Part – 1
Our’s was not such an advance society but we were a mixed gathering usually consisted juniors and seniors of all ages of our mohalla and used to sit together and enjoy under the shadows of Neem and Pilkhan trees that had survived the edge of blade. While senior ladies were there as guardians, our old men avoided such flirtations of joviality and preferred to inhabit the ‘Dewankhanas’ with hubble bubble in their free time. All used to enjoy the ropes and swings in spring as the pleasant breeze blew and forced the branches of Pilkhan and Neem trees to dance in all gyrations.
It was pleasant day of a festival and we were enjoying our own chorus of folk songs meant for the occasion. Good singer among us were valued but quality of singing was not the strict standard. Fruit buds of Pilkhan, known as ‘Tushtis’ were dropping from the tree as the wind blew. Some of these tushtis made a wafting fall from the tree and landed at the tress of Zahabiya’s head and got entangled in the cascade of her auburn hair. Standing a short distance, a handsome boy Yavar gathered the instant courage and showed the audacity to brush them off from her hair before the full view with his shivering hand. Zahabiya didn’t take umbrage against this acts of valor and the first arrow of Cupid struck the right place. For months Yavar was finding himself innocently and emotionally attracted toward the girl as she rolled the Bidis from the bamboo platter known as Soof. Yavar considered it was the most beautiful frame of ‘beauty in action’ that he could ever capture upon earth. Liberty had its limits and it was not expected or accepted to express the feeling in a romantic prelude. All nuptial matters were the sole prerogatives of elders.
Zahabiya hated the smell of smoke and abhorred the smokers style also. She often looked up at the sky with hope and prayer that one day Allah would ask someone to remove this platter from her lap, full of scorching tobacco and green leaves which would pile up before her everyday to make a living.
Part – 2
The Clock Tower is one that doesn’t sleep. Three bells rang and echoed about in the overwhelming solitude of darkness. For Yavar sleep was a commodity snatched away from him for weeks. The marriage celebration in the ‘Upper Hill’ was slowly acquiring low decibels and tired participants were also falling sleep. Few stray shouts, low tide laughs and falling of some utensils could only be heard.
He got up from his bed and set down on a wooden platform, his elbows resting at his knees and his lopping head tumbled on the parallel palms, his fingers wide splayed and inserted into the strings of his disheveled hair. His eyes were shut and he was looking at the floor in the dark.
Someone placed a hand with a soft touch. Mom was standing before him. “Yaver try to sleep and let others also sleep. More than half of the night is already passed.” Request, concern and command of a mother all rolled into an appeal of love. She gave a glass of water and asked him to drink. Yavar took the water and poured into his mouth, half falling on his shirt and rest spilling over his mouth and some of it going into his throat straight. He begged mother to sit down.
“Have I ever been disrespectful to you ?”
“Who said that ? No.”
“Have I ever been hard upon you ? Have I ever been unkind with you ?”
“Were you not the one who loved me the most after my God. Were you not the one who had sacrificed her youth to bring us up after father’s death ?”
“It was my duty.”
“Were you not the kindest of mother upon earth ?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know it mother. Then why did you inflict the sharpest of the cut upon the sapling you had planted ?”
She pulled his head to her bosom and kissed his cheek.
“Do you believe in religion?
“Yes mom….but not much as you do. Of course I’m a believer.”
“The Holy Book says you must obey your parents’ the holy traditions say that marriage is always suitable in the families of HUM KUFF.”
“What does Hum Kuff mean mom ?”
“It means equality in status of both the families who are joining in marriage. I know more of this world than you know. I know what is good for you and what is bad. My hair has not turned grey in the sun. I can’t allow my son to marry a girl which would be a stigma for the grace for a family I’d sacrificed my everything.”
“But Zahabiya is one of us mom. Her family is related to us. Zahabiya is not a loose character mom.”
“Did I say that? I know his father was a senior officer when he prematurely died of heart attack. Her mom messed up everything including the name and left-over fortunes. Now she is not respected in the company of Bidi winders of Bidi rollers. I didn’t compromise with the family honor when your father died. I went door to door and asked if someone wanted the kids to learn Quran. I maintained my dignity and brought up you all in toughest times.”
“But is was none of Zahabiya’s fault.”
“In our society faults percolated down the generations and I’d not designed this society.”
“Mom, you knew I loved Zahabiya. I promised you that I shall help their whole family to rise up. Mom…a rising tide raises all boats. I’d promised you that I would be that rising tide.”
“Yaver, a rising tide brings back a lot of silt and garbage also. You are still immature, inexperienced and innocent. In your age love is a passing emotion of the weak, a misguided spell, an ephemeral idea. And now what is left to discuss ? She is going to Pakistan on Thursday. Today MEHNDI and RATJAGA (celebration before the wedding night) both are over.”
“I still love Zahabiya…”
“Your love would be a sin from tomorrow once she is tied in religion with her husband.”
