Short Stories

A set of fictional stories protraying how beautiful Islam, our way of life is...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I choose you

"Mom!", Saira screamed as she rushed into her mother's house. "Oh, shit! The baby", she exclaimed. Had her mother heard her, she would have gotten a look of reprimand. Saira rushed back out to her car to get her one year old baby girl who was in the car seat, playing with the monkey mobile, oblivious of her mother's mood.

"MOM!", Saira screamed as she got Anisa in with her. She went into the kitchen and no one was there. She kept the baby carrier down in the living room and took Anisa in her arms. "Where are you mom?" she muttered to herself as she started walking through the house. She checked her mom's room; it was empty. "Mom!" she called out in desperation one final time before realizing that her mom was not at home and she hadn't bothered to call first to let her mom know she was coming. What was she going to say? "Salaam mom, my husband is cheating on me."?

"Saira?", she heard her grandmother call out. Saira wiped her tears and shifted her baby to the other hip before she moved down the corridor to her grandmother's room. She opened the door and smiled at her grandmom "Salaam Nani" she greeted her. "Walaykum salaam my dear". Her grandmother sat up on her bed. She was old. Maybe eighty? She had lost all her teeth, her hair was thinning and she covered her head with a pink scarf that made her took more of a child than an elder. She smiled her toothless happy to see her granddaughter and great granddaughter. She said a prayer of thanks to Allah as she lifted her arms towards Anisa. God had granted her a long life and she was able to hold not only her daughter, granddaughter but also great granddaughter. Few people had the privilege to feel the joy of a great grandchild in your arms.

Anisa went into her arms happily as she giggled and pulled the pink scarf off her. Nani also gave a laugh and hugged her. Saira looked on. Her expression blank. Nani could see that she had been crying. "What's wrong my dear?", she asked. "Where is mom Nani? I need to talk to her" Saira asked, her voice tinged with despair. "She has gone for her weekly shopping. It's Wednesday. You know she goes shopping on Wednesday. Didn't you call before coming?". Thanks to mobile phones, no one ever drops in unannounced anymore. "No, I just came", Saira said as she looked down. She would not break into tears. She didn't want to tell her grandmom anything. Just mom. She needed her mom.

"Come here. Sit." ,Nani said pointing towards the edge of her bed. Saira sat down and wondered what she should do. Should she wait for her mom? Yes, she would wait. She had to talk to someone else she was sure to go hysterical. "What's wrong? Did you fight with Sameer?" Nani asked her as Saira started playing with the edge of her grandmother's quilt. "No". She said. It was true. She hadn't met Sameer since she found out.

She had decided to clean out writing biro and throw out her old periodicals, letters and bills. While going through the Sameer's old diaries, she had found it. Written in his handwriting, proclaiming his love for Susan. Saira at first thought it must have been a mistake but as she read through the letter, her body went cold realizing that this was a different person. This was someone whom Sameer worked with. Her mind played back the words:

Dear Susan,

Today I saw you at the copier and stopped in my tracks. You were a vision in yellow. I wanted to turn away but I couldn't. I walked up to the printer. When you saw me, you smiled. A smile that filled my day with untold happiness. Your bright chatter, your compliments on X logo presentation made me feel like the king of the jungle. Is it possible for a woman to do that to you?

I am a married man. Married to a wonderful woman. Yet in my dreams, I see you. I look forward to coming to work every day, knowing you will be there. I don't know how it happened or when it happened, but you surrounded me and now I live this troubled life. At times I feel you look at me, as though you want me to say something. May be you feel the same?

What do I do Susan?


"Tell me my dear", Nani asked gently. "What's wrong?". Saira could hold on no more and her tears flowed uncontrolledly. "Oh Nani", she sobbed as she pulled out the letter from her pocket. She passed it to her and Nani reached for her glasses by the bedside table. She fumbled as she put them on while Anisa tried to grab the letter. Saira took Anisa in her arms so that Nani could read the letter. Saira could feel her go still as she also realised what was written.

