Thursday, November 3, 2011

Love in the times of Jihad

Although he was doused thoroughly in water, Thomas walked in the rain without any urgency. He looked back for a moment and saw the police station completely obscured by the haze formed by the rainfall. He was more into the dilemma of facing his wife after reaching home than anything else. The longer he took to reach his home, he thought, the longer he could keep the bad news away from his wife. He ignored many passers by who were gaping at him as if he was a man out of his sorts walking unprotected in the heavy rain. Nothing mattered to him at that point of time.   He respired like a tired dog and wiped the water flowing on his face occasionally.

“Love”, he thought, was blind. As the saying goes- Love doesn’t seem to have color, creed, caste or religion. It perhaps, is divine and enchanting or else why would young people leave their fathers and mothers, who had brought them up with affection and care for years together for their lovers? They leave their sweet home and their loved ones for lovers whom they had known only for a few years or even a few months time. 

His daughter eloped with her classmate, a couple of days ago and left a note on her table that read,
“Dear Papa & Mommy,

 I’m going to live with Shahabaz. I’ll die if I cannot live with him. Please don’t bother to locate us. Sorry.

With love,  

Those four lines bidding adieu to the people who gave her the luxury of care and compassion for 20 odd years stared at them like demons! Thomas and his wife had already known that their daughter was in love, but never deliberated an elopement.  The love affairs blossoming amidst the college lives were not an alien thing to Thomas and Mary; for,  they themselves had married after enjoying a good 3 years of love life during their college. Despite their success story, they resisted their daughter’s affair only because their daughter’s boy friend was a Muslim and they thought, as orthodox Christians they had the religious compulsions holding their way. Even if they themselves had stretched a bit and overlooked the religion factor, the church wouldn’t have listened either nor would the society they were living. Thomas had, in advance let his daughter Ann understand that the kind of dilemma they could face would be enormous if she married a person from another religion without the concord of the Church or their relatives. However, Ann, perhaps of her youthful exuberance or perhaps of her lack of understanding of practical things in life, was adamant on her decision to marry Shahbaz. The resistance from Thomas and wife increased steadily and fearing an impediment, the girl might have decided to elope with her lover. What Thomas and Mary could do was to leave everything to destiny and to pray God for their daughter’s return. 

Police too were helpless. They too had justifications kept ready when Thomas followed up with them. Like some of our rulers they made it clear that they don’t have a magic wand and in due course of time, if they were lucky enough would trace the couple. Thomas left the police station unconvincingly and without hope, and walked all through the rains dousing himself. He had no where to go, but his home.

 When he opened the gate of his house, he stood staring at the front door, and worried about the words that would convince his wife. He wanted to hide his dilemma and console his wife of her misery.  However he broke down when he saw his wife’s frail face. Since then tears soaked their days and night and their daughter’s whereabouts remained undiscovered. 

Autumn had gone, summer arrived with fervor. The atmosphere slowly recovered from the sodden remains of autumn. Thomas and Mary learned, in the meantime, to muddle through with the mishap and stopped expecting Ann back home.  One sultry morning, Thomas heard a knock at the door and wondered who was behind it. From the time when his daughter had left home, relatives and friends took care to stay away from their vicinity and hence he expected a beggar or a door-to-door salesman when he opened the door. He had his foot in his mouth when he saw the person in front of him! It was his daughter pale and fragile, looking at him with her tired eyes.  Her eyes were not just giving a fatigue look but were moving incessantly all over the place with fear. She ran inside as if in delirium pushing her father aside. 

She turned to her father and said in an urgent and a fearful tone,” Papa, close the door”

Thomas out of unexpected joy mixed with astonishment stood staring at his daughter with partly opened mouth. He quivered and started weeping, the tears of joy flowing copiously through his cheeks. Ann ran towards the door and banged it to close and came back to her father and hugged him; even at that moment her face lacked any soft emotions except fear.  

“Sorry Papa… Don’t cry Papa I’m back… I’m back because I’m lucky”, her voice still emanated fear. 

Mary woke up in the bedroom listening to her daughter’s voice. She believed it was a dream and lay still. But soon a cold palm touched her cheeks and Mary saw the impossible- Ann sitting beside her in the bed with an insipid face.  Mary leapt from the bed and embraced Ann. 

“I’m back mom… I’m back… he didn’t want me or a life with me….”

