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Maniku-é-Bayla the Best

Written on 18 October 1987

In rags that had seen better days

And once adorned the wardrobe of the Paramount Chief

Walked that Maniku-é-Bayla with a broad and sprightly gait.

With Léon Trotskyís moustache, and punched out teeth

Puffing and stuttering in a deep-throated voice

Sang that Maniku-é-Bayla his own praise.

Married and divorced many more times

Than a Hollywood star of international fame

Boasted that Maniku-é-Bayla of forty-three ex-wives in all.

Mechanically inclined, a genius of a sort

Repairing watches, gramophones and the like

Found that Maniku-é-Bayla extra parts in all.

In the Fasting Month when the time was kept

Tied to each wrist with ropes of coconut husk

Displayed that Maniku-é-Bayla his two alarm clocks.

His violin fitted with a gramophone trumpet

Singing of Manjaysoni and his other old flames

Appeared that Maniku-é-Bayla at the crack of dawn.

At the strike of four with the evening breeze

On the Feast of each Rice Conjee Day

Came that Maniku-é-Bayla rain or shine.

When thinking of the days on the Island in the Sun

And counting such characters as Kandeesayku and the rest

Comes to my mind that Maniku-é-Bayla the best.

Poet's Annotations: Abdul Rasheed annotated his poem Maniku-é-Bayla the Best as follows:

Maniku-é-Bayla: Bayla Maniku. Named after his musical instrument (Bayla or Bela), bard, musician and mechanical genius of a sort, well known for his appearance and eccentricity, and popular both among the rich and poor of Malé, in his time. Known to me in my childhood days, and had left such a lasting impression on me that I still remember some of his songs ("Manjaysoni huré govanee Maniku-é-Bayla rangalhey"). If nobody had written anything in memory of this most interesting and loveable character, for prosperity, it is hoped that this short poem would serve the purpose.

Paramount Chief: The late Mr Hassan Farid Didi, who was killed during World War II. Bayla Maniku wore Mr Farid Didiís caste off clothes, unaltered, thus creating the appearance of a midget in a giantís attire. It was possible that Maniku cleaned his clothes by a process somewhat similar to the ritual known in Islamic theology, as Thayammum, where no water is needed. This, combined with the wearing effects of time and the tropical climate, made his garments hang on his body like, what we used to describe, as a vaalu-hangandu (batís hide).

Léon Trotsky: Russian Revolutionary leader, close associate of Lenin, later assassinated in South America, apparently by Stalinís agents. Somehow, the facial features, especially the moustache, in Trotskyís photographs, always reminded me of Bayla Maniku of the Maldives Ė no offence meant to either man.

Manjaysoni: Soni-Manjay, an ex-wife of Bayla Maniku. We used to call her Laarikata ("penny-pincher"). The Maldivian verse given under "Maniku-é-Bayla" above used to be his most favourite verse. The verse means: "Manjaysoni keeps calling, Maniku-é-Bayla is the Best".

Rice Conjee Day: When we were children, a day known as Kandhi Duwas was celebrated each year, the significance of which is still unknown to me. What mattered to us kids and Bayla Maniku was that on that day Kandhi, which was a delicious Maldivian dish containing rice and sugar, was cooked and eaten. Maniku never failed to show up on that day.

Island in the Sun: Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

Kandeesayku: As children, we were deathly afraid of this semi-lunatic, black-bearded, bare-chested man with blood-shot eyes, always carrying a woodcutterís axe on his shoulder

Authorís Annotation: Kandhi Duwas fell on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram and is also known as Aashourah. It was supposed to be the day Hussain son of Ali, grandson of Mohamed was defeated and killed in battle by the Umayyad faction. The Umayyads took control of the Islamic Commonwealth after they assassinated Ali son of Abu Talib, Hussainís father, who was Commander of the Faithful or Mohamedís temporal successor titled Caliph. The followers of the Umayyads and their successors form the Sunni branch of Islam, while the followers of Hussain form the Shia branch. Maldive Moslems belong to the Sunni branch. Strict Shia communities inflicted masochistic flagellation on themselves on Aashourah Day, their way of mourning Hussainís murder. Another version was that on that day many thousands of years before, Noah, in his Ark found dry land. It was said that Noah cooked the sweet broth-like preparation, called kandhi in Maldivian, for his shipmates as a thanksgiving meal. Whatever the reason, orthodox Islamic clerics in the Maldives always frowned on that day and the way it was celebrated. It took them several hundreds of years to suppress this custom among Maldivians who always liked such colourful celebrations. Kandhi Duwas was abolished in 1964.