"I'm so sorry love, this must be tough. when did you get this?"she asked. "Today", Saira answered. "Did you talk to him?", "Not yet. I found it an hour back when I was cleaning out the biro." Saira said, as she wiped her tears. Anisa, the baby become quite as she looked up at her mother and then great grandmother. she could feel the tension in the room. "What do you plan on doing?" nani asked. "I don't know!", Saira exclaimed. "Ask for a divorce? then he can go and live happily with this Susan", she added angrily. Her face was red hot and she was beginning to shake.

Nani looked at her for a few moments before removing her specs and setting them aside. She folded the letter carefully and kept it besides her. I think it's time you knew something about me. Something I have never told anyone in my entire life. Something that I hope will stay with you my dear granddaughter. Whatever decision you make from this, I will totally respect it.

Saira looked at her grandmother curiously. What could she have to tell her that was never to be repeated to another. She looked at her in anticipation.Nani tooked a deep breath as she began narrating. "As you know, or may have forgotten that I was born in Lamu and your grandfather was from Zanzibar. When I turned fifteen, he had come with his family to see me at our home. He was young too. Eighteen. Marriage during my times, in our Islamic society was different from today's modern society. In your case, Saira for example, you choose your own husband. You both went to school together and choose to marry one another. In my times, we were most likely to be stoned. Your grandfather and I did not even look at one another. I was scared of his mother and he was scared of my father." Nani laughed. As she thought of her olden days. Even through her pain, Saira grinned at the thought of her grandfather, who had passed away a few years back. "Well so we got married and saw each other on our wedding night", Nani continued. "Ours was a traditional arranged marriage. I had to learn the ways of his family. Keep his mother happy, who was a tough cookie. A little more salt and she would scold me. She loved me also but she rarely showed it. That was her personality, bless her, I learnt all I had to from her. Pulaf and pili pili hoho that you all love, whom do you think taught me? so well, I was a normal Muslim wife. Married to my husband, living with my family, I had three children by the time I was twenty five.

Your grandfather got a good position in Dar-es-Salam and we went across the shore. I remember the first morning very clearly. I had gotten up, prayed and wanted to make breakfast for my family. I had to go out and get some milk and bread. I wore my burkha and in our times, we used to cover our faces too. No one would known it was me. I took my little sanduku and went out. I didn't know where the shops were but I just walked out into the main street and saw this shop that was open. As I walked closer, I was delighted to see Mahambri and flat breads on the counter. "Oh good, I can get bread from this place". I walked into the store and there was this man, in his kaftan, he had a pointed beard and swahili cap on his head. I could see him, but he couldn't see me. He saw me enter and greeted me "Assalam Alaykum" and smiled.
Nani paused for a second as she saw herself back at that moment. She said so gently, "I fell in love". Saira looked at her grandmom astonished. surely she had heard it incorrectly. "There I was, a wife and mother of three kids and I fell in love with a stranger who looked at me, just another human being to him, but to me, he looked at me and smiled". I stammered to him a number of mahambri's and flat breads and he packed it for me and respectfully kept the package on the counter. He didn't even give it in my hand for fear of touching me. I put the money on the counter. Took the bread parcel and went on my way in search of milk.

"I didn't know at that time that I had fallen in love with the baker. It was only as days passed and I found myself looking forward to every morning, just to get up and go buy fresh bread from him. Over the time, the baker knew it was me by just seeing me approach. Everyday he would greet me "Assalam alaykum". He would then parcel my order and keep it on the counter. I would keep the money on the counter, take the bread and come back home.

