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Celebrating the Supertext

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A story about family

M. A. Q. Rizvon
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Celebrating the Sacrifice

Celebrating the Sacrifice

by, M.A.Q. Rizvon

In the sparsely clouded western sky the splendor of the setting sun was paling into a silvery twilight when the crescent, heralding the birth of Shavval, came into view. And all at once, gleams of joy crept into a million eyes and a million houses rang with the laughter of children rejoicing the eve of Eid.

The World’s most awaited vision, the Hilal, Crescent, heralding the arrival of the month of Shawwal came into view. And all at once, gleams of joy transformed millions of Muslim homes into centres of spontaneous joy and celebration. It was the signal young people had been waiting for.

Young men congregated in groups of eight or ten and stormed the stalls vending hot jilaebis and steaming glasses of milk. They had the most important task to fulfill - Finalise tomorrow’s programme of visits to relations and photo studios and the inevitable cinemas.

Just a few more hours of waiting and the young folk would be transformed to be the best dressed young stars of filmic grandeur and charm. Beautiful by nature, and dressed in colourful and glamorous new dresses, and even donning make up for a day, their happiness would know no bounds.

And rosy cheeked maidens in the full bloom of youth lay back on sofas or mattresses and pillows spread on floors. Their joy was in reviewing tomorrow’s informal parade of new dresses, new makeup and who knows, the start, Insha Allah, of a new romance. The long awaited one could be a guest among relations and family friends coming in to convey Eid Greetings with gifts and flowers in hand.

But in a common midsize dwelling in an ill lit quarter of the city, a young man in his underclothes was pacing his little room up and down. Yet another of the educated unemployed scions of families clinging to a near regal past and combating a most difficult present of a jobless and pennywise existence. A well managed charity, the city’s pride, helped him meet the essentials of a college education. For his living expenses, his eyes, raised to Allah, earned him reprieve from the off-and-on starvation endured by his compeers. His family ties to the local parliamentarian ensured him a handsome living, writing speeches and managing his informal office at a remuneration.

On this night of nights when even the poorest of the land could look forward to an Eid of plentiful Fith’rah doles from the affluent of the community, he found no silver lining beyond the dutiful electric bulb that was his best companions for nights of worries and lack of sleep. He had a knotty problem to solve. Yet his inborn good sense prevented him from howling and banging on walls to puff out his despair. Nothing in the world permit him to add to the pains and problems of his widowed mother.

He had yielded to an indiscretion that was unavoidable at his age. He had earned the goodwill of the city’s high class outfitter – patronized by the Khan Sahib, his boss –and ordered a princely attire for himself. In a world where the well to do walk the earth in gorgeous attire and the have-nots keep adding to their list of wishes and tears, Mahmood had yielded to this foolishness of desire and confirmed an order for a Sherwani, jibba and pyjama of expensive material. The bill: two thousand five hundred rupees! Brand new clothes for a beautiful Eid!

He felt desperate as he reviewed his hopeless situation. The big amount had to be paid and the clothes taken before 8 A.M. the next morning. The tailor was a decent guy but a man of business. Terms - cash and no dithering. If the deadline was not met, he would call in another client, whose measurements were close to his own and dispose of the master cut outfit that was, as its designer said, fit for a bridegroom!

Poor Mahmood! The more he thought about the challenge facing him, the more desperate became his state of mind. From where could he hope to earn such a huge sum within so short a time? Of course, Fyroze, the richest of his college pals, would advance him a loan any time. But he was top in the list of eligibles courting Rifath! He had none to help him except his aged, widowed mother whose only source of funds was her salary from the school that was just sufficient to feed her son and herself and pay the rent for their home. They could also collect a paltry amount of just a thousand rupees by way of rent for a thatched house her mother had endowed on her years ago. Inspite of these, she could meet household expenses only with the small amounts kind hearted neighbours would lend her now and then. There was not the faintest hope of his son’s need being fulfilled in time before the Eid prayers.

Yet his determination proved irrevocable. For, at the age of twenty, he could not be expected to resist the temptations of romance that was being thrust upon every young person from the media, the internet, the billboards and the huge hoardings at every turn of the road.

Hence, it was but natural for him to look upon rich and vivacious Rifath’s regard for him as blind, uninitiated love. To him, the fact did not appear to be of any worth that the courtesy and high regard she extended to him was not for him as a suitor but for his talent as an up and coming Urdu poet and public speaker of rare charm. but her admiration of his talent in composing and reciting exquisite ghazals, lyrics, at youth mushairah’s at the college. And, at literary events in their city, she was asked to introduce him and she called him “My dear friend” and praised him as the “pre eminent poet of the age”. This earned him the jealousy and rage of the high brows who hovered around her on such occasions. And he had felt elated when his own friends called him “Rifath’sboy friend”.

He felt he owed her the duty to appear immaculately dressed at her Eid party the next evening. He could not think of any dress other than the Shaerwani and Pyjama that the tailor was getting ready for him, as suitable for the occasion. It was indeed a pity that his abject penury could prevent him from taking delivery of those clothes before eight in the morning when the tailor was sure to find another buyer of his own size for them.

His mother called him for the night meal but he declined, saying he had been to an Ifthaar party hosted by a friend and they had dumped too many savories on his plate and he would not be able to eat anything more. Unlike other moms she had learnt to respect his oddities and left him alone to sort out his thoughts and soften his mood.

