THE REMAINS OF A DREAM (yet to find a publisher)
The time of the Emaarat Committee meeting was announced on the loudspeakers of the Jama Masjid. All members were requested to attend the meeting, which was to be organised in the courtyard of Chhote Hakim Sahib’s house on Thursday afternoon. There were three important cases to be discussed. The first involved an inter-community issue, so senior members of the Hindu community had also been invited; among them was Chhote Hakim’s childhood friend, Harihar Prasad Srivastava. The other two cases involved only Muslims.
Arif and Shakir were also present, standing under the Neem tree at the far corner of the courtyard. The winter sun in its full glory had kept the air pleasantly warm. A crowd of more than a hundred people had gathered. But, before it started a baby goat, a buckling, emerged from under the wooden chowki, which was kept there to seat some of the junior members of the committee. All the seniors sat on the chairs. Seeing a crowd, the buckling panicked and started to run here and there.
‘Whose goat is it?’ Chhote Hakim Saheb asked in an authoritative tone. A frightened boy aged ten came out of the crowd. ‘Get it away soon,’ somebody shouted. The boy moved swiftly and caught the buckling by its ears and dragged it away. The crowd made way for them.
The proceedings for the first case started. Shakir told him about it, ‘Sanjay Kumar Gupta, a teacher at a local primary school was having an affair with Sabira Begum, the wife of Sheikh Waris. Sanjay frequently visited Sabira in the absence of her husband. The neighbours had noticed the two of them together many times and their rumoured affair had become the talk of the town. Last Saturday, some village women had caught them red-handed in a sugar cane field. The people of Inayat Nagar, especially Muslims could not bear this. Since this was an inter-community issue, the elders decided to resolve it, before the issue turned communal.’
Sabira Begum sat on the bench kept in the nearby verandah, which was covered from side to side with a semi-transparent makeshift curtain. All the women invited sat there. Sanjay was standing with his father. He kept his eyes on the ground. His father, an old man in his sixties with a white stubble of a beard, looked anxious. Sheikh Waris was not present.
Sanjay was asked if he had anything to say. Instead of speaking, he started crying. In a swift move, his father took off his hawai chappal, the flip-flops, and started beating him. ‘Abey chutia, speak now, why are you keeping silent?’ Harihar Prasad intervened, ‘Ram Prasad! Stop this immediately. We are here to decide on this issue.’
A Hindu man snatched the chappal from his father’s hands. The old man started weeping. ‘The boy has brought shame to our family. He has smeared soot on my face. It would have been better if I were without a son.’
Syed Hafiz Ahmed, a tall man with a clean shaven pale yellow face, and one of the committee members, stood up to speak, ‘Sabira Begum, do you want to say anything in your defence?’
Through the curtain, Arif saw the silhouette of a woman standing up; she was wearing a saree and covered her head with its anchal. ‘Why is everybody so troubled with my personal life? If I do anything wrong, I will have to pay for it on the Day of Judgment.’
‘We have just asked you to say something in your defence if you have anything to say at all. If you want to live in our society, you have to follow its decorum and live with propriety. Individuals can’t be allowed to bring shame or create nuisance in our society. Your behaviour is against our religion and culture.’ This time Chhote Hakim Saheb spoke.
Suddenly her voice became acerbic as she replied. ‘Where was society when my husband was lying in the hospital? Where was society when my daughter was married off to a man double her age because we could not afford dowry for a younger groom? Is dowry not against our religion? I know that many people who are esteemed members of the Emaarat Committee also took dowry in their sons’ marriages, some openly, others discreetly. Why didn’t the Emaarat committee summon them for an explanation? Let it be. As far as Sanjay Sahib is concerned I respect him a lot. He has always helped whenever I was in trouble. I just tried to pay back his debts by being good to him. That’s all.’
Md. Nasir Ali, a short-tempered man with a soot-black beard stood up. ‘Shut up, you shameless woman!’ His body trembled with anger, and his untrimmed beard swirled in the air as he spoke. Chote Hakim Saheb silenced him and then said. ‘Did you come to ask for help from the committee?’
‘Do you expect me to go door to door with begging bowls? We are not faqirs or beggars.’
Nasir Ali again rose and shouted, ‘Shut up!’
This time Sabira stopped talking. She drew the loose end of her saree around to cover her face.
Chote Hakim Saheb silenced him again and turned towards the people to make an announcement. ‘Now members of the committee will decide upon the issue.’ They started talking in whispers. The chairs of all the seniors were drawn into a circle.