"Are you sure it was love?", Saira asked. It seemed a little too simple for her. Could anyone just fall in love with a stranger? Nani looked at her thoughtfully and replied. "Yes, it was. It was because I often asked myself, why didn't the baker come to see me and marry me. Why did your grandfather come? I got to know about his family and his wife and I often looked at his wife envious that she was so lucky to have married him. I looked at his children, he had four of them, playing outside his shop, and wondered how they would have looked if I was their mother. Now do you believe when I say I fell in love?" Nani asked a befuddled Saira. Saira nodded. She would never have imagined her grandmother of all people, ever having such thoughts for another man apart from her grandfather. She had seen them. They were a perfect couple. Her grandmother always fussing over him while her grandfather sat silently and smiled through her tempers. Saira knew her grandfather would tease her grandmother just to see her get riled up. Like a boy who lights the fire cracker and then looks up and watches the beautiful lights. He had winked at Saira many times before saying something to Nani that would get her red and hot. She had grown up watching them. Wanting a marriage like them. Her mother and two uncles adored them. When grandfather had passed away, it had been a difficult time. She remembered Nani not eating for days, crying. They had been scared that they would lose her too.
Saira couldn't believe what she was hearing. Was this the same grandmother? Her grandmother was confessing to loving another man, dreaming of being another man's wife while married to her grandfather. Was this real? Was this possible?
"As much as it is tough for you to believe me, it would be more tough for you to ever imagine my emotions. I was married with children and my heart longed every morning to see the face of another man. I lived with this guilt my whole life."

"Did grandfather knew?" Saira asked

"He knew." Nani answered. "He knew the day he went and got the bread and I screamed at him that it was my job to get the bread . He knew that day, why I was always happy to go out to buy bread. He knew why I would look at the time at night to see how fast the night went by. He knew why I would giveaway good leftover bread to the poor, even though we could have had it."

"and?", Saira asked holding her breath

"He was heartbroken". Nani said. A few tears dropped down her eyes as she wiped them with her handkerchief. Saira felt her heart breaking too. She could see the guilt of her grandmother. "Tell me my dear, what could I do? was it my fault that I had gone to buy bread? was it my fault that he greeted all his customers with a smile? was it my fault that I never spoke a word to him but I still fell in love with him?" Nani asked as her tears continued to flow. Saira got up and came sat next to her grandmother. She gave her a hug and wiped her tears away.

After a few moments, when Nani's sobs died down, Nani continued, "Your grandfather was silent for many days. I was scared what would happen. He hadn't asked anything to me. He let me go buy bread and said nothing to me. I guess he accepted my love for the baker .

One day your grandfather came home in the afternoon. He rarely came home in the afternoon. The children were at school. He came through the door and I asked him, is everything okay? He took my hands, made me sit down and told me the baker had passed away. He had a heart attack and his funeral was going to be that evening. I had cried in his arms that day. Cried for the baker and cried asking how did I get such a husband? Your grandfather asked me to go to the baker's house and sit with the family to give them condolence. You see we were a small neighborhood and everyone came together to support one other in times of happiness and grief. I remember going to his home, the first time, all the neighborhood ladies were there. His wife was sobbing and I went and hugged her and told her to be strong. I sat with them for sometime as I cried over my loss too. I would not see his face again, or hear his greetings or have my bread just as I wanted.

Later, your uncles grew up and came to this country and we moved here with them. This is a new world to me. It is different from the world I was brought up in. During my times, things were simple. Boys and girls did not talk. It was bad to fall in love. You married whom your parents choose. Men worked with men. Women worked at home or in schools. Now, your world is so different Saira. Men and women work together. You talk. You get to know each other. Love finds you anywhere. You found love in college. Your brothers are yet to marry. I wonder if they will before I die but anyways, what I am sayng my dear, Sameer did not cheat on you from his letter. He has written down the turmoil in his heart. I recognized it immediately, because I have been there. Another time, another world, but the same emotions. Your grandfather did not give up on me. I am sure he must have felt horrible and if wanted, he could have left me but not only did he not leave me, but he let me go everyday to the bakery. He gave me my tiny piece of happiness. For that my dear, I will always love him and I know on the day of judgment, should God forgive me all my sins and grant me heaven, and should God give me a choice, on whom would I want to live my eternal life with, and should God bring forth two men, your grandfather and the baker, whom do you think my heart would choose? Nani asked Saira with her endearing eyes

Saira smiled. She took her grandmother's hands in her hands and kissed them.

"What are you going to do?" Nani asked. "Go back home and keep the letter where I found it and throw out an old periodical of mine?" Saira said smiling. Nani laughed and hugged her. "May God bless you for understanding my child. You have got the spirit of your grandfather". Saira hugged her grandmother back, got up, took her daughter in her arms and kissed her grandmom on her cheek. "I have to go now. Your secret is with me and my secret is with you." With that Saira for her home.

