Monday, 11 June 2007
Table of Contents Discrimination.. 3 Vulnerable. 6 Confused Perception.. 9 Contrivance Intervened.. 12 Foolishness.. 21 Gloria Matures.. 24 Hypocrisy.. 28 Insatiable Quest for Love. 30 Irreparable Damage. 33 Maliha’s gift to her husband.. 36 Pride. 41 Revenge. 45 Shihab’s Predicament.. 48 The Dilemma.. 50 The Obsession.. 54 Experts.. 57 Exposed.. 60 The Wake up call.. 63
Gladys Sanchez was smuggled into the United States of America from El Salvador, and Feroz Alibhoy, a memon, came from Bangladesh, the farthest country from the United States of America. Thousands of people come from El Salvador to the States in search of better lives, every year. Opportunities are far less, compared to the Latin American countries, even to come to the States legally from Bangladesh. In the eighties, Bangladeshis came from Germany in scores, threatened with expulsion from there. They mainly came to Florida via the sea. Many died drowned in the sea. Many were robbed and thrown into the sea to be devoured by sharks. Yet, risking the hazard people come to the States, the greatest democracy on earth, in the hope of better lives from all over the world. Very surprisingly, people staunchly anti-USA come to the States given the first opportunity. Most of the Latin Americans are professedly anti-USA, but the greatest number of people come every year from those countries and settle down in the USA. The El Salvadorian Gladys was one who always liked USA and from her childhood, she dreamt of coming to the States.
She came in her adolescence to the country of her love. Life was not as easy as she thought it would be. But, at least, she immediately got a job, and all the other members of her entourage had been employed, though, illegally. Her parents stayed back in El Salvador. They would not move for they did not feel comfortable anywhere else. Vast majorities of illegal immigrants work without work permits, some are exploited like slaves, but the number is unmentionable. Anyway, Gladys married a local to be able to apply for resident-ship. A contract marriage it is called. The man after some time started blackmailing her, threatening to go to the immigration authorities and exposing her. She in her innocence paid much more money to the man than was contracted. Nevertheless, she crossed the hurdle of immigration and got a green card- a ticket to heaven!
Gladys was supposed to be happy, on the contrary, Alibhoy found her in a gloomy mood. He thought, “She must be remembering her parents, specially, her mother back home.” On being questioned, Gladys burst into tears. Alibhoy felt embarrassed and did not pursue the matter any further. He did not know Gonzales was the cause, who was introduced to him earlier as just a friend. He liked her a lot and enjoyed gossiping with her at tea breaks between works at the pharmaceutical factory they worked in. Gladys seemed to enjoy his company, as well.
Cassius King occasionally joined them at tea, a Caribbean, legally settled in America, a very funny, carefree character, ever smiling as if he had no sadness ever to blemish his happiness. A kind-hearted, good-natured philanderer, he disliked working in the factory, because, it is hard labour and fetched him barely enough money to maintain his car. He would say, “I drive eighty miles e’ery day, forty to and forty from my work, and after the long day’s work I’m so depleted of energy that I can’t respond to my girlfriends’ alluring nocturnal invitations on weekdays. I’ve to wait until the weekends to have my share of fun. It’s better not to work and live on social security. The nights are mine, and I don’t have to work in the days or spend so much money on gas (fuel). In that way, I save both money and much needed energy to satisfy my girls!” Everybody else covered almost the same distance to come to the factory, because, it was at the outskirts of the city. Even with the salary barely above the minimum, illegal immigrants saved money and the Americans found it difficult to meet both ends. Their standard of living is high.
In spite of the fact that their friendship was confined in the factory premises beyond which none showed any interest in each other’s lives colleagues, in the factory started whispering about Alibhoy and Gladys’ closeness. Once, perhaps, to fathom Alibhoy’s feelings for her, Gladys playfully, mentioned that she was married, as if stating a known fact. Alibhoy’s enthusiasm was dampened but he did not show any emotion. Only after the revelation, Alibhoy realized that he liked Gladys much more than a friend. After the initial shock had been absorbed, the stiffness in their relationship disappeared and Gladys became much more intimate with Alibhoy as a friend and Alibhoy always kept a distance in their relationship. Alibhoy in his heart never accepted Gladys as a married woman, but he never raised the matter with her. Somehow, he knew she was not married.
One day Gladys came to work in a pensive mood almost in tears. Normally, she used to be very jolly and boisterous filling the factory with her infectious loud laughter, at small things, for which she had been mildly rebuked several times. Senior executives, if not on the spot, ignored her sweet lapse. They admonished her because they had to remind others that senior executives are senior executives, they are not of their own kind. Everybody liked to hear her laugh and felt good, as, it infused variety in the otherwise monotonous working atmosphere of the factory. Much more than the others, Alibhoy, felt concerned at her being not herself. At the earliest opportunity, he approached Gladys and asked about the cause. Gladys suddenly started crying, loudly. The small factory came to standstill. Everybody came running to the capsulation-room where Gladys worked. They found Alibhoy standing beside Gladys dumfounded. Everybody’s wrath fell on Alibhoy. Poor Alibhoy, everybody started scolding him for causing Gladys to cry, and all showered their sympathy on Gladys. Before Gladys could cool down and say anything, Alibhoy was taken to the manager’s room, reprimanded severely, and almost lost his job for pestering a female colleague but for the intercession of Gladys. Gladys was not sure why Alibhoy was taken, virtually dragged, to the Manager’s room. Collecting herself quickly, she ran to the manager’s room and came to know of Alibhoy’s plight, she began to laugh which quickly caught with everybody else around, the factory roared with laughter. When they stopped, everybody began to feel stupid for nobody knew the cause of her laughter. The Manager became very agitated and demanded an explanation. Gladys said, “I could not hold laughing because poor Alibhoy was being scolded on my account and he is not even remotely the cause of my pains. I was miserable because my boyfriend, that SOB cheated on me.” Management on everybody’s request took a lenient view of the matter and forgave her for that time.
Alibhoy was relieved but was mad at Gladys for lying to him about being married. It was Gladys’ turn to pacify Alibhoy. She said, “I am sorry Alibhoy. I lied to you. I was just being playful and did not know you would be so socked. I even did not know you liked me so much. But, anyway, I am not married, so what, I have a boyfriend, and that is almost as good as being married. I was serious in my relationship.” Then in a lighter vein added, “If I had met you, earlier, I sure would have fallen for you. Please darling; don’t feel bad, it all is destiny.” Alibhoy was not sure if she meant all that she just said. She continued, “I was having problems in my relationship with Gonzales. We came together to America and thought I loved him enough to have a steady relationship. I was wrong. That son of a bitch betrayed me.” Alibhoy was too emotional, and could only say, “Never mind, I still am your friend.” Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold, Alibhoy despite his ascetic outward appearance, in the deepest corner of his heart he could not but secretly nurse a longing for beautiful Gladys. Alibhoy had been without the regular company of a woman since long.
“You know what Alibhoy”, said Gladys, “Gonzales told me he was working on the weekends but, he went with this bitch, Claudia, and stayed in motels. You know these motels. There, rooms can be rented for few hours only. People go there for whoring. That Gonzales is a whore’s son. He went with Claudia, that harlot, to those heathen hells behind my back.” She was sad and gloomy, not because, she was still in love with Gonzales for she was not, but because of her pride was deflated at being deceived by Claudia. Claudia used to fight with Gonzales in Gladys’ presence, pretending she could not stand him at all. Not even for a moment! Gladys fell in the trap and never bothered about Claudia, as she was watchful of others. She disliked her from long ago. Gladys continued, “I thought, he is earning extra so that we could settle down soon.” She started sobbing uncontrollably. “Hush … don’t cry … Tell me what do you plan to do now?” said Alibhoy with a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes. He did not seem to be overtly saddened by the turn of events. Without replying directly, Gladys said, “You know what… I called that girl and asked her, ‘what do you want’? You want this, (pointing to a particular part of her body) okay, I cut this, and give you this… happy, now go to hell….” Alibhoy said, “Then, what would you do with a castrated bull?” Both began to laugh heartily.
Relieved of the tense atmosphere, they started discussing about their lives in America, their dreams, hopes and aspirations. Alibhoy was buoyed by the happy mood and he began praising America. Little, did he know that he was not destined to live in America for long! He was really in love with America. Everything in America, the bridges, the highways, the tunnels, impressed him so much that he had no words to express. Alibhoy was pouring in eulogy par excellence. He was saying, “They only deal in superlatives, whatever you lay your eyes on either are the biggest, the tallest, the widest or the longest and the deepest in the world. You know America is a country without any discrimination: racial, communal or otherwise … a super country…” At that point, entered King, even with earphones plugged in his ears he overheard Alibhoy praising American ‘equality’. He retorted, “You know Alibhoy, even the American Blacks think, they are much better blacks than the Blacks!”
Behzad’s two marriages failed, because, he kept on searching for Tabassum in his wives and seemed so distant and aloof while being intimate with them. Though Tabassum humanized him, the inextinguishable fire of love she enkindled in him gnawed at his lifeline. He took to drinks. Consequently, he suffered from liver cirrhosis. He was lying in his hospital bed barely conscious. The attending lady physician resembled somebody he could not remember. The name ‘Tabassum’ brought old memories:
…He was a young man of twenty-two and she was just sixteen, still immature and very vulnerable to allurements of youth. Generally, men enjoying a fleeting glance would cause her embarrassment, for she has become overtly conscious of her physical enhancements. Handsome men casting eyes towards her budding womanhood would give reddish hue to her beautiful cheeks, and raise her self-esteem. Fleeting glances or even glaring attention from the other gender considered a measure of attractiveness, in the object so treated. She had no idea of bulls in heat. So, when she caught Behzad staring through her bedroom window on the first floor from his drawing room on the ground, she was rather irritatingly delighted, at first, but more she thought of it the more she felt shocked at such brazen shamelessness. The distance between the two buildings made it possible for Behzad to have a perfect view of her bedroom. Oblivious of Behzad’s intrusion Tabassum relaxed in her own bedroom in her undergarments. They lived in a posh area.
Belonging to a rich family Behzad was not a very polished man, since his family amassed wealth through trading and was not pedigreed. Second child of his parents he was a bit arrogant from his childhood. Obstinacy seemed natural for him, as he was strong and well built. Strong and taller than others around, he naturally commanded fearful obedience of his friends. And he never hesitated to use his strength whenever needed. There was none around him who had not tasted one or two thuds of his fist. … A natural bully! Love like emotions was unknown to him. He considered those frailties befitting only women and hated any emotional involvement. But he never avoided female companionships as he immensely enjoyed the company of the fair sexes. For him they were a commodity to enjoy and nothing else. Endowed with sexual prowess he fully exploited that gift to gratify desires unrestrained. Sometimes gratification was bought and sometimes manipulated. Up to the secondary level, he was forced to go to school regularly, though attendance in classes was poor but that still ensured a bit of study. Later, in his college life he never attended his classes or examination halls. Actually, he kept on passing but never took any examination himself. Otherwise, Behzad was extremely talented and had a very sharp mind. He had an exceptional ear for music. Any tune played once, was enough for him to reproduce that, with perfection, and he also remembered the song - each and every word of it. A very sharp memory not utilized for learning his lessons. He had no motivation to do well in his classes, for he knew he need not work as his father had amassed enough wealth to last him a lifetime: a lazy man by nature would not move his limbs if he could.
Tabassum, on the other hand, was sent to the best schools and colleges that was there and was known as a good student. Pursuit of education was inherent in her because for generations they had been an educated family. For livelihood, they also depended on family business: job was assured. A bright student Tabassum wanted to study literature and had a neck for music, arts and literature. Painting was her hobby and she was also trained in the trade by private tutors – renowned artists. A little, refined lady had excellent tastes in clothes and jewellery. Her young age was never an impediment in her understanding of fashion. Her sense of colour combination was astonishingly awesome even in her childhood. But, finally, she studied science to train as a physician. She dreamed of establishing a cancer hospital where poor patients would be treated free, since, she lost her only brother to cancer.
Offended and shocked Tabassum closed the window opening toward Behzad’s drawing room at the ground floor. But after the initial feeling of revulsion was over, a triumphant feeling of a conqueror overwhelmed Tabassum. She was delighted. She felt like a victorious warrior just winning a battle and did not have any idea of the glistening lust in the Peeping Tom’s eyes that were shining like the eyes of dogs in darkness. She kept musing that since, she was so attractive the onlooker - a handsome man, was really captivated, catching a glimpse of her through the curtains. It was not his fault that he was devouring every curve of her female physique. To her the lewdness was the enthrallment of a beholder perchance catching a glimpse of a beautiful object. It is amazing how the human mind twists to justify things in its own favour. She was a conceited immature brat: ready to jump in the open jaws of a shark, mistaking that as a safe refuge. Deep down in his heart Behzad was lasciviously attracted to the Junoesque-moving object, as most of his age-mates would. But there are individuals with strong moral propensity who would prefer to avoid a window, so tempting. Not Behzad! He would rather have more of them around him, so that, he can enjoy surreptitious looks at females undressing, through curtains. It gave him tremendous sensual satisfaction watching the other sex clandestinely. Gratification par excellence Behzad would not derive otherwise. No, it is not perversion but, unusual, yes, but, not very uncommon. All over, Tabassum could not resist watching if the defaulter continued the practice of staring at her window. Not the first and the second day, but on the third Tabassum saw Behzad watching TV in their drawing room, now she was the beholder. Behzad was only in his scanty shorts. His muscular body from pumping iron was on display along with his bursting manhood barely covered by the undergarment. Tabassum enjoyed every bit of it. It was very fulfilling because it was a sort of revenge for the earlier Behzad-misdeed. Why the shorts do not come off somehow, Tabassum wished! He had seen her almost bare bosom and bare bottomed. She blushed!
Next day, and the next, Tabassum watched the man in the drawing room, while other family members were away, always topless and occasionally in shorts. It was summer and generally, the drawing rooms were not air-conditioned. One day, she heard somebody sing one of her favourite Bangla-tunes, exquisitely well while strolling in her lawn in the rain. She felt an indomitable urge to find out who was the singer. It was gliding out from the abode of the defaulter, rhythmically, like a cascade. Can it be the darkish handsome onlooker, she thought! She was engrossed in a dream like trance, who knows, for how long. Suddenly, the tall, dark handsome man appeared on a balcony still singing unaware of her presence in her lawn that can be seen from where he was standing. He turned to move inside still not cognizant of her presence. She just could not hold herself and called out, hey you… not knowing his name. And blushing profusely, she ran inside. She never meant to call him; it was an involuntary act that she just could not hold back. He knew it was the girl from the neighbouring house, who called after him, since he saw her running in. She was surprised at herself. He did not know how to react. Anyway, he never cared for the finer emotions and this time also was not struck by any. That he could see the dancing rear of a female, her clothes clinging to her body exposing her well-formed curves, as she was running in, made him happy. Beast and the beauty: this singing beast was unmindful of his natural talents. He began singing unrestrained by any hesitation and oblivious of his surrounding instigated by the intoxicating view of the running drenched damsel. He sang ‘Tora jey ja bolish bhai aamar soonar hareen chayi’, in his subconscious mind perhaps, she was the ‘golden deer’.
Behzad was happy and relieved as he was expecting a complaint, which was not coming forth, he felt sure. He was so sure of a complaint that he even cursed himself, as he was afraid of his eldest brother’s wrath. He was present in the country, and he did not like social lapses. He therefore, was restraining himself from further aggravating the situation, and was even praying to God, “Oh God! Save me just this time, I would be careful in future.” Tabassum thought he was repentant of acting unseemly. Her estimation of the man rose higher. She could not be farthest from the truth. Naturally, gifted Behzad often sang and Tabassum listened intently and the more she listened the more she softened toward Behzad. His natural gift coupled with his handsome muscular physique, which she now observed often through her window, gradually, made her choke up at his every appearance. Behzad was emboldened by the fact that there was no complain and Tabassum’s agreeable body language whenever they happen to spot each other. But for his brother Behzad did not pursue the matter aggressively, as he would normally do. Time passed quickly, his brother left the country after about three months, completing his assignment here. During his brother’s presence in the country, Behzad kept the liaison alive by exchanging furtive smiles and winking glances and did not do anything to jeopardize the growing relationship. Free again, Behzad finding Tabassum in her lawn sang, “Shokhi Bohey gaalo beyla shudhu hanshi khela a ki aar bhalo lagey.” Tabassum replied with an audible giggle and gave a meaningful long look at him.
After a few days, they found themselves talking to each other from their rooftops. Unnoticed, they continued for sometime. But, Behzad was Behzad! He was biding out time to seduce her for that was the only thing he believed in, as far as girls were concerned. Love, respect, trust- nothing mattered to him. Even the beaming innocence of Tabassum, the exquisite almost palpable smile on her face at his sight, the happiness of security in his company all eluded Behzad. His one-track mind would not recognize any other emotion but warmth of a charming female body. Things that he could not touch, squeeze, feel and smell were unreal to him. While love and love and only love were bursting Tabassum’s heart, Behzad was churning with inflamed desire that blurred his senses. He was unable to think straight driven by an uncontrollable craving. Behzad took her to parklands, restaurants and to places where they sat together and talked for hours bunking classes, as Tabassum was still a college student. Devilishly ingenuous in matters of seduction, Behzad subtlety tried all his tricks on Tabassum but failed, as she was a different sort of a girl than those he knew. She was a firm believer in physical sanctity. She would not let Behzad’s eager hands to soften her up.
Behzad was not to lose heart so easily. He took a different course: confidence building. Tabassum was gradually led to believe that Behzad could restrain himself from throwing himself onto her if she was not willing. She trusted herself. Once, Behzad finding the opportunity lured Tabassum to their residence while the other inmates were not at home. He prepared the ground very carefully and tried to intoxicate Tabassum by offering her a puff on a cigarette stuffed with drugs. Tabassum hated cigarettes. She knew Behzad did not smoke. The desire burning in Behzad’s eyes betrayed him. Tabassum got suspicious. She tried to leave. Behzad blocked her way. He was totally maddened and blinded by seething passion. They wrestled. She vehemently protested and defended herself with all the might she could muster. In the process, she got hurt. She was bleeding. Blood oozing out from her wound brought Behzad back to his senses. He really loved her of which he was blissfully unaware. He loosened his grip on her. She, freeing herself left his house in tears. As he watched her leave the house a sudden pain wrenched his heart apart, but he could not move or talk. Incapacitated by his own folly he watched her depart wounded and dishevelled. After her exit, he suddenly realized how much she meant to him. Suddenly, the world seemed meaningless, everything around lost colour and became blurred and obscure. He cried his heart out, helplessly. She had to do a lot of explaining to her folks and somehow managed to hide her adventurous encounter. The whole night she cried, cried and cried … could not sleep and kept on turning on her sides. In the morning, she pretends sickness to confine herself to her room so that nobody can smell anything. She for days kept on hoping that Behzad would come and ask for forgiveness for she loved him more than her life. She loved him so much that she hated her body, the body that was not of any help when Behzad desired it. She felt wretched. Behzad wanted to go to Tabassum and ask for forgiveness but could not gather the courage to face her.
Everything around him seemed unbearable. Behzad needed an escape. He left to live with his brother in England. …
Long after Behzad Tabassum went to England to do higher studies in medicine. She married before she left for England. Her parents selected the groom, a physician by profession settled in England. He is willing to move to the motherland for a noble cause of establishing and running a cancer hospital - Tabassum’s dream.
Behzad was beyond recognition decimated by the torture he perpetrated on his beautiful muscled body that enamoured Tabassum. Tabassum as the on call physician came in to inquire about the newly admitted patient. Behzad, the name, made her take his head in her hands, involuntarily. She did not recognize him. Behzad opened his eyes momentarily. It was the same beautiful face; he used to adore so much. He saw the same beautiful deep black eyes, singing a love song perceived only by the cherished, unaltered, pristine and evermore beautiful. They did not forfeit their lustre to time, a bit- Abode of timeless, ageless, eternal beauty. Her lips were still bursting with the freshness of roses. He could not believe his eyes. Those lustreless eyes lit up momentarily. His face glowed imperceptibly: only he felt the warmth. His heart was beating fast with maddening excitement … he tried to gather strength to say, “Forgive me”, he only could manage some inaudible squeaking sound ta … ta … tabaa…. He could not bear the joy for long, and his weakened heart gave way, silently, unsung, unwept he went.
His head still held by Tabassum. Tabassum kept looking intently at the emaciated face … inundated by an inexplicable emptiness.
 Tora jey ja bolish bhai aamar soonar hareen chayi (You may say whatever, I want the golden dear.)  Shokhi Bohey gaalo beyla shudhu hanshi khela a ki aar bhalo lagey (My darling time passes by, Only frolicking does not satisfy: Tagore: translation by this author.)
