A shorty story by Abdul Rauf. (Concluded)
They remained absorbed for quite some time talking about different people and places of the des: Mast Ram Bahman, Bhagwan Singh, Sheikhs of Hoshiarpur City, Choe, Khad, and Sawan – the lakes and the mighty River Beas. “All our relatives from Gujrat and Layyah have reached. But, unfortunately, Bai Sultan and his family could not make it from India due to visa problems”. She sighed. “Can’t these wretched restrictions on borders be finished Raees!” She enquired from her brother. “Not in near future, I think”. Raees Muhammad replied. He continued,
“If a political set-up takes place in our country then there can be some hope. But the General doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. At the moment, the situation is much more depressing”. Then Razia sat near them and told her mother, “I’ve asked Ulfat Bibi to come tomorrow early in the morning. Claying of cattle barn is much necessary as it may rain anytime”. She held the fragile hand of her ailing mother and said with tearful eyes, “Ammi Jee! There’ll be nobody to clay our house for you when I’ve gone”. Her mother put both hands over her daughter’s head, kissed her forehead, and said, “Dhiye! I couldn’t give you a better childhood to enjoy your life due to my illness. You have courageously sacrificed your study career for your younger brothers and sisters. You’ve already done a tremendous job not expected from a young girl like you. Now, look! Tomorrow you’ll not do any work as it is your wedding day. Eat, drink and be merry my lioness”.
But the next day, Razia had already completed many household chores like sweeping, milk churning, preparing meals for the cattle, etc. before there was a pronouncement from the minaret: Prayer is better than sleep. Then came Ulfat Bibi. They mixed water into clay, dung cake, and wheat husk and started their work despite Azmat Bibi’s imploring. Razia clayed to the cattle barn with her right hand making beautiful shapes of arches while Ulfat Bibi helped her. Soon the cattle barn was shining under the rays of the sun. Azmat Bibi had to drag Razia inside to start dress-up for her marriage.
The wedding procession had to stay at the Janj Ghar in the main Bazar of the village. The grand community building, erected by the Sikhs sometime before partition, had huge girders made of black wood of sheesham tree. Its clayed thick walls and floor gave the smell of dung. The outer was made of beautiful red-brown bricks while the arched entrance had a magnificent outlook.
Ilma Llari, the village chowkidar (guard) was flickering here and there quickly. Young boys were keenly listening to his story as to how he brought his bride from Sangla Hill by train while there was raining cats & dogs. He was scolded by the numberdar (village headman) as the dhols and fireworks of the wedding procession were being heard nearing and the chorpoys had yet to be positioned.
The bridegroom had a European outlook. The villagers were much impressed by this clean-shaven man with the pleasant smell of imported perfume. Soon there was Nikah ceremony and then most of the people started playing cards as meals were to be served after quite some time. Raees Muhammad sat near the bridegroom. A heated debate started about Bhutto’s recent execution.
The bridegroom said, “Bhutto is himself responsible for it. He could easily win elections from the molvis but the allegations of rigging spoiled the situation”. Raees Muhammad agreed with him. “This son of a molvi from Nakodar is not a match for Bhutto,” said Dara, a Settler Jatt. “Wherever Bhutto went, he rushed straight to the shrine of the local Saint for blessings. He erected a door made of gold at the Shrine of Data Sahib (RA)”. “Hh! A drunkard and debauch!” Dara was interrupted by Mian Aurangzeb, an old man from a refugee family of Jallandhar. He had a stubborn puritanical outlook. “How can such an immoral person rule the country created in the sacred name of Islam! No way!” He took a deep breath and continued, “All praise be to Allah! Deen has ascended to the throne at last”. Bashir Muhammad saw old Jalal Masih, head of the Christian community in the village. He felt affection towards them being people of the Scripture. He was much concerned about the future of minorities in the country because of the ongoing Islamization being undertaken by the puritanical ruler. He could not hold himself from saying, “No, no, no! Don’t you see that Jalal Masih, Ilma Llari, and Sharif Numberdar all are sitting at the same charpoy! Before Bhutto, it could not be imagined even. Isn’t it a less charisma!” Such unending heated political debates were a routine matter those days.