The city had settled down to a quiet though uneasy sleep. He lay down on his cot (a chaarpaayeeh, bed formed of a bamboo frame with zigzagging fibre ropes for body rest) and tried to lull himself to sleep. But an hour crawled by and he could find no respite from the anguish that was choking him. He rose and resumed his practice of pacing his small room and pausing now and then to thump his clenched fist on its lone table and frowning at his own reflection in the mirror nailed to the wall behind it.

In the past this drama had helped him to cool down and keep his agony from a violent outburst that could shock his mother. But on this memorable night, it failed him and he had to discipline himself.

The timepiece on the table told him it was nearing midnight. He realized he could ignore his soaring emotions no more. The stuffy atmosphere of the room was suffocating him. And his lungs yearned for the fresh air outside. He dressed himself and came out, telling his mother he would have a glass of tea from the stall nearby and came out.

The night was, unbelievably, pleasant. A cool breeze was on and the thin strip of star studded sky amidst the parallel rows of houses in the narrow street was so beautiful and soothing to his nerves and his mental agitation.

He walked on at a brisk pace, not caring where he was going and why. He felt he should not lose hope. There could be way out of this mire, the way things in his life had sorted themselves out. He seemed to be in for mental fatigue as he forced himself again and again to think out some way or the other of earning two thousand five hundred rupees before daybreak. He had no problem finding his way as he had grown up in these narrow and winding lanes and he felt quite safe and sure something would turn up in time to relieve his agony.

With doubts crisscrossing his mind, it took him half an hour to reach the posh area of the city that was nicknamed by the less fortunates as the Aristoland. The lights wee brighter and more decorous, the tree lined avenue was best maintained and freed of both the dust and grime of other localities. Both sides of this imperious roadway, stood the mansions of the rich and the might, each an enclosed .half acre of manicured lawn and colourful foliage.

Mahmood noted that only one of the mansions had it lights on and it was the ancestral home of NawabMohsin Khan, the current Mayor of the city. Maybe the Leader, as his followers called him, was preparing the speech over radio, which was an annual event of Ramadan. If he had called on the great man earlier in the day, he could have done some good to the rich man and also earned a handsome reward. Maybe the opportunity was not lost. He quickened his pace and reached the mansion within seconds.

The ornate gate, painted green and gold, opened as he reached it. The security guard gave him a sylish salute. And like a courtier from their Moghul past, he made a deep bow and said “Welcome Badshah!” as though he was receiving a monarch and not a young man seeking a job and a reward. He led Mahmood to the huge office room and asked him to be seated. And he called the Nawab Saheb over the intercom and informed him of the young man’s arrival and left.

Mahmood sat back, in fact, he sank into the deep comfort of the imported sofa. For once he felt the aura of high living and felt himself a part of fit. He felt the load was off his chest ad he breathed easy and relaxed. Already, from his heart and in his mind, he felt the upsurge of a strange new feeling. Was it courage, toughness, bravery, the daring to take on the opposition and care not for the consequence?

The door opened and the Nawab came in. He was handsome and sprightly, more like Captain Pataudi than the robust, rotund and regal rich of the time. The young visitor rose and walked up to him and they shook hands.

The big man was eloquent in his welcome: “KhushAamdeed and Eid Mubarak! I’m so happy you came. Be seated we have to talk lot”.

“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, Khan Saheb. I was pssing this way with friends than I saw the lights were on and dared to come in”.

“Mahmood Khan!” It was the big man’s specialty to share his own title with all his friends. “You know we don’t stand on formalities. You’re welcome any time. But this time it is a Rahmath. blessing, from Allah that you came“.

“HarayehKhidmah” the visitor said and rose. :If there is anything I can do for you. We’re honored when you praise us like this”.

The Khan’s hand signaled him to remain seated and he said, “I don’t know if you were there. I didn’t go to the Urs of the Dargah last night. Two groups clashed instead of offering salutations and respects to the great saint. The police informed me the riot was started by the ruffians hired by those who gain from violence and upheavals like this. The Chief Minister called me. He was deeply concerned. Two guys, one a student and the other a salesman are in hospital with serious wounds. They will recover but the peace and calm of our city hs been shattered. The CM has asked me to discuss the event with leaders and advise them to reunite and restore the sanctity of the mausoleum. The Urs had been going on for over a thousand years. Other festivals are to follow.

“We cannot afford these events of joy and bonhomie to be turned into rowdy battles. Every Muslim saint had arrived with a message of peace and absolute devotion to Allah Saheb. The saints have been Allah’s blessing and I have assured him of my fullest support. And I have convened a leaders’ meeting tomorrow after Eid Prayers. We will issue a nice appeal to the conscience of the people not to allow even a single repeat of such devilry anywhere in our district.”

“Throughout history, Islam had reached the Muslim masses only through the Muslim saints who had arrived from Makkah or Madinah with heartwarming appeals and information on the transformation – the peaceful message of Islam was transforming people into angels of peace and cooperation. But, the arrival of loud speaking and rabble rousing had thrown out and replaced violence and hatred in place of the peace and inter-religious understanding into dislike and outright hatred.”

“As a popular leader of my people, I will not allow the rancor of hate to spread. Already the leaders of other religions have met me and we have chalked out an excellent inter-communal understanding program.”

“All speakers to be the message conveyed to the people. I am absolutely sure, we are on the right road of peace and happiness and ours will be the triumph over the devils of destruction. Lord almighty kindly grant us success and triumph as the peacekeepers of the nation.”