Yamin was a young government officer, posted in a district town, belonged to the provincial administrative service. This was before the creation of Bangladesh. He was a proud man, since he was the most educated in his whole clan of rich farmers. For long, they have been farming their own land. Before him, none was sent to a regular school, as they had deep suspicion of non-religious schools, and held those responsible for all evils in the society. Yamin therefore, began his schooling in a Madrasa. After he finished his primary Madrasa, his maternal uncle took him under his tutelage and admitted him in a secular High School from where he passed his entrance with distinction. These schools were at two extremes, one did not bother about modern education, and the other never gave any meaningful religious education. One stuffed the students with only Islamic religion not bothering even to teach the language of the masses, and the other made the students apathetic to religion, especially Islam and Hinduism, the religions of the majority of the population. Before Yamin’s foundation in religious education could take a firm root, he was thrown into another system of education. Consequently, Yamin’s understanding of ethics got confused. He was neither here, nor there, and began to invent justification for his own activities, depending on his scares Madrasa education. He believed he knew enough religion to give fatwah! To him financial integrity was the only measuring stick of morality. In his life, he therefore, took extra pain to depict himself as an honest man by diligently keeping himself off monetary irregularities - a very praiseworthy endeavour. Other human imperfections never had any importance to him, not even lying unblinkingly. Sex was a pastime for him, but he would not touch others’ wives in deference to his knowledge of political science, which he studied as a subsidiary subject. He was obsessed with sex. To him, that was the only driving force in life. Women were something that attracted him like mighty magnets. Conscious of his reputation, he devised ways to satisfy himself without making any ripple. After all, he had to project a clean image of himself, because, “it is not what you are, but what people think of you”, he believed. Yamin was in a very tight situation. To fulfil his colossal carnal desire he had to devise hideous ways- a habit thus developed remained with him all his life.
In his university days, there were very few females, and they attended classes chaperoned by teachers. There was hardly any scope of associating with them. Yamin had to keep his inquisitive yearning encased in his heart. He could only fantasize being with his female classmates. There was one Buddhist female student who fascinated Yamin, and he often remained enwrapped in her thought for hours. Gradually, he got so intensely attracted to her that risking his reputation and admonishment of the authorities he even approached her, but could not tell her the truth. The lady gave him enough time, that was under the circumstances, a positive indication, but for Yamin’s lack of courage, the matter remained unresolved. The lady, later married a Muslim two years their senior. Expressing openly, even a desire to marry some one might put him in bad light, he thought; such was the extent of his image consciousness. He is very much image-sensitive. Somehow, as he thinks corruption is only financial irregularities, the lack of morality of any degree other than financial immorality is OK with Yamin. He, therefore, is a monster when it comes to ethics and morality.
A cautious Yamin went to visit a school, as desired by the District Commissioner under whom he was working. Mehrin, daughter of a District Judge, was the headmistress there. She was young and had just passed out from the university. She caught hold of Yamin’s imagination. As long as Yamin was doing inspection, he could not hold himself from surreptitiously looking at her. He thought she also looked at him. To this supplementary school inspection duty, he began to give much importance. Often he would visit schools in his area, earning a name as a patron of promotion of learning! Every time he visited Mehrin’s school, he would return convinced of her liking for him. But, he could not gather enough courage to talk to her. After sometime, his one-sided love had inflamed so much that he wrote an unsigned letter to the lady, expressing his desire to marry her. Reply delayed so much that he became very apprehensive that his ‘Goodman’ image was going to be embellished with information leaking out about the letter. He began to dream of the walls of the town pasted with posters screaming about his sin of pestering an innocent lady. The Judge admonishing him in a filled court he dreamt. Just as Yamin was going insane with all kinds of hallucination, an unsigned note arrived from Mehrin asking him to propose to her Father- the District Judge of another district.
Yamin sent for his maternal uncle and on his arrival sent him to the District Judge with marriage-proposal. There was no immediate response to the proposal. Yamin contacted Mehrin, and Mehrin informed her inability to plead their case before her father, in case, he says, ‘No’. No it was. The Judge objected to his family background and his being an officer of the provincial service. He was looking for a CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) for his daughter. Mehrin was unwilling to stand in front of her father and Yamin did not have the courage to pursue the matter any farther. Seemingly, the love story died a premature death.
Yamin went on to acquire respectability by marrying into a respectable family. The bride’s father being a high government official residing in posh area was the prime qualification of the bride that attracted Yamin’s family most. Looks and the bride’s educational qualifications were secondary to them. But the lady, Aurang, had both and was very proud of her background. Probably, if she knew, the distinction between the provincial service and central service and of the peasant background of the groom, she would not have acquiesced to the union. At that moment of her life, she did not bother to know more about the groom since she thought her father would certainly inquire about those. Her father was very worried about his daughter, as almost all her cousins of her age were married long before. Some, even, had children. As she was pursuing her studies, she was not married earlier, which her father now thinks was a mistake.
Initial pains of adjustment were quite loud and Aurang’s father, as a precaution, managed a teaching job in a college for Aurang. Yamin opposed the move vehemently, but his father-in law prevailed upon him and he agreed to her doing a job with numerous conditions attached. Aurang’s pride never allowed her to share her husband’s follies with anyone. She always wore a façade of happiness before her cousins whom she always considered lesser beings. Rather than to expose her husband’s grave deficiencies of which she came to know of much later, when she had already delivered her two children, though she suspected him from the very beginning. In the first five years of their marriage, she elevated Yamin to such heights that later she could not bring him down, even if she so wanted. Yamin enjoyed his unassailable position contently under Aurang’s nose. Aurang went through a loveless marriage for the shake of her two children and her giant ego. The torture she went through never took a physical shape. But it was too much when she could discern signs of the father’s habits in her son. The daughter fell in love very early in life. Aurang knew about the friendship but she did not pay much attention since both the kids were still in school. When the friendship bloomed into a serious affair, she tried her best to keep that from Yamin, and hoped once her daughter went abroad to study the matter would die off automatically, due to lack of association. Unfortunately, for her, incidentally, the girl and the boy both went at the same time to study in the United Kingdom. Yamin came to know of the affair, just when both his daughter and her boy friend were almost finished with their studies. He was furious, because, he did not like the boy. Aurang was blamed for everything, and was reprimanded severely before all her relatives and children. Being a very self-respecting person, Aurang unable to suffer indignities hurled at her, suffered a massive stroke, and died. She was already suffering from high blood pressure.
The daughter while on her way to Bangladesh died in a plane crash. Though, Yamin absorbed the shock of his wife’s death relatively easily, he was devastated by his daughter’s premature death. He now blames his in-laws for both the deaths. “They should have come forward to convince me and marry my daughter to the man of her choice,” he says, “then the tragedies would not have happened.”
Anyway, within a year of his wife’s death, Yamin, a retired bureaucrat now, was desperate to marry again. His son, vehemently, opposed the idea. An experienced bureaucrat Yamin did not plan to marry immediately but merely began the process. He could have married at any time he wanted, but he is a much shrewder strategist. He laid a plan to rope in as much support as he could, applying different tactics with different persons. Even fear of him entangled into a scandal was not spared.
Almost at the same time, he embarked on looking for a bride for self and his son. Yamin went to Mehrin, still unmarried, who later became a government officer. What Yamin did not know was that the lady fell in love with a slightly younger man, Raihan who merely used her to advance his career using the Judge’s influence. The Judge willingly obliged since the man belonged to the central service. Mehrin did not dislike Yamin, but this time she was really in love, therefore, when the man married somebody else, she felt betrayed and fell sick. Recovering from her sickness, she vowed never to marry. After about three years, Raihan reappeared and wanted to marry Mehrin since his first wife died of cancer. Profusely apologizing to her for being a coward and giving into the wishes of his parents, which was not true, he proposed to her. She was tempted to accept the proposal as she loved him truly, but she hated him for being dishonest with her, as well. He never bothered to explain his earlier action to Mehrin. Mehrin with almost a titanic effort kept her from saying, yes. She could forgive his faults but could not marry him and remained a spinster thereafter. Yamin was convinced that Mehrin remained unmarried for him. He even told his friends and boasted that the lady remained a spinster for him. He derived a weird sort of satisfaction from telling the story to others. Yamin basked in false knowledge of being loved by a lady all her life; he met in his youth. “Oh, I am so desirable, so loveable!” broods Yamin. “I must have been very handsome”, thinks Yamin.
Mehrin despite her age was still attractive, relatively. For a man of Yamin’s age, she was extremely desirable. Few widowers had been pestering her for sometime but she was unmoved. So, confident and happy that she was waiting only for him, Yamin proposed marriage to Mehrin, for she was then her own guardian. Yamin took his friends along to show off. Mehrin took a bit of time to reflect upon, which seemed ages to Yamin. He was burning with expectation. With Mehrin’s reply, Yamin was overwhelmed with indescribable emotions, of excitement or disappointment; his friends were unable to fathom.
Maimuna was very young, and very innocent and very naughty, a bit of tomboyish. She preferred boys to girls as her playmates and played cricket and soccer. No inhibition has made her distinguish between boys and girls, in spite of her mother’s constant admonishments. As she attained her puberty, her mother tried her best to deter her from mixing with boys, as the society demands. Carefree, as Maimuna was, she resisted all efforts to restrain her. But, repeated admonishments made her ponder as to why she should restrict her associations with boys, who had been her playmates, since her childhood. She could not reach any plausible conclusion. The matter remained a mystery for her until she started feeling a sort of unexplainable attraction for a boy, a bit older than her, at reaching puberty at around thirteen. All day she would remain expectantly waiting for the evening when the boy would appear in the field in front of her residence to play football. Her eyes would remain glued to his face. Gradually, she disassociated herself from other boys, as she was preoccupied with thoughts of Muheem. She would invent all sorts of antics to attract Muheem’s attention. Slowly, but surely, she succeeded for she was a beautiful girl. The boy was quick to spot her and responded enthusiastically. Since they were neighbours, they started visiting each other’s house, she on the pretext of meeting his sisters whom she never liked, and he to meet her brothers, though, they were younger to him and earlier he would shun their company, because, they were his juniors. Her success put her life back to normal and she resumed her friendships with other boys. Muheem, normally, would not mind her mixing with other boys, if they were not taller and handsomer than he was. As he was short, he would be gripped by an unexplainable inferiority complex and jealousy at the sight of taller and handsomer boys having a friendly chat with Maimuna. Muheem objected to her uninhibited behaviour with other boys and sounded almost like her mother while lecturing her on why she should not meet other boys and become friendly with them. Her liking was growing for this boy but she also felt irritated at his smallness for she viewed his objections as an attempt to curtail her freedom, she was naturally inclined to liberty. Her mother, a very witty lady, and at times under the insatiable desire to show off her wit, would do very foolish and embarrassing things, was quick to discern a budding relationship between two very young, innocent and immature souls. She did not want her daughter to know that she suspected anything, for their mutual liking was yet to develop into an affair. Both the boy and the girl just attained puberty a very critical age, when the mind is keen to explore new horizons in human relationship without understanding the consequences.
Maimuna’s mother, Raina, decided that the situation was very delicate and she had to make her moves cautiously without raising any suspicion. She therefore, decided to use her husband- a simpleton- working in a department that can easily find accommodation for civil servants. Without telling her husband the reason behind her desire to move to a new location a few miles away, she pursued the matter doggedly. A very valid reason, schooling, she put forward as the school for the children was very near the new housing estate she proposed. Thus, the lady ensured their relocation to a new locality hoping to break the developing liaison. Though, even after Maimuna’s family moved to the new locality, the friendship survived, but it did not develop into a more meaningful relationship, as the boy and the girl could not meet as frequently as they did.
Meanwhile, Zubair, Mamuna’s cousin arrived at the scene, seriously trying to gain affection of the beautiful, very young Maimuna. More than Maimuna her mother’s imagination was ignited by the prospect of her daughter finding an able partner in this new candidate, since, he was studying in a medical college. Zubair was supposed to pass out a few years earlier, but for his amorist activities. He fled his Alma Mater and joined a new institution in western part of the country where one of his uncles lived. Though, his aunt’s imagination was inflamed, she was also worried because of the reputation of this nephew. In spite of the risks, she resolved to net him as her son-in-law. She planned to encourage her daughter into a relationship under her watchful eyes, for she had great faith in herself. This newfound prince would often entertain his young cousins by gulping in whole bottles of decongestant cough syrups in the name of treating cough and colds. The poor cousins and the very simpleton uncle were blissfully unaware of his addiction to decongestant syrups. A very good man tainted with minor vices like flirting, occasional drinks and the previously mentioned addiction.
The aunt with her natural gift of invoking liking or disliking in people about others almost à volonté took up the project in all earnestness to enkindle an affair between Maimuna and her cousin. Relentlessly, she worked on adolescent Maimuna, conscious of the risk of being betrayed by the hard nut, she is dealing with. Sure in her mind that given the slightest chance Zubair would not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity to sleep with her daughter, she proceeded. She did not have to work on the boy much, for he was attracted to the girl from the time he laid his eyes on her and in the new place, there were very few girls he met. He was not used to such paucity as he grew up with brigades of cousin sisters and friend’s sisters and cousins. Girls, in his clan outnumbered boys almost by one to four. Therefore, in his subconscious self he was unhappy always haunted by the feeling of an emptiness that he was unable to identify. Maimuna’s lively boisterous presence quickly caught his attention, he started to feel at ease and the feel of nothingness readily vanished. At last, he was at peace with himself after moving to the western part of the country- a new environment, for the first time.
His aunt was torn between her wishes and fears. She swayed, for a while, between “to be or not to be” because of her nephew’s disputable reputation as a Casanova. “My daughter is very young”, she thought, “and could absorb a few shocks and start anew.” The lady decided to gamble and began working on her plan of netting the fish.
In a conservative society, any liaison between sexes is a taboo though the youngsters these days have become much bolder to defy society. In those days, only the desperate would do so. Therefore, some ambitious mothers would play the role of matchmakers planning, encouraging and directing the female child under her watchful eyes, like producing and directing plays on a stage, whenever an eligible boy was in sight, much more frequently. The whole thing was fraught with danger. Auntie, Raina was conscious of the fact that the scheme might backfire with serious consequences, as had been the case with her.
Raina was supposed to be married to one of her very brilliant cousins whom her father, Saeb Munshi groomed for her and she in her innocence accepted him as her husband. But it was ‘not to be’, the young man, Fuad, while pursuing higher studies away, staying with another uncle Zaed Monpuri, got married with a women clandestinely with the blessing and help of uncle Zaed’s wife, Ashiqa. The bride was a relative of Ashiqa and in fact, Ashiqa was behind the whole mischief. The whole Monpuri clan family unofficially knew that Fuad would marry Raina. Saeb Monpuri, like a father borne all educational expenses of Fuad from his childhood, was terribly shocked. He never recovered from the blow. Naturally, Raina did not want the same fate for her daughter who was much more beautiful than she was. And with Zubair, she risked an added risk of seduction, which was almost none in her case. She, therefore, embarked on a very dangerous voyage always under the threat of a tidal bore. At a time, almost half a century ago, in a very conservative society, consequences of a failed affair was much graver and infinitely risky. In a situation like this in spite of all efforts on the part of the guardians to keep the matter secret, words spread like wild fire. Consequently, with a failed scheme it was difficult to marry the girl elsewhere. The perception of risk has changed drastically today even in the conservative Muslim society, and mixing between the sexes has become dramatically open causing the religious leaders great concern.
Defying all her vigilance, the lovebirds found out opportunities to drink the elixir of passionate kisses every now and then as Zubair started passing most of his time at his uncle’s house under different pretexts and understandably was welcome. The uncle was blissfully ignorant of all that was happening under his nose. Raina could guess the intensity in the couples eyes and body language of a very passionate affair. She was afraid that Zubair, a mature man much older than Maimuna, given the opportunity might seduce his very young cousin under passionate zeal. She was not sure that her husband’s relatives and Zubair’s father would agree to the union, Zubair being the only son. And she was unable to gauge if Zubair would stand up to his father to marry his love. She was therefore, looking for an opportunity to catch Zubair in such a situation where she could force marriage on him invoking moral obligation, and at the same time hoping against hope that the situation would not go beyond her control. She was torn among many conflicting limitations and desires. Just around that time, she caught the lovers in a passionate embrace. She was furious beyond her own imagination, for she has many times imagined such a scene, but when was confronted with one, she could not control her anger. She was surprised. She was surprised at herself for losing her temper.
Zubair was severely scolded and branded a scoundrel, a debauch and a filthy dog, etc., and he did not spare the lady. In their temper, they called each other names beyond their own imagination and they never realized before that they were endowed with such rich vocabulary of filthy words. In her uncontrollable rage, Raina even beat innocent Maimuna. Maimuna was really at a loss to comprehend why she should be punished for just kissing the man she was going to marry one day. Zubair told her that he is going to marry her and since they were going to marry there was no bar in kissing each other, and her mother asked her to obey Zubair and not to give him any cause to be offended. She cried her heart out. She kept crying all day not for being beaten but for the fear of losing Zubair. She was truly in love with much older Zubair. In his turn, Zubair swore on God not to ever look at her and have any relationship with them as long as he lived. Later a bit sober he expressed his compassion for Maimuna saying that he might marry her but even than he would have nothing to do with her mother. He let it be known that even if he married her, he expected her to severe all ties with Raina whom he branded a superbly manipulative bitch. Seemingly, the break was permanent for they vowed in the name of God not to see each other’s face ever in their lives. ‘Man proposes, God disposes’; God was smiling above at the ignorance and utter innocence of his creation, for He was about to intervene.
At the intervention of Providence, the aunt decided to utilize the other nephew, Babban, who was living with her after his parents left to live in another part of the country. This was a younger man working and studying in the University for his Bachelor’s in Arts, and therefore, was not considered a good prospect compared to Zubair. But was considered a threat, since he was young and the girl was nearer his age. The superbly wise aunt weighed all possibilities and probabilities and conceived her strategy, accordingly. And according to the demand of the circumstances, she recruited the services of Babban.
The aunt repeated to herself a thousand times ‘ira furor brevis est’, which cooled her down considerably. Now, she was impatient to have Zubair back and was repentant that she acted the way she did. After the unwanted showdown the aunt a master strategist allowed a week’s period of cooling time and than she made her move. A single member mission was sent to Zubair’s hostel, which in fact was his temporary shelter as he actually lived with his uncle.
Faced with Babban, Zubair vented his anger eloquently in obscene and filthy language, denying any wrongdoing and in fact alleged that his aunt, for no valid reason, had taken him to task. For the mission, Babban’s terms of reference did not allow him to refute Zubair. So, he remained silent, and took care to display his eager inclination of agreeing with Zubair’s allegations against his aunt. After about an hour of venting his anger and grievances unhindered, Zubair cooled down considerably to listen to Babban. Zubair was really in love for the first time in his life. For all his innocent looks, he was a master pretender as far as girls were concerned and masterfully used his advantageous state of being a technical student with assured job prospects, which added glamour to his not so glamorous looks. All this time he pretended love, but for this time, he loved and therefore, felt impatient and a fear of losing his beloved until now unknown to him. This was a new experience for him. He felt a void within and suddenly the world seemed different. He used to bask in the knowledge of being in demand and of being responded to, if he extended his hands, and never before was threatened with failure in the affairs of the heart. Though, even this time, he had conquered the heart of the girl, he was not as confident as in earlier cases where losing was not a threat. It was he who always was on the look for ways to squeeze out of relationships, whenever, those took a serious turn. This girl is very young and very susceptible to change and may change finding an alternative, in the absence of her suitor. Alternative prospective candidates were there. The matchmaking mother and her suitor were conscious about this natural propensity of human beings. Therefore, Zubair was eager to go back to his uncle’s house and he was looking for an excuse in his mind. So, naturally, after he could vent out his anger unrestrained, he was pacified and felt content. Now, he felt an indomitable urge to go back to his uncle’s house.
Babban rightly assessed the situation and invited Zubair to accompany him to his uncle’s house. Zubair pretended to be unwilling and asked if his aunt had sent Babban to fetch him. Babban, on his part, after showing reluctance to reveal the truth, pretended as if he was being forced to say something he was honour bound not to, told him the truth and requested Zubair not to tell his aunt that he divulged the secret to him. “Pretension is so necessary and such an integral part of life!” Feeling triumphant, Zubair returned like a conqueror and got a reception befitting a prince. In the entire hullabaloo, Babban’s contribution was made to look very inconsequent, for not to recognize his efforts suited both the parties.
Zubair appeared in the final examinations at a time when political temperature was running very high and the country was proceeding fast toward a civil war of far reaching consequences. The country was under Military Rule of a shortsighted, bull-headed, power hungry, Junta totally oblivious of the consequences of their actions. Zubair was in a fix, as he could not find a job in that part of the country where his uncle was stationed. He decided to move to the eastern part, where, he rightly calculated that his influential connections could fetch him a job, but his aunt was against such a move fearing that Zubair’s parents would marry him elsewhere and she had no faith in Zubair. The country was in turmoil, anything could happen, everything looked very uncertain and so was her grand plan.
Majority of the population lived in the eastern part of the country, which was grossly neglected by the ruling clique that enjoyed the support of the military, overwhelmingly, comprised of men of a particular area of the western part.
