January Issue 2003
Tales from the Dark Side
What are the three essential ingredients for a love potion so potent it’s guaranteed to have even the most reluctant Romeo fall at your feet? Subscribe to Cosmopolitan dogma, and that heady brew may include a dash of spice, a dose of sex and a generous smattering of self-confidence. But if you’re addicted to Akhbar-e-Jahan, Qaumi or midweek magazines, the hottest selling concoction comes in a bottle — courtesy the babas and amils of black magic. The recipe may sound anything but bewitching, but, the myth goes, the mixture of a few drops of fresh menstrual blood and urine, that has had a practitioner’s magic mantras chanted on it, in your lover’s favourite food, is the next best thing to a personal genie — and a damned sight more accessible! And which lovestruck, pining Romeo and Juliet could resist the promise of mehboob aap kay kadmon mein…
Certainly not Shakila, 26, who had been involved with her neighbour, Hassan for almost five years. Hassan seemed devoted, but reluctant to take the marital plunge. Shakila tried everything in her power to convince Hassan to make the commitment, particularly since her parents were getting increasingly desperate to “see her settled,” fearing she would soon be over the hill. But Hassan would not yield. To the rescue came Shakila’s maid, who introduced her to black magic through Amil Rehmat Shah in North Nazimabad.
Shakila proved a willing student of the black arts and within 21 days of beginning the rituals, Hassan and Shakila were engaged. “I was petrified about what the consequences of my actions might be, but I had no choice — I was desperate. I was really apprehensive about giving baba jee my menstrual blood and saliva to make the ‘spell’ successful, but after he convinced me there would be positive results, I agreed,” says Shakila. Shakila paid Amil Rehmat Shah almost 10 thousand rupees for his services, and has now been married three years. She says, for her, the money and effort was worth it, and would now not hesitate to resort to black magic again if the need arose.
The lure of the black arts is understandable, especially for impressionable young women — though they are not the only subscribers to this dark practice. Numerous ads appear in the newspapers every day, promising a miracle cure for every problem: a girl’s overbearing in-laws can be brought around, an unfaithful husband brought to book, failed businesses can be made to prosper, and even if you’re having a problem conceiving, have no fear — the babajees are here! Certainly, enough vulnerable young women take the bait.
Farida, 25, had been seeing Tahir for almost five years and their affair was on the verge of materialising into marriage, when suddenly Tahir’s mother seemed to develop a strong dislike for Farida. This came as a jolt for Farida since Tahir’s mother had hitherto appeared genuinely fond of her. Farida’s mother, however, was not surprised. She suspected that this was the handiwork of her sister, Farida’s aunt, who had some know-how of black magic and a perfect motive: she wanted Farida to marry her own son. But Farida wasn’t having any of that. She decided to seek the help of an amil. Scanning numerous papers, she came across one advert that seemed authentic. However, she was apprehensive about taking Professor Sayyid Gul up on his offer of “Apni marzi kee shadi… sirf aik din mein man chaha nateeja.” She decided to play it safe by first explaining to him what she desired. She told the alim she did not want to cast any spell on her lover’s mother or her aunt — she just wanted him to break the spell her aunt had supposedly cast on her would-be mother-in-law. A deal was struck and Farida paid the alim 7,400 rupees as per the agreement. Three months later Farida and Tahir were married.
While black magic is as ancient as the hills and its practice in different cultures, diverse — as are its purposes: to settle scores, defeat enemies, sate feelings of jealousy, etc. — in Pakistan it seems to be largely focused on bringing to bay reluctant lovers.
Nonetheless, while restricted in scope, the practice is complex, sometimes bordering on the grotesque, comprising an amalgam of traditions, both local rituals and borrowed international practices.
The study of ancient magic can teach us much, not only about ancient society, but about human nature and social structures in general. However, the use of magic is essentially a manifestation of the innate human desire for control — to control one’s natural environment, one’s social world, and ultimately one’s destiny. The techniques may have changed over the last few centuries but the goal remains the same.