Meanwhile, Shakir said to Arif, ‘Sheikh Waris is really a eunuch. He has no control over his wife, nor is he able to f**k her; that is why she is offering her p***y to this Hindu boy. How shameful!’ A bemused Arif looked at Shakir but said nothing.
The committee announced its decision: Sanjay Kumar Gupta had to atone for his improper conduct. He was asked to spit on his chappal and then lick it and promise the committee that he would not repeat the mistake. Sabira, being a woman, was let off with a warning that if she did not mend her ways, the committee would take severe action against her.
When Sanjay was made to go through the punishment, he cried inconsolably because of the humiliation. He bent to spit on his pair of worn-out hawai Chappal with webbing blue strap, blue outsole and white insole, which had blue patches at all the pressure points, three toes and one heel bone. As soon he licked the saliva, he vomited. On the verandah, Sabira Begum turned restlessly on the bench she was sitting on. A member of the committee remarked, ‘This will suffice to deter him from repeating anything like this in future.’ Everybody else nodded affirmatively.
All Hindu members of the village committee departed as soon as the punishment was carried out and tea and biscuits were served. Now two more cases were to be discussed. But they were strictly intra-community issues and so had to be dealt in the light of Islamic sharia by the Emaarat committe. For this purpose, Mufti Maulana Jamalluddin from the nearby village was summoned. He had earned the title of Mufti because of his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and the committee valued his opinion.
The next case was a case of talaq. A elderly looking man with long white beard and a prominent prayer mark on forehead, whom Arif did not know, stood and greeted the gathering with asslam aalikum rahmetullahe barkatahu and began, ‘Md. Rafique Khan has divorced his wife by pronouncing talaq. Now, he is regretting his decision saying that it was made in a fit of anger. In fact, he has not directly said that dreaded word to his wife. He had been angry with his wife over some domestic issue and said that if she touched his lota, the water pot, which he used for wuzu, the ritual ablution, the talaq would be effected. His wife, Shafina Begum, had in retaliation touched the lota, without realising that it was an extraordinary act. By touching the innocent copper vessel, she had severed her ties with a man to whom she had been married for the last 24 years. Like her husband, she had also become blind with anger. There was no witness to their foolhardly acts but Allah is omnipresent. Both of them had to show their faces to Him on the Day of Judgment. So, they have mutually decided to take up the matter with the Emaarat committee to clarify if they were still man and wife or whether their divorce was final.’
The Mufti listened patiently when the old man was briefing about the case. Then, he asked the questions from Rafique khan and his wife Shafina Begum. Four witnesses were called for cross-questioning. Then, he stood to announce his decision on the validity of this talaq in the light of the Quran and Hadith. He began, ‘Talaq is allowed in Islam but detested by Allah. When a man pronounces talaq to his wife, Aers-e-Azam, the heaven trembles. But, we are human beings and prone to making mistakes. In this case, what I understand from the statements of Rafique Khan Saheb, Mohtarma Shafina Begum and the witnesses is that he had pronounced two single talaqs in the past but had taken back his wife within the period of iddat as allowed by Sharia. But, this was the third one. Although, it was not directly pronounced, but his intention was clear. Since Shafina Begum had touched the lota, it became effective. Hence, Shafina Begum is no more the wife of Rafique Khan and he has become Gair Mehram, unlawful, for her. And only after Halala is performed can he remarry Shafina Begum and take her back. For Halala, Shafina Begum has to marry somebody else, who will then divorce her. After a lapse of Iddat which means lapse of three periods, she would be eligible to remarry.’
Chhote Hakim Saheb raised his hand and said he was willing to have a nikah with Bhabhi Jaan for the purpose of Halala.
The Mufti cut him short and resumed. ‘No Hakim Saheb, it is not so easy. First of all, remarrying a divorcee with an intention to divorce her so that she can marry her former husband is not an act of virtue and is disliked by the Almighty. Further, a symbolic marriage will be of no use. One has to marry her and has to live with her like a husband, a real husband. I mean to say, the marriage has to be consummated.’
Hakim Saheb immediately withdrew his hand.
Shafina Begum who was sitting on a chair in the verandah was quick to her feet. ‘Mufti Saheb, what had to happen has happened; I am not willing to go through Halala. How can I marry somebody else even if it is symbolic?’
‘But Islam allows women to remarry.’
