Picture by Jafar Shameem
Continued from Part I
“She mentioned it to me earlier and I respect it and have no issues. I will never interfere nor offer suggestions, she is totally independent to practice her religion in the manner she wants,” Susheel pleaded.
“Will that be acceptable to your family members, considering the present vitiated environment?” Jafar asked. Susheel heaved a sigh, felt sad and dejected.
“I am going to discuss this with my parents tomorrow,” Susheel said.
“Beta, come here and sit next to me. I want to tell you something,” Amna looked at Susheel and beckoned him. He got up and sat on the three seater sofa on which Amna was the only occupant. She faced him with a look filled with subdued remorse and concern.
“Beta, you would be aware that Shireen is our only child. Ever Since she was born we both have never left her. As far as possible, we have protected her from rapidly changing values and exploitations that our society is accepting to promote their children in the name of progress and modernization. Our values are not antique, they are time tested. You now want her to live in a very different set of value systems which on many occasions may conflict with her very entity and existence. I am aware that you will personally protect her from all the vagaries confronting her to the best of your abilities and resources. But then, it will have a very heavy toll on you and her. Beta, find someone else from your community and marry her, leave Shireen and we will take care of her” she said and touched his hand.
Susheel withdrew his hand, bent his head and kept silent. He was aware that Amna had spoken the truth. Often he kept imagining their lives after marriage and blurred images confronted him. He was confused and afraid not for himself but about Shireen facing the multitude of issues that may come up. He felt his nerves tingle and felt a slight shiver in his body.
“Amma, thank you and I fully understand your concerns for Shireen. I give my firm commitment that the day Shireen marries someone else, I will never meet or talk to her again,” Susheel said looking into her eyes.
Amna leaned and patted him lightly on his back. She looked at Jafar, who smiled and looked at Shireen.
“Thank you Susheel for your understanding and thoughtfulness. We will speak with Shireen later,” Jafar said.
“Abba, I have kept silent so far as I love and respect you and Amma very much. Please allow me to convey my feelings too,” she said looking towards her father, who smiled and nodded his head.
“Susheel the day you marry someone else I will marry anyone whom my parents choose,” she said.
“I think both the children have opened an opportunity for us to proceed in a manner which will be acceptable to everyone. Rest it is for Allah to decide. Let fate guide their lives, we are mere mortals,” Jafar said and got up.
“Why don’t you stay over for lunch? In another two hours it will be served,” Amna asked Susheel.
“I would love to. We have a small get together at my aunt’s house and I am having my lunch there,” Susheel said.
“He will be at Sushila’s wedding function this evening. You both can meet him there,” Shireen told her parents.
“Our days for attending such functions are over. I have a small present for Sushila, you can give it to her along with our blessings,” Amna told Shireen.
Susheel left them and drove in the crazy Sunday traffic, often missing a potential accident. In the USA he drove on the right side which had formed a habit. To keep to the left side was a painful struggle especially in the chaotic traffic. He reached his uncle Sham’s home and was welcomed by him and his family members. The solemn assembly listened to the shlokas as the pundit performed Puja. He sat down on the carpet in the back row and closed his eyes. Though he did not understand the sanskrit words, he however found the rhythmic rendering, with the musical accouterments, soothing. It was after nearly three years, he was listening to the rendation of these words and experiencing peaceful solitude. Many years back he had attempted to read their English translation but had to stop as it interfered with his regular studies. However, from the little he had read and understood he observed that the shlokas invoked salutations to the Almighty, with requests to guide and bless us. The prayers ended and they moved into the hall for the lunch which was being served on the plantain leaves laid out in front of each person.
He sat down and soon the server dropped rice and dal from the spoon on his leaf. A little later another served him with mixed vegetables and curd. He started eating using his hands, as spoons were not provided.
“How are you brother?” He heard and looking up he found Harish, his cousin, who plonked himself next to him.
“Fine! How are you?” Susheel asked.
“Good so far,” he said and commenced eating the food served to him. Harish was his uncle’s son and they grew up together studying in the same school. Later Harish branched out and studied a commerce which enabled him to pass the banking exam. He was now a branch manager in a private bank. Susheel liked Harish for his friendly demeanor and caring attitude.
“So you have come here to marry?” Harish asked.
“Yes I am trying to,” Susheel smiled and said.
“I always admire you and Shireen. You both are a different class. Your father, my uncle, mentioned to my father that she was ready to convert. They are making it a political issue and soon my father will propagate this in his election rallies. His party members are making it a big issue as Shireen’s father, Jafar is a prominent lawyer who has opposed several cases against the Party in the courts,” Harish said.
Susheel was totally unaware of the development mentioned by Harish. He was not surprised as he knew that his uncle, a seasoned politician would grab any opportunity which would assist him to win his seat in the coming election.
“Be careful brother. Everything has changed here. I feel so sad with the attitudes the politicians are taking. They have taken away our smiles by filling hatred in our hearts,” Harish said.
“You are talking about your father,” Susheel reminded him.
“Yes, he is one of them. He was not earlier, he has changed in the past few years,” Harish sighed and said.
“Do you have discussions with him?” Susheel asked.