When she reached home, she placed the letter where she found it. Page 34 of Sameer's 2010 diary. She went about her chores, made dinner, fed her baby and picked up her house. She got dressed, wore her blue dress that Sameer loved, sprayed perfume and waited for 6 o'clock. As every day, Sameer arrived by 6 o'clock and was pleasantly surprised to see his otherwise haggard- running after a toddler- wife, dressed beautifully. Saira went upto him and have him a hug. She leaned into his ears and whispered "You are going to choose me". "Huh?", Sameer asked, confused. "Nothing", Saira smiled mischievously. "It's a secret".

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Salawat nu duudh (Salawat Milk)

Disclaimer: The following story is not fictional

It’s strange that one action by a stranger, one whose name you may not remember a few years down the lane or how they looked or where they lived but what they did stays with you forever.

“Chalo chalo chaldi chalo, time for Salawat nu duudh”.(Hurry! Let’s go its time for Salawat Milk) Yes, It was 4 o’clock in the evening and the bunch of us: five to ten kids around five to ten years old rushed to the alley where the lady, who gave Salawat nu duudh lived.

I was five. I didn’t really know how to say the whole salwaat, but I rushed. Along with my elder sister we climbed the 16th century wooden steps of an old stone building most probably built by Arabian spice traders. It was a modest stone structure near the harbor in the old town.

I know we called her ______ aunty. Honestly, I have forgotten her name. Every evening she would get one liter of milk, boil it, add sugar and rose syrup in it and while we all waited in line for the delicious milk as she cooled in a large plate (or may be I thought it was large as I was so small)

She would then take out small glass glasses and pour the sweet baby pink milk. We would cover our heads with our scarves and recite the Salawat. I would just mumble along with the other girls and boys and finally, my hands would grip the glass and it was and will always be, the best milk I would have.

At that time I was too young to comprehend what or why or understand the Salawat. All I knew was the aunty was doing a good deed by giving us milk. She would do it all the ten days of Moharram.

Moharram is the first month of the Arabic calendar. This month, the grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husain sacrificed himself and his whole family in the deserts of Karbala, Iraq. He vowed never to give his hand in allegiance to a tyrant such as Yazid who drank wine, committed adultery and killed Muslims. Imam Husain knew that if He, the grandson of the Holy Prophet gave in to the cruel and unjust rule of Yazid, Yazid would not only destroy the tenants of Islam that the Holy Prophet had struggled for, but take the Muslims back to the period of ignorance. On the tenth day of Moharram, Imam Husain was Shaheed along with his sons, his nephews, his brother and his true companions. Wars have come and gone, battles lost and heroes exalted but none is remembered as Imam Husain, who fought a spiritual war against a tyrant and was not afraid to sacrifice his life for it.

Today, a fifth century later, I understand the sacrifice of Imam Husain, and I understand the Salawat. And as I do, I thank the lady who used to give us Salawat nu duudh. I don’t know whether she is still alive or not. I don’t remember the way to her house either. But yes, whenever I make any sweet milk, pink or yellow, as I give it to my husband and inshaAllah in future to my kids, I say “Salawat nu duudh” (Pray Salawat and drink)

Salawat is an Arabic word that means sending your greetings to the Prophet (SAW) and his progeny. We say the words:

“O Allah, send your Peace and Blessings to Prophet Mohammed(SAW) and his decedents and also Prophet Ebrahim and his decedents spread throughout this world. For You Allah, are the most Praiseworthy, Glorious.”

Salawat in other words is a tiny prayer where one sends their salutations to our beloved prophet and his progeny. At the same time praising our Lord, Hamidun Majeed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Marry for the sake of Allah"

Zahra rushed into the park. She wanted to run but she made it up by walking as fast as she could. It would help the turmoil in her head. When she was out of breath she flopped into a bench and grasped for breath.

A million things ran in her mind. "You are twenty-eight now!! Twenty-eight! Do you know I had three children by then?". "This is the fault of all the education given to you girls. You think too much of yourself." "Once a girl comes of age and she is not married, she brings shame to her family. People think there must be something wrong with her". "I do not want to hear a 'No' this time. The decision is made."