“If I can write, I will appeal to the conscience of humanity, I have read a poem for projecting the disaster caused to human beings by the evil minded, petty politicians who do not understand the glory and pre-eminence of the human body and soul. Peace and not disaster is what our elders have conveyed to us and we will uphold these glorious values that are the foundation of world peace and honourable living. These are the rules that guide us and our families to everlasting peace and happiness. These are the golden words of advice that every decent human being drafts and loves, and conveys worldwide……”

“Worldwide all the countries enjoying peace, happiness and career triumphs and their children are safe and growing up happy and smiling without any fear of violent people.”

“These are not for celebration or loud-speaking. It is for the common good, protection and safety of lovely children who are the treasure of every home that I project them without fear or favour as my humble contribution to the world of God and good people. So help me God. I am sure Our Lord approves every word of my speech.”

“Yes. Sure you’re the best guy for the job. Here are my notes. I have a telephone interview with a pressman an hour from now. And my address to the elders’ meeting tomorrow. And finally, the masterpiece: Our Joint appeal to the citizens. Do your best. Allah Will Help You. This time you will be earning sawaab, (religious rewards) from Allah when you reunite people’s hearts and keep them from killing and wounding one another”.

The Khan rose and walked to the door. He turned and said, “I’ll be back after an hour at the latest. Write as best as you can. You know my message: Our young people must learn to control and avoid anger and fury. All the tragedies we have suffered through history resulted from our failure to control our temper.

“Our Prophet taught us to keep our cool, whatever the provocation. He is Our Role Model. We must adopt his UswathulHus’naa, his incomparable excellence of character and behavior. This is the best guide for our advancement in life. Allah’s Help is gained and people also take a liking to us. Most people who gain wealth end up with more enemies than friends. Our Prophet wants us to win hearts and earn triumph through superior thinking and magnificence towards people”.

The Khan left, closing the door silently after him so the

people inside the mansion would not be disturbed after the hard day they had, of Eid preparations.

Mahmood collected the papers and took over the desktop he was used to work on. He thought of the long years his family had been allied with the Khan family. His father was the Estate Manager and his mother the best teacher in the free school started by the Khan’s Begum and funded by the Khan himself. The Khan had four sons of his own and yet he doted on Mahmood for his welcome special talents in English writing. His boys also liked him and welcomed him, as Dada (elder brother). He retained their trust and regard by scoring the highestruns andtaking the most wickets in all regional tournaments.

A streak of pain flashed through his being as the memory asserted itself of the disaster his family had suffered in a deadly train accident that turned him into an orphan. The Khan stood by them and had remained their constant support ever since. Yet his mother, who was proud of her own ancestry, declined to be dependent on her husband’s employer. She had earned honors in her teaching and sports management of the city’s famed English school. She allowed him to avail the scholarship from a Charity fund. But for all other expenses, Mom’s salary and even her jewels were at his son’s disposal. But the son, equally a conscientious young man, had never exceeded the monthly allowance she gave him.

But she did not oppose her son’s close friendship with the Khan’s children and their dad took a liking to him and Mahmood took care of his office work off and on. The pay was good and on this Eid night, he put in extra care and fulfilled his task to the Mayor’s satisfaction and received a rich reward. With profound thanks he left for home.

There was a nice breeze as he reached the highway and he felt he could break into a dance. There were five thousand rupees in his pocket. The tailor would receive half of it and the rest would make his Eid a fabulous experience. He would spend some and save the rest. Mom would never take anything from him. The last time he tried to share with him the prize money from an essay competition won by him, there were tears in her eyes and he had to run back to his room to hold his own.

He thought of going to the tailor whose shop was en route. He should be at work even at that late hour as it was the eve of Eid. He could try his clothes on and satisfy himself that they were indeed of the Paris design and finish the tailor had promised him. And he winked to himself in a bout of self esteem as he imagined how he would look, tall and triumphant in his immaculate attire at Rifath’s gala Eid party that night. For once, he would and face his adversaries on equal terms. And Rifath? He checked himself. That was for later. No hurry!

But one thing was sure. Rifath would rejoice, wouldn’t she, that her lover boy did not lag behind his rivals in the smartness of his appearance too. She would approve of him all right. He had read several stories of how people are carried away by day dreams in their romantic quest and make a fool of themselves. But this night, he just did not care!

He was so sprightly in his walk and his head so high up in the clouds that several times he had to look around and satisfy himself that he was not walking a few feet above ground. And, without his being aware of it, his subconscious directed his steps back to his home.

When he realized this, he was just a couple of blocks from his residence; and he could not summon up the strength to walk back the two mile distance to the tailor’s and then return home again. And so, with a cold sigh, he persuaded himself to go home and rest a while and take delivery of his clothes soon after daybreak when the city buses resume their services.

He rose, reached the front door and opened it wide. The radiance of Eid was already in. At heart, he recalled the belief his father had conveyed to him on the morning of the last Eid of his own life: “My son, we are viewing the dawn of the new world that opens to humanity every year on this day. Millions around the earth have endured semi starvation and rigorous self discipline for an entire month, And this has earned them the grace of Allah at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan.”

A subdued, silvery brilliance was spreading across the blue sky and the twinkling little stars were fading as the mighty sun took control over the earth.

And all at once, a million houses sprang to life. The lights were switched on and preparations begun in earnest for the ceremonial bath and Salaath al Eid. The freshness and vigour of the morning breeze was further enlivened by the clatter of busy, rejoicing feet attending to a hundred little chores in every home.

He was about to close the door and go back to his room, when something happened and held his hand. From the house next to his, the tiny tots were raising their voice of protest as their sister tried to awaken them. He felt he could be of some assistance to them and also wish them “Eid Mubarak!” He walked down to their door and raised his hand to press the door bell.

Like an unseen arrow pinning his right hand to his arm, the thought came to him: the head of that family, that noble hearted Ghouse Khan, had breathed his last just two months ago.