While black magic is often used in the name of that most sublime of emotions, love, it is anything but pristine, because the means used to attain the desired objective under the umbrella of black magic are often beyond the pale — morally and ethically. And in the process, sometimes people can get hurt.
A case in point. Reeta 28, a Hindu girl, became engaged to a family friend, Anil, when she turned 20. Anil found a job in Dubai and preparations for their marriage got underway. On the day of the mehndi however, Anil called from Dubai and called off the wedding. Reeta was shattered. She discovered that her aunt had done black magic on her, so her own daughter could marry Anil. That discovery transpired when Reeta was taken to a Bengali Baba in Gulshan-e-Iqbal by a family friend. He told her her bad luck owed to black magic. “Baba jee told me that he saw this woman who had messed up my chances of happiness. He asked for 14,000 rupees — 7000 in advance and 7000 after the work was done. He said that I would find out who it was in less than 20 days and Anil would come back to me within 41 days. I didn’t believe him as I sincerely believed that no member of my family would ever want to harm me. However, since he is known to be the only amil in Karachi who cannot only break black magic spells, but also reverse them to work against the doer of the first spell, and with interest, I went along.
“I paid him the money and was about to leave when he told me that I could not, under any circumstances call him or come to visit him before 41 days had passed. That further convinced me the man was a fraud,” says Reeta.
Shortly thereafter, however, strange things started to happen. One of Reeta’s aunts fell ill. Three days later, her daughter, Reeta’s cousin, had a car accident, and a week later her son fell off the building he was having constructed. Reeta became fearful and tried to contact the baba, but in vain. He refused to see or talk to her. But as promised, 39 days later, Anil was back and they are soon to be married. Meanwhile, her aunt admitted that she had done black magic on Reeta.
In Reeta’s case she managed to get positive results, but not all such stories have had happy endings as 28-year-old Tehseen could tell you.
Tehseen and Iqbal got married some six years ago, after a two-year-long relationship. Iqbal, however, had been engaged to his cousin, Fatima, since childhood and ending the relationship proved difficult. Nevertheless, after much ado, the marriage took place, and Tehseen soon won her in-laws hearts. But not all was to be right. When the couple decided to start a family, the problems begain. Tehseen would get pregnant, have an ostensibly healthy pregnancy and go into labour normally, but she would give birth to a still-born. Numerous tests done indicated no internal problem or complication
Finally after several stillbirths, Tehseen’s parents decided to take their daughter to a renowned amil. He told Tehseen to dig up the back of her house, where he said she would find the cause of her miseries. Tehseen was intrigued and duly had her back courtyard dug up. That unearthed the skeleton of a rooster whose genitals had been stitched together. Apparently, this is a common amal to cause infertility and in Tehseen’s case had been done by Fatima who believed that if Tehseen would not be able to produce a child, Iqbal would eventually marry her.
The worst form of black magic is ‘sifli amal,’ which involves not just the use of diverse bodily secretions but, also, is often utilised to harm others. How efficacious this practice is, is a moot point, but more and more people are deviating from traditional religion and practicing this form of magic. And Pakistan, with its grinding poverty and illiteracy, engenders superstition, making for a perfect breeding ground for desperate measures such as black magic — often sifli amal
And as practitioners of the block arts themselves acknowledge, while their powers of sifli can procure what you asked for, it may be a far cry from what you actually want. In fact sometimes the fallout of their ‘spells,’ real or imagined — can be dangerous, and the effects are often irreversible. Take Fareed’s case: Fareeda, 36, resorted to black magic in a desperate bid to get her errant lover, Javed, to marry her. Magic or otherwise, he succumbed, but the dream turned into a nighmare. Javed proved a violently abusive and flagrantly unfaithful husband. He remarried three times. Additionally Fareeda learnt she could not bear a child. Nonetheless she could not bring herself to leave Javed. As a result she has spent the last 10 years in abject misery.