‘Your words are absolutely true, Mufti Saheb. But I have never seen any woman in our village or in nearby villages remarry whether widowed or divorced. So, I can’t think of it.’
Chhote Hakim Saheb intervened, ‘Bhabhi Jaan, it is not obligatory for you to remarry.’
Finally it was decided that she could not live with Rafique Khan any longer as after the divorce, it became unlawful for her to live with him in the same house. She had to keep purdah from Rafique Khan. But, she had the right to live with her son. The Mufti ruled that her right over the land given to her by her husband in haq-mehar, the marriage gift, would stay intact and that she would be the rightful owner of the produce from that piece of land.
‘Think of it, Arif, if you were given a chance to marry this woman for a week or two. It would be really fantastic to f**k her. Or play with her big b**bs,’ said Shakir whispering near Arif’s ear and sucking his lips. ‘Oye! Oye!’
‘Stop this dirty talk.’ Arif admonished Shakir.
‘Beta, don’t try to pretend. I know you will be a big f**ker whenever given the chance.’
Arif said nothing in reply but moved a few steps away from him. He suddenly began thinking about Shafina Begum. ‘Shakir is right, she has got big breasts.’ His fantasy continued only until Syed Hafiz stood to announce the third and final issue to be considered.
Kalam Khan’s only son had been ill for the past year. He had been treated by a number of doctors at Sitamarhi, Motihari and Muzaffarpur but nothing had worked. The last time his wife returned from Muzaffarpur, a Hindu woman who worked in Kalam Khan’s house as domestic help advised her to visit a Sadhu, the Hindu Saint, who lived on the bank of the river Sonaya and had cured many with his magical powers. The very next day she had visited the Sadhu without telling her husband. The medicine given by him worked and her son’s condition improved a little. The Sadhu had also advised her that if she wanted to cure her son permanently, she had to do a special puja to the Goddess Kali and offer a goat in sacrifice. She knew that if her husband found out that she had been following such rituals, he would kill her. But, she was desperate to do anything that would cure her son. So, she decided to give it a try and asked her maid to be privy to this secret mission. She gave the Sadhu two thousand rupees to offer puja and sacrifice on her half. Although she did everything discreetly, news leaked out and reached the ears of the Emaarat Committee members.
Kalam Khan was a lean man, his genial face dominated by his big eyes. He stood near Chhote Hakim Saheb, with a worried look. He scratched his head time and again, in nervousness. His wife sat on the verandah reserved for ladies and was trembling with fear. Her saree covered her face.
As proceedings began, Kalam Khan was asked to explain his position. He started by hurling abuse at his wife. ‘I had no idea what this woman was up to. It was she who allowed herself to be misled by Iblis the devil. For ages women have led men astray. That is why it is said that if a woman doesn’t have a nose, she will even eat shit. The moment I came to know about this thing, I have beaten her and she has promised me never to repeat it in her life.’
‘Kalam, you know the consequences of being involved in the rituals of infidels. Technically, you are Muslims no more. You have done shirik, amounting to attributing a partner to Allah, one of the serious forms of sin in Islam,’ said one of the committee members.
‘I know, Chacha’, he said and began crying. He also bent to fall at the feet of Chhote Hakim Sahib. Seeing her husband weeping, his wife began to sob as well. The wailing could be heard even where Arif was standing.
Their tears worked and melted the hearts of the Emaarat Committee members. Ultimately, Mufti Saheb asked Sheikh Wadood, an elderly man, to make the announcement.
‘After consulting with Mufti Sahib, the committee has decided that Kalam Khan was not involved in this ritual. His wife is an illiterate woman and doesn’t understand the matter of Islamic sharia. Even so, she has committed a shirik by performing such a ritual. Now, she is repentant and ready to atone. Allah is most merciful and beneficent and He is the greatest forgiver; we all will pray to the Almighty to forgive her. She has to recite Kalam-e-tawhid proclaiming the oneness of Allah to return to the fold of Islam.’
Then he turned to Kalam Khan, ‘you have to perform kuffara to atone for the sin your wife has committed.’
‘Hanh! Hanh!’ Kalam’s voice reflected his gratitude.
‘Listen carefully,’ Sheikh Wadood continued, ‘go and sacrifice two goats in the name of Allah and distribute meat among the poor. And, distribute food among 60 poor people. Further, your wife should observe roza, the fast, for 60 days.’
After the meeting, the crowd dispersed. ‘Allah ho Akbar’, the muezzin called for the evening prayer. The members of the committee moved towards the mosque.