And he, Mahmood Ahmed Yousuf, had stayed clear of the responsibility both God and society itself had placed on him, as a good neighbor and young aspiring to be worthy of the UswathulHusnathe illustrious life recordof the Holy Prophet. In the eyes of Allah, the widow Thahira Begum and her daughter Shahzad and her siblings Zubair and Mushtaq had come under his protection as he was so close to their father during his lifetime they had been looking to him as the benefactor who would helped them manage the family as Ghouse Khan’s health was growing weaker and weaker over the last days of his life.

His own mom had pledged half her salary to the family’s upkeep and he took care of the physical tasks, drawing Ghouse Khan’s pension and taking care of the children’s education and other needs as if he was the eldest of the brood. How could he have forgotten all those duties and remained obsessed with the Rifath dream and given himself up entirely to wean her from her suitors and earn her wholehearted love? He had no answer to these questions but he felt his eyes were opening to the real state of affairs and he was coming out of the wishful thinking he had adopted over the last few months.

He felt he was waking up from a bad dream and hi s mind was sorting out the concerns that were now more important to him. He heard the young boys complaining to their sister the Eid has arrived but there were no new clothes, no sweet dishes and no money to go out and enjoy the Eid views and delights and spend on entertaining friends and themselves.

He knew his mother would come over and look after their concerns and help them to a joyful Eid. What was of concern to him was his own sense of duty and…………. responsibility to a neighbor whose condition was so abject that Allah would never forgive him if he did not go to their aid right away.

He remembered a Friday visit as he went to them straight from the Masjid after prayers and found them starving. He rushed to a famous restaurant close by and brought them lunch and several dishes and some sweets too and gave them to Ghouse Khan as he lay limp and unmoving on his bed.

He caught Shehzad’s eye as he turned to leave and realized it would remain with him a long cherished memory. She was holding back tears as she mumbled her grateful thanks.

Unhappy girl, she was working herself to exhaustion, running the house and attending to her bed ridden father, all by herself. How hopeless was her longing for one look of sympathy, one nod of understanding from one whom she had always regarded as the family’s truest friend. How’merciless he would have appeared to her as he sought to remain entirely unemotional in his response to her as he had decided his romantic alignment was to be with Rifath and none else should come between them!

He remembered too that on the day of her father’s last journey on earth, she had lost consciousness as she was in Sajdah, prostration during her Zuh’r, midday, prayer and had recovered only afater his mom took her into her arms, sprinkled water on her face and recited a dua, recitation from the Holy Qur’an and breathed it on her, the orhpaned child had clung desperately to her and wept, “Oh mother, my own mother, how can I drag on my life now, who is there to care for me?” and all the assembled ladies had converged on her and said in one voice, “If your dad is more, we are here, all of us, as mothers to you. Do not feel sad, our darling, we will be with you. Allah is Witness, we will never be far from you, You will find us and our love true and a great help to you and your brothers!”

He preferred to remain silent and complete all the rites of the solemn occasion and everybody shook hands and even embraced him for having been of such help to a neighbor and offered their own assistance to him in case of any future need.

He came out of the reverie as the lights were switched on inside the house. And the muffled protests of the kids suggested that Shehzad was waking her two little brothers. They rose, miserable at heart and angels in looks. And they began to cry when told it was the dawn of Eid.

“Aapaa, where are the new clothes you promised us?”demanded the youngest. When Shehzad brought him the Jibbahand Pyjama she had washed and ironed for the occasion, he threw them away. “Aapaa, I don’t want those old clothes. Give them away. I won’t wear them!” he howled amidst sobs.

“Would we never have the feast and the delicious dishes the other boys are boasting of? In our old clothes we will find our classmates making fun of us and insulting us also!”

The youngest one gave vent to the pain in his being, “Oh Aapaa, why doesn’t Our Allah have Mercy on us and grant us good fortune? Why should we, of all people, have to suffer misfortune?”

Mahmood could stand this drubbing no longer. Being a young man engulfed in misfortune, he would not leave the exasperation that came over him at that time years away. He would have struck her but restrained himself.

She burst into tears and ran away to her house. She was the younger sister of his one and only friend Mansoor. Mansoor had dropped out of college and entered railway service as a station clerk.

His best memories were of their outings, pads and pens in hand, to scenic spots outside their town. They were determined to be writers at any cost. They would teach themselves the difficult art. They had sufferdallathrough life. They wee sure humanity would be kind to them if publishers wouldn’t.

They would sit down anywhere they found a shady spot and write. Mushtaq would try his hand at short story writing in English. And Mansoor would write articles in excellent Tamil, the language of the region.

None of their writings got published but the efforts they made sustained their hopes and helped them offset the challenges of life.

His dad’s ambition was to make him a doctor so he could be of help to the local community as they could not afford healthcare otherwise. But the old man was denied extension of service beyond 55 years and had to retire. The pension they would sanction him would be less than half of the salary he had been receiving through thirty years of his service. So he joined Mansoor and wrote a competitive examination for clerical posts in the government and got a pass. Both had to support their families from the meager salaries they got. Together they met misfortune with grit and fortitude.

Minutes after the girl had gone, he called off the class. Somehow, he felt he had been unkind to her. Her mother was an invalid and there had been crisis every now and then. Maybe she had one the previous night. He chided himself and took off for college. Next tim,e he would be ore human, Right now he had acted a brute.

His next memory was of the railway platform as the train started on its long journey. To his new career far from home. . Looking back he saw Mansoor waving him “FeehAmanillah!” and bravely holding back… tears.