Ann started to weep. Mary stared at her in dismay.

“He wanted something else… not money … not my body…”

Thomas and Mary looked at their daughter dumbstruck.

Thomas lost his patience,” What did he want from you?”

Ann got up and walked towards the window looking at the blue sky and said in hushed tone,” I was a victim of an act called Love Jihad…”

“A what?” Thomas asked in awe. 

She didn’t respond to her father’s question and instead continued where she had stopped, “There are many girls like me fallen into this trap…” 

She could see the nimbostratus in the sky looking like the remnants of a bygone autumn. She was certain that even that would vanish from the sky once summer hardens. The sun was shining again in her life.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Who cooks Kasab's Biriyani?

It was already midnight when Salim washed the last utensil. He placed the dish behind a row of aluminum and steel bowls that was arranged in a careful order over the cement slab of his kitchen. The soot that encrusted the walls of the kitchen and the faint light from the forty watt bulb that hung directly down the ceiling gave an oppressively solemn look to the entire atmosphere. But that never mattered to Salim as long as he perceived that it gratified his family’s hunger. He prepared biriyani all day not knowing who his end consumer was. It was the agents who picked up the orders and the delivery boys who picked the Biriyani for supply. Although what mattered was the money he earned from it, he secretly craved to know the response of his customers as any proficient cook would do. He, owing to his work load and the contrived aloofness imposed upon by himself, had to suppress the wish.  All what he got to know was, from one of the garrulous delivery boys, that his biriyani was supplied to few famous restaurants in and around Grand road, and even occasionally distributed to delight big parties of Mumbai business fat cats . 

He lay down on a coir cot gazing upwards in the darkness thinking about his family in Malabar. His son was in college and daughter almost of marriageable age, and he knew that the money he made wasn’t enough to fulfill his family’s needs. A year ago he almost sold his business to a Bihari in the dream of migrating to Abudhabi and setting up a shop there. He would have earned four times the money he was earning in Mumbai, but, a few sophomoric Pakistanis shattered his dream by attacking Mumbai on a fateful evening. The transaction with the Bihari didn’t materialize due to several days of blockade in the city; finally letting himself swallow the bitterness of dejection in his dark smoke smelling room, he dropped the idea.
Salim turned around in his bed irritated, to get himself a comfortable position and in that process fell into a deep slumber. He woke up quivering at the boisterous noise of someone banging the shutter of his shop. He looked around and found that it was still dark and wondered that who in the world would be as impatient as that. He got up and switched on the light. The pound on the shutter didn’t stop until he lifted it up. There were two strangers outside, looking almost similar to his gradually expanding pupils.  Both of them had thick moustaches and matching pot bellies. 

One of the guys stepped in and asked with a harsh tone,” To behra hein kya?” (Are you dumb?)

Salim was just recovering from his deep slumber and looked blankly at the person without being able to gauge the situation. 

The second person, the taller of the two came forward and slapped Salim’s face lightly and said looking at his friend,” Saala lagta hai iska neend abhi tak khula nahin…”(I think he’s not fully awake)

Salim looked at both of them and asked with a puzzled tone,” Saab, what’s the matter?”

Both of the guys chuckled looking at each other and waited for Salim’s response. Salim was exasperated at those guys for not only waking him up in the early hours of the morning but also for pulling his leg for no reason.

“Sir please tell me, what do you want?”

The taller guy looked around probably looking for a chair to sit and said,” Batata hoon, first give me a chair to sit”

Salim pulled a chair that was lying upside down behind his cot and beckoned him to sit.

“Sir, I have only one chair…”

“No problem,” said the taller guy,” I’m ACP Godbole,” 

Although Salim joined his palms together folding his hands and displayed respect, his mind was quivering with fear. 

Godbole pointing towards his colleague said,” This is warden Jadav”

What in the world were an ACP and presumably a jail warden doing in his pauper shelter in early hours of the morning, thought Salim. Godbole sat and signaled Salim to sit on his cot. Jadav stood where he was, with a sardonic smile on his face. Salim sat on the cot almost ready to face the greatest calamity in his life. 

Godbole bending his body close to Salim looked straight into his face.

“What’s your name?”

Salim said trembling,” S...Salim Sir…”

Godbole heartily laughed and repeated what he said,” Salim sir… nice name”

After a pause Godbole continued,” ok Salim sir… how long you have been doing this business?”

