As he stepped out of the gate of Indira Gandhi Air Terminal he found her standing in the crowd behind the barrier and waving her hand without stretching her elbow. He moved towards the exit, with his luggage on the trolley, where she met him and hugged him. The taxi driver loaded his luggage in the taxi and they occupied the rear seats. He instructed the driver to take them to a house in greater Kailash.
“You look great! Traveling in business class?” She asked as the taxi reached the main road.
“I wish I could. The seat next to me was vacant, allowing me to stretch my legs and sleep peacefully for the better part of a 15 hour journey,” he replied.
“15 hours must really be boring. How was the service inside the aircraft?” She queried.
“Oh! The new management has to come to grips with the working of the stewards and hostesses, who have not shed their old habits. I did not see a single smiling, pretty face!” He said and smiled.
“How sad! You’re seeing one now!” She chuckled.
He pressed her palm and kept holding it.
Shireen Shifa Jafar lived with her parents in an independent house in Greater Kailash. Her companion was Sushil Kumar Misra, a friend for the past five years. Sushil worked in IBM at Chicago and on purpose told his family members not to pick him up from the airport.
“I received the passport with the visa stamped the day before yesterday. Now I am all set to join DePaul University College of Communication. The session starts in a fortnight. I have booked my ticket for the flight you mentioned,” she said.
“Good. I have hired a flat close to your college, you can walk to it daily. My office too is around 20 minutes drive from the flat,” he told her.
She shifted and snuggled close to him resting her head on his shoulder.
“Did you consider the issue I had mentioned when I last spoke to you?” He asked her.
“Yes I have. Which caste will I be in if I convert? Will I be Kshatrya, Baniya or Shudra? I can not be a Brahmin like you as one has to be born as a Brahmin,” she spoke in a soft voice without raising her head.
“I do not know, neither do I care,” he replied.
“Yes. I too do not care, as I am not going to convert,” she raised her head and looked into his eyes.
He dropped his eyelids and looked outside through the car window. She sat up and touched his face with her fingers.
“Look Sushil! When I was six or seven years old I started with namaz. I did it initially as my mother insisted, but as I grew up it became a part of my daily routine. Now I feel uncomfortable if I miss out on namaz even once. I understand the meanings of the Arabic words that I recite while praying. They guide me to make my life easier and comfortable as I face the many known and unknown issues and problems daily. I have read the Quran a number of times in English and continue to do so. It is a beacon throwing light on every aspect of our life. I live by following it. I no longer listen to quaks and those maulvis who interpret the Holy Book to exploit muslims and impose their agendas on them,” she said and paused. He gave her a sobre look and nodded.
“Susheel I love you. I want to marry you. You know me the way I am. You love me as Shireen whose demeanor, habits, values, intellect and reasoning you cherish and value. Do you want her to forgo these ? It’s a very heavy price which I am unable to withstand,” she urged.
“So you are firm that you will not convert ?” He asked.
“Yes Susheel, I will not. I am a Muslim and will remain until my last breath. I will submit only to my Allah and no one else!” She said and looked away.
They remained silent for the rest of the journey, each engrossed in their own thoughts.
“I want to meet your parents to seek their permission to marry you,” he said as they approached her house. She looked at him with moist eyes.
“Let your jet lag get over. You can meet them on Sunday, my father’s day off.” she said with a smile.
“Fine, I will wait for the next two days. Will call you up everyday,” he said, The taxi stopped, she hugged him and got down. He waved at her as the taxi sped away.
Susheel did have a jet lag hangover. His meetings with his parents and siblings were brief and the subject of his marriage remained latent. He spoke to Shireen a number of times. She asked him to join her in a wedding celebration of her close friend on Sunday evening which he agreed,
He was keen to meet Shireen’s parents before his family members discussed it. From his house at NOIDA, he drove his car to Shireen’s house early in the morning on Sunday as she had invited him for breakfast. He was received by her parents with warmth and affection.
They conversed on various topics at the breakfast table. Most of the talking was by Susheel who regaled them with his experiences in Chicago. Considering that Susheel was a vegetarian, her mother had asked the maid to prepare potato cutlets, aloo paratha with yogurt.
They moved to the living room where tea was served by the maid.
“Uncle I am grateful that you allowed me to meet you and of course the breakfast was mind blowing. Thank you aunty,” Susheel said as he sat down on the sofa.
“Shireen told me that you have been friends. She mentioned that you have something important to tell me. In spite of my asking her, she told me nothing,” Ali Ahmad Jafar said.
Susheel looked at Shireen and smiled.
“Uncle, as you have said that Shireen and I are friends. Yes, we have been friends for the past five years. Uncle and Aunty with your permission we want to be permanent friends for life. I have come here to seek her hand for marriage. Please allow us to become one,” Sushil said, and looked at them.
Both Jafar and his wife appeared stunned, totally taken aback and remained looking at Susheel for a while. Ultimately, Jafar got up and started pacing the room. His wife bent her head and hid her face in her dupatta.
“You know Beta, a father is always on the lookout for a match for his daughter as she reaches a marriageable age. Shireen is in that category now. We have received many proposals but she refused each one of them. Now I know the reason. But before I go further, I would like my wife Amna to offer her views,” Jafar said and looked towards his wife.
“He is a Hindu and she can not marry him,” Amna said, looking at Shireen and shaking her head.
“Yes she is right. The holy book forbids marriage with those who are polytheists and practice idol worship. Yes, at same time if such person accepts Islam, the marriage can be consumed,”
“Uncle, I will not accept Islam for the same reasons, when I asked Shireen to convert to Hinduism and she refused,” Susheel replied.
“She is correct. The greatest Sin in Islam is idol worship. Allah can forgive all other sins committed by a person but he will never pardon someone who indulges in Idol worship. This is mentioned in the Quran several times,” Jafar said.
To be continued …………