His uncle had secured an admission to a famous art school in Mumbai, India’s favourite destination for career hunters and an upcoming rival to Hollywood with an alias of its own: Bollywood.

For the first time in his life, things worked out in his favor. He prayed to Allah to grant him mastery over the intricacies and complex procedures of the new arts and techniques burgeoning in the city where talent could secure anyone a good job or enslave him in a lifelong quest after progress and attune him to dismays by the dozen..

His teachers took a liking to him and watched him closely through his five years of hard and dedicated study and practice. Quite a few painting of his own .fetched him a good price in amateur exhibitions and he had earned a following of his own among his juniors. Within a month of his graduation, he landed a job in a leading agency and rose fast to good fortune.

Back home, he had earned a diploma on the side in business administration and this stood him in good stead with his new boss both.at his desk and travels to branch office supervision. As the national economy was booming at the time, the joint strategies worked out by the boss and his understudy, proved effective and they were able to secure higher rankings and agency forged ahead in bothfame and fortune. By sheer merit, Mushtaq rose to be the youngest of the four vice presidents.

Back home, Mansour was living from crisis to crisis. The printing press where his dad worked, was shifting to modern machinery and they declared him redundant and eased him out of his job with minimum compensation and him without mercy.

Their house owner was moving to Dubai and had put his house up for sale. He was threatening to evict them. Mushtaq sent in his savings and bought the house and let the family stay on free of rent.

and got him treated. The gift of sight was a blessing and Mansour returned to his job and got a minor promotion also.

Another event of the past popped up in his memory and once again he felt he had deep dismay that he not saved up enough to alleviate his dear friend’s pain. During one of the no cost excursion his friends’ group conducted, once in two months or so, they opted for a little adventure. As the leader Mushtaq selected mountain climbing. As the Rock Fort that dominated the city centre was not really open to all, he pointed to the Uyyakondan canal. It was running full and to raise the height of the embankment, they had piled mounds of clay over its eroded portions. It was voted that whoever climbed the embankment and came back without disturbing the wet mounds would be the hero of the day.

Unwise as he was, Manzour volunteered and came across smiling. Only when he told them of the risks he had faced did the truth sink in. He could have slipped and got drowned as he did not know swimming. Mushtaq grabbed his hand and apologised sincerely for putting his dear comrade at such a risk. This only deepened his love and regard for Mansour and made him Vice President.

Back home pension would be spent away within days. Those days it I was a sheer pittance. So too the hundred rupees he himself could make as an “apprentice journalist”. In a magazine run by retirees there was no professional scribe to teach him the trade. They could barely afford the “stipend“ they were paying him. However, this proved a blessing, He could run the show all by himself!

His sister Muneera, divided her time teaching part time in a mud-walled school run by a ‘headmaster’ who had fallen from grace. To relieve the family’s burden, she opted to work long hours at her sewing machine at home designing, cutting and sewing women’s and children’s clothing in accord with the ruling fashions.

The shattering blow hd to come some day and it did on a rain sodden afternoon. The rice bag fell empty and his mother sent word to her brother to kindly help them with some rice or flour at least.

She had thought her son might be asleep. Once too often, the siesta relieves the pangs of hunger.But he was wide awake and heard every word of her pleading. Wisely, he throttled the anger and protest that were his usual response. He sat up and raising his hands high unto heaven, mumbled to himself: “My God, lead me to good times or….!”

Another throttling of the desperate alternative. Allah had cautioned them never to despair of His Help and to move on in life. The timing would be Allah’s. Ours is but to wait and act serene!

He walked fast and reached the tailor shop of SaitBhai, his friend, philosopher and guide! If nothing else, a cup of hot, spiced tea would be his gain plus some heartening counsel.

This time something was really moving. The salaams exchanged, SaitBhai was in a mood of celebration. “By Allah, this is a real good day for you!”

“Your brother won the NY Lottery jackpot and he is sending you a million dollars just to blow off?”

“No joke this time. Be real smart and accept the good fortune that is coming your way. Not the money but the dear bhaihimself has arrived this morning and he wants to meet you!”

He tapped on the door behind him. The shop filled the entire façade and the rest was house, kitchen, bedroom with bath attached, total area thirty square feet!

“Begum Jan, send Munna over. My friend has come. Allah has sent him in so we save the auto ride.”

A handsome young man, majestic in his looks and charm, emerged from the narrow door and its not-so-new curtain.

“How are you Barkhurdar!” (The title parents use for their beloved male child as he reaches adolescence. Young folk use it for one another in their own meets as a form of affection and intimacy).

“I’m fine. How are you, Chacha Jan? (Tit for tat. You call me sonny, I call you uncle, we’re both of same age?”

“Top of the world, Masha Allah (Praise be to Allah!”) I can’t believe myself. Back home after five full years. My Bhabi(SaitBhai’s dame) is arranging my nikah (wedding) with a cousin of hers. Real Beauty, I assure you”.

Mabrook! (Congrats), All the best by Allah! I am happy for you too”.

A hand extended from behind the curtain. SaitBhai reached for it and brought in a tray of spiced tea cups and some expensive snacks that Junaid had brought from U.S.

SaitBhai closed his sewing machine and came down to sit in a group on the carpeted floor.

The good news was conveyed with real joy. The man from America, Junaid was in advertising,. A struggling apprentice artis,t he had lined up his paintings for sale in a street corner of his dear old city.. They caught the eye of a hitchhiking columnist from the New World. He acted amazed and wanted to buy the best of the collection. Junaid just gifted it to him. “So you remember me whenever you see it in your home”.