“Bhaag lagge rehn, daware wasde rehn!” There appeared Ranjhu Bhand and his son (entertainers) from the arch of the Janj Ghar and went straight to Raees Muhammad touching his feet: Lo and behold! We are graced with the presence of our benevolent Chaudhary who has brought a purse full of new notes from Lahore. Raees Muhammad smiled and gave them some money. Then the entertainers started their feat:
Son: Piety is evident everywhere with the new wave of Islam in the country. Even the brothels are on the way to reform now. Keyon Bha’ Nadir! You often visit Shahi Muhallah to buy paan (betel leaves)!
(Nadir stared at him)
Ranjhu Bhand: All praise be to Allah Who has bestowed us with such a pious ruler.
Son: Now the inmates of the Muhallah do not go bare-headed in the jharokas while looking-out for their clients. (Laughter)
Ranjhu Bhand: Oye!
Son: Now they observe fasting in the holy month of Ramadan and during the day time they do not attend to any clients except taking advances for the ‘services’ to be rendered at night. (Laughter)
Ranjhu Bhand: Oye hoye!
Son: Government is also planning to lock-up bars and brothels. Their inmates would be allowed to scatter away so that vice becomes invisible in our Islamic society. This way these evils are likely to come to an end in near future. (Laughter)
Ranjhu Bhand: I believe you’ll soon land at Lahore Fort
lock-up my son!
Bashir Muhammad thought about Ghayasuddin Janbaz, a local fearless democrat imprisoned in Lahore Fort dungeon where he was whipped, again and again, but every time he thundered with more energy: Jiye Bhutto (long live Bhutto). The entertainers continued:
Son: Our pious ruler says that if 75 million Pakistanis start offering prayers five times a day, the Islamic way of life would automatically be imposed in the country.
Ranjhu Bhand: All praise be to Allah Almighty.
Son: After some months, he addresses the nation and devotedly recites a verse from the Holy Quran and extends his reign. Now there are thousands of verses in the sacred book. Till the time, he recites all the verses, none of us would be in this world. (Laughter)
While putting his hands on the head of his daughter,
Bashir Muhammad felt that an unending autumn of grief and loneliness had set in for him: First, the execution of Bhutto, and now, the departure of his beloved daughter. Razia hugged her mother and said into her ears, “Lahore is not so far-off Ammi Jee. Whenever you need my help, just drop a letter and I’ll come back for claying”. She wiped tears rolling down the cheeks of her speechless mother with her red embroidered shawl and embarked upon her long journey.
Her mother was praying for her well-being and the end of the laborious work she had to undertake since her childhood. All people around were grieved; buffaloes and hens also seemed quiet and nervous.
Nadir was driving merrily while going back to the provincial metropolis. He had the plan to watch the new detective movie of James Bond 007 at Plaza Cinema with his Lahori friends at night. Sitting beside him,
Raees Muhammad was absorbed in thoughts: The sooner democracy revives the better. Perhaps different factions of the Muslim League may reunite and provide a substitute for the dictatorial regime. But what can I do? He didn’t know when his head tilted aside and he was fast asleep.
Back in the village, Bashir Muhammad could not sleep properly that night. All the time, he had frightening nightmares: Flogging of democrats like Janbaz gets accelerated; heavy landmines of religiosity being sown in a beautiful landscape of Sandal Bar and all around; time bombs of intolerance ticking everywhere furiously; Jalal Masih and his community are so scared of the zealots that they are forced to mass exodus. When he got up with the call from the minaret, Bashir Muhammad was sweating profusely despite the winter season. He hastened to offer Fajr prayer. Sabir Shah, the old prayer leader, was reciting Surah Maryam in his beautiful country accent: And make mention of Maryam in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East (19:16). Bashir Muhammad wept bitterly. After offering his prayers, he proceeded toward the modest dwellings of the Christian community with a heavy heart. Away in the distant skyline, there were signs of daybreak and another
‘night-bitten dawn’ was in the offing ‘with a smeared and spotted light’. ‘Mongrels were breathing free while stones and bricks were locked down.
The writer is a short story writer.