The last being her own mother who said it. Yes, she was twenty-eight, single, successful, graceful and beautiful. Was it her fault that she did not find a mate that matched her? She had seen over a dozen suitors and in all she had found some qualities that did not appeal. Either they were eccentrics, extremists, forward or traditional.

The last proposal was a decent one. At least better than the rest of the lot but she still didn't want to say yes. Yes to what? An unknown future? An unknown person? She had everything good going in her life and she didn't want to risk it. As she was thinking all these thoughts, she did not realise that an elderly gentlemen had sat on the same bench.

She turned her face and recognised from his beard and cap that he was a pious muslim. "Assalam Alaykum". "Walaykum Salam, my child" He gave her a beaming smile. I suppose he was happy to see a young woman dressed properly with a scarf in today's modern world.

He noticed her worried lines and gently probed: "Is anything the matter? you look tense". At that point of time, Zahra could not control her emotions and she bust into tears. She told him everything. What she was feeling, her fears, her worries...

At the end when she was done, he asked "What do you really think is marriage?" Zahra thought about it and said "I don't know. But it should be romantic and heart warming like Nicholas Sparks novels."

"Alright." he answered. "For that you need to talk to various men and get to know them, go out for dates, exchange views... do you think you have done that.. or will do that for that matter?"

"No" Zahra answered slowly. Despite her romantic notions, she didn't believe in meeting men for dates. She just wanted to meet that one 'man'.

"I thought so" answered the man. "You look like a good woman. I do not think it would agree to your conscience. May be a work colleague you may have known or may be someone you have grown up with"

"Yes. Yes." Zahra agreed nodding her head vigorously. That was exactly what she wanted. To observe someone, know their character from a far or from interactions and then may be it wouldn't be so tough to say yes. The problem was, she hadn't met any.

"What you feel is perfectly logical. But let me tell you my dear, marriage is not all what is in those books you have read or not about playing safe by marrying someone you know."

"What is marriage then?" she asked

"Marriage is for Allah".

"For Allah?" She wondered. She had never thought of it like that.

"Yes, my child. You see, we humans forget that we are born to worship our Lord. This world is for us but for a few years. How long do you expect to live? 50? 70? At the most 90 years. And then what? Marriage is the sunnah of the Prophet. Through marriage we get a companion who helps us in the path to heaven. We get children we shall leave behind to pray for us. We shall add a few more people to this world who will worship our lord in the morning and night. Marriage is a responsibility, a duty, a sacrifice and a chance."

Zahra was spell bound. No one had explained marriage to her like that. but she still had one question. "What about the women who suffer in marriage. They are beaten, abused, they don't find companionship and their lives turn out so bitter."

The man smiled. "What about those people who lost their homes and people in earthquakes and floods? What about those people who die hungry due to lack of provisions, what about those people who remain poor due to lack of opportunities?"

Zahra shook her head. She did not understand how her question was related to these.

"My dear, Allah tries man with different trials. Some with parents, other's with children and other's with their spouses. There are people who are tried financially, other's through calamities. But they do not stop living. And the true believer never gives up hope but strives through the hardships. Similarly, if you marry for Allah. Marry because it was the Sunnat of our Holy prophet... then you will have no fear. For when man does something for his self, he soon finds himself lost and sorrowful at the turn of events. But when he does it for his Lord, no matter what happens, he perseveres."

"Marry for the sake of Allah"... Zahra whispered. Suddenly, it all seemed to make sense to her. Truly what the wise man said was true. Why would she fear when she knows the step taken would be for Allah. She would face her future bravely, knowing that her everything is for Allah and nothing for herself.

She smiled. A smile of relief, a smile of peace. "Thank you. Thank you so much. You don't know but you helped me make one of the most important decisions of my life" She thanked him profusely.

"Not at all. It was my pleasure". He replied with a smile.

She got up, bid him goodbye and started walking back home. She had just gone a few steps, when it struck her that she should take his contact number. InshaAllah she would invite him for her wedding. As she turned around, she was shocked to see the man gone.