Back in US, the friend wrote a raving review and also got his adman buddy to offer Junaid, his purported “discovery” a job and work visa.

Misbah was not won over but there was no harm in believing the entire account. Junaid’s talent and hard work had earned him a good job and in five years, he had risen from Artist to Art Director. And good luck came their way.

The guy who owned the Agency had long been viewing with interest the wonderful opportunities he could find in Dubai, “the golden Kingdom of our time” as he praised it. And more than once, his friends and aides heard him mumbling to himself: “Someday I’ll be setting up a branch there and earning real millions!”

When Junaid spoke to him about Misbah and showed him some of his writings, David’s response was a godsend. He would be glad to train Misbah and help him rise to be a star copywriter.

“With this ‘door opener’ in hand, Junaid had even blocked the date for his flight and decided he would share with his brother’s protégé the flat he had rented for himself in a posh area of Dubai.

As he rose to leave, Junaid grasped his hand and pushed in a wad of notes into his pocket. “Just for the expenses. Don’t say no. It is just a loan .Qardul Hasna! Interest free. Pay me back from your first paycheck!”

He shook hands with both his benefactors, and came away.

“What a leap, my God!” the gratitude swelling from his heart, he felt like walking on scented air. “From pauper to a princely career! Masha Allah!”

His dad’s advice rang in his ears. Even while in tatters, the old man held fast to the belief and the advice his own mom had given him. He was fond of transmitting it to his children and friends: “A fruit bearing tree bends low as its produce grows heavy. So too should a person act humble and friendly to all as he rises high in his life and career. Allah does not like the vainglorious!”

Misbah found himself on cloud nine. With one difference. He was afraid he could fall off any moment! He steadied himself, mentally, still groping for a hold.

Should he accept or reject the offer that had come his way? He did not know the details but Sait Bhai had been working on the plan since years. Like a true friend. No fanfare, no boasting, but sheer patience and sound planning, Allah bless him. Not many like him on this planet.

Through a long night of thoughts and memories, he felt he was being tossed around by fears and hopes crisscrossing each other, Difficult as the night was, he would retain its memory through life. A door was opening and light was flooding in. There would be no looking back. The difficulties would be overcome, the humiliations would be long past.

The pilot’s voice conveyed the good news. They US and would be landing in half an hour. The dear old country would be reached in minutes. Both hopes and fears would go away.

The Madras Airport he had departed from what it was five years ago. It was now the grand ultra modern Chennai International Airport. After a rather long stopover, he could catch the domestic carrier flight to Tiruchirapalli. A distance of 330 kilometers was covered in about an hour.

With fond hope, his eyes scanned the usual crowd that had almost filled the reception lounge. Sure, Mahmood must be there. His college friend and trusted partner in all the battles they had fought against adversity. The smart trouble shooter had reserved a seat for him in a luxury bus that would take him to his home town ten hours earlier.

He was there to receive him with a double surprise. One, he carried a placard reading: “Welcome to the HonourableMisbahuzZaman from USA!” Two, there was a beautiful young lady by his side, all smiles and shining green eyes. He knew she must be Meherunnisa, his sister whom Mahmood had introduced to him over phone and the internet.

And they had spent hours and hours via laptop, getting to know each other She was an alumni at the Aligarh Muslim University. She must have come down to Chennai just to match the image built up over internet musings to the nice guy he would be in real life. The hours had been well spent. They would keep their dream alive.

They shook hands, their first meeting. Both felt a bolt of cool lightning flash through their inmost souls. “More beautiful than my fondest dreams!” he blurted out.

“You must be great to have earned my brother’s respect. Fitting the description he was making to me all the time.”

The big brother was a realist and a hard one at that. He cautioned them: “We have just four hours to blow off. Save the compliments for another time. Let us walk to the Parking Lot and get into the car. I have borrowed it for a day from a friend of mine.”

The car was a pleasing sight. Misbah marveled at the strides his country had taken. International brands of the latest technology were made available without the huge “premia” that were charged a decade back.

Misbah expressed alarm at the near choking traffic and the hold up every few meters he could see ahead of them, that was “negating all the joy of driving”.

“This is a common phenomena in all emerging economies. Construction and confusion going hand in hand. But that’s ok with me. Now, tell me which restaurant we may rush to”. Misbah let the siblings decide and put in just one choice, “All I want is authentic Mutton Biriyaniand SeekhKabaab overdone. Mughal cuisine, Mughal ingredients in the land of the Mughals!”

Mahmood was an expert in the art of “ZigZagging” without which no one would reach home in his city. His choice of a superb but small restaurant run by a top class Mughal chef, was indeed great.

The meal finished, Mahmood rose to reach the wash basin. The young couple looked at each other. Hearts pounding.Words frozen and lips trembling.Misbah reached forward and took her hand.

For a few heavenly moments they were one, the dreams real and the future magnificent. Two minutes together and all the universe stands still and a cyber orchestraspells out “Mabrook! MuhtharameinvaMajnooneen!: meaning “’Congratulations to you, great couple gone crazy, Allah is pleased with you!”

In his own beloved city, Misbah had opted for a surprise appearance. There was no reception committee at the Central Bus Stand. He came down the bus, hailed an auto rickshaw and hauled his trolley suitcase aboard and they rolled out.

Fond visions regaled him of his sister. So beautiful, she was slim and trim. But now, who knows, she would have gained weight after marriage. With a wonderful girl of two years and her husband a software engineer in a friendly country overseas. She must have paid off the huge loan they had taken at predatory interest, to land the job. For the first time in her life, she must be really happy as the financial worries would have been overcome.