Now Fareeda believes this is her comeuppance — divine punishment for trying to interfere with God’s plan.
Then there are the charlatans who can destroy lives by exploiting peoples’ vulberabilities. A young girl, Zainab, went to an amil seeking his help to reform her irresponsible husband. The amil asked her for detailed information about her husband, his family, his property etc., which he claimed was necessary to make his magic work. A naive Zainab did as she was told. Meanwhile the amil contacted Zainab’s husband and in-laws and, in exchange for a generous sum of money, fabricated tales about Zainab and all the harm she wanted to do to her husband and in-laws. Zainab’s handwritten note with all the information about her in-laws, including some intimate details the alim had asked for, rang the death knell for Zainab’s marriage. Zainab is now divorced and when asked to share her experience, strictly recommends that all people keep away from these “dhokaybaaz” amils.
The worst consequence of black magic, however, perhaps is what befell Nadeem and Amna. Amna had solicited the services of an amil to cast a spell on her husband, Nadeem, three years earlier, so that he would ditch his girlfriend, with whom he had been having a long-standing affair. The spell was complex as the amil suspected that Nadeem’s extra-marital relationship was based not on mere infatuation but love. Amna was, however, willing to go to any lengths to get Nadeem back. The spell was cast, after numerous warnings from the amil himself, who did not know what the consequences of it would be. A few days later when Nadeem and his girlfriend were in the car, they were hit by a truck. His girlfriend died on the spot, while Nadeem was permanently paralysed. Even in this debilitated state, Nadeem still yearns for his lost love and while Amna and him share a home — and that is about the only thing they share.
There are many other professors and amils in Karachi who advertise their services in various newspapers. The Urdu daily, Qaumi, for example, carries an average of six to 10 ads a day, while Mag advertises a whole page every week. One can gauge the target market from the publication. Interestingly, it is common to see cars like BMWs and VTIs, jeeps and Corollas parked outside the homes of amils, particularly one in Kharadar. Glimpses of gold-bangled hands, peeping out from chaddars worn by women who frequent these sites, prove that it is not just the lower middle class that is visiting the amils but women of all classes.
While the babas have assorted methods of operation, there are certain standard procedures. One of these involves a client paying 125 rupees for zaicha, which basically comprises the amil drawing out his client’s birth chart, identifying the stars influencing his/her life at that point, the difficulties which loom ahead and the means to avert unpleasant situations. Some amils paint an overly gloomy picture of the present and prescribe endless totkas (charms) — each for a price, of course — to counter bad fortune, thereby keeping their clients hooked; others actually have powers of hypnosis that can convince the vulnerable to do even the most unseemly things in the belief that these actions will yield the remedy for what afflicts them. And while in their desperation, some clients readily bypass any qualms they may have about the religious correctness of these practices, the amils manage to shape the perceptions of those about what is acceptable vis-a-vis religion. In fact, many babas, faqirs and amils display Islamic calligraphy on the walls of their “offices” falsely linking their practice to religious rituals. Thirty-something, well-spoken Professor Sikander Shah maintains that he has the power of 40 or so ‘jinns’ who help him settle problems related to love, business, family etc. Ask if he believes his “spiritual remedies” are in consonance with Islam, and he answers, “If a personal problem can be solved and no one gets hurt in the process, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
It is claimed that black magic can not only affect the prevailing circumstance and future prospects of a person and deprive him materially of every thing he owns, but can also affect the psyche of the victim to such an extent that he has no will-power and cannot extricate himself from the sinister situation he is in. Often the victim even loses the will to live. And increasingly, the effects of black magic can become more chronic, dangerous and ultimately, even fatal. The fact is that even if the symptoms are purely psychosomatic, they are no less dangerous. While there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of black magic, and it is scoffed at by many, and while many of those who have attempted it have come out with their hands and pockets empty, it is, nonetheless, a universally practiced craft. And often a terrifying one.