“I did but found it futile, the environment has heated up and he has become part of it,” Harish replied.
They got up and proceeded towards the wash basin and cleaned their hands. Harish escorted Susheel to his car and bid him goodbye.
He arrived at Sushila’s marriage venue alone in his car, a bit later than the scheduled time mentioned by Shireen and found her sitting with her friends. She got up and introduced her friends. He handed a shawl to Sushila and Shireen wrapped it around her.
“Look what Shireen has given me!” Sushila said, holding the golden necklace embedded with precious stones.
“Wow! Really beautiful! I love the rubies luster,” he said.
“It is from my parents,” Shireen told them.
He spent nearly two hours lugging behind Shireen, meeting and chatting with her friends. Sushila became emotional as Shireen prepared to leave, with moist eyes they hugged one another several times. Shireen, who had arrived in a taxi, sat with Sushil in his car as they bid farewell and drove away.
“I have known Sushila since she was born. Her mother worked for us as a maid and cook. She was hardly three years old when her father died while cleaning a sewage manhole. Since then my parents have supported her. She is now a teacher in a private school, and has her own apartment in which she lives with her mother. Her husband also teaches in the same school,” Shireen said.
“Great! A Dalit success story, thanks to your parents,” Susheel remarked.
“An ordinary human being’s success story helped by my parents,” Shireen corrected him.
“You are always correct,” he said and chuckled.
He dropped her at her residence and reached his home, finding everyone asleep.
His uncle Sham arrived at Susheel’s house at 10 am and was received by his father Govind and mother Lata. They escorted him to the living room where Susheel, his brothers Dinesh and Anil were waiting for him. They paid their respects to their uncle by touching his feet and returned to their seats. The servant entered the room with a tray containing a glass of water and sweets. Sham raised his hand, refusing both the water and the sweets and the servant left the room with them in the tray.
“Sorry I could not talk with you yesterday. The Pooja kept me busy,” Sham told Susheel.
“No issues uncle. It was a solemn occasion for all of us,” Susheel replied.
“So you have come here to get married. Govind tells me that you are marrying a Muslim girl. I appreciate it. Our boys should marry as many Muslim girls as possible. We will have Hindu children and our numbers will grow,” Sham said.
“What if the Muslim girl refuses to convert?” Susheel asked.
“Is your girl refusing to convert?” Sham questioned him angrily.
“I do not know. I have not asked her,” Susheel said in a soft voice.
“Then immediately ask her. If she loves you she will convert. If she does not then don’t marry her,” Sham said.
“I will not accept her in my house if she is a Muslim,” Lata spoke out.
“We will treat her as a Malaun (accursed) or as a Dalit, a schedule caste,” Govind fumed.
“Brother, you tell us where she is. We will take care and she will convert. We have people who know how to deal with her,” Dinesh said looking at Sham.
Susheel looked at each one of them with blank eyes, his mind reeling under the onslaught of their words. He was aware that his parents and family members wanted him to marry a girl from their community and had earmarked a girl. However he was totally taken aback with the venom and hatred he heard in the room. He shook his head and looked at Sham who was addressing the gathering again.
“I think we should talk to Jafar. Govind you go with Sushil to his house and tell him in no uncertain words that Susheel wants to marry his daughter and she should become a Hindu,” Sham said.
“If he refuses?” Govind asked him.
“I have an idea. No it is not my idea but shown in the film which is running packed in the theaters. We should do the same to the family that they did to the families in the film,” Anil said excitedly and looked at Sham, who smiled and nodded.
“No, no, there is no need for my parents to meet her father. I will sort it out. I have a feeling she may agree,” Susheel said hurriedly.
“That is fine with me. Let me know when she agrees so that I can ask my men to prepare the posters. You will have to give a few of your and the girl’s photographs to my manager. When will you ask her?” Sham asked.
“Give me a week at least uncle,” Susheel pleaded.
They agreed that the following Monday they will meet again at the same place and at the same time. The meeting was over, they all left barring Susheel who remained seated engrossed in deep thoughts. He left the room, drove the car out from the gate and proceeded towards the city. For the next five days he was busy during the day with various issues and met Shireen in the evenings.
On Monday, Govind had finished his early morning prayers and he was with Lata sitting in the lawn, sipping tea, when he heard his mobile ring. He picked it up, looked at the screen and pressed the button.
“Hullo Susheel, where are you? How is it that you are speaking from your US number?” Govind asked.
“I am in Chicago. I arrived here three hours back and now we are on our way to our apartment,” Susheel said.
“What? When did you leave?” He asked.
“Saturday. Sorry I did not inform you all,” Suheel replied.
“You said we? Who is with you?” He asked.
“Oh that! My wife, Shireen Shifa Jafar. We got married on Thursday in a Delhi marriage court,” Susheel replied.
“She did not convert?” Govind asked.
Susheel paused for a while and let out a subdued bitter laughter.
“Papa henceforth, I am Susheel Kumar Misra to you and the family but I am Mohammad Aman Rehman to Shireen’s and her family. Goodbye Papa, say my namaste to mummy,” Susheel said and hung up.
Picture by Jafar Shameem
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