This time a very able, courageous, lionhearted leader and statesman who intensely loved and cherished his poor deprived countrymen whipped the docile easterners to reality. Their wellbeing was dearer to him than his own life. People could feel his love touching them and with each beat of his heart their heart pulsated, they readily united behind this great man to demand their due. He was their voice, apple of their eyes. He thundered like a thunderbolt, moved like lightening, shone like the Sun and roared fear into the hearts of the military Junta. The political leadership of the western part was extremely fidgety about handing over power to him as the leader of the majority, for he won the election that the junta tried hard to influence as they did earlier. With almost a hundred percent vote for him, the eastern part stood firmly behind him like the Himalayas, not ready to budge from their rightful position. The western politico-military alliance was taken aback, since, all their calculations and prophecies proved wrong. They expected a majority vote for him but not anything like the results showed. Despite earlier promises and understanding of abiding by the outcome of elections, they started dilly-dallying to think over their strategy of denying power to the Bengalis.
Before the elections, Sheik Mujibur Rahman visited the western part of the country on an electioneering campaign, despite being advised otherwise. He was undaunted to carry on, even with a threat on his life. He is immortal. Mundane threats by mortal souls cannot withhold him from his determined actions charting the course of history. He embarked on the campaign of the western part starting his journey in Karachi. Right at the beginning while, he was coming out of the airport an attempt was made on his life. For security, reasons he was whisked out of the airport through a byroad connected to the main road bypassing the main entrance of the airport. A truck, apparently, waiting at the roadside came roaring, targeting the car, he was in, but fortunately, it hit the next car injuring the passengers. The convoy did not wait and proceeded on to its destination. Sheik Mujib, perhaps, never came to know of the incident. In the hotel journalist from vernacular dailies were nagging for an interview. In spite of being tired, he came out to meet them. To all their questions, he kept on repeating that the next day in the public meeting they would have their answers. Journalists being journalists kept on pressing him. He stood up to leave but a courageous journalist ventured forth with another question, at that he thunder back, “I told you” with such might that the poor fellow virtually fell down on his chair. At that Sheik Mujib with his natural warmth pulled him up and patting him on the back softly told him “I love journalists, please come to my public meeting, I will give all the answers”, and resumed his chair for a while. The ever-zealous journalist seizing even this opportunity started throwing questions at him. They were intent upon gauging his own perception of his popularity in the East. Quoting others, they said, “Some say you would garnish 50% of the eastern votes, some say forty…. And Sardar Abdul Quayyum claims that he would fetch some votes there as well as other parties, which would reduce your votes.” As soon as the Sardar’s name came up the Sheik flared up and said in his lofty thundering voice “Sardar Quayyum will get zero plus zero plus zero… how much it comes to, write it down ‘Zero’ votes.”
Next day, amidst rumours of disturbances at Sheik Mujib’s public meeting, people gathered at Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar Park, a much smaller venue compared to the Historic Ramna Race Course to hear the great leader, the great ‘Sheik’. The Sheik is a towering darkish-brown very handsome man, with the thundering roars of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The dark handsome messiah began in his all-consuming voice, thus, “After even two decades your leaders (leaders of the western part) cannot speak a word of Bangla. But, we from the east can, at least, speak intelligible Urdu (Tumhara leaders to Bangla bool nahi sakta, ham to phirbhi tuta fata Urdu bool letay hain), and he proceeded to address the gathering in Urdu. The audience was apprehensive as at the back of their mind the possibility of violence was lurking like a ghost. When his thundering voice began to deliver the eagerly awaited speech the audience was instantly mesmerized into silence, by the booming sound that completely drowned the park and the adjoining areas. Except the exhilarating enthrallment of listening to him, all other perceptions were benumbed. Mujib said (in Urdu), “while I was planning a visit to this part of the country everybody advised me against it, saying ‘your life is at great risk’. Listen to me; even a slight scratch on Mujib’s body would start an unquenchable flame that would consume everything.
On that day, the Sheik said in Urdu, “Hamare logon nay kaha mat jain aap magrebi Pakistan. Aap ke jaan ko khatre hain. Soon lo agar Mujib ke badan may hanth laga … aag laag jaiga…. Aag … Mujib said that with such intense clarity that the field went ablaze, the audience, perhaps, even could feel the heat of all engulfing incandescence. In the mean time, armed hooligans jumped onto the dais with unholy intent, everybody else ran for shelter but the Lion. He kept on delivering his speech unperturbed. Policemen entrusted with his security cordoned him off and, virtually, physically removed him from the cathedra.
Zubair and Babban both attended that meeting and were convinced that this time Bengalis could not be fooled and Sheik Mujibur Rahman is the only leader endowed with qualities needed to achieve the long awaited emancipation for the Bengalis. A fiery orator, a brave and honest human being, an astute politician and statesman devoted to the cause of his people is determined to unshackle his beloved brethren from the bondage of deprivation, betrayal and denial, could not fail. Zubair, therefore, decided that after the exams he would move to the other part, as soon as possible, to look for a job before the uncertainties take hold of everything. He anticipated mere political uncertainties but never dreamed of a war. In the ensuing political imbroglio, he at the most expected a slow down in the job market but not a civil war of the magnitude he later witnessed. Oblivious of the future he moved to the other part of the country in face of determined opposition from his aunt and Maimuna. They were apprehensive of losing Zubair.
From before, Zubair moved to the other part, the political atmosphere kept on changing, every day in the west. The populace in general was not very assertive and was unaware of the situation in the east. With the changing stance of their political leaders, they would change their opinion as if they had no mind of their own. The cunning political leadership of the western part, perpetually, contriving and conspiring with the myopic armed forces was busy in devising ways to prevent the Bengalis from taking over power, in accordance with democratic norms. To camouflage their intrigue, they kept issuing statements that they were willing to go by the democratic practices and were totally committed to abide by the outcome of the recently concluded elections in which Sheik Mujib party won a landslide victory, and almost a hundred percent vote in the east. But, they would mix their promise of attending the parliamentary session, which Sheik Mujib insisted on holding in the eastern part, with threats of boycotting the session. The leaders caught off guard by election-results were not sure about whether to convene parliament in the eastern part, as demanded by the victor, or to insist on holding it in the west. One day they would be willing to convene parliament in the eastern part and the next day would refuse to go there on the pretext of lack of security. Meanwhile, Sheik Mujib had already established a parallel government in the east, which he was running by decrees. Everybody watched mass opinion in the west swaying like a pendulum with the leaders’ oscillating decisions, with bewildered amusement. When the leaders would say that they would attend the session of the parliament, convened in the eastern part as demanded by Sheik Mujib, the people would say, “Why should not they, after all that is the demand of democracy.” The very next day, with the refusal of the leaders to attend parliament in the eastern part, people would say that it was not possible to attend the sessions there amidst uncertainties. In the western part of the country, people were too ready to believe whatever was dished out to them by their leaders. They had been benumbed by the heavy bombardment of lies by the Junta and political clique that was eager to deny the natural right of the people of the eastern part to form the government, and govern, according to the will of the majority of the people. Genuinely, they believed in their leaders who told them that Pakistan’s integrity was at stake at the hands of the leaders of the eastern part – Indian stooges. Anti Indian feelings were always kept at an inflammable stage that would burst into flame given the slightest cause. That, the myopic leadership in collaboration with the military brass played up to their own benefit, to the utter detriment of national interests, causing the war that ripped the country apart. Sheik Mujib is singularly responsible for whipping up the sleeping Bengalis into a roaring tiger that blocked all the sinister moves to continue the perpetration of lording them over by the west. He put his life at stake and his beloved countrymen responded with their blood and honour.
After Zubair's departure, before the elections, Maimuna received Zubair’s tidings through letters written to her mother. Letter to her was strictly forbidden to keep the affair hidden. This continued through the elections and the later period of civil disobedience. Maimuna was very inexperienced at that point in time in her life to keep her emotions to herself. She very naturally looked to the other cousin to vent her anguish and constantly sought his company, as no other inmates were suitable for such a companionship. There was a potential threat of another alliance growing into a relationship, which was quickly discerned by the ever-watchful aunt. After the initial whining and pining Maimuna was really longing for male companionship, though her love for Zubair did not die down. In the meantime, she passed her school examination, joined a college, and started enjoying her newfound freedom. An unexplainable sort of attraction was building in her towards her other cousin. Since, her relationship with Zubair was gradually becoming more and more physical by the time Zubair left she started enjoying the sensuousness aroused by an exploring male hand. Once she tasted the sublime, heavenly whirling in her beautiful head the mere sensuality of a desirable male presence played havoc with her emotions. The attraction was almost irresistible. Once, thus driven by a maddening desire, she rubbed her nascent womanhood against Babban’s body. Babban was too naïve to understand the frailty. She was outraged. Seething within, she vowed to teach Babban by winning him over and then discarding him.
To devise a way out without any ripple, Auntie Raina swiftly energized her dormant faculties. Citing the ever-deteriorating political scenario, she encouraged Babban to leave for the eastern part to assess the situation there, for possibilities to move there to settle with his parents- a very thoughtful suggestion, indeed! The idea was noble and Babban, thankfully, took the bait. She thought she killed two birds at a time- sending a message to Zubair and removing the Babban-threat. She was a wise lady having profound understanding of human nature, at least, in relationships between the sexes.
Zubair after moving to the eastern part of the country went on to acquire a job and pursued a career as a physician. But events overtook his destiny. By the time limited and heavily censored intercommunication was restored between the two parts, he had already joined the Liberation War. He had to be on the move all the time after receiving short training in warfare. Mostly, he was engaged in treating wounded soldiers. He lost all contact with Maimuna. He was wounded in the war while working at a field hospital in the war zone. When he regained his consciousness, he found himself in a hospital in India. Marium a graduate student of economics from the Dhaka University who opted to work as a nurse to look after the wounded fighters of the Mukti Bahini was assigned to look after Zubair among others. After fighting a long battle with death, Zubair survived partly, due to Marium’s devoted nursing. He felt immensely indebted to Marium. After Liberation, on returning to the liberated motherland, Zubair joined the Army Medical Corps and Marium joined a Medical School leaving economics.
The combined forces of the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) comprehensively defeated the much-vaunted Pakistani Army. Bangladesh came into being. In one of the most ignoble event in the history of humankind, the Pakistani Army surrendered to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army. They have not done so before they wreaked unprecedented havoc on the innocent people of the eastern wing. The Army of a so-called Islamic Republic perpetrated all kinds of satanic barbarism, brazenly, violating the shariah and all Islamic cannons, against their own brethren in faith. The sane people in the west when challenged with the facts still to day bow their heads in shame. There are a few, as it happens in every society, shameless, insensitive bigots who have the temerity to brag about increasing the population of the former eastern part of their country. Those who committed heinous crimes against innocent undefended people, and kept their countrymen in the dark by dishing out false stories, do not have any right to call themselves Muslims.
Auntie Raina was dying to come to the east and wed her daughter to Zubair. She was confident of surmounting all obstacles with Zubair’s love for Maimuna still intense. She dispatched Babban to the east with a message for Zubair to hasten the marriage, otherwise to forget about the whole affair- a veiled threat! It was just before the elections were held. Babban came but did not find the situation to his liking and left for the west just after the elections.
After Bangladesh came into being, in the west, Maimuna’s education was disrupted as her family was moved to a concentration camp for Bengalis. Babban, however, avoided being sent to the camp. The ever-smart Auntie, somehow, managed to buy their freedom out of the camp and later tried to flee Pakistan through Sind border- an extremely dangerous undertaking full off natural hazards, as well as, marauding bandits, despite Babban’s advise otherwise. The other route to freedom was via Afghanistan, which was still ruled by King Zahir Shah. It was much safer compared to Sind border crossing through the wilderness of Kutch desert. But, auntie Raina preferred Sind because of the prevailing freezing cold weather in Afghanistan. It was a snowy winter and heavy snowfall was reported in Afghanistan. She for the shake of the children who were not accustomed to snowing bitter cold chose Sind to avoid a stay in Afghanistan. This was one of the very few stupid decisions; she took, in her life that proved fatal.
Babban and Maimuna’s family tried to cross the Sind border into India to come to the newly found Bangladesh and none reached Bangladesh except Raina. She was the only one who survived the ordeal and reached Bangladesh but had lost her mental balance. Meanwhile, Babban’s family in the East perished in the war. Travellers from other groups that travelled at around the same time gave different accounts of their fate. Some say, “The marauding bandits of the Sind desert killed him.” Others say, “People who befriended him just to get close to Maimuna, who remained glued to Babban for her own security, perchance killed him, quarrelling over her.” Yet, some others say, “He was lost in the wilderness, while he strayed from the group he was travelling with, responding to nature’s call.” Some even reported that Babban and Maimuna ran away to Karachi. However, they never reached their dreamland, for sure. It is very possible that bandits attacked them and in the ensuing confusion, Babban and Maimuna were separated from the main entourage, and later went back to Karachi. Sudden raids by bandits were very common in the Sind desert.
Among all the hearsay, the most plausible account is that the bandits attacked Babban and the entourage, all the males were killed or fatally wounded and later died from bleeding, and the women were savagely dishonoured and left to die in the desert. Babban luckily survived the carnage and went back to Karachi. Later, perchance, he found Maimuna in a brothel and rescued her from there with the help of the law enforcing authorities.
…. And much, much later, people claimed to spot Babban in Karachi with his wife and children. It is rumoured that he was in love with a Kashmir- origin-Pakistani girl and he must have married her.
After the liberation of Bangladesh Zubair frantically tried to locate Maimuna and her family, among the repatriates and those that fled through various routes to newly liberated Bangladesh. He finally stumbled on to Raina by chance living with a family that fled came to Bangladesh before repatriation started. They were a part of the next entourage that was passing through the same route as was taken by the ill-fated group of Maimuna. They saw the traces of the carnage perpetrated by the bandits and found Raina alive. She survived miraculously all alone in the desert for how many days who knows. This people compelled by compassion brought her with them to Bangladesh She could remember anything and was oblivious of her surroundings. She kept on mentioning ‘…animal like human beings…, looting…., plundering…., killing and dishonouring …’ Zubair brought his auntie to his house and she began living with him. Zubair cannot find Maimuna but her mother becomes a part of his life!
Marium’s dedicated nursing had already softened Zubair toward her, and on top of that, from a particular angle Marium strongly resembled Maimuna. Finally, Zubair found it too much to resist Marium in the absence of Maimuna and married her. Zubair wished hard that the Kashmiri girl supposed to be seen with Babban were Maimuna for she had Kashmiri features. At the thought, surprisingly, he never felt the pain of jealousy, but was rather relieved of a sort of guilty consciousness. He wished, wished, and even prayed “Oh God! Let that be the case….” He desperately in his heart’s heart wanted that it was Babban spotted with his wife in Karachi, and the so-called Kashmiri girl with him was the Bengali Maimuna.
They are neighbours in a residential area for civil servants. Muntazir is a Bengali and Nimmi is a Kashmiri girl. They are neighbours for many years and in these years, they barely have talked to each other. Both families know each other well. Silently from their childhood, they step into their adolescent years, pass their school exams, and join colleges. I their teens they feel like being adult and independent. Largely they are. The daily tension of facing teachers is gone because control is much relaxed in colleges. Parents start behaving differently treating them with much respect and even on occasions asking their opinion on important matters.
Nimmi is advanced in studies and is probably a bit senior to Muntazir in age. There is nothing notable about Muntazir. He is a normal sixteen-year-old lad trying to adjust to his teen years with very natural attraction for the opposite sex. He is a shy lad and always avoids girls though deep in his heart he craves for their company. He has friends among Bengalis who are generally his classmates or schoolmates and non-Bengalis who are neighbours. His healthy liking for girls does not help him get over his shyness and generally shuns their company. The shyness must have developed because of segregation in schools that he attended. He is never easy among girls. He likes many girls but most particularly, he is attracted to the younger sister of Nimmi who is younger to him. Never has he paid any attention to Nimmi, though, she is equally beautiful in her own ways, as she is older. Nimmi’s sister Nazia is the most beautiful among the three Nimmi sisters. Almost all his friends vie for Nazia’s attention.
Muntazir and his friends both Bengali and non-Bengalis grew together with the sisters attaining their puberty. While the male starts showing traces of moustache the female’s flat chest suddenly begin to bulge and they begin covering their chess with a piece of clothe, called dupatta. A sudden surge of attraction begins to glow around them. That unexplainable subtle titillating attraction made the boys curious. “Are they watching them anew,” boys wonder. “Why all this while they have not attracted us, as they are now.” Older and more experienced among the boys lecture them on the Anatomy of girls and the younger novices gulp each word of it enriching them. Older girls and those married, for early marriages are common in this part of the world, give interesting lessons to new entrants, about boys. Married girls are generally a bit older because in most cases girls after marriage return to their studies after a lapse of few years. That flares up interest in the opposite sex in both the groups. They are eager to explore for themselves. Thus, they intently seek a relationship.
Before they frolicked around freely often with boys but now gradually they begin withdrawing from their carefree merry making. Muntazir and company earlier had greater opportunity to watch them play with others. This opportunity has been wasted in the innocence of childhood. Nobody knew that these girls could be so attractive and would soon disappear behind doors. It is not the pardah of the Muslims that forced them inside but social restrictions. Girls are allowed to go out but free mixing is taboo. At attaining puberty, they appear less and less outside their houses. Now sighting them is like sighting rare birds. Therefore, their appearance at their gardens or doors always makes Muntazir and others very happy and now watching them has acquired a new dimension. There is this thrill of the unknown. A slipping dupatta now excites the intoxicating ecstasy of a revelation of the unseen.
The youngest of no consequence to Muntazir’s age group remains on view. Nimmi and Nazia are not confined in their house but their frolicking freely stop, and they only occasionally appear in their lawn. So lawn appearances and travelling to and from the house are the only occasions when their admirers may catch a glimpse of them and have to be satisfied. Their father drives their Volkswagen to schools and colleges, and that is the only other time they are on display. Muntazir has to rise early in the morning and stand on the way pretending to do something or the other to have a glimpse of the sisters while they are on their way to educational institutions. He does this just to remain ahead of his friends. So that he can boast of seeing, the sisters while others are still trying their luck in the evening. In the name of playing cricket boys use to gather around her house. On occasions, her father has to intervene to disperse the crowd when that gets noisy and approaches too close to their house. Occasionally, Muntazir will also see them while retuning form schools in the afternoons. That is a bonus. The object of interest is the second of the sisters, Nazia.
On these trysts, Muntazir often sees Nimmi watching him intently through the window of the car or standing at the door of their house. He dismisses those intent looks as the watchfulness of the older sister like a mother and tries his best to avoid her. Nimmi is a bit shorter and bulkier than Nazia but is not much less beautiful. She is only as less beautiful as she is shorter.
Muntazir’s friends are first to discern Nimmi’s interest in Muntazir, while Muntazir has been unaware. They mildly tease him too. But Muntazir always denies his own weakness, for he is not sure that Nimmi has developed a liking for him. But gradually it starts to unfold. Muntazir begins to realize Nimmi’s affection for him and though he has strong liking for Nazia, he dose not dislike Nimmi. He rather never thought that Nimmi would be interested in him, as he is younger. All this time his non-Bengali friends will often force him to stand in Nimmi’s path for Nimmi has to cross his house travelling to and from her house. Nimmi keeps on looking at Muntazir as long as she can through the back window of the Volkswagen, risking her father’s admonition, whenever she sights Muntazir. Luckily, for all, Mr. Naqvi remains intently attentive to his driving. His interest in Nimmi has been confined to an interest of a teenager to another of the opposite sex. He has taken as much interest in Nimmi as he takes in other beautiful girls.
When faced with Nimmi’s affection Muntazir realizes that it is he, who is responsible for enkindling the emotional surge in Nimmi. Once he was plucking Jujube from a neighbour’s tree climbing on top of the tree. From the top, he spotted Nimmi passing under the tree and dropped some jujube on her she stopped, did not look up, and silently left the place. An apprehensive Muntazir quickly descends from the tree and returns home. Bewildered, apprehensively waits a complain, no complain comes as he has been expecting for there is strong possibility of Nimmi seeing him on the tree for he has been visible on top of the tree from quite a distance. He is cross with himself for doing such a foolish thing. Muntazir has reputation of being a good boy and now he is faced with losing his reputation without any gain. No complain comes but the episode troubles him for months. He is remorseful that Nazia will take offence at such misbehaviour with her elder sister, Nimmi. Nimmi’s reaction is of no consequence to him.”
Now, Nimmi’s affection is more than a compensation for his foolishness. He is happy and begins to fall for Nimmi. He resolves to build a relationship with Nimmi, ‘such a kind hearted girl!’ he thinks. She is beautiful as well. Now Nimmi begins to seem much more beautiful than Nazia.