Muneera was the sheet anchor of their family. Memories of the blessings she had brought them were fresh in his mind. She had toiled hard and chased the wolf away from their door. So often had she pledged her jewels to pay his college fees and expenses. His dad’s dentures and the doctor’s bills to fight off mom’s frequent bouts of fever brought in by rheumatoid arthritis and her generous handouts to impoverished kinsfolk from time to time, were all paid for from the long suffering daughter’s tattered purse.

Neighbours and family friends had brought in excellent offers for her marriage. They were concerned she could be sacrificing her own happiness for the family’s sake. But she was past caring. All that mattered to her was she was fulfilling her duty to her parents, her younger brother and relatives. The stoicism was all the more heart wrenching to all, especially as she was young and beautiful and best behaved.

Mahmood had kept him informed of the welcome developments. With his own career on the rise, Misbah had spoken to his parents and sister and a distant cousin of had sent feelers for her hand. A youth leader campaigning for “no dowry demand” marriages, Ameeruddeenhad opted for beauty and won over his own parents saying Allah would bless him with wealth and good fortune and he would not harass his in laws for the means to support his bride.

Misbah was in the right center of an ambitious campaign his agency was about to launch and he could never make it to the wedding himself. He sent in all the funds needed and arranged with Mahmood to come over and take charge of all the celebrations and ceremonies. And the “friend who was a king in his caliber”, as Misbah praised him most often) had fulfilled this responsibility in the best manner. “All praise to Allah and blessings to my Mahmood!” he told the guests again and again as Mahmod informed him of every stage of the joyous event.

Within a year the same joyous atmosphere prevailed as Nourie was born and Muneera had withstood the ordeal bravely and with a unique sense of triumph. He took out his iPod and viewed for the hundredth time the first birthday photo of the darling and her parents. It looked as if from a fairy land where it was all joy and goodness and his life was so happy and flawless. And now?

Financial worries would have been overcome.

His own parents had survived crises after crises in coping with old age infirmities. Thanks to Allah, he had kept up regular remittances to them and to his dear sister through all the five years of his sojourn abroad. He had also bought them a newly built house. In a new development close enough to the bus station.

He stood at the gate and had his first real shock. The gate was locked. A good Samaritan neighbor came down and greeted him. ’Muneera Begum’s brother? I must be right. She was always talking about you. Welcome, welcome!”

“But for God’s sake, where is she?”


”You guys opt for surprises. Look where it has landed you. She was called to Salem as her mother in law had an accident and was admitted in hospital. It is a month since it happened. We are looking after the house in her absence.”

“But, what really happened. Is it so serious?”

“Please do come in. I’ll inform you everything let the auto rickshaw go.”

SardarBhai as the golden hearted neighbor had preferred to be called, took him to his own room and seated him in his ancestral recliner and brought a folding chair for himself and sat down. Slowly and with deep compassion he told him how tragedy had struck down the family’s happiness and prosperous living all of a sudden.

The country where his brother in law Ameeruddeen had built up a fabulous career, was known for its generous perks to expatriates. But the economic downturn worldwide had affected it most. For his talents, his vision and experience, he had been offered fabulous perks as the Chief Architect in a famous conglomerate of international developers. They broke up under the weight of losses and non availability of bank support. The bosses had fled. Let alone the financial compensation due per contract, even an air ticket could not be had for his return flight. He came back with just his clothes on, as they say in such circumstances.

And that had set their high standing hurtling down from the height they had reached in public esteem.

“I knew Muneera Begum was keeping too many facts from you so as not to cause you too much pain. She used to tell me, ’My brother has too much love for us we have no right to burden him with our problems. He has a difficult job. Let him concentrate on his career. Allah will take care of us. Insha’allahKhair!’


“At the hospital”, the old man blurted out and of a sudden held his breath. “I’m sorry. She might not have informed you. She had surgery and could be back soon by Allah’s Grace “.

“Surgery! What for, BhaiSaheb? “

SardarBhai as the golden hearted neighbor had preferred to be called, took him to his own room and seated him in his ancestral recliner and brought a folding chair for himself and sat down. Slowly and with deep compassion he told him how tragedy had struck down the family’s happiness and prosperous living all of a sudden.

The country where his brother in law Ameeruddeen had built up a fabulous career, was known for its generous perks to expatriates. But the economic downturn worldwide had affected it most. For his talents, his vision and experience, he had been offered fabulous perks as the Chief Architect in a famous conglomerate of international developers. They broke up under the weight of losses and non availability of bank support. The bosses had fled. Let alone the financial compensation due per contract, even an air ticket could not be had for his return flight. He came back with just his clothes on, as they say in such circumstances.

And that had set their high standing hurtling down from the height they had reached in public esteem.

SardarBhai hailed a passing auto and gently pushed him in. “Your things are safe here. Go and bring back your sister safe and healthy and smiling to us!”

The road to the suburbs had developed loads of traffic and bottlenecks through the last few years. But his auto driver managed to lead him to the hospital within minutes. As he rose and paid the fare and entered the homely building, he found himself clenching his teeth and the resolve rose deep from his heart: “Muneera, my Aapa. Even if I have to sell myself, I will stand by you and bring you out of your ordeal Insha Allah!”

He knew it would be difficult to connect the huddled and emotionally shattered human being on the hospital bed to the vibrant ever smiling, ever alive and dynamic leader of the family. But he checked himself. There would be no tears. Just faith, deep an dynamic faith, that could bring from Allah the miracles and move mountains.

“AssalamuAlaikum. My life, how could this have happened to you?”