“Pious love could never be a sin mom.”
“There is no any such thing as pious love between the man and women if they are not related by blood and still…………”
“But mom, once you also liked Zahabiya”
“Liking doesn’t mean that I would invite her to be my daughter- in- law. I like Taj Mahal but it doesn’t mean that I want my grave to be there in it.”
She wiped the tears from Yavar’s eye with her dopatta and kissed again the face of her son.
“Zahabiya is poor but she is elegant, she is different, she is respected by everyone.”
“It is a cliché now. Now she is getting married to a very good boy from our own relations. The boy is a good employee in a big company in Karachi. Oh God I’m so thankful to you as you have managed the situation for everyone’s satisfaction. Not for nothing the seniors of the family are loved and respected for their sagacity and wisdom, their powers of command and their farsightedness. Now you have not to worry about her future. She would have all the comforts. Happy Life & Safe Distance.”
“You were never that cruel.”
“I’m still unknown to the word ‘cruelty.’
“Than what its mom ?”
“Discretion…which is always the better part of valour.”
“Mom it was my life and I were to live with her.”
‘But it was your life, with God’s grace, I’d given to you.”
The sound of Express Train passing over the River Soat bombed the discussion. It trundled past over the bridge and Yavar recalled the night when in his childhood the same sound had disturbed him and asked his father as to why the sound becomes so intense when the trains passes over the bridge. It was silence after the noise now receded and gone. But now there was again a emotional atom bomb that exploded between mother and son.
Someone in the neighborhood was begging to join for the last GHAZAL of the night.
“Get up babies, just one last song and then there would be the Azan (Morning Prayer) time….I’m making the nice tea with cardamom and mint.”
The host organizer was no other than Zahabiya’s mother. Yaver and mother were silent and now they could listen the chorus.
“Jo dil ke pas hote hain woh kaheen jaya naheen karte,
Mohabbat karne wale ghum se ghabraya naheen karte…”
Those who are near to heart they never disappear, those who love, sorrows make them never fear. Each and every line of Ghazal was repeated again. It was the third time that the rendition of the same ghazal was done in the wedding house.
‘It is time to pray. Go to mosque.”
Everyone in the house was sleeping when he returned from the prayers. This morning he just recited the Arabic in silence. He didn’t ask God for anything. He went to his room and after some time the sleep visited him.
Part – 3
Around 10 A.M. Abiha, his cousin sister and friend stepped into his room. She was 5 autmuns senior to him. She sat down on the chair lying next to his bed. She put her hand at his forehead. It was wet with sweat. The warmth of fingers were known to Yaver. He put hands over her ringed fingers.
“I’d never bargained for it.”
“All that happens, happens for the best Yavar.”
“No baji, is there still a way to invent and apply the time machine ?”
“No Yavar. Our society is too powerful, our parents are too strong and our guardians are too strict.”
“Zahabiya will go Pakistan on Thursday ?”
“What is the day today ?”
“She has never read Urdu. She speaks Urdu but she writes Hindi.”
“She is not going to write you a letter Yavar…”
“Time flows Yavar. Did you listen the last song of the night ?”
“Yes baji. It was a message for you that Zahabiya had requested her mother to convey through ghazal. Life is the precious gift of God. You are not allowed to destroy it for the sake of one girl.
Meanwhile, Yaver’s mother entered in a delicate gait. She took another chair and sat down.
Both the children got up in respect and sat down after salams.
‘I’ve sent a telegram to your uncle that you are coming to Bombay.”
“You go by the earliest train from here for Delhi and from Delhi you can a catch an early flight. The ticket is only Rs 440 /-.”
“All the items and clothes you need are packed. I’ve talked your boss. He has asked you to report after a fortnight.”
When the breakfast was over, one could hear the trot of a horse. A tonga reported at the door for station. Someone put his bag and suitcase in the carriage. He looked around his house. He felt he was deserting a poor old friend. Here, when the going was good, Zahabiya used to visit often; here just under the Jamun tree she had looked into her eyes and felt their transparence; here when the going was good between the two families, Zahabiya’s father was still alive they had taken dinners together. Here just next to rose bushes he remembered Zahabia curled up in her father’s arm when she was a kid. Here her mother had once given the sprinkler in Zahabiya’s delicate small hands to water the plants. But it was when Zahabiya’s family was HUM KUFF, equal in status.
“May I go…”
“We have to tie the IMAM ZAMIN round your arm.”
“Yes Mom.” Mom tied the the cloth ribbon that had prayers for safety with some currency.
“You have crossed the threshold Mom !”
Khuda Hafiz !”
‘Khuda Hafiz !!”
Part – 4
He stepped into the tonga. Modest preparations for Zahabiya’s Nikah were in full swing. Some kids came near the horse and one or two elderly wished him Good Bye from distance. Abiah kissed his fore head ! He embarked upon a new journey, an escape invented for him – this time the itenerary was open-ended.
It is story with vintage tag.