Muntazir is falling and falling fast for Nimmi. Nimmi totally takes control of his thoughts. He begins to long for Nimmi’s short appearances at her doorsteps. He hopes that those fleeting moments would lengthen to hours and days. Muntazir leaving his studies will for long, long time remains blissfully lost in Nimmi’s thought, “…Beautiful Nimmi. …Darling Nimmi. …My Nimmi.” “Is it love?” he thinks.
Nimmi’s brother Akmal the older of the two brothers she has is a friend of Muntazir. The other brother can barely speak. Muntazir gets friendly with him and begins teaching him his mother tongue Bangla, in all earnestness. The kid is bright and begins learning Bangla very fast. After sometime, he is using more Bangla words than Urdu or Panjabi. This development is spotted by his father, much later than other family members, who is furious and demands to know the source. Nimmi and others plead their ignorance but Mr. Fida Hussain Naqvi guessing that Muntazir and family may be the source forbids the kid from mixing with Muntazir and other members of the family. Muntazir lost a link to Nimmi.
As Muntazir decides that it is time to acknowledge Nimmi’s affection, he comes to know from Akmal that they are planning to move to their newly built house very soon. Since they are not leaving Karachi or not going out of the country, the news did not disturb Muntazir much. He is sure that some how they shall maintain a link. Muntazir knew Nimmi would join the University of Karachi before him. Nevertheless, he resolves to join Karachi University not joining the Medical College, as his parents want him to. All this years while they grew together Muntazir has been under the impression that Nazia likes him as he likes her. As Nazia’s elder sister Nimmi has been an object of respect that cannot be an object of amorous feelings.
At around this time Nimmi’s family shifts to their own residence in a middle class locality. Nimmi and her sisters are the last to leave by their Volkswagen. Muntazir against his wishes is forced to stand on the path by his friends while Nimmies have been driving past. Nimmi keeps on looking at Muntazir and her eyes glistens with tears, perhaps. Forcing him face the car two of his friends hold him tightly so that he can not move or look away. Muntazir for the first time feels a pain reaping through his heart, an indescribable pain and for the first time realizes that he loves. He loves Nimmi the beautiful damsel from Kashmir. “He lost valuable time, precious time, time that will never come back … if he only knew earlier that Nimmi’s family will move from the colony …….” he broods over.
It is a bitter winter. For the last few days, the sky is overcast and it is snowing heavily, intermittently. The New York, always bustling with life, is lying like a vast dead body of unending whiteness. So is Gloria’s still body lying on her bed, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, vacantly trying to see, something. She is not dead, only is numbed by sheer pain. Numbed by excruciating pain, her fair face looks frozen white, like the snow outside. She just heard the news … last night, and cried her heart out. Everybody is surprised at her reaction, particularly, her father. Gloria is surprised, because, she never realized before that she loves Margoub so dearly. Her father is taken aback by the intensity of pain Gloria displayed. Perhaps, he also looks guilty and remorseful. Gloria could not vouch.
Gloria Sanchez had been to Latin America at a very early age since she married a Latino before she was nineteen. She married, because, she was carrying and followed her husband to his country where any marriage, taking place outside the country, is not recognized. She, therefore, officially was not married. She became a mother before she turned nineteen. Her husband during the pregnancy started dating another girl behind her back. She was blissfully unaware of the affair. As soon as she delivered, the man began misbehaving with her. Beginning with misbehaviour it quickly degenerated into physical torture. When it became intolerable, she fled with the help of her brother-in law who was a policeman to the USA. She filed for a divorce and was a divorced lady before she was barely twenty. Her child remained back with her ex-husband’s family. The mother had lost all contact with her first born a male child.
Gloria not only lost her husband, she has earlier been thrown out by her family for marrying a foreigner and thus is out of touch with her own family, as well. Therefore, coming back to America, she takes refuse with a distant aunt who shelters her risking the wrath of the family. Contrary to the life style of North and West European Americans, most Spanish and Italian Americans are still accustomed to live jointly in close-knit big families. Gloria being a Puerto Rican needed a home with lots of people to feel comfortable. Though, her aunt who shelters her has a big family, Gloria, nevertheless, feels the need of a man in her life and quickly falls in for Rosario, a Spanish American. Within a year, they find themselves married. When she marries for the second time, she is carrying her second child, a daughter. In ten years of marriage with Rosario, she gives birth to five daughters. With all these children, Rosario leaves her for another younger woman. She is left to fend for herself and the minor children at barely thirty years of age. Rosario is never heard of again, it is rumoured that he has died in a mysterious car accident within a short time of leaving Gloria.
In the Bronx, New York, where Gloria’s family settles in the mainland, lives a strong Spanish population with very strong familial bond. Keeping with their tradition fellow Puerto Ricans voluntarily help her make up with her parents and they now give her financial support whenever needed. Her father is a local Mafia boss. Nothing is beyond him starting from forging green cards and passports, to killing people. He once vowed to kill his daughter for disobeying his orders, instead, it is rumoured that he has ended up with killing his ex-son–in-law. But even this, apparently butcher like ferocious, man has been mellowed by filial love and reaccepts his daughter who has suffered unspeakable mental and physical torture at a very tender age. It is the sufferings of the young daughter that make the mafia monster feel a kind of sympathy, he is unable to describe, for Gloria. He condones all her follies and invites her to live a luxurious life with him but Gloria, indomitably independent spirited, chooses to fight for herself. She even refuses her father’s helping hand but for the intervention of relatives, she agrees to accept occasional financial help from him, which makes the old man very happy. Peace prevails.
Gloria is trying to tie the bits and pieces of her life together and start a new life. Her father using his influence manages a community residential apartment allotted to Gloria, which Gloria accepts for the shake of her daughters. For these apartments, rents are deduced based on income of occupants. For the same space one pays more or less commensurate with income, a socialist practice, in a staunchly capitalist country where apparently, nothing comes without money, even love and sympathy. Thus ensured a roof over her head, she jumps into the fray of life reinvigorated. But she is overwhelmed by loneliness. A strong lady with a Spanish appetite for male company, naturally, finds it difficult to live alone for long. And because of her daughters, she does not think it proper to live together with somebody and keep on changing partners whenever difficulty arises. This time, she consults her father, and decides to go for the man selling newspapers at the corner of the road that leads to her work place from her apartment. He is a Spanish looking man but she never has heard him speak a word of Spanish, and neither has he spoken very good English. She is a bit confused about his origin. But he is a strong young man seemingly good-natured too. Gloria gradually strikes a friendship with the man. Within months, they are married. He is an illegal alien from a poor country looking to settle in the United States of America. Thus, it is a God given opportunity for him to attain his goal. He was in Germany from where he came to USA looking for a good life. Thrown out of Germany, this time he is bent upon settling in the USA any way he could. Therefore, marrying a lady with six children does not matter to him as he is allured by the smell of the ‘green card’. He needs this passport to heaven, very badly. The apparently docile man has a hidden agenda of his own, and is blissfully unaware of his fate, if he goes for materialization.
Margoub, the groom has no idea of the time needed to get a ‘green card’ in a big town like New York where the immigration department is flooded with applications of all sorts. Three to four years is very normal for an application to see culmination. He, therefore, is entangled in a relationship of at least three years. Margoub, like many others enters into the marital relationship for the shake of the ‘green card’. In Margoub’s case, as is with many others, the marriage is not negotiated as a marriage for ‘green card’ paying the citizen for the service. In this case, the lady marries with the intention of staying with Margoub in a permanent relationship and for that, she even converts to Islam, though she never changes her life style. The Qur’an, pious Margoub who sees no sin in keeping his intentions to himself, gives Gloria to recite, is rescued from a heap of garbage by a friend who accidentally comes across the Qur’ān there, waiting to be thrown out. This is not a very religious Muslim man, who does not hesitate to gobble pork steak prepared by Gloria. But he is shocked at the treatment of the Qur’ān and retrieves it for himself. The pious Margoub is unmoved. He feels very holy within as he does his duty by providing a copy of the holy book to his wife, quite unconcerned at the Sacrilege.
Margoub marries Gloria and begins with zest living in a conjugal relationship he is not going to continue forever. But blissfully his conscience is clear like spotless white linen as he has married Gloria and even converted her to Islam. What can be much more legal and ethical! He therefore is in a legal relationship according to shariah and must be accumulating innumerable blessings of the Almighty that will favourably dispose him at the Day of Judgement. Incomprehensibly, insensitive to the fact that he is cheating the lady and has taken the help of falsehood- categorically denounced in Islam. On the contrary, sure that he is living a life of a saint he openly displays his scorn for people going to brothels. His friends are not lucky like him and religiously goes to brothels filled with Latin American blondes, at least, once a week. They simply love their golden hair. And they take utmost care to hide that from Margoub, as he is a pious soul.
In a healthy and regular conjugal life, it is not possible for Margoub to stop Gloria from giving birth to a healthy boy at the end of the third year of their marriage. Gloria is happy; Margoub is worried, which Gloria mistakes as his passionate longing for sharing his happiness with parents and family back home. She, therefore, consents to his going to his country for a month after they have already appeared before the immigration and their case is Okayed. Gloria at the end of third month with Margoub still in Bangladesh, the country of his origin, is worried about his intentions. She begins to hear stories about Bangladeshis not returning to their American wives after getting the ‘green card’, and many other stories of betrayals of non-Americans seeking to settle in America. Perhaps, some are exaggeration of imaginative minds of friends coming to ameliorate her agonies, in fact, inflames her worries many, many times more. She begins contacting his friends and shouting threats to them if Margoub does not return within such and such time etc., etc. Hoping the message shall reach Margoub.
After about five years, Margoub comes to Bangladesh, and therefore, he has to do a hell of lot of catching up. And on top, he falls sick with diarrhoea, malaria and what not. These bouts of sickness delay him in Bangladesh and he naturally is forced to stay much beyond his allotted time. He is not in a position to desert Gloria for he is yet to get his card. But in spite of that Gloria hearing stories of non-Americans divorcing their American spouses just after receiving their cards remains highly agitated as long as Margoub does not come back. At the end of the third month when Margoub comes back, Gloria refuses to allow him back in her household. All his friends gather at Gloria’s apartment and persuade her to let in Margoub. She, perhaps, just has tried to convey the intensity of her anger to Margoub by refusing to allow him back, and once the purpose has been served she cools down. His friends, thus, find the persuading easier than they first thought.
Back at home, Margoub never tells his parents about his marriage in America and it is a closely guarded secret, kept within his close friend’s circle, because, he has plans to marry a Bengali girl of his parents’ choice, once getting the ‘green card’, divorcing many times married Gloria, like many others did with their American wives. In support of his case, he highlights the cultural differences that exist between the East and the West. According to Margoub, “In the east girls are much more caring and loving. They wait for their husbands, brothers and fathers at mealtime, serve them food, and drinks cooked and prepared by them sitting beside them. Lovingly fanning them with hand held fans where electricity is not available, even wiping perspiration with their saris, even if the man is not perspiring. It is so soothing and fulfilling that only those that have been lucky enough to experience such caring love shall know the indescribable ameliorating effect. The concern that oozes out from their eyes and faces at small injuries like, a cut while saving, a sneeze, because of a mild cold, is far more intense than passionate kisses bestowed lavishly by Westerners.” He further ponders, “Kissing and hugging in public is considered an honest display of affection by the West. In the East, it is obscenity. In the West they think it is necessary to display love and affection by words and deeds, while, in the East, it is much more subtle.” And Margoub missed this almost mystic subtlety. He, thus, is dying for the subtle expressions of love and caring. Margoub is on a campaign to make people understand his point. He is very critical of the way Gloria watches films with her daughters full of erotic scenes, and says, “A Eastern woman would never do such shameless thing. She would rather scold her daughters for watching such movies than giving them company.” These he has not considered before, since, the marriage he entered into was not to be permanent.
Margoub could not even gather the courage to utter the word ‘divorce’ thinking of Gloria’s father and of Rosario’s fate. Finally, Margoub flees to California from New York. He hopes that the small time Mafia boss would not be able to trace him there. He is mistaken grossly. The network is far more widespread than Margoub could guess. He is traced to California and Gloria arrives to fetch him. She beseeches him to return to her for the shake of his son who is five by then. A handsome looking lad requests his father not to desert his mother. He comes back for the fear of his life. Gloria vows to do everything to keep him happy. This time Gloria becomes the very incarnation of Venus and showers love and affection on Margoub all the time. She kisses and hugs him at the slightest pretext hoping to tie Margoub irrevocably with love and affection, for she really begins to love him. With each passing day, her love started to grow more intense. The change in her attachment begins after Margoub’s flight to California. But, Margoub is tired of the robust show of love and affection; he is dying for the subtle soothing kind of eastern love. He runs away again. This time he keeps on moving from State to Sate, to avoid detection. After running for some years, he is almost at end of his patients and his aging body wants to settle down somewhere, permanently. He, thus, is planning to settle in one of the poorer and obscure States like South Dakota. But, before he could do so, he is found dead in a cheap motel with his Asian female partner. They are said to be dead from an overdose of Marijuana combined with alcohol. Gloria never believed the reason cited for Margoub’s death and she never wanted him dead.
The lady from Oceania is a spouse of a chief executive of a foreign donor agency. Like many other whites, who come to work in this part of the world, she also thinks that she is an embodiment of virtues and almost angelic compared to the locals. Like a few of them, she also has a tendency to look down upon the Asians from their heavenly abode, because she is an incarnation of an angel. Natalie is her name, a blonde and an economist by profession, not particularly good looking.
Since, the Chief Executive of an International non-government Organization wants to broaden his influence in the expatriate community he is looking for foreigners to employ in his organization. This is more urgent because of a pending fact finding mission from the centre. The country chief may find it hard to explain employment of professionals from his ‘Fatherland’ without consulting the centre, as he had already employed a person, ignoring many other better-qualified applicants, against the preference of the central authority, from his fatherland. Just to avoid charges of favouritism, he quickly moves to employ a French speaking North American lady, whom he bitterly dislikes, and Natalie, and a few others of different nationalities. Perfect globalisation! It was a very timely and shrewd move, which diffused the situation, and contributed immensely in advocating his cause during and after the fact-finding mission.
So, comes in Natalie with her superb aura of virtuosity. She is above all sins- a perfect embodiment of virtues. Her attractive young boss sharpens her sense of perfection dexterously. Monty Freud, the boss is a successful Casanova, has almost irresistible charm and is aware of it. He never hesitates to use that charm to his benefit. After failing to warm his way through to a very powerful elderly lady, he was found murmuring, “Normally, I get through to the ladies easily but for this old….”
This Chameleon-Casanova disguises his dislikes very deftly. Though, he does not like many of the foreigners he employs, on short-term basis, he never shows it. Naturally, most of the expatriate employees are women with their husbands working with valid permits in non-government organizations or are diplomats, and they have come here as spouses without work permits. Therefore, the young Casanova has a perfect excuse for employing only ladies. Monty even used his weakness in English to his advantage. Under the pretext of editing English of written materials produced in his organization, he employed American and British ladies to extend his influence. A perfect balance!
Innocent Natalie imbued with intense affection for the youthful exuberance of the Casanova falls in his trap. He uses her as he likes, as he does with all the others. He prodded one of his subordinate officers to apply for funds from the organization Natalie’s husband heads, and to seek help from Natalie. He lectures his poor junior colleague on why he himself should not request Natalie directly. Monty being Monty, setting up the stage goes to Natalie’s room and with a warm embrace warms her up. While Natalie is still held in his embrace, he accentuates her already convoluted perception of righteousness, by telling her how improper it would be to talk to her husband about financing a project of the very organization, where she works. He does not hesitate to insinuate the jealousy factor if her husband thinks that she is doing it for Monty. Natalie is apprehensive, for she had previously used that dangerous ploy to arouse her slumbering husband. A second time may prove disastrous. And then she is not very sure about her response to warm advances from Monty. She is very unsure about her own emotional inclinations. A bit of confusion always haunts her these days. Natalie tells herself over, over, and over again, “I love my husband and am not open to temptations.” She loves her husband all right, but curiously feels jealous at Monty’s warm response to other women. On countless occasions, she thought of leaving her job, but could not. An inexplicable attraction drives her, and she responds like a Zombie. Every morning at ten sharp, she finds herself at her room, in the office, waiting eagerly for a voice to be heard at the door, though she knows that will not happen, at least, before eleven o’clock.
It is very unlikely that Monty, a devilishly intelligent man, does not see through Natalie. He certainly has no qualms to use the emotional vulnerability of Natalie. The Casanova is very deft at that. Flirting is a virtue according to Monty. And to keep his brigade of Blondes and Brunettes happy, he had to develop special skills, and he applies those with extreme dexterity. Between talking to others, he keeps on flashing sexy smiles to his targets with immeasurable effect. With Natalie, not so beautiful and perhaps aging a bit, such attention works wonders.
Poor Natalie, therefore, is used superbly well and is convinced that the officer in question wants the fund in his own interest while in all probability that poor fellow is not to benefit from the fund. This is not his proposal but is a proposal from the organization. Prodded repeatedly, the subordinate gives in and calls Natalie from his room, knowing full well, the consequence. However, he was not prepared for Natalie’s irrational reasoning. Natalie blissfully oblivious of her own illegitimate status advances a curious reason for not talking to her husband. When requested, she immediately without even allowing Moby to finish says, in an extremely shrill voice, “Ethically I cannot request my husband to release funds to this organization. I would not do it for any reason. And we do not intervene to use influences in matters like this.” Her excitement betrays her and reveals her predetermination to say ‘No’.
Moby, the subordinate ponders over the matter, perhaps a bit philosophically, “A person tends to turn a cynic when every single person gives an impression of being a hypocrite. If I have understood the meaning of the word rightly, I have enough reason to become a doubter. I am fighting hard to keep faith in my fellow beings….” Some foreigners, particularly some of the Westerners, behave as if they are the epitome of integrity. Perhaps, they, after passing sometime in this part of the world, really start believing in their angelic dispositions.” So, it seemed to Moby, when he found Natalie, while preaching virtues with almost prophet like grandeur, engaged improperly in a financially gratifying occupation in this country. Everything about the job is improper. She gets the job because she knows the chief executive of the organization. And she is employed without a valid work permit. The position she is employed in is superfluous and is created just to employ her to give the chief executive the attribution of an equal opportunity employer, and to extricate him from the accusation of his propensity to employ expatriate experts of a particular origin.
Natalie went to Monty, with unknown expectations, to tell him that her husband is transferred to a new station, far off. When told, Monty looks at her with bemused indifference. She could not discern even the faintest sign of twitching on his face. Natalie left with her husband to his new place of posting with a saddened pensive heart. At the farewell party, her eyes moistened with tears during the ceremonial mention of the boss being kind, sympathetic and understanding, and how she enjoyed working in the organization, particularly in this beautiful country,. Flushes of reddish glow betrayed her calm voice. Audiences mistook her as a very emotional being, and a person intensely in love with Bangladesh and its people. She was deceived, but she deceived everybody.
Insatiable Quest for Love
Shushmita’s insatiable quest for love, the way she perceives it, sends her in a never-ending search for ideal love. She has a Utopian idea of love where her partner does everything as she likes him to or as she thinks, he should. She is not satisfied with her husband with whom she mothered two children. Of many complains against him, currently the art of lovemaking has become a contentious point in their relationship. Perfection, in lovemaking, is an obsession with her these days. Her husband has never been able to reach the height in the art of lovemaking, which according to her is a technique that needs constant endeavour to attain refinement. She is perfect! She has tried her best to teach him refinements, but he is an insensitive beast, according to her. All attempts, of refining and polishing the beast, have been unsuccessful. Surprisingly, the husband is much older and is an experienced man in the affairs of the heart, and he had had intimate relationships with quite a few charming ladies, according to Shushmita – a contradiction that she never cared to explain.
Their marriage has not been very smooth and had been through phases of extremely delicate situations but somehow survived the ordeal of being united. Currently, it’s on the rocks, because of an extra marital affair of the lady. The paramour is her boss. She is having an affair clandestinely and seems fulfilled. She sings, she laughs, and even dances but not in response to things happening in her immediate surroundings, as if she is dreaming. Her behavioural change has not escaped the discerning eyes of her husband Ayaj Ilahi. He remembers suddenly and is alerted, he has been through this before. Whenever, she suffers one of her infatuations, she behaves like a being from an unknown planet. An attractive lady, with a tremendous sensual appeal, she has a propensity to fall in for people that catches her imagination. In parties, shopping malls or in the workplace men cannot help looking at her. Some stare at her helplessly! She is confident that these males waiting for a positive glace from her, and as soon as bestowed with one, would fall on her feet. A confident Shushmita advances on her target, like a lioness, ever ready to pounce on her prey, whenever, she is hungry, and most of the time, she succeeds. Until now, all her liaisons remained short and mainly undetected. None of the partners felt the abiding urge to continue. Some younger unmarried ones had other more alluring interest; she was just an extra, others, older and married, generally, drifted away threatened with exposure. Normally, the wives get the inkling of husband’s affairs before everybody else. And in some cases, some unidentified well wisher inspired by kindness of the heart informs the spouse, most of the times causing unnecessary complications. In her case too, some such well-wisher has been kind enough to tip off the spouse. Only in this case, it is not the first time that the husband is facing such a situation! The situation is further complicated because of her fantasies. Ayaj many a times finds himself running after mirages. So intense is her fantasy that the whole affair gets beyond Ayaj’s comprehension. He is, totally, unable to distinguish between the real and the unreal. She names people and describes surroundings and situations, which seems so far fetched that Ayaj is sure they are not real! In many instances Ayaj’s investigations lead to nothing, while others, justifies his suspicion, where the characters and situations are familiar.