She rose and clasped his hand. Gently he let her resume the restful poise on the bed. “Allah will help us, my brother. We must never lose faith in His Rah’math, His Compassion!”

“That is my brave Commando! We are going to see it through. We will not be overcome. Allah is with us. He will not let us down. Your faith, your prayers, your goodness of heart will stand by you and the angels will bring back your health and good fortune. All of us who are indebted to you for the kindness Allah has reposed in you, will not let you down. Our dua’yaen, prayers, will work miracles for you, my heart!”

No expenses were spared. She had been given the air conditioned special Ward with a small room attached for the patient’s family. The Head Nurse came in and gently led him to their parents, his mother resting on a bed and dad settled in a chair in the attached room. “Nourie and her dad are in their home. They will be coming in any minute now”, his mom told him after the welcoming words, the loving embrace and blessings were said.

And in a brave level voice the frail old lady gave him the news that had been held back from him for so long. They were the answers to questions that were running a riot within him but were unable to come out in word form:

Back home, Ameer could not get even a lower paid job. Competition was intense and some heartburn too, that denied him the sympathy of his coprofessionals in his own city.

“He must have hoarded up a few millions at least in foreign banks. Why should he care?” They were imagining him at their door, with a resume in hand. It never happened. “It will never happen as long as Allah is by my side!” These brave words supported Muneera in her misfortune. They brought no relief but they set her hopes higher with each passing day.

The long wait had to be endured. Her health had broken. She was suspected of cancer and had to keep from school. First the gold, then the silver had to reach the pawn shop. And, in quick succession, went the costly vessels and furnishings they had bought and stored for their darling daughter’s wedding that was long years away. But for the remittances Misbah had been sending them regularly, even as his own earnings were in a tumble, the entire family would have been in the streets, as they describe the abject misfortune people face at times.

He sought a meeting with the hospital director, one of the leading oncologists in their state. The details were gone over in a quick review. But the final words were incontrovertible: “We are giving her the best treatment we can. But this is an ailment that calls for the latest drugs and the most expensive care, chemotherapy and radio therapy and no let down in the level of payments that fall due. My honest view is, if you have the resources, take her to the United States and, by God’s Grace, she will survive”.

The beautiful, radiant angel Nourie came in and decided for him the course he should adopt. Her dad Ameer remained unbroken, a symbol of strength and trust in Alah. . “I will never survive without her support, her courage. Allah will not fail us. She will come through baFad’l Allah (by Allah’s Grace”.

After the barest few seconds of hesitation, Nourie jumped into his arms and clasped him tight. She knew how truly her mom loved and respected and depended on him. The thoughts, the fears, the hope and the courage of this angelic darling he would remember all his life. Without The family’s blessings and constant love and support found expression, not just in her mumbling words but in her intense faith that proved most inspiring to him: “Mamoo Jan, you have come. Allah has fulfilled our prayers and banished from us the looming misfortune”.

He hoped, the sleepless night could be a blessing for him. He lay down and rearranged his thoughts, his emotions and his wishes. One thing was for sure. If he was to be true to himself, he would never have reached the heights of his career abroad if the family had not stood by him.

There was no question. It was a test of endurance not just for himself, but each member of his family. By their discipline, their unity, their total dependence on him and their determination to see their common ‘mission impossible’ reach its triumph, they had proved their loyalty and unbounded love for him. The time had come for him to prove their hopes on him would not be in vain.

At the peak of his concerns stood Meher, the one and no other love of his life. She had everything he looked for and in totality, the guardian angel who would bring the blossom and triumph to his life. Already they had been planning. A simple Nikah andValeemah, the respective feasts to be offered by the bride and the bridegroom.

So the future could be bright and free of debts that both hated. “The elders were right. Spread your legs just as far as your quilt could contain!”

The amount saved would pay for her air fare, purchase outright of a safe and secure home in a decent neighborhood and the start up for a fund to support children to be born…..

At no stage would the remittance to parents and Muneera be curtailed. Meher would be the homemaker and she would write in her idle hours. Themes and subjects? Whatever she was good at.

Everything had appeared so smooth, so easy. But now the travel and treatment expenses for dear Muneera at New York could prove road blocks most formidable to the debt free life they stood for.

He called Meher and opened his heart and his concerns to her. They had been together just for a few hours. But already, it appeared as if they had never been away from one another. Two beings but one heart, one mind, one life.

“I stand by you, whatever it takes. I have never felt a stranger to you. I don’t know why. Maybe this is Allah’s Will. Aeons before our actual birth, our partner in life is chosen, DNA’s and chromosomes matched and set. And the illumined rosy path of every human married life on earth is laid.

“I am with you one hundred percent. Insha Allah, I will be a Professor in two more months. I had thought of resigning and joining you in US. But now, we will wait. Another year for Muneera to be fully recovered. Our love would grow deeper through this ‘operation endurance’ and even more intense would become our need to be one, Masha Allah!”

“I am grateful to you, darling. I never doubted the integrity of our coming together. I just ask for one pledge. Right to the end, we will be one and our children will prove a blessing to the world. The lights of our lives will illumine also other people’s lives and everyone will have share in our own joy and happiness”

“Misbah, dearest. You know Eidis jus a week away. This will be our Eid Gift to Muneera and Nourie and Ameeru. Thaqabbal Allah! May the Lord accept our humble gift!”

His eyesight was fading and the local eye hospital was demanding a huge amount for IOL treatment. And they were insisting that as Mansour’s health was not good, they would not guarantee success. Besides there would be no proper care for him there. Mushtaq called him to Mumbai.

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