Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Do the words of a daughter go empty to the wind- short story. Shiela Choudhri

                                                                                               © Sheila Choudhri
    The news was bad. Shireen could see it in her father’s face.  Forgetting herself, she entered the room. But, alarmingly, her advance went unforbidden.  Unable to maintain her grip on the chador she held bunched about her, Shireen abruptly squatted down beneath the Television set. Then, feeling afraid, she groped about in her underclothing till, finally, briefly shuttering her eyes, she was able to insert a callused but consoling finger into her vagina. But, when she looked up, her father had looked away.
    No doubt, the first of the mohulla’s crew of professional mourners would arrive shortly and Shireen’s mother glowered in anticipation from the framed photograph on top of the Television. Her son had been her pride and joy. Soon there would be breasts to be beaten and ear splitting ululations to be uttered but even such second hand Glory-in-Martyrdom was not for a dumb, unmarried, elder sister while yet there remained, in the kitchen, saucepans to stir and pots to scrub.
  “All this is my fault.”  Advocate Siddiqi,  had entered, rearranging the room’s  shadows noiselessly. “It was I who persuaded you to send your son abroad.” He placed a smooth white hand upon the old paralytic’s shoulder.
   “No, Siddiq Sahib, nothing was your fault.” The stroke victim spoke slowly and spat as he spoke,  “ You are a good man. Whatever help you have given us we have taken as the largesse of the All Compassionating, for indeed, you are the instrument of the All High and nothing bad can come from you. Yet, if you speak of fault, then fault there must be, for –in this house- your words can never go empty to the wind. So fault there is, not yours, huzoor, not yours. Mine. Mine alone. All is the fault of my own wretched fate that, unlike the mother of Ahmed, not I became dear to God and escaped the rending claws of this vulture winged day.”
  Shireen bowed her head and began to gasp and rock on her heels. Yet tears would not come. Not yet. Not yet were tears amongst what could but come.
  “Good of you, janab, to put it that way,”  Advocate Siddiqi said, sounding embarrassed, “but, frankly, the fact is, my role in all this is open to misinterpretation.  You understand, there will be questions- the Police, the Press…”
   “I will never mention your name.”
   “And your daughter?” said Advocate Siddiqi.
   “She is dumb. What can she say?”
   “No, no, I mean do you agree…?”
   “You are our savior. Of course, I agree. Take her with you.”
   “You understand, now this has happened- there will be other offers for her hand- big offers, offers from abroad… Medical treatment, Sir! The best this Earth can afford!”
   “She is yours. I considered her to be your son’s legal wife from the time we first met and you made me your generous avowal and so kindly took over the arrangement of my threadbare affairs. But for the mischief of the Djinn which makes of her such cruel sport, you would have taken her from me much earlier. Of that I am assured. But why blame even the malice of the Djinn when the only one to blame is my own black fate? Why speak of such inauspicious things? You have said you will take her in and before that honest assurance what to me is the heaped wealth of this cheating world? Rest assured, huzoor, in this house, your words will never go empty to the wind. “
   “Janab, I don’t know what to say. My face is blackened before you. It seems, all this time I’ve known you- I haven’t known you at all.  You are a hidden treasure- a qutb- and unknown to all, you alone justify Man to God. Little wonder, then, that your son should- in a foreign land and with no prior prompting-  yet attain the impeccable station of Shaheed in Jihad! Truly, giving us your daughter you glorify our house beyond that of Sultans and Amirs!”
   “Siddiq Sahib, is this a way to speak? I’m a poor man, a paralytic, a nobody. Please, I beg of you, do not let the Evil Eye of my Black Fate fall upon you causing your words to go empty to the wind. Only one thing I request…”
   “Janab, on the life of my only son, anything!”
   “It is of your son I am thinking. Let him not divorce his wife. My daughter will come into your house, yes, but only to serve her. Nothing more. That is your compassion on us.”
   “You ask what I can’t grant. But, on this day, I can’t refuse either.  So, no divorce, that churel- her janazza will leave our house tonight itself- arre, the mother of Salim warned me, she saw what tricks that College Miss was getting up to! Would you believe it, now Salim is earning well and sending good money home, that selfish witch was arranging to get her own passport? Next time Salim came on holiday, she was planning to go off with him and live it up abroad with no thought of how we were supposed to manage here without his foreign exchange remittance- you see, witch that she is, she has him wrapped around her little finger!- Truth be told, it was she who was the instigator in the plot against your daughter- so, let me tell you, already it is being arranged. My mother, hamdullah, is still alive and knows the old ways.  The brazen College Miss is even now gobbling down the festival fare sweetmeats that will settle her accounts once and for all. This doom she brought down on her own head. Tonight itself, her coffin will be lifted from our courtyard. As for your daughter’s marriage to my son Salim- it is as  you yourself have  said, but now not just in the eyes of God,  in the eyes of the Law, too, in the eyes of Society, as well, they are already married! You will forgive my lack of ceremony if I now place in your safe-keeping the papers that prove it all beyond doubt, peradventure or infirmity of suspicion.  Be sure to show these documents to the Police when they come a calling. You see, they will want to know why I paid for your son’s going abroad.  Seeing these certificates, learning the circumstances from the neighborhood gossips, everyone will see there was nothing sinister, nothing shameful, in all this.  On this point you don’t have to worry. The Mullah, the Qazi, the witnesses, they are all sound. Nothing will shake them. Your daughter is my daughter-in-law and has been these many years. Only because of the machinations of that churel-  her father, pretending to have big political contacts!- your daughter was being humiliated all these years. Arre! The proof is you did not turn her out! The proof is your son took my money! More! More! Your daughter’s dumbness- what is it but a proof from God as when Umm Musa was struck dumb when Queen Aasiyah took up her womb-right! Janab! I ask you, what could be more convincing?  But enough talk. Janab, let me go just now and see this matter through. The papers I leave with you. I don’t want to listen even one word from you because Godly as you are you will try to change my mind. Sir, please, don’t let my words go empty to the wind but grant this & my conge!”
   Seeing the Advocate depart, Shireen saw, her heart failing, that the black Djinn had escaped from her vagina. There was a terrible screeching in her ears as the Djinn- become a braying master spider of shadows- crawled mockingly upon the face of her father.
   Then suddenly it fled, never to return, for – after so many years- her father spoke to her directly.
   “Your passport has come through. In two days, your beloved little brother, Ahmed, will come for you and the two of you will go off together in a big airplane.  In your new country, you will have your own money, plenty of money- and status too. These papers here make you Salim’s sole heir! That’s right. Siddiq’s snare of a Pimp’s Paradise took not my pak son but rendered takfir his own debauched offspring. Darling! Not me- drunkard that I was, paralytic that I am- not me,  it was your pure-hearted brother- your brother who protected you from your own mother! who fed you when she wouldn’t eat, who died to her so you could live for me!- it was he, that Aslan in courage, who has avenged you. But, true Muslim that he is, he has done more. Informing the authorities, saving innocents, it is Islam he has avenged.”
   “Speak, daughter, speak! Say it all! Curse me as the killer of that cursed College Miss- your one friend- the one person you could talk to! Darling, curse me but speak. Darling, curse me but speak for know this, there is no paralysis, never paralysis in bayt ul Islam, never again, daughter, in this house, your house, daughter! your own house, daughter!- will your words go empty to the wind.”

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