She is sleeping with her boss for some time now. She is in love. She thinks she has found what she has been looking for! Ikramul Bari, the boss, all the while has been dishing out concocted stories of his unhappy married life because of Shirin, the ill educated woman he has been forced to marry by his parents. Shushmita thinks she has found a Comrade-in-sorrow. Ikramul Bari says, “You know darling, my wife is a bit psychoneurotic and that is why out of pity I have not divorced her, since I am a very soft-hearted man.” That accentuation, on soft heartedness, plays havoc with Shushmita’s erratic propensities of emotion. She gets enamoured with the very idea of friendship with a kind-hearted man, as if she has never come across one, ever! He mentions, ‘not divorcing his wife’ in such a tone that implies readiness now. Shushmita, sure that Ikramul is going to divorce his wife, plans to prepare ground for her own divorce.
One day finding her husband Ayaj Ilahi in a jovial mood, she begins, “Ayaj I have been thinking about our relationship for a long time.” Ayaj gives her a look, as if saying, ‘what is there to think?’ And continues being in a jovial mood and even tries to cut some jokes. But, when, Shushmita keeps a serious face, he says, “Yes, what have you been saying?” “No, nothing, I was talking about our relationship,” replied Shushmita. “What happened to that,” asks Ayaj. Shushmita drops the bombshell, “I am contemplating a divorce,” Ayaj is dumbfounded. He does not know how to react. He has heard her saying several times: that she wants a divorce, that she is overwhelmed by tension in their relationship, etc., etc., but she never sounded so determined. There is a tone of finality in her voice. Ayaj becomes alarmed, and the expression of happiness vanishes from his face like the winter sunlight. He somehow manages to say, “What did you say, you want a divorce?” After a long pause regaining his semblance, he asks, “… And why, may I ask you?” Shushmita, “You know why, you have not been the ideal husband. You have time and again mentally tortured me by neglecting me from the very first day of our marriage.” She keeps on listing her grievances, which she has been doing all the while they have been married. Ayaj responds angrily, “Please stop all these nonsense. You conjure up these allegations, against me, but I am the most considerate husband one can find. You know, for this, I am known as a henpecked man, in my friend-circle.” Saying that Ayaj moves his head like a tiger! As if, saying to his wife, see, what a tiger I’m! The discussion stops there as their daughter joins them. They switch to some other topics. Sometime later, they retire for the night. Peace prevails!
After a good night’s sleep Ayaj’s mind clears up and he starts thinking about Shushmita, “Is she serious? What is the matter with her? She often talks about divorce whenever... She is infatuated...” Suddenly, it clicks in Ayaj’s mind, “Yes, Eureka, I have got it! She must be in one of her fleeting liaisons.” He is blissfully unaware that this time it is much more serious. The man this time is a seasoned player, a hard nut to crack. His job has placed him in a position to come across women who normally work under him. He has become, over a period, an expert in discerning vulnerable women who easily fall prey to well-orchestrated love games. These are unsatisfied women, some for reason only known to them, craving for love, who only need somebody to touch and caress them, and soothing words inflame their emotions like an animal in heat.
A master in the trade of love games, now a powerful director of a semiautonomous organization, Ikramul Bari spots Shushmita on the second day he joins the organization, she works in. While attending the officer’s meeting, Ikramul’s eyes spot her as a possible prey. She is attending the meeting, but clearly, she is not there. She is looking vacantly at the speaker. The hollow look, to a discerning experienced onlooker like Ikramul, expresses a lot – enough to log on to the target. On to the target logs Ikramul immediately. He immediately after the meeting wishes to visit officers at their work. After about an honour, he begins his tour de tryst and the third officer he visits is Shushmita. Obviously, he has done his homework. After Shushmita, he excuses himself from continuing his tour by feigning headache. However, he does not forget to shower praises on Shushmita, in the short time he stays in her room. He praises the decoration, the arrangement of the files, the colour of the carpet and the window-screens, etc., though she has nothing to do with those. Shushmita is pleased. She thinks, “Men must be like this, showering praises.” Then, after a few days, he again comes to Shushmita’s room, and hurriedly leaves as if he has mistakenly been there. But he does not forget to praise her looks in the sari she is wearing. Even Shushmita could only blush, as she is not given any time to react! But, Shushmita is happy that she is attractive enough to catch her boss’s attention. They continue to meet on official business and Ikramul pretends to have no interest in Shushmita as an individual other than an officer working under him. Shushmita’s ego is bruised. She in her mind vows to enamour Ikramul without the slightest idea that Ikramul has already targeted her as his next catch!
She begins to go to her boss’s room finding the flimsiest reason. Gradually, Ikramul’s hold on her increases to such extent that she no longer could exercise her will in the presence of Ikramul. It happened, because, she wanted intensely, earnestly to fuse completely with Ikramul, leaving no distinction between them. With such an intense desire to lose herself in her lover, she unconsciously inactivates her will in his presence. Slowly, she also loses the perception of their different physical bodies and identities to an extent where Ikramul plays with her body and soul, as he wants. She is in a perpetual trance, where nothing matters but Ikramul. Ikramul takes total advantage of the situation. Her whole entity is wildly yearning to unite. She finds a friend who provides her the place for rendezvous. The love trysts are exhilaratingly satisfying.
Ikramul is talking to her. She is rapt in one of her fantasies. At the height of her fantasy the ground from beneath her moves and she feels like floating in the vast emptiness of the universe. She feels dizzy in the head. She feels light like a feather. She is basking in the soft moonlight so happy and fulfilled she is that the world turns into a heaven. She is unable to imagine a place better than this earth. She groaned with excited satisfaction and opened her eyes, shocked by Ikramul’s loud assertion that he is leaving. Very often, she swings into such rapturous states. And therefore, at present, is unmindful to what Ikramul is saying. Ikramul says, “Darling, don’t be upset I have taken a transfer to another department, since your husband has become suspicious and even contacted my wife! That was very irresponsible of him. I have two children. And he tried to break-up my marriage! Can you imagine?” Ikramul promises to continue their liaison even after he moves to another department. She does not hear anything but, “He tried to break-up my marriage” keeps on buzzing in her ears. She feels numb even to feel sad.
Parirokh and her husband courted for months before they decided to marry. It was a passionate pre-nuptial period intense with emotions. She was comparatively a tall lady considering the average height of south-east-Asian region. Slim and very attractive to the opposite sex, though not fair- the foremost quality of beauty according to the general notion in Bangladesh- she had a penchant for short men. A teacher in the university, Montakhab was a short man of thirty-three and Parirokh was barely twenty a sophomore in the same university. An experienced man in the affairs of the heart, Montakhab met Parirokh in a picnic party. He was nursing a wound as Shraboni a very pretty lady, he met in India, while pursuing higher studies there, had just jilted him. Parirokh strikingly resembled Shraboni, only Shraboni was much fairer in complexion. Perhaps, the resemblance attracted him to Parirokh. Parirokh for her part did not notice Montakhab. Both sang Rabindra sangit at the party. Montakhab was a far better singer and trained but still a hint of sadness in Parirokh’s husky tone infatuated him. He began inquiring about her and arranged a meeting with her. Parirokh was inquisitive at being asked to meet a man she did not know. She was surprised when Montakhab began the conversation with a proposal of marriage. Annoyed by the abruptness of the matter, she was feeling very uneasy but was amused. To show that she was matured, since, it was a trait of her character to show off maturity, she endured the meeting to the end, but left vowing never to meet Montakhab again.
After about a month or so, she met Montakhab perchance, at a friend’s party. Montakhab pretended not to recognize her. When the host introduced her to Montakhab as a young high salaried executive of an American (USA) company, they met as if they were meeting for the first time. But the fact that Montakhab turned a high salaried executive from a teacher ignited interest in Parirokh. She even began to think, “after all, Montakhab is not that irritating!” They parted with a promise to meet again. Montakhab began to take her to expensive restaurants. She immensely enjoyed eating in restaurants, because she always liked the glitz, as she thought that enhanced her status. Therefore, she gladly accompanied Montakhab to places that were beyond her before.
Before six months had lapsed, they found themselves married. Both the families consented to the marriage willy-nilly, since, both Parirokh and Montakhab were adamant. She was the only daughter of her parents and he was the eldest issue. The high salary and the lavish entertainment by Montakhab mesmerized her into a marriage she, perhaps, was not prepared for. Just after their marriage because of a shift in government policy of the host country, the private American enterprise closed its activities and Montakhab lost his job. The whole joy of the newly married was ruined. Montakhab was depressed and considered his marriage with Parirokh a bad omen. He was superstitious. Anyway, he did not share his thoughts with Parirokh and Parirokh and her family was immensely supportive in that crisis. As Montakhab was almost at his wit’s end, an appointment letter from a middle-eastern university came as a blessing from God, where Montakhab applied earlier and had forgotten all about that. He changed his opinion about his marriage with Parirokh. Parirokh now assumed a saintly stature in his mind, overnight.
Montakhab and Parirokh with renewed hopes flew to their new destination without bothering to know even about the climate of the country they were destined. Arriving at the capital city, they were elated but when they were driven to a small town centring only on the university of which Montakhab was appointed a teacher, their enthusiasm was dented. It was almost a village. There were only three families from their country, Bangladesh. They were very senior to them, precluding any intimate relationship. But still they considered themselves lucky that Montakhab, at least, got a job. Given the tender age and the love of company, it was difficult for Parirokh to be satisfied only with the unquestionable love and affection showered by Montakhab. She felt lonely when Montakhab went to work. After a month or so, she returned to her country citing her studies not inconveniences. Montakhab was not pleased.
Being alone in foreign land Montakhab’s displeasure had grown into bitterness. But when at the approach of the summer vacation Parirokh proposed a European tour for honeymooning that, they could not have earlier, Montakhab melted like ice cubes in a glass of wine. It also coincided with first anniversary of their marriage. They were enjoying their tour enormously but for Montakhab’s jealous nature, an attribute sharpened in him after being jilted by Shraboni and Parirokh resembled her. So, whenever Parirokh engaged in a conversation with a male, because of the animated perceived exuberance she displayed, Montakhab felt jealous and angrily kept murmuring inaudibly. Therefore, when on a train journey, while Montakhab was engaged in a conversation with a man for sometime, Parirokh leaving her seat joined them, Montakhab inexplicably got angry and shouted at Parirokh. Parirokh was offended. “She always has animated discussion with males … a bit coquettish,” Montakhab thought, “She never displays the same exuberance while in conversation with her fellow females…. Shraboni also loved male company….” As he remembered Shraboni, he got excited and more agitated at Parirokh’s perceived liking of male company.
As Montakhab was engrossed in the thought of the concocted cause of his outburst, Parirokh’s sulky silence all the way to the hotel eluded him. In the romantic setting of the hotel suite, after taking a shower, Montakhab’s passion erased his bitter feelings. He was filled with irresistible passion of desire and prepared to drown Parirokh in his sizzling love. But when Parirokh repeatedly rebuffed his advances, Montakhab got angry and slapped her. Parirokh began to have doubts about the appropriateness of her decision to marry Montakhab in a hurry. Her dreams were shattered. She felt cheated and dejected. Her instant reaction to Montakhab’s violence was her decision to end her marriage. She was young and volatile and took a decision at the spur of the moment.
However, they were almost at the end of their tour and somehow they completed their tour without any more unpleasant incidences. They had to endure each other for only a day. Contrary to their plans, Parirokh did not accompany Montakhab to his workplace in Iraq. She returned to Bangladesh. He was genuinely sorry for what he did. Parirokh was so devastated by the suddenness of the event that she refused to listen to any explanation. Consequently, there was no meaningful discussion on the matter and it remained unresolved. Parirokh stopped writing to him and did not reply his letters. As Montakhab was planning a visit to Bangladesh to settle the misunderstanding between him and Parirokh, news came of Parirokh’s pregnancy. Parirokh in the meantime sobered down and began to forgive Montakhab his rash act. Her pregnancy had a cooling influence on her. At that time, she began to desire Montakhab more than she hated him. In her emotional somersault in keeping with her volatile nature, she recorded songs sung by her, messages in her own voice for Montakhab, and sent those to him, expecting equally, emotionally intense reply. She was disappointed. Parirokh shifted to her father’s residence from her father-in-law’s house citing pregnancy.
The news of Parirokh’s pregnancy after about two months or so since her angry walk out seemed unusual to Montakhab. On top of that, the intensely emotional messages, punctuated by audible sobs, seemed to him to be a conscious effort at softening him up. In his cynicism, he messed up the whole thing and even began to question the legitimacy of Parirokh’s pregnancy. He thought, “Parirokh could not be pregnant … for we had not been together for long … no, no she could not be pregnant with my child ... how could she leave me, just because I slapped her…. … She even did not give me a chance to apologize…” All these disjointed thoughts inflamed his suspicion so much that his natural wisdom was muddled. Parirokh-messages rather than softening him down made him seethe in a diabolic fire of suspicion. He postponed his journey, which did irreparable damage to his marriage.
Though agitated by the messages from Parirokh, he was irresistibly attracted to those for some inexplicable reason. On repeated exposure to Parirokh’s voice, Montakhab, a softhearted man otherwise, could not resist him from responding. He came to Bangladesh for ten days. He could have come earlier if he did not lose time brooding over, ‘To go or not to go’. Parirokh was recuperating from an abortion caused by a fall in the bathroom, a few days before Montakhab arrived. They could not be intimate. Parirokh was not happy. The journey was costly for a ten-day stay and he was unable to explain his delay. Parirokh though an extravagant spender, had a propensity to criticize Montakhab’s financial management wisdom. In this particular case, she was scathingly critical as she was blinded by a perceived notion of an affair between Montakhab and one of his beautiful female students, Adibah who visited them a few times while she was there. To her she was the cause of the delay! She would not mention Adibah but kept harping on the inappropriateness of spending so much money only for ten days. Montakhab’s uneasiness grew as she kept on pressing for the reason of the delay. She was churning with the thought; “Adibah must have continued to visit him after I left. She melted like ice-cream at being addressed by Montakhab.” When even after being bombarded with vehement criticism, Montakhab did not attempt an explanation, though visibly uneasy, Parirokh could not control and let the cat out of the bag. She blurted, “I know it is Adibah.” Montakhab ignited like a firecracker and blurted out the reason for his delay - her pregnancy! All hell broke lose… she began to shout at the top of her voice, “you scoundrel, you son of a … and even lunged at Montakhab with a penknife. Montakhab fended off with his hand and silently walked out of his in-law’s residence, to vanish in the darkness of the night.
Maliha’s gift to her husband
Maliha was married at a tender age. She belonged to a respectable Muslim family who had been impoverished gradually through the decline in landed property over a few decades. She had been very lucky that she passed out from the primary school as the school was within the compound of her ancestral residence. They were sort of nobles in the remote area of Bangladesh populated mostly by farmers. In her childhood, it was very, very difficult for a female child to carry on beyond primary school even in the towns. Very rarely females attended pulpits of higher education. Most of them were married even before reaching colleges, for their demand will fall rapidly inversely proportionate to their education. Very few married ladies supported by their husbands pursued higher education. Seldom would an unmarried girl set foot on the corridors of higher education. Marriage was actually the career for women. Most parents, therefore, would pass sleepless nights with the earliest signs of puberty in a female child. Under such conditions, naturally, Maliha’s movements were restricted and limitations imposed before she could even realize why. The situation still is not very encouraging in some rural areas, where majority of the population lives. In those days even in the capital, it was impossible for not so rich and powerful families to send their female wards to educational institutions.
In the background of such social odds and the necessity to preserve her respectability by not letting her mix with the proletariats, since she was from the gentry, she could not continue her education. Maliha’s was the only brick built house for miles. Her parents had no option other than to let her age sitting in the home or marry her as quickly as possible. Proposals were frequently received from the peasant families who for generations tilled their lands. The grooms were well educated and established and were willing to tie the knot with a reputed family declining in economic prowess. But, Maliha’s family was reluctant to suffer the embarrassment of any union with families that revered them to such an extent that even a decade ago would not dare dream such a union.
The situation was changing quickly and the basis of respectability was shifting from land-ownership to education. Education was quickly spreading to all classes of population and bringing power and respectability to ever-increasing number of people. Desperately, Maliha’s father was looking for a way out of the tight situation. In such circumstances, like a blessing from the heaven, came a proposal from a man from outside, from a far off district having no link with their region. A well-educated man, from a poor peasant family looking for respectability by marrying into a respectable family, was the prospective groom. It was not possible for him to marry into a local respectable family in his own region.
The proposal came through Maliha’s uncle a senior government servant and much revered in their family. On his advice, Maliha’s father somewhat reluctantly agreed to the proposal. Maliha was married off in a family where she would not have been married, normally. She had no voice and no choice, like sacrificial goats sold in the market. She cried and prayed, prayed and cried. And she went to her husband’s residence keeping her liking for a cousin deep inside. Though they never expressed their love for each other, their eyes spoke eloquently whenever they met. Her wishes, her desires, her liking or disliking had no meaning. She was not treated like a human being. In her father’s house, she was a burden and nothing else.
Soon after the marriage, the man began to reveal himself gradually. Besides respectability, wealth and influence were also on his mind. The status Maliha’s uncle and apparent wealth, for he was not a wealthy man but resided in posh area, mislead the groom to believe that he was marrying into a wealthy respectable family. But to his utter dismay, he did not see any wealth accompanying Maliha save a handsome quantity of ornaments given at the time of marriage. The ornament was a contribution from a large number of relatives according to the custom of the family. Rather than satisfying the groom the sizeable quantity raised his expectations. Most of all he craved for a piece of land owned by Maliha’s brother in the adjoining area of a posh residential estate. Though the plot of land was devoid of all modern facilities and situated almost in an under developed rural setting, he was quick to discern the potential of its turning into a priced area in decades ahead.
Maliha’s husband driven by greed and the age-old notion of keeping women under strict discipline, which included physical punishment, continued his despotic behaviour of terrorizing Maliha. He used verbal and physical abuse unrestrained blaming her of fictitious shortcomings, which according to him should not go unpunished. Repeated meetings of the elders did come to nothing. The man would behave very politely and give an impression of a perfect gentleman who would do no physical harm to even a louse. Easily he could misguide the elders proving Maliha a liar but for the marks of torture on her body revealed through the scrutiny of female relatives. Education could not release the man from the age-old adage of “Stri Shajay Garjanaay” (Shouting keeps wives under control: shouting is extended to mean even beating). Custom and his upbringing forced him to assert himself every time his wife attempted to express her and contradicted him.
The husband, professedly, a devout Muslim, for he wore a beard and prayed five times a day, apparently had little respect for women who have been raised to a lofty situation with the declaration: “Under the feat of mothers lies the heaven for the children.” That was in a time fourteen hundred years ago, when women were treated as nothing more than cattle by all other religions and civil societies. Islam is the first religion that liberated and recognized women as intellectual beings with distinct individual identity endowed with human emotions. But man interposed, and kept them in shackles even in the name of the same religion that made them equal with man as human beings, without dislodging him as the head of the household. Man exploited the situation contrary to all norms of righteousness professed by Islam. This man was no different and he was arrogantly disrespectful to women because of his upbringing. He was blissfully oblivious of all the demands of equity and righteousness, an integral part of Islam. In the garb of a pious man, unknowingly, he was doing disservice to Islam. He was maligning education, as he did not behave like an educated man showing refinement and sophistication.
When all attempts at pacifying Maliha’s husband exhausted and Maliha’s father was contemplating a divorce for his daughter, the brother intervened with a solution as a last resort. He proposed to gift the piece of land he owned to Maliha. Her husband first wanted the land in his name but, perhaps, education had made him see reason and he willy-nilly agreed with the proposal. No condition was attached and it was not put forward as a gift to stop brutalizing Maliha. Everybody pretended as if nothing had happened and the brother was presenting the land to Maliha as a gesture of love and affection.
In the meantime, while the process of appeasement was on, Maliha gave birth to two children, a male and a female. The father was very attached to his children and they had mellowing affect on him. They were growing fast and so quickly became a deterrent to family violence. Over the years, disciplinary actions on Maliha by the self-thought upright Muslim, gradually, had become a rarity. Apparently, the gift had a profound influence on his perception of disciplining his spouse. He no longer took offence at petty matters. The gift seemingly had a humanizing affect on the Khat-Mullah (Bigoted Mullah). He even had started preaching tolerance, righteousness and justice and even women’s equal position as some of Islam’s inherent ideals, to be followed by all, irrespective of cast and creed. Some people could not resist pointing out to him his drastic metamorphosis into a sophisticated Muslim. He readily attributed that humanization to his lovely children. However, his detractors held that the gift-factor had played a major role in humanizing the brute in him. But, nobody was very sure!