The startled Salim in reply, instead of answering, asked inadvertently another question, “What business sir?”

This time it was Jadav who chuckled,” stupid, don’t you know your business? The business of cooking and selling biriyanis….”

Godbole looked at Jadav and said,” a noble business indeed…?”

Salim was relieved and gave a gasp. 

“More than 20 years…”

“Ok chalo… I’m gonna give you some order… a contract for next one year,” Godbole looked straight in to Salim’s eyes with out moving his eyelid. 

Jadav moved closer to Salim and asked,” can you get us some 10 biriyanis daily without any break for one year?” and then looking at Godbole, he said sarcastically,” may be another 100 years…” 

Salim still looked puzzled and inadvertently shook his head in agreement. 

Godbole got up elated and said, “Done… so if today or tomorrow, when you get time, drop in to Arthur road jail and sign up a contract...”

Godbole clasped Salim’s palm tightly,” We don’t cook biriyani in jail, all we got is sukhi rotis, rice, dal and sabzi…ah...Don’t forget to bring your ID…election ID chalega..”

When those people left Salim didn’t know whether to be happy or to be worried. He lay looking at the ceiling relieved and at the same time felt a tinge of annoyance towards the people who deprived him of the comfort of an early morning sleep.

After he signed contract with the Arthur road jail, everyday a guy named Sanjay came to pick up the Biryani to be supplied to the jail. Sanjay was an introvert and spoke less. The entire affair was going peacefully until one day Sanjay came rushing to Salim’s shop. 

Sanjay who looked less introverted and excited that particular day, said in a hushed tone,” Jail authorities are coming to your place today afternoon. Keep everything neat and tidy okay…”
Salim feared a holocaust again and asked perplexed, “but why?”

“May be a routine check up, but be careful…” Sanjay warned and left.
Salim’s cooking went berserk in the fear of a bandwagon of jail officials barging into his shop and examining his premises. No body came that day leaving him exasperated at Sanjay and in that process he showered all his anger as vituperation over his hapless assistants. 

Sanjay arrived the next day and sat at a corner with his usual blunt look, dragging few puffs of smoke from his noxious smelling beedi, waiting for his parcel. Salim rubbed his dirty hands on the apron and walked swiftly towards the waiting Sanjay wanting to give him a piece of his mind. Sanjay stood up and threw the beedi to the ground.

As if to justify what he had said the previous day, Sanjay said,” I gave you whatever information I had…if they didn’t turn up it’s not my fault”

Salim clearly showed the exasperation he had towards Sanjay on his face.
“No more hoaxes brother… let me and my workers work peacefully”

Sanjay smiled,” Salim bhai...Understand it was not a hoax, they might come any day…I was only trying to help you…”

Salim rubbed his hands again on his apron and began to walk back without uttering a word. Sanjay was in no mood to settle the matter at that.

He said in an exciting but hushed tone,” do you know who’s eating your biriyani in jail?”

Salim kept on walking and said,” I don’t care as long as I’m getting my money…”

“Then listen…you’re going to have the heartbreak of the decade when I reveal that person’s name!”

Salim became curious and turned to look at Sanjay ,”Who?”

Sanjay giggled,” Kasab…”

Salim looked puzzled and asked,” Kasab who?”

“Oh! Don’t you know Kasab? Where in the world are you living? Even a 5 year old knows who Ajmal Kasab is.”

“Stupid! I thought you were smoking beedi, but now I know its something else. Stop talking like a possessed…”

“Salim Bhai believe me…the jail authorities are buying biriyani from you only to feed him… you are indirectly feeding a criminal who has killed many of our country men”, Sanjay was fuming with anger when he said that.

“I thought he was already executed”, Salim sat on the floor looking curiously at Sanjay.

Sanjay quivered,” He’ll be fed with biriyanis and exquisite dishes till he dies of an old age. Our systems are strange.”

In the night when he lay down on the bed and thought about what Sanjay had said. He consoled himself believing that it was not in his power whether to feed Kasab or not to, the Biriyani cooked by him… But then he was happy for the reason that his Biriyani is being spoken about daily by some one in some part of the world. He closed his eyes consoling himself for the fact that the much talked about biriyani savored by Kasab is the one prepared by him and served by the Government. 

The story doesn’t end here as Salim is still enthralling Kasab with his Biriyani…