!! Just look. He is withering away. His is disappearing day by day into thin air. He cannot eat or talk. He suffers from fever and delirium and the moment we feed him any liquid his flesh starts to give away rotting smell turning white. It's the djinn I tell you. He is being possessed!

“My friends… please have compassion. Please have some mercy on me. Please. I beg you for my son’s life. I beg you to pray. If you pray, then Allah will surely listen, right? Isn’t it? Please. I beg all of you. No matter how young or old you are… if you are male or female... Ladka or ladki. I prostrate before you for his life. Please. Pray for him. If all of you pray together… miracles can happen. Allah surely can do the impossible!! Can’t He? Please! Someone. Someone, please answer. Doya koro!”

Many in the crowd weren't sure whether to pelt him with stones or spit on him or start hitting him with sticks and shoes. They were all still and silent for a while. Then slowly and slowly they began to leave. One by one they left until the whole town dissipated as the last blanket of fog fell in the dusk.

The fakir embryonically laid on the mud. His cries and begging became whimper. He looked above contemplating his every decision at every bifurcation of his life. The sky was vast. It was dotted with eyes like jonaki - as they said in Bengali - or fireflies. It looked so serene. The majestic oceanic blessings seemed to be far more forgiving and offer him unconditional acceptance, which he couldn’t get from his fellowmen.

Two days later, the son passed away.

No one knows what happened to the fakir. Some say he was forever lost in the wilderness! Some say his slate and conscience were wiped clean and he went up the hills of Himalayas. Some say he was forever lost to delirium as he wandered hither and thither in the forest eagerly waiting for the return of his son - heart aching and yearning to see one last glimpse of his apparition - be it so may how otherworldly or ghostly.

Lamenting he would march on with a hariken looking upwards as the first light of the dawn blends with the fog through the crack of the forest:

In the shivering sun,

I feel heartless

Heartless as snow

And ice

Of whole town

I carry on

In the shivering sun

The owl screeches

From daylight to twilight

I carry on

July 18, 2023 00:02

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Theo Benson
14:18 Jul 27, 2023

I enjoyed reading this story! It felt quite eerie and I was curious to see which route you’d take to explain the fakir’s magic. The explanation surprised me! That’d be a clever trick to pull.


Zeeshan Mahmud
19:04 Jul 27, 2023

Thank you for reading Theo. Your kind words brighten my day! Honestly I really enjoyed writing this story and it is probably my favorite piece so far. I guess that is what writing is all about - where you enjoy the process itself- instead of worrying about trying to win the competition. I had to add the hamartia at the end. Otherwise the character would be just too powerful!


Theo Benson
23:16 Jul 27, 2023

You’re welcome Zeeshan! I definitely think you’re onto something there. Learning to enjoy the process and focus on personal growth as a writer should come first. Perfectionism can be horrifically crippling, especially in the face of a contest, so what I tell myself is this: “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft”. Because in the end, you can’t edit something you haven’t written, and you won’t grow as a writer unless you write! So this is my encouragement to you - keep writing!!! And good luck on your future stories :)


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M. W.
07:43 Jul 26, 2023

Great story! It’s a very fleshed out world. Love the mysterious ending!


Zeeshan Mahmud
18:13 Jul 26, 2023

Thank you very much for reading!


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