Saima was sitting in front of her dressing table leisurely looking at her reflection in the mirror. Suddenly, a lock of grey hair awakened Saima to the undeniable fact that she is aging. That sent her into a contemplative mood. Pensively she set before the mirror, and her past began to ooze out from the depth of her unfathomable memory, as if a play enacted just yesterday. Overwhelmed by memories flooding in she almost went into a trance, finally, she came back to senses with tears rolling down her cheeks. She remembered Samir. He is certainly not her first love, since she has experienced many, because of her propensity to fall in and out of love almost regularly. The state of being in continuously altering love, she assigns to the softness of heart, meaning a loving and sensitive disposition. Perhaps, but, her detractors find pleasure in branding that as coquetry of a flirt par excellence.
She pedantically ponders, “She was not the vamp that she turned into. A diminutive simple girl aspiring to be a physician, she was admitted into a medical school. An innocent romantic lassie, still in her teens, watched handsome young lads with adolescent inquisitiveness. Belonging to a tolerably conservative family, she mixed with her male cousins, and that was the only experience she had of mixing with boys. In the new environment, the atmosphere was much too open. The shy little soul took a bit of time to adjust to the new realities. Gradually, she got accustomed to the new ways of life but still mixing with boys was not unrestrained. Initially, she did not pay more than casual attention to her male classmates, but unknowingly she started enjoying their company, particularly, the company of not so handsome seemingly shy Shabab. Slowly, everything around her changed, she blossomed into a woman from the little timid girl she was. Shabab and she became great friends and enjoyed each other’s company immensely. Their classmates fondly called them the ‘Inseparable SS’. It never occurred to Saima, in their almost three years’ relationship that they never vouched their love for each other, until almost at the end of their internship, when Shabab told her that he was engaged to marry one of his cousin sisters just after the completion of internship. She is the first person he is breaking the news to, since they are great friends. Shabab kept on, but she was not listening, the marriage was settled long ago between parents, and how could he disobey his parents … etc., etc.
Saima was simply dumbfounded, for she accepted Shabab as her life-partner when they first succumbed to their emotions, during internship duties in nightshifts. Shabab showed a little reluctance. In fact, that bit of reluctance strengthened her faith in his love. In hindsight, she thinks, ‘Shabab must have faked his hesitation.’ He used reluctance as a ploy with great precision to create a feeling of genuineness of his love for Saima in her. She trusted Shabab and never dreamt that he was otherwise involved, in spite of being warned several times by friends that Shabab was a philanderer. She never believed that she could so thoroughly be deceived, for she had great faith in her intuition. She cried, cursed and threatened but without success. Shabab argued, as they were not lovers but mere friends who enjoyed each other’s company they were not under any obligation, whatsoever, to each other. The shameless SOB never even blinked. She could not defend. Silently, she walked away from him and could not even tell him that she was carrying his child. She was bereft of all desires to talk to him. Shabab betrayed her and she hated him bitterly.”
Shabab a chameleon, underneath his innocent looks resided a shrewd, dexterous, seducing philanderer. The fact of Shabab being dishonest did not matter much but her inability to see through his schemes pained her most. She fell sick. Most of the following three months she remained confined to her bed, delirious, barely eating. Her gravid condition was revealed to her parents during her sickness, she was told later, and of the miscarriage due to her illness, as well. She was in a way thankful to God that she was sick enough to be spared of the agony of going through the stern punitive measures following such revelations. All men became Shabab to Saima. Subconsciously, she embarked on a crusade to take revenge. To quench her thirst for revenge she began with betraying men indiscriminately, that, gradually, became her nature. Now, Saima betrays her lovers after alluring then into her net almost involuntarily, with great poise and finesse.
Nevertheless, she genuinely fell for Samir; his stupid jokes, constant teasing, unceasing blabbering, loud laughter and chain smoking, all attracted her. At his sight she would go dizzy in the head, breathe heavily and the fairness of her cheeks would be besmirched with reddish glow. “Samir the heartless braggart seemingly refused to understand these apparent signs of human frailties. Or, perhaps, he is not so refined to perceive those emotive signals,” thinks Saima. She is still in love with Samir. Her love for him is so intense, though she denies that even to herself, that she had even fallen in love with Samir’s shadow. A man in whom she saw the peculiarities of Samir held her spellbound for almost a year. His falsehood was the Bible to her. He almost dragged her by the nose. A married man pretended to be a bachelor and rich and talented and sought after. He dished out stories about himself and his literary activities, which she believed unhesitatingly. She was serious. At least, she led others to believe she was, for at the same time she was playing with the emotions of another much older man. In spite of her supplementary affair, she asked this man to talk to her guardians about their impending marriage. A superbly diabolic mind working on different people at the same time betrays analysis. Apparently, the charm finally lifted when repeatedly the rogue failed to talk to her guardians and gave her false addresses where he never lived. She would not have been deceived the second time if she had not seen Samir in the pretender. She unconsciously has been so mesmerized by Samir that for an unusually long time she lived in a fool’s paradise, refusing to read ominous signs.
Remembering Samir, she feels elated and simultaneously an excruciating pain reaps her heart open, she shakes with uncontrollable rage. Saima murmurs to her, “I can kill him. I can kill that idiot, if I may lay my hands on him.” Then sobering down she thinks, “What is his fault? I never told him about my feelings for him. I always expected to trap him by my positive overtures into expressing his passion for me first, as I did so many times before, saving me the ignominy of baring myself to him.” She feels mad at herself for failing this time. She broods, so many times, nay almost all the times the ploy worked, worked to perfection.” After the intended lover was drunk to the hilt with the elixir of her mesmerizing pouting signals and trapped into admission of unceasing love, she would imperiously with leisurely abandon laugh off the admirer. In serious and aggressive cases, she would plead misunderstanding her friendliness with perfect immunity. Unmarried in her forties, though she has retained the seductive charm of her youth, she realizes that she is aging and soon be without the lustre she once exuded. Saima feels a churning desire to settle down. With the urge to tie the knot once for all, Samir’s face slowly emerges from the shadows in front of her eyes. She fondly hangs on to that for how long she does not know. Ringing telephone brings her back to reality. She receives the phone and it is none other than Samir on the other end. A thrilling sensation runs down her spine, trembling involuntarily, she melts like a cube of ice in a glass of liquids. She responds with such softened voice barely audible that Samir is forced to ask, “What is the matter with you, are you all right?” Quickly, she recomposes herself, replies with her natural eloquence, and chats incessantly into the mouthpiece, afraid lest she is betrayed by her emotions. Samir is assured that nothing is wrong. As he heaves a sigh of relief, Saima again loses her composure thinking, “Yes, yes, yes, yes...he is concerned, he cares.” Her heart jumps into her mouth and she almost chokes with emotion, breathes heavily into the mouthpiece and faintly murmurs, “Oh! My love Samir I love you so, my darling, my life.” Unable to understand, Samir asks, “What?” His voice, heavy with apprehension, awakens Saima, she quickly regains her senses and fear of being exposed grips her. She coughs to cover, her emotional-softening stops, she breaths deeply to recompose, and than bluntly blurts out, “Nothing, I was talking to my maid, I am sorry.” She excuses herself saying that she is cooking something that needs her attention and hangs up.
Florentine Cecilia, of non-white origin, exuded a special kind of attraction. Working in a Pan-world organization, though a junior officer, she was strategically placed to deal with head of departments and organizations. Her foreign origin afforded her far better access than her local colleagues had, and therefore, she enjoyed unofficial superiority over locals. Single and carefree, she emanated energy and vigour. Her ever-smiling face earned her many friends, but her non-diplomatic handling of defaulters made bitter enemies, as well. For some unexplainable reason she made more enemies among her own gender. She was blessed with both in abundance. A bit snobbish, basking in her assumed superiority that came from preferential treatment accorded to her for her alien origin. Otherwise, she is a very warm and intelligent person with a bit of idiosyncrasy.
Bangladeshis working with her was blessed that they were not very good in the language she used. Therefore, abusive utterances, extremely offensive, expressionlessly blurted out, would be mistaken as praises being showered. She regularly used those against senior officials with immunity. Perhaps, it was not the language but the accent that made all the difference. Her local colleagues would not mind, since those officers actually deserved kicks on their butts, and all of them would be seething inside to do just that. Therefore, her rude language wrapped in smiles was a sort of a relief, since that helped release the pressure building within.
Well, she was a human being and had all the frailties of a human. The general perception was only fun and frolicking was all that mattered to her, not love, affection and other finer qualities of the heart. But shocking everybody, she fell in for a man amidst strong rumours that she was a lesbian. She was found dating with men reputedly of homosexual inclination. But that did not damage their reputation. Perhaps, they were bisexuals!
A workaholic, working late in her office, nobody suspected her of having an affair with a colleague from another section. The man was married and had wife and children back in his country of which she suspected nothing. At the end of his contract, though the organization wanted to retain him, he on the pretext of homesickness left his job and Bangladesh. She was devastated. Blood pressure ran alarmingly high, and she started showing signs of fatigue. Waiting in the flank, the devilishly handsome Blythe Broomfield readily gave his shoulders to cry. And, even risking his wife’s displeasure, he let her place long distance calls from his office to another continent while nobody was around to the man she loved, because of the time difference this involved late night calls. She tried in vain to convince him to return to her, not knowing his marital status. Broomfield, using his position as the Chief Executive of his organization, misused telephone for a dear friend! This continued for sometime, and Broomfield’s very beautiful blond wife was aroused so much that she personally intervened to stop the trysts, in the name of helping a friend.
A wife has all the reason to be jealous, because, Cecilia was desirable, and vulnerable at that point of her life. She innocently craved for love, affection and company. Broomfield was too ready to provide just that. Florentine was not in any way inclined to raise storms in a peaceful married life. Shattered by the agony of separation, she desperately was looking for a support to cling. She was not in a position to think straight, as she had just been jolted and the wound was still bleeding. In that extremely agitated state of mind, she was not very bothered about morality. So, trying to forget her pains, she clung to Broomfield against all judgments. The relationship was more idyllically mundane than ascetic. Even a wife accustomed to fleeting flirtations finds it hard to standby as a witness, to a bond gradually developing, even if it is not stamped with wifely status.
Broomfield was fatally attracted to Florentine and decided to continue with a clandestine relationship. He was sure that Florentine was permanently hooked in the affair. After a while, her hazy head cleared, and she found her balance back, and could realize that she had become dependant on Broomfield for mental solace. Now, she desperately wanted get out of the bondage of dependence, because, she had a free soul, that always drove her to seek freedom. And then, she was not prepared to be a mistress. But, she was desperately in need of company. Without the exhilarating touch of a man, life seemed very colourless to her. The churning nothingness does not let her sleep. She was utterly perturbed. Just at this critical juncture of her life, God provided an outlet in the form of McMahon, a bearded likeness of Christ. This was a simple easygoing young man, ever smiling, easily influenced and mislead, not very virtuous, as his likeness might suggest. By a sheer design of the Providence, they were thrown together to work on a multi-organizational Project. McMahon was a subordinate officer of Broomfield, and was a very trusted lieutenant. Therefore, Broomfield gladly let them work together in the night after office hours, to prepare a survey report. Young, energetic and vulnerable to the irresistible female charm, McMahon fell for the experienced enchanter who initially zeroed on him to wrest herself free of the mesmerizing influence of Broomfield. Gradually, unknowingly, they really fell in love. This was an intense love affair with all the allied sound and fury. It flourished in the background of the blazing Middle-eastern War of early nineties. A high-tech war threatened everybody on the planet with retaliation by manual terrorism! That super high-tech technology was not enough to assure protection to the human targets scattered around the world, from low-tech-mundane-terrorist attacks. Therefore, particularly, the westerners were ordered to live this unprotected land to seek refuge in their country of residences. A few remained behind at their own risk. At the very first opportunity, Broomfield left for his home, where he virtually enjoyed paid holidays, and he was too consummate an opportunist to let go such excellent opportunities. While leaving, hoping to bring an end to the interracial affair, Broomfield ordered McMahon out of the country. He was sure that McMahon was simply infatuated and was under the spell of Florentine’s charm. Florentine is a superbly crafty seducer. While, McMahon came under the purview of a country engaged in the conflict, Florentine was free to decide, not yet under strict orders to leave for a safer place.
Florentine saw through the scheme, for she knew Broomfield very well. The lovebirds, yet to tie marital knots, found it expedient to fly out and slip unofficially back into the country, unnoticed, almost immediately, thus ensuring uninterrupted honeymooning. For the rest of the time until clearance was given for the return of the foreigners she remained intoxicated with the nectar of McMahon’s youth, totally oblivious of the world, he was spellbound. Broomfield could not trace them anywhere. The thought of Florentine and McMahon haunted him and almost drove him crazy. The revelation that while all this time Blythe was desperately trying to locate them, they were happily honeymooning in this country, added fuel to the fire, and drove him completely overboard. Already incensed by the surreptitious love affair, his ego was wounded severely by the ingenuous deception. He turned into a Serpent writhing with jealousy. Revenge! Revenge! His heart kept shouting at him! Meanwhile, Florentine and McMahon took the extra precaution of getting married. Marriage earned them the sympathy of many locals who were antagonistic earlier. A sense of total defeat engulfed Broomfield, and he was enraged further.
Intent on avenging his wounded pride, Broomfield invented and contrived to frame McMahon, he could not touch Florentine. While he was trying to prove that McMahon was guilty of defying orders and breach of contract, McMahon totally oblivious of the world around him, was passing his days totally immersed in Florentine’s all consuming love. Waking up, a bit late, he hurried to save himself, but it was too late, Broomfield already had woven a net around him. He helplessly wrestled in the net and finally succumbed like a tired netted fish. He was a big fish, for many small fishes were crushed in the process of his desperate fight-back. Detractors assign the cause of Broomfield’s wrath to his intense infatuation, or may be love, for Florentine. Florentine herself could not explain Broomfield’s reactions, otherwise. Perhaps, rightly so!
Ferdousi’s mother came running like a greyhound to prevent Shihab from entering their house. She caught Shihab at the front entrance to the residence. Shihab was taken aback. He never has seen her in such an aggressive mood. This was the first time he came alone and probably that was the cause of her disapproval, he thought. He never dreamt that he was an unwelcome guest in Ferdousi’s house. Her mother stopped him at the entrance of their lawn. A grimace on her otherwise Bengal-beauty-face told everything loudly, Shihab stopped and tried to explain his unheralded arrival, but he could only blabber balderdash, even he could not understand. He said, “My family left ... My mother asked me to tell... and she responded unceremoniously, “Thank you.” He left with a saddened heart.
Ferdousi is his childhood playmate. They grew up together until they were ten and thirteen years old. Ferdousi’s family moved to their own house from the government allotted residence where Shihab’s family was their neighbour. Her father and mother belonged to two neighbouring districts of two different provinces of India, Bengal and Bihar. They migrated to Pakistan after the partition of British India in 1947 and settled in Karachi. Her Bihari father was a perfect male chauvinist and frequently beat her mother. She often came to Shihab’s mother to unburden herself narrating her owes to a willing ear, specially, after a physical assault by her roguish husband. In absence of any relatives, Shihab’s family often provided her a place to take refuse. Women in the Indian subcontinent, often comes to their father’s or brother’s house, facing unfriendly conditions at their in-laws’ or husband’s home. These times, with their own kith and kin, are often used as a cooling period for disputes between spouses. It works, more often than not, to keep the spouses united, as both parties traditionally are for compromise; the tradition is quickly vanishing, as the concept of joint family is giving way to the western individualism.
The children of Ferdousi and Shihab’s family, naturally, intermingled like cousins and grew very fond of each other. Though, Ferdousi’s family did not move a very long distance but, given the conditions, they could not visit each other very often and much of the closeness was lost. The children found new friends, and with them growing up, parents’ behaviour changed, particularly, the chauvinist, had totally transformed into a new mellowed being, very kind to his wife, and always all praises for her. He feels indebted to her for his good fortune in acquiring a house and placement of his sons in jobs assuring a good life. Migrating from India and going through an insecure wretched phase in life, in tents, and under the open skies, he now considers his docile wife the philosopher’s stone for his comparative good fortunes. And therefore, tries his best to make up for the earlier mistreatment. She does not need any external sympathy, anymore, to comfort her. She now glows in the admiration of her husband and children, and has become much more attractive, giving a false impression of her age. Ferdousi stays alone with her parents, as her brothers who are older than she is, joined the Navy and the Air Force at a very early age as officer cadets, as is required.
Alone in the house, Ferdousi has ample time to reminiscence childhood memories. She is in her late teens, preparing to join the university. Whenever, she thinks of a man in her life, Shihab’s face, takes hold of her whole being. She glows in the knowledge that they were childhood friends. She has very fond memories of those innocent days, like using guava leaves as betel leaves to deceive Shihab. Ferdousi wished she could mix with Shihab as she used to. Her mother has already become aware of Ferdousi’s weakness for Shihab and she does not want anything to do with him, as he is not pursuing a career of her liking. She would like somebody from the Arm forces; she was once in love with some one belonging to the Army before her marriage. The liking for uniform played an important role in her influencing her sons to join the Navy and the Air Force. As she has been the driving force behind their joining the Armed Forces, her husband feels indebted to her.
On various occasions, while visiting Shihab’s place, Ferdousi expressed her liking for him. Shihab grew up to be a very shy person and though, he liked female company, he could not mix with them freely. Therefore, he mostly avoided Ferdousi, as she was articulate and uninhibited by shyness. Shihab’s withdrawal dampened Ferdousi’s enthusiasm but did not discourage her totally. His eyes betrayed him as they brightened up at every appearance of Ferdousi. She did not miss the content happiness beaming out which kept up her hope of a relationship with Shihab, despite, his apparent disinterest. Shihab, joining the university and working at the same time, had become a bit courageous in matters of free mixing. He now had female friends both in the university and in the work place. The shyness in Shihab mainly developed from male, female segregation since the primary-school-days, in a co-educational atmosphere, gradually disappeared.
Shihab was due to pass out from the university with a degree in journalism very soon, and he was planning to work as a journalist. Ferdousi’s mother did not know that. For some time now, he was thinking of rekindling his friendship with Ferdousi, not particularly pretty but young and exuberant and above all, he had always liked her. Rekindling, because, for a long time they did not have a meaningful conversation. Though, he never could get over his shyness to express himself as freely as Ferdousi did, he liked her a bit more than a friend. He was unable to describe his feeling for Ferdousi. But, he knew among all the girls he knew, Ferdousi always held a special position, despite, some of the other girls being very beautiful, friendly and adorable. “May be this special affinity is called love”, he thought. Whenever they visited Ferdousi’s parents, he was always with his parents, and visits were very formal that ended within the boundary of the drawing room. After the departure of his parents for their ancestral home in the eastern wing of Pakistan, he was his own boss. Shihab, therefore, dressed in his woollen suit, for it was winter, while returning from his job knocked at Ferdousi’s door, sure to be welcomed warmly by the inmates. He even could see in his mind’s eye a beaming Ferdousi, standing at the footsteps of their front door, welcoming him. His heart started racing faster and faster as he approached the entrance of Ferdousi’s house with expectation of a warm rendezvous. Man proposes, God disposes, her mother descended from nowhere, crushing his love-dream into pieces like glassware thrown on the floor. The otherwise would be exciting meeting of two childhood friends remained unfulfilled! Reddened, with rage or insult he did not know, Shihab rushed out on to the street, in front of Ferdousi’s house, feeling like an idiot. Yes, an idiot in love with shattered pride.
Shagufta Alvi is a very talented young lady with mongoloid features, dark and extremely attractive with an indescribable smile, which instantly pierces through romantic hearts. A big nose ring she wears enhances her mongoloid beauty. When she talks, it dances rhythmically on her upper lip as if extending an invitation to enjoy the softening touch of her sensuous lip-sticked lips. Quite an invitation! She is well aware of her sensuous appeal and is adept at using that to her utmost benefit. In her university days, many of her classmates and even seniors hummed around her like bees around a queen bee. Some deferred their examinations as they were ahead of her in their academic careers, just to pass out together with her in spite of being very good students. Fools! Bitten by love bugs! They consequently lose both her and their academic careers. Passing out with colours, she decides to marry a very brilliant engineer little known for his argumentative capacities. “This is a brilliant student of engineering well versed in literature and history and an excellent musician; inarticulate and incapacitated with the portion of brains dealing with worldly logic rendered inactive perhaps due to hyper activity of the other parts,” she thinks. Lovelorn lovers are reduced to nothingness by the brilliance of Shagufta’s magical somersault: she professedly hates inarticulate people with sedentary philosophic propensity. Her reason for marrying this particular engineer is not love but the persistent insistence of the suitor as she tells her other admirers!
Her father a senior government officer wants a CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) for her daughter. Everything changes with the liberation war, CSP’s preference fall and other professionals take their place. As prospective grooms engineers, physicians and PhDs are in great demand. She as a student of science chooses this particular brilliant engineer, she thinks, “I would be able to dance him at my finger tips.” A very sociable lady with great capability of making people feel at ease within minutes has this glaring fault of snobbishness. A snob par excellence, she is well read, all right, but almost disrespectfully dismissive of others- ‘He that respects not is not respected by others’. Even in religious matters, clearly ill versed and non-practising, she tries to prove her point brushing others aside a bit of vainglorious. She drastically needs to be humbled. Her very infatuated husband cannot do that; he rather pampers her by taking her to family meetings convened to settle amicably disputes, an inevitable ingredient of a large influential family. An excellent democratic process is thus turns in a debating exercise where the learned lady says unpalatable things in the name of truthfulness and straightforwardness. The henpecked husband always applauding her profusely insensitive to the pains she causes others. And with such chivalrous display of articulate oratory, nothing is achieved but more dissension, confusion and discord among the family members. Specially, she shall not stop at anything if she could somehow hurt her elder sister-in-law. She hates her deeply. Nobody likes her extra sharp tongue but her second sister-in-law’s husband. He once declares her ‘a great lady’ though he has changed his opinion since then. A very large-hearted man with a habit of speaking at people’s back, Mursaleen garnered displeasure of many people, unknowingly. He is incapacitated by his habit. Unfortunately, a man that lends his car after filling up the fuel tank so that the borrower is not inconvenienced earns bad name for the loathsome habit of backbiting.
Shagufta’s husband Mehrab has been hearing many stories about his wife since she joined a job after a long, long time. She left a very good career job to accompany her husband (Mehrab) to foreign lands. But she has not totally misused the time as a housewife as she enriched herself by earning an MS in Social Sciences while in the United States of America- an excellent use of the time as a housewife. That degree increased her marketability in the job market many times and helped her get a job in a multinational organization. Working in multinational environment with a fat salary is an exhilarating experience for a housewife for long. She begins to enjoy her newfound financial independence, which she sacrificed despite being a very capable lady. Meanwhile, Mehrab, the engineer resigns his job and establishes an industry in his home country to give himself the freedom of joining politics. Politics is clearly not his cup and neither business: an intellectually disposed sedentary man inefficient in mundane matters. Therefore, at forty, managing a job at a time when her husband fails in his business enterprise is a great boast to her confidence and it goes to her head. She starts rediscovering her husband’s shortcomings. Though always conscious of his limitations now she sees them many times magnified. They do not have an ideal married life but she never even considers leaving him and restrains herself from getting involved into other serious relationships even under provocation. Living alone for periods due to the demand of her job in Paris, Stockholm, Kathmandu or Washington, perhaps, does not preclude occasionally sleeping with somebody else. After all, we are all human beings and a moment’s weakness is all that is required to fall from grace like Adam and Eve. The Eve in her is too strong. Sometimes the temptations around are too great.
Juicy scandalous immoral love stories always float in the ether. You need just to tune in into the right frequency to get knowledgeable. Professedly nobody bothers about others but given a chance shall not hesitate to add salt to the dish. So, as time goes by these amorous stories get more fiercely sensuous and more intensely interesting. Perhaps, same thing happens with Shagufta’s clandestine affairs. Faced with rumours, the brilliant simpleton boasts, “I do not care with whom she sleeps,” perhaps, to show off his broadmindedness. His wife always takes special care to allude to his broadmindedness. He feels elated and more in love with her, more than ever. The love soaked Mehrab is dumbfounded when Shagufta comes to him with a proposal of amicable settlement of their relationship, a relationship of husband and wife in name only for about two years. In that time, she came twice to Bangladesh and lived for short periods mostly attending parties of relatives and friends. While, Mehrab remained steadfast in his belief that Shagufta will never leave him in spite of her infatuations or stories of infatuations, Shagufta charts a different course. She now wants a divorce.
Divorce is a word is not in Mehrab’s mind. He thinks that his liberal attitude in respect of her relationships, if any, she would not go to the extent of a divorce. He never has considered the probability of her falling in love with somebody else, but she falls in love, irrevocably, with another married man. Both she and the man continue being in love, successfully keeping their spouses in the dark. The woman, Jamali’s wife, Mehzabeen gets inkling of the matter first and is furious. Menhzbeen’s pride is severely dented because she is known for her beauty and has been confident that no other women can vie with her for her husband’s affection. She is very insensitive to other factors like constant interaction, regular contact and similar field of interest that create opportunity for unending dialogues. In a working environment where inter-exchange that facilitates intellectual discourse might lay, the ground for liking that eventually may lead to admiration and finally love is beyond her wildest dreams. That is what happens in Jamali and Shagufta’s case. Mehrab does not mind a fleeting affair but this time it is much more serious. He is blissfully ignorant. Jamali has sent his wife home citing his preoccupation with work. He tells his wife, “Darling, why don’t you go home and spend some time with the children? It is a long time we left our country and the children, though studying in universities, must be missing us… for a few months I won’t be able to give you time, here in Washington, as I will be busy with official work. You will be bored. Therefore, this is a good opportunity for you to meet the children and spend some time with them.” Thankful to Jamali for being so considerate, she thinks, “That’s why I love the man so much! He is so kind and considerate,” unknowingly creating an opportunity for Jamali and Shagufta to consummate their love affair. On Shagufta’s part, it is much easier; she simply gets back to Washington from Paris. She was on short assignment. And just shifts back to Washington, since she has completed her assignment before time – a routine matter beyond all suspicion. She maintains her irregular liaison with Mehrab. A happy and content Mehrab is thus, deceived by the warmth of her company, whenever she comes back home for short times.
Finally, the matter becomes known with Jamali’s wife seeking a divorce citing infidelity. Jamali’s divorce is complicated by his wife’s allegation of infidelity. But Shagufta’s is very smooth. Mehrab instantly agrees to give her a divorce, if that pleases her. Therefore, Mehrab and Shagufta break the bond peacefully and seemingly happily, vowing to remain friends forever. Very chivalrous! Though Mehrab is calm and quiet during the divorce proceeding, he is shattered and dejected within and suffers bouts of depression, and is treated for that. Gradually, he recovers from the shock and stabilizes. In the meantime, Jamali goes through his scandalous divorce and pays for his indiscretion by losing his job and much of his property. A poorer and discredited Jamali is much, much less desirable and to confound the matter Shagufta is also penalized, her contract is not renewed. Nevertheless, they marry and begin to live like an ideal couple deeply in love. They feel like teenagers in each other’s company.
Time goes by rapidly. Now that they are not in their earlier jobs and have no occasion of engaging into intellectual conversation, which they found extremely satisfying earlier, mundane conversation do not enkindle the same sort of excitement in them. Tension begins to mount in Mehrab and Shagufta’s intense relationship. Before they had no scope of discussing mundane small things, the filthiness of earthly things never polluted their intellectual relationship. They were super beings, they thought, everyday things like sex, food, marketing, and cooking would not blaspheme their sacred relationship ever. Most of the time they professedly were so devoted to their work that they did not find time to eat at home. Their devotion to each other was intense and therefore they could not bear the pain of being separated for even a minute. At work they were together, at home they were together, here, there, everywhere they were together. Finally, when they settle down in an official relationship they are without proper jobs. They are still working but their place of work is different. For the best part of the day, they remain separate and come together only in the night but are tired enough to go to bed and fall asleep quickly. This is the routine five days a week. The weekends go in resting and doing household chores. They drift apart in the absence of the exhilarating intellectual intercourse.
Jealousy sets in. Their earlier closeness due to their work always reminds them that the same may happen again. They suspect each other in the absence of a healthy conjugal relationship. Both long to go back to their earlier lives. Facing crude reality, Shagufta decides to end the marriage with Jamali. Jamali being much older does not want to risk another divorce. He is apprehensive that he may die a lonely death without a partner and a family. Shagufta is comparatively young and still has enough fight in her and she decides to go back to Mehrab. She is confident that Mehrab shall be willing to take her back. She has a place to go back. Jamali is not so lucky.
Mehrab being Mehrab has no objection to a reunion. They began negotiating reconciliation. There are hurdles that Shagufta never envisaged. Facing obstacle an obstinate Shagufta is not deterred. Mehrab, as expected is more than willing to take her back, almost grateful that Shagufta has decided to come back. “Oh! She loves me, loves me intensely,” he thinks. “Does he really have a heart of an angel or is he an idiot”, ponders his friends and relatives. Very unexpectedly, the most determined objection comes from Mehrab’s octogenarian mother. She is not known to have a will, to exert in such matters and is easily swayed and influenced by others, specially, by her youngest daughter. All she has done all her life is to oppose her husband’s charitable work. Shagufta is up against her octogenarian mother-in-law whom she never considers as an individual having an independent mind. Therefore, her determined, almost obstinate, opposition surprises Shagufta most. She rather has expected a more resilient opposition from her youngest sister-in-law. With all her vigour, she engages in clearing her way, perhaps, a too difficult task this time, perhaps, too late to re-establish the old relationship. “Is it worth the fight? Is it worth the time and energy?” Shagufta mulls over, and over again.
Young handsome Naya had colourful dreams about life. His childhood and youth had passed in happiness and affluence. His father was a landlord. For their small family he had enough landed property to last a lifetime. He was provided with the best education that money could buy in a district town. Not a very serious student though gifted with very sharp memory he graduated uninterrupted. Naya had no difficulty in establishing a business as a builder. As he was imaginative and intelligent, he quickly progressed in his business. At twenty-two, that was quite an achievement. His parents wanted him to marry to keep him from going astray as, according to them money tempts young persons to colourful allurements of life if not restrained.
In fact, Naya was already contemplating marriage as he was in love with a beautiful girl – Nayana. Nayana was beautiful, young and intelligent in every respect a very lovable and likeable girl. So, he had no hesitation in fulfilling his parent’s desire and married Nayana with all the rituals observed. Everybody liked and adored her. She was a darling of the clan. Naya was very proud and a very satisfied man. He had everything he could wish for - parents, brothers and a sister, and on top of everything, a very desirable wife. He was fulfilled to the brim of his life.
When he was thus enjoying calm and serene happiness, his father suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Naya was shocked but not broken. He gathered himself out of the grief and began to put his life on track again. Misfortunes never come singly - he was struck again by the death of his wife during labour. The baby could not be saved, as well. He was devastated. All these happened in the fifth year of their blissful marriage. The whole world seemed cruel and unliveable. He cursed his luck. And he blamed God for his losses. Naya forgot God’s kindness that He showered on him unsought. Such is the nature of men. Brothels became his home and he took to drinks. A pious man turned a non-believer in religion though he never denied God, and never claimed to be an atheist. But he argued like one.
Soon Naya came to know about the devastating terminal disease, AIDS. He was overwhelmed by fear. As he was still young and strong it was very difficult for him to live without a woman, but he was beyond himself with grief and could not imagine anybody in his wife’s place. Whores were O.K. They did not claim Nayana’s position. AIDS came in the way. He was in a dilemma. And he began to contemplate marriage. In such a state of mind, he saw his sister-in-law as he had seen her never before. She had grown into a woman unnoticed and she resembled her sister a great deal. When he married her sister, she was a small kid. After pondering over the matter for days, Naya proposed to his in-laws to give Raina- the sister -in-law to him in marriage. Wily-nilly Raina’s parents gave into the determined persistence of Naya for they liked him a lot and was alarmed at his wasting away. Raina was not very unwilling, she liked her brother-in-law, and she liked his prosperity more. She might have inherited the materialistic streak in her from her grandfather who measured everything in terms of wealth.
Naya was very attentive to his young wife. And he began to forget her sister as he started falling in love with his very young ex-sister-in-law. She was still childish and did not have the charisma of her elder sister neither she had the skills. Despite these shortcomings, Naya was enamoured by her and would not hesitate to satisfy her whims. Within five years, she had grown into an exceptionally attractive young woman surpassing her deceased sister in beauty. But she never could become as popular as her sister could, since she did not possess the finer human qualities that her sister did. Anyway, Naya was satisfied with her. Raina using her materialistic acumen helped Naya prosper into the leading builder in the district town. In spite of Naya’s ardent desire to go for a child, Raina would not, for she had other plans. Silently she prepared herself. With her husband’s financial backing, she could afford to engage missionary expatriates to teach her English and French. Naya never questioned her because he had complete trust in her.
Just, when Naya began to enjoy his life again feeling content and satisfied, Raina revealed her plans to migrate to the United States of America. One of her distant cousins who lived in America inadvertently inflamed in her the desire to live in USA by stories of affluence, indulgence and fun. She had always been allured by dreams of luxurious life and somehow she decided that that kind of a life was not possible in her own country. So, prodded by insane desire, she kept on nagging, and finally Naya gave in, and arranged a tour of USA. Money was not a problem and so were not visas.
They sold their business for Naya had nobody to look after his business as he had already lost his brothers in an accident and the only sister died at childbirth. His mother died of old-age complications. Therefore, Naya was not very unhappy, and in fact, deep within, he was grateful to Raina for the move. Raina was three months pregnant when they left for USA. Naya did not know. She kept it from him lest he should decide to stay back for delivery, not willing to risk any miscarriage, as her sister suffered miscarriages before she finally died in labour. Since, she planned everything meticulously she did plan to have the child in USA, so that the child, automatically becomes a citizen of USA. Incredible planning!
Everything went according to her plan. She delivered in time in the USA. A female child they named Qamar. For the first few months, they did not work as the mother was recuperating. Friends arranged everything for them. They found it comparatively easy to settle down. With the money Naya had, he bought a house and a grocery business. He was content but not Raina: she was ambitious. She wanted to expand into a more respectable business, borrowing money from banks. And she did, and defaulted on repayment. To repay the loan they had to sell their house and business. Now, they had to work for others to meet both ends. Young Raina, surprisingly, adjusted well with the new situation much better than Naya who was aging, past his prime. His young wife began to socialize with her new American colleagues and gradually began to return home late. While Naya was gradually losing his vigour, Raina was vibrating with life. The new liberal social environment suited her excellently. She with invigorated zeal took to flight like, a butterfly just liberated from its cocoon, yet to familiarize with dangers of unrestrained freedom. Her enthusiasm alarmed Naya. He intervened and Raina was furious. She labelled him a mean minded, retrogressive, lowly born man. For only lowly born man, according to Raina, would take exception to their wives freedom, as they are not broadminded. He tried to be broadminded and in the process, his liberated wife was lost in the glittering brightness of western society. She was still to get accustomed to her newly acquired freedom. Before she could settle properly, she was swept off her feet and found herself drowned in wine and whisky and warming others’ bed almost unknowingly.
A dejected and horrified Naya decided to return to his motherland with his wife and daughter, who were the only kith and kin he was left with on this earth. They were dearer to him than his own life. The daughter was only seven years old and was very much attached to her mother and her life-style. They both refused to leave their heaven. When pressurized by Naya, Raina with her daughter left him to live with one of her American male friends. Still young and attractive, she jumped into a quagmire mistaking that as an elevation from slavery to liberty.
“Mirage …! And mirage it was.” Naya lost his wife and daughter everything that he was living for to the allurement of the dazzling west. Emotionally a pauper, he returned to his motherland. And today is trying to begin his life again from the scratch with his third wife. Is it too late! The poor fellow has not lost hope. He is still looking for love like a thirsty man looking for oasis in a desert.
Meanwhile, Naya’s daughter and wife went their own ways. She cut off herself from both her parents. At eighteen young Qamar is supporting herself and is as independent as her mother. But her life is much more sane and regulated as she has been born in the liberated wilderness of western civilization and learned to exercise restraint. Those that would not learn self-restraint would certainly perish, given the leash. Raina woke up to reality jolted by the split with her daughter over her reckless life-style - the very quality that Qamar’s immature mind found irresistible. She was too young to be wise. It was too late. Men did not find Raina attractive anymore for the glamour of youth had left her long ago and now her daughter. The pain of losing her daughter was unbearable and she had no way to trace her way back to Naya, though they never divorced. She had a good job but did not have the mental strength to carry on. Incapacitated by her grief she totally surrendered herself to drugs and alcohol. Dissipated, exhausted and bereft of glamour she was admitted in a rehabilitation centre to be cured of her addictions. She realized, too late, all is not gold that glitters.
Naya has not been a saint, for he has also been toying with his heart quite a lot, faced with the free mixing society and irresistible temptations. He is over fifty and suffering from heart ailments! He has outlived all his blood relatives except his daughter who is lost in the wilderness of the west. He has none to call his own. The world is a big cauldron of insatiable hellish fire to Naya. A vast nothingness overwhelms Naya whenever he pauses to think about his past. Loneliness like an Anaconda squeezes him breathless and haunts him every night.
Incredibly, his friends have caught him lecturing others on the virtue of married life and even dropping one or two secrets that would ensure a happy conjugal life! Love, persevere and be attentive to your wife and family, bang you have a happy life, says Naya. Perhaps, he who had burnt his fingers might treat burns better. Or perhaps, he is trying to hide his pains behind a façade of experience.
“Everything that glitters is not gold”, has proved so mind-bogglingly right about Niharika that Arman could not believe. She seemingly has a perfectly happy married life with two children. Both the husband and wife are physicians gainfully employed and have no conceivable reason for any discord. Since they are so successful in their married life, they passionately advise others on marital matters, often volunteering their help in solving dispute between spouses. They project themselves as knowing all the mantras for conjugal happiness. People with problem come to them, as they have become recognized unofficial experts in matrimonial tribulations. Arman is a colleague of Niharika and her husband Abdel Bayati. He has known them for quite some time and never can imagine that they may have any marital problems.
He is stunned hearing them argue when he drops at their house on the way to a party, unheralded. Their maidservant answers the doorbell and ushers him in. In the living room Arman hears Niharika shouting at the top of her voice “it is me that tolerates you… a good soul like me can only do that… you are a scoundrel, a bustard and a son of a bitch…” Bayati equally vehemently roars back, “you bitch … you are a tart, it is my goodness that I am tolerating you for such a long time.”
“Who begged you…?” “You …” “Never… I give a damn to man like you … spineless, characterless hypocrite.” “Be careful do not cross limits, otherwise …” “Otherwise, what…? Will you beat me? … O.K why don’t you do that too…why? …you brute, uncivilized rustic…”
Right at that moment Arman announces his arrival shouting at the top of his voice he begging them to stop. Suddenly, everything comes to standstill.
Bayati regaining his composer asks, “when did you come… how did you get in?”
“About five minutes … your maidservant let me in. I heard you shouting at each other and was surprised that you two could fight! It is incomprehensible! If I had not seen you today, I would never have believed that you really could fight. It is hard to imagine that there is any discord between you two. Never in my dreams had I thought I would see you fight.” Bayati is angry with the maidservant for not informing them of Arman’s arrival before letting him in.
“She tried to … but you were so engrossed in fighting that she could not … failing to inform you she let me in … I was standing for quite sometime at the door,” Arman explains.
Niharika does not say anything and suddenly stars crying uncontrollably. A bewildered Arman watches her intently for a clue.
Niharika begins in a subdued saddened voice, “He is having an affair.” Bayati protests, it is not true rather she is having an affair for quite sometime. Both begin narrating their own stories.
Arman with difficulty gathers that Bayati has a friendship with a lady known to him for a long time. Niharika has fallen for a man who belongs to a different profession, a poet, a fiction writer.
Niharika had a fascination for literature and wanted to study literature but her parents forced her to study medicine. She passed out at the bottom of her class, as she never took great interest in her studies. A creative mind always eager to create cannot find solace in basic studies in medicine and surgery. Perhaps higher studies in any science with research opportunities might have satisfied her creative urge to some extent. Her insatiable urge to create finds a refuse in embroidery and knitting. In her work place, she is often seen occupied with those whenever she can find time. She is not satisfied with work as a physician or a nutritionist. These days she is posted in a department dealing with Nutrition. She has even taken a higher degree in Nutrition. But her longing for creative arts does not go away.
Probably with an artistic bent of mind, she finds her own penchant for playing with words in Mehdi and therefore attracted to him - a colourful fiction writer and a poet as well. In fact, she herself is a good writer but not a good conversationalist. Now she has no time and inspiration to write. Her parents forcing her in a medical college killed her appetite for writing creative prose.
Mehdi writes less and talks more. He is a master conversationalist. His narrative skills are extremely polished, informative and interesting even unimportant things get interesting in his narrations. When Mehdi weaves words, she is mesmerized by his deftness. She wishes to do the same. A journalist by profession he is not a prominent writer but is struggling to be established as a Fiction Writer and also writes poems. Mehdi and Niharika come to know each other by chance while attending a seminar on Social Marketing, a few years ago. Gradually over a period, he becomes friendly with Bayati too. Bayati is now his physician. Whatever ailment he suffers, Mehdi does not take any medicine without consulting Bayati. Bayati is a clinical microbiologist and is very good at diagnosis. He practices as a general physician.
Tall, darkish Niharika in her sari with very long braid reaching beyond her waist is very attractive. She becomes much more alluring with her braids dancing on her behind rhythmically. Beautiful may not be the word to describe her but she is extremely desirable. Her slim tallness has definitely attracted Mehdi to her. Smoking a pipe Mehdi is sometimes atrociously showy. With a neck to mix with women very easily, he gets friendly with almost all other lady colleagues of Niharika. In them, he gets overfriendly with Sanchita another married lady. Sanchita has a propensity to fall in love. Niharika with her sharp sense of detecting budding liaison is quick to recognize Sanchita's weakness for Mehdi much before Mehdi does so. And she takes upon herself the task of saving Mehdi from the clutches of Sanchita. Somehow, she does not hold Mehdi responsible at all for being over attentive to Sanchita. Mehdi is not that innocent. Mehdi knows about Sanchita’s unhappy married life.
Niharika along with Mehnaz an unmarried colleague comes to Mehdi and warns him of Sanchita’s weakness for him. They expect Mehdi to disassociate himself from Sanchita. Mehdi is enjoying his friendship with Sanchita and does not expect her to fall in love with him. But according to Niharika, she is already in love with him.
The very thought of Sanchita in love with Mehdi and Mehdi responding to her, drives Niharika crazy for some unknown reason. She in all earnestness pursues the matter with the sole purpose of breaking the liaison. Somehow, since others are not as interested in Mehdi and Sanchita as Niharika is, nobody bothers enough to pursue the matter as single minded as Niharika does. Their interest is confined to gossiping. It is a hot topic. For Niharika it is very serious and she felt an irresistible urge from within to break the friendship, which according to her has turned into something more than friendship.
Niharika pursues other telling them, “We can not be mere onlookers…we must do something. Break the relationship we must. She is a married woman. He is a married man. Two families are involved. So many lives will be miserable if this goes on.” She does her utmost to emphasize the gravity of the matter. She goes to each of her colleagues independently pleading her case. Niharika tells them, “You know Sanchita is not a good lady … she has this propensity of falling in love … she is now spreading her tentacles to catch Mehdi, a very good man,” making it sound like Mehdi is an angel who can not do anything wrong.
“Let her drown, why do you care?” Colleagues in a chorus encounter her. “No, no, it is not for her … I’m doing it for Mehdi because he is a good soul. He does not deserve the punishment of entanglement with Sanchita … Oh, poor Mehdi!” Fortunately, Mehnaz, Niharika’s unmarried colleague supports her strongly. The two are in complete agreement about saving Mehdi from the clutches of Sanchita. Both the ladies are younger to Sanchita and they have developed strong dislike for her, for some unknown reason. Earlier Sanchita and Mehnaz were great friends. Now Niharika and Mehnaz have joined together to disinfect Mehdi of Sanchita. Together they carry the house and a unanimous decision is taken to save Mehdi, the angel. Mehdi himself is not so sure about his own faultlessness. He is very much in doubt about his angelhood. He is not even very sure about Sanchita’s mental state. She is very unhappy in her conjugal life, so she tells him. Very naturally, he feels sympathetic. Mehdi does not want to disturb Sanchita’s metal equilibrium, which seems to vacillate alarmingly when she talks about her miserable life. Mehdi is at a loss to fathom if those stories are a ploy to induce sympathy in him or are they genuine. He decides not to probe further and not to exacerbate her wounds by the slightest expression of apathy. He is very cautious not to cause any further upheaval in her mental turmoil. But the ladies are not very sympathetic to her. They blame her squarely for dragging Mehdi in a scandalous situation. Together they make her life miserable to the extent that Sanchita begins to ponder loudly a transfer to another department.
Bayati continues, “You know Arman, she is in love with Mehdi! And she blames me of having an affair. It is she, who is having an affair. She even in her sleep murmurs, Mehdi… Mehdi … Oh, Mehdi …. “Why does she do that”, Bayati questions? “At the slightest criticism of Mehdi she flares up. And always talk about Mehdi. Mehdi drives perfectly; Mehdi says this Mehdi says that etc. I’m fed with her Mehdi syndrome. I am tolerating it for the last two years. At times, she withdraws in a shell and even refuses to have any conjugal relationship. And at times when we are together, alone she remains so perfectly aloof that I begin doubting that she is a living being. She has stopped caring for the children and me and now mainly we depend on the maidservant’s services. She even does not supervise anything. I have to fill in for her.” Niharika protests vehemently saying, “He is accusing me to hide his own sin.” Arman is dumbfounded when Mehdi is cited as the cause of their conjugal unhappiness. He murmurs, “But Mehdi… Mehdi is supposed to be entangled with Sanchita and Niharika is merely trying to save him from a scandal!” He only wishes that what he is hearing is not true, is not happening.
Farhan is very upset. He has not properly slept for days now. He has lost appetite and is suffering from upset stomach. His mother is alarmed at his quickly deteriorating health. She tried to talk to him but he simply ignored her. Naznin on the other hand is also visibly upset and trying hard to hide messy emotional state of her mind. She has recently agreed to marry a very well qualified good-looking man of her parent’s choice. Before deciding to accept the proposal, she fought with herself for weeks. Naznin and Farhan had lengthy talks about their relationship and its future.
Naznin, “Farhan our relationship has no future you must realize.” Farhan “Then why did you not told me earlier? Why didn’t you stop the whole thing… at the beginning … it would not have hurt so much…? \
I’m sorry I did not realize it would come this far. I always thought we just have a friendship I being older have no chance of an affair blossoming between us. I thought I had control over my feeling and thus I will be able to keep your emotions from flaring up.
You are betraying me … you have played with my emotions … You have done all this knowingly … you just wanted to ….
Please stop all these Naznin almost shouted at Farhan. I never wanted to play with your emotions. I never thought I would love you as much as I do. I never thought knowing I am much older than you are, you would fall for me even if I fall. I therefore continued a friendship I enjoyed with you I thought without risking hurting you. I love you as much as you love me and you would not be able to marry me if even we want to at least before five years. I cannot wait that long. I would be old before you even begin to feel adult. Please try to understand. We would not have started a friendship if that episode of baring me did not happen.
All right, but it happened because God wanted it to happen. That means God wanted us to begin a friendship and then why are you breaking it off?
I am forced to because, I know if I refuse to marry now I would not get a proposal like this in million years. You would not be able to marry me because you are only a child now. By the time, you would become a responsible man I would be old. You won’t find me attractive and lovable anymore. We both will suffer. It is better that we suffer now and decide judiciously.
I’m sick and tired of your reasoning. Your logic seems perfect but deep within me I can’t reconcile with the idea of a life without you. I love you so much. I love you so deeply that you can’t imagine. I would rather be dead than be without you. Please don’t think with your head, think with your heart. I loathe you, I despise you, and I hate you, I …. Farhan stopped short of cursing her to infinite inferno.
Please listen to me I will always love you, always hold you close to my heart, always remember you but I can’t marry you for that will spoil our love, we will end despising each other. In ten years, you will know that I were right and did the right thing for us …
Farhan is too occupied in his thoughts. He is not listening to Naznin anymore. Her voice seems to come from a distant future. She is talking about things that have not happened, yet. He unburdens him engrossed in the past. He is almost in a dream, a dream where everything is so beautiful, so serene, so calm and heavenly. They are talking to each other without any feeling of time and place and oblivious of the surrounding. Farhan gets lost in the thought of Naznin, Naznin the beautiful, the mature wise women he has gotten used to look upon for guidance and advice.
She is a beautiful young lady studying for her graduation in the Teacher Training College. In her locality, she never is seen without her veil. Like the ultra orthodox, she does not cover her face though her body remains perfectly covered. Attractive with or without her veil she looks beautiful and she is conscious of her beauty. Even with her veil, she is not spared the attention of boys of all age. The black Burqa covering her curvaceous body covers less and reveals more as it spares more space for imagination. Young imaginative boys enjoy being imaginative as that allows more time than a fleeting sight of a beautiful object.
Farhan resides in the same area as Naznin the lady in Burqa. He is younger and attending the college beside the Teacher’s Training College of Naznin. Often they travel by the same bus as their classes begin almost at the same time. Farhan never pays any attention to Naznin and so, also Naznin. Farhan always treats Naznin as a senior with deference and Naznin never takes cognizance of his presence. Gradually their facial expression will tell that they have begun to recognize each other whenever they face each other. They also know each other by name, now. The side windows of the Women Teacher’s Training College open onto the playing ground of boy’s College. Young college boys play cricket and other outdoor games there. Specially while playing cricket boys get a chance to come nearer the windows, fielding near the boundary. Boys are eager to be put on the boundary. They play less and watch the women more. Boys just attaining their puberty are extremely curious about women. The women studying in the teacher’s training college naturally are senior to the adolescent boys of the college. They treat them with kind contempt even forgiving their vulgar verbal obscenities seemingly exchanged among themselves actually aiming future lady teachers. Emboldened by such leniency the boys began directing their verbal attacks more directly to the women. The women training to be teachers are held back by pride to lodge complains. So they first tried to check the boys by scolding and threatening them, showing sandals etc. but the rogues remain unruffled.
Reaching the limits of their tolerance one of the women suddenly exposed her breasts and invited one of the boys nearer the windows saying, “hey you baby do you want to suck mummy’s breast.” Even the most notorious boy among the boys has been dumbfounded by the suddenness of the incident. Boys offended and their pride hurt immensely stop approaching those dreaded windows afterwards. Though, Farhan has been watching the incident from far, he recognizes Naznin being the lady. Naznin also from quite a distance recognizes Farhan.
“It is impossible,” Farhan Thinks. A simple, docile and serene women, like Naznin, cannot do it.” She while retuning in the evening blushing hugely faces Farhan at the bus stop. Involuntarily, she holds Farhan’s hands into her and requests him not repeat the matter to anybody in their neighbourhood. She would not let go his hands until he promises not to. Then on they began to talk to each other whenever they happen to meet. Gradually a bond develops between them of camaraderie and trust.
After a few months, now, almost everyday, to and from college, they found them waiting for each other at the bus stop. While journeying by the bus for about an hour or so they enjoy talking to each other but invariably getting down from the bus they depart as if unknown to each other. Precaution thus exercised involuntarily without being said. This very precaution makes the relationship interesting. They both find themselves begin to feel attracted to each other, though they would not admit that even to themselves. Unknowingly, the bus trips become necessary. Somehow, they will feel unfulfilled without meeting each other. The attraction she explains to herself as the affection for a brother like boy. He thinks it is a love for an older sister like women. They are violently jolted to realization when Naznin receives a marriage proposal and after pondering over for weeks says ‘yes’.
All these time firmly believing that the uneasiness that she is feeling in her heart is nothing but the apprehension of the future. She discussed the matter with Farhan and he seems to agree with her that she should not let such a good proposal pass.
She says ‘yes’ unaware that she really loves Farhan. Farhan thinks he should be happy to hear such news, but he could not be happy for some unknown reason. Almost immediately on hearing the news he tries to smile but his smile distorts beyond recognition, tears swell in his eyes. He fights hard to hide his emotions from Naznin. Naznin on the other hand wrestles with her own emotions and fights back her tears. She knows she can’t show any weakness now. She realizes now that denying their feelings for each other they were not bluffing anybody but them. The word “Yes” did the trick.
The Wake up call
A broad strip of land between Pakistan and Afghanistan belongs to no country and thus is no-man’s land. This is a heaven for smugglers. They have their dens here where they rest and reload their goods and take refuge from the law enforcers of both the countries, according to their strategic needs. The dens are underground spaces perfectly camouflaged from above and not easy to detect. Pathan smugglers use these dens as transit points for smuggling Bengalese from Pakistan in trucks, cars, on donkeys and on other modes of transport. People even walked many miles through difficult terrains to reach freedom, dear freedom!
It is January a bitter cold month in Pakistan. Pakistan has been dismembered and the new state of Bangladesh has come into being. A huge number of Bengalese is stranded in mutilated Pakistan. These are mainly civil servants. They have been asked their option and those that opted for Bangladesh are naturally relieved of their duties as government servants with a nominal monthly existence allowance. Since a large number of Pakistani armed forces personnel are held as prisoners of war in India on behalf of joint forces of India and Bangladesh, they are hopeful of their chances of returning to their motherland. Amidst strong rumour of moving them to transit-camps, Bengalese begins fleeing through different routes to Bangladesh. One of such routes is through Afghanistan. Through this route, scores of them are smuggled by Pathan smugglers into Afghanistan a friendly country to Bengalese still ruled by King Zahir Shah.
Mursalin travels like cattle with a group of people fleeing to their freedom. In Karachi, he has contacted the party through a Bengali agent-Keramatullah. The journey is doubly dangerous as, if caught within Pakistan by the law enforces they may be sent to jail for unknown period as foreign agents, and again the smugglers may rob them and leave them to die in no-man’s land. Keramatullah gets commission that he raises before the flight starts, and free transportation to Afghanistan, according to his contract with the main smugglers. He in turn gives concessions to his favourites, which generally are respected by the main party usually one or two per group. This time he decides to give various kinds of concessions -half for children, infants free and servants a quarter of the whole cost per person- to a large family of ten members. Keramatullah lived in the same housing estate with Arshad Arbab Chowdhury. A very cleaver man Keramatullah even in this dire situation, where everybody is pre-occupied with the thoughts of an uncertain future, finds a way to earn money. Keramatullah has a weakness for one of the female members, Shirin who is in love with her classmate Alamgir. She is a sophomore of Karachi University and is a good natured woman. Kindness and sweet behaviour being her forte she always wears a beautiful smile on her lips. This smile so far has been the cause of undoing of many a young soul. Her gentle, kind behaviour is mistaken by Keramatullah as a sign of her liking for him and he is infatuated. So a passionate Keramatullah in his enthusiasm forgets his limitations. He grants Mr. Chowdhury all kinds of concessions he can think of. As a result, half of Chowdhury’s family is brought under concessions.
The journey is very adventurous. Mursalin and his cousin slipping through their back door at midnight get into a cab. This cab dodging petrol police takes them to a deserted field of wild bushes where trucks, the ultimate carrier to freedom, are waiting for them, in the darkness of the night. This night is unusually dark, a moonless night. The darkness is so thick that they can barely see their own limbs. Deep in the field of wild bushes, trucks assume a deeper shade of darkness. Guides and watchmen wearing black dresses are standing along the unpaved path descending into the field from the thoroughfare. They have merged in the darkness with bushes so perfectly that only movements of their limbs make them discernable. The darkness, the bushes, the surreptitious movements all add to create an eerie atmosphere. In such an almost surreal setting fear easily haunts. An indescribable fear of the unknown, scare them to run to the trucks standing in the darkness like ghosts. They run oblivious of the surrounding as if they are running for their life. Numbed by fear they are unable to feel the pricks of thorny bushes though they are bleeding. An eerie feeling of fright choked them that they only realize, after sitting themselves in the truck, trying to talk.
After the space between the roof and the floor is filled with space to stretch in need trucks begin their journey. Passengers cannot stand erect but are seated comfortably and can stretch their legs. Everybody is happy, as trucks are not jam packed as they have heard earlier. But soon, they are disappointed as the trucks begin to pick up people from different places of Karachi. Passengers are taken on board until there is no space to stretch, almost like cattle. Somehow, police smells foul and start chasing. All the trucks run in different directions to dodge the chase through half of Karachi in full speed. Luckily, the mid-night road is almost traffic less. At last, Mursalin’s truck lodges itself in a garage and waits there for an hour before clearance come for onward journey. The rest later unite on the highway. They move with at least half a mile distance between them.
At around three in the morning, they begin their journey on the Karachi-Hyderabad highway. Midway through the highway almost at dawn, Mursalin’s truck breaks down. It stops with a thudding sound. Totally cut off from the outside world passengers inside have lost all sense of time and place. They are almost in a dungeon deep underground. Thinking that the truck is falling from a mountainous road everybody waits for the truck to come to a rest on the ground below. After a few second, they realize the truck is not moving. The driver through the pothole behind him joining the two parts of the truck informs that the front axle has broken down. They will have to wait for another vehicle to arrive from Karachi. Meanwhile, they are to keep quiet inside so that from outside highway petrol may not get an inkling of their presence. Despite the freezing coldness outside, inside it is hot like an oven especially with the vehicle standing still. There are infants and it is very hard to keep them quiet in the hit. They begin crying loudly and at that, the Pathan driver swears at the passengers, “You bitches keep those SOBs quiet. Give them your breasts …” They take out the wheels of the truck and at the sight of a petrol car begin banging on them with hammers. In that way they are successful in keeping sounds from inside reaching outside. Despite the ill treatment, passengers are happy as they are safe and even appreciate the driver and his men for their ingenuity.
Sandwiched between cotton on top and luggage on the floor, travelling two nights and one day they reach no-man’s land between Quetta and Kandahar. Seemingly, the cotton trucks bribe their way through numerous checkpoints on the way. Reaching no-man’s land the convoy vanishes in the underground den in pre-dawn darkness. Black tea is offered to the whole party. That bitter liquor tasted like a drink from the heaven. The fear of being caught has been playing havoc with their nerves. The tension suddenly disappears and an indescribable soothing mood prevails.
Amidst the ecstatic state of immense happiness, the leader of the smugglers a very handsome young man reputed as Hundi Khan begins raising the rest of the money as the price for the journey. Looking at him it is hard to imagine that he may be unkind; kindness and gentleness are oozing out from his every move. Unlike their reputation, the Pathan like ferocity is totally absent from his kind demeanour. The whole group is standing in a queue in a very orderly manner paying its due. Hundi Khan is even generous and he does not mind a few bucks less. At the turn of the large family faced with various kinds of concessions Hundi Khan becomes irritated and refuses any concession.
“Who gave you the concessions?” he roars. Everybody points to the Keramatullah. He loses his temper and asks, “Why?”
“It … it was agreed,” Keramat murmurs.
“Forget it,” the Pathan roars. “I want the whole money … no concessions.” “No … concessions for anybody, not even you.”
Luckily, he does not cancel concessions and reductions already given. Otherwise, Mursalin may have to pay more, because he and his cousin have been allowed student’s concession.
The head of the large family Arshad Arbab Chowdhury pleads his inability to pay more. Since, it has been agreed earlier he has not brought any extra cash. However, he offers to pay with gold ornaments. Contrary to the general belief that the Pathans are greedy and gold may tempt them to rob, this Pathan is dispassionate about gold and refuses payment in gold.
“I want cash”, Hundi roars.
Everybody in a chorus, “He does not have cash. Please…be kind to him, accept ornaments.” “Hundi Khan you are our brother and we are in distress be kind to us, have mercy on the family”, the others plead.
“O.K. if he does not have money you raise the amount from amongst you,” Hundi.
We have lost our belongings and cash with that while changing trucks. We could not shift our entire luggage as the transfer happened on the highway and we were afraid of highway petrol as were you,” the crowd.
Hundi, “Don’t play with me you bas…Bengalese. You haven’t kept your money in your baggage. I know you have kept valuables tied to your bodies including money.”
A bus is waiting to transport the party to Kandahar and everybody is eager to get on it.
But Hundi roared, “Nobody will get on the bus unless payment is done.”
Still people keep on requesting Hundi to let Chowdhury family on the bus forgiving the shortfall on humanitarian grounds.
Ignoring their pleas Hundi allows all others to get on the bus except the family. Chowdhury and family at that begin crying loudly. Bypassing them, the rest raced to occupy seats on the bus. They easily have forgotten their own kind. The air is thick with the heart wrenching cries of ten people, old and young. But the rest is happily placed on the bus and they are eagerly waiting for the last leg of the long and hazardous journey to freedom. With the bus starting to run, the whole family burst out wailing. Bengalese sitting in the bus fail to take any notice.
The bus stopped.
“O.K. you raise the balance from amongst you and I will let the family ride with you,” Hundi says.
“We have no cash with us. Please have mercy on them. Pathans are our brothers…Have mercy on your fellow brothers …”
The Pathan is extremely agitated and says:
“You bas…Bengalese … you ask me to have mercy on them and you can not come to their help … they are also Bengalese, they are your brothers before they are mine.”
“How could you ask me when you have no pity for them?” “You are leaving them happily to rot in no-man’s land. …I pity you all!”
“You are not fit to be called humans. …And you request me in the name of humanity!”
“If all of you contribute it would be a few bucks each and you can not do that for your fellow traveller… and you are asking me to be kind!”
“O.K the bus will not leave until my dues are cleared. And after sometime I will leave with the bus leaving you all here.”
That does the trick. Mursalin, a student without any cash and almost wretched as he has lost all his belongings while changing trucks, intervenes.
He tells everybody, “The Pathan is right, we cannot request him to be kind if we are not. I know you all have cash on your persons.”
He says, “Here is my share …”
He gives the last hundred Rupees he has and begins raising money.
Finding no other way, willy-nilly, everybody contributes. Yet, some of them give money only in exchange of ornaments, which the family parted with happily.