"How can that be?" She wondered. He was an elderly man with a walking stick. Surely he couldn't have got up and walked away so fast

.... unless, he wasn't a man, but an angel sent for her. with this thought, she smiled her way home and into her new future

Monday, November 26, 2007

A letter to Allah, from a seven year old

Dearest Allah,

All praise to You, o Lord of the worlds.

May peace and blessings be upon your messenger, Mohammed SAW and his progeny.

Dear Lord, today Ammi made chocolate cake and it was the bestest. She also gave me a glass of milk. I don't like milk. But she says it's good for the body and that I will be able to beat Ashraf on sports day. She told me it was a blessing from You and I should not make faces. I am sorry to make faces... but Lord; I really don't like milk :(

In school I learnt multiplication. Teacher thinks I am fast with numbers. I don't like numbers but I like multiplication. I can multiply three digit numbers and I even taught Zahra how to do it. The best part of school today was break time. Me and Ali and Abdul played football. Abdul's dad got him one from the big shop on Halls street. That mean guy Amar tried to take our football away but we didn't let him. We took the ball and ran. I told Ammi this and she told me that we should not run away like cowards but 'confont' Amar. I don't know what confont is. Is it to give him the ball?

After lunch we went to Madrasa. Mualim aunty has finished teaching us the whole prayer. I can now pray the complete prayer! She has told us to pray everyday. She says it will bring us closer to You. She also says that you love children a lot and especially good children. I hope I am a good child. While we were all practicing how to pray, Amar pushed Ali and he fell down. Abdul got very angry and he hit Amar. Mualim aunty then came and separated them. When we told her Amar had pushed Ali, Amar started lying! He said he had not! Mualim aunty then took him away from our row and to the back.

Abbu has not yet come home. I don't know if he will come today. Yesterday I got up in the night. I wanted to go to the bathroom. When I passed Ammi's room, I saw she was crying. She was sitting by the window as if waiting for Abbu. I went in and I gave her a hug. She hugged me so tight. I might have broken my bone in the chest. Why does Ammi cry in the night Lord? She is always smiling in the day. In the evening she even chased me with the spinach soup. I don't like spinach soup. She is always happy happy with me then why sad sad at night? Please let Abbu come tonight. I want Ammi to be jolly always.

Ammi is calling me for dinner. She doesn't know I write to Lord. It is our secret.

May peace and blessings be upon your messenger, Mohammed SAW and his progeny.

I love you.
Your little servant,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Alvira climbed over the gate and quietly climbed the stairs to her flat. "Damn neighbors, damn neighborhood' she mumbled as she reached for her cell phone. She didn't want to ring the door bell at 3.00 am in the morning in case the neighbors woke up. Her boyfriend Ritesh has dropped her around the corner so that her neighbors wouldn't hear the bike. "Pick up your phone", Alvira sweared beneath her breath.

"Hello" came a sleepy soft voice. "Hey, it's me!! Open the door, I am outside" Alvira whispered to Sakina, her roommate. She could feel Sakina jumping out of her slumber- partly from surprise and partly from shock. "What time is it?” Sakina asked. "First open the door. Quick!" Alvira replied exasperated. Sakina got up and opened the door.

Alvira came in quietly and closed the door. "Thanks and sorry to disturb you" She threw her bag on the sofa and walked to her room removing her jacket. Sakina could smell smoke and perfume and she knew Alvira would be coming from her club parties. "It's three in the morning! You've gone too far now!" She told Alvira in a stern voice.

Alvira turned and laughed, throwing the hair over her shoulder. "Just chill babe. We had a new DJ playing and wooooooo", Alvira twirled around "It was fun. Sad you don't come" Alvira gave Sakina a look of pity.

Alvira and Sakina had met at the University campus on their first day of school. Alvira recognized Sakina as a Muslim because of her scarf and she went and introduced herself. Sakina had become over zealous to know that Alvira was also in her class. Sakina came from a small town somewhere in the middle of India. Alvira was from Dubai. She had come back to India to do her degree studies. At least that is what she told her parents. The fact was, she wanted her freedom away from home and that was why she chose to study away from home. She and Sakina had agreed to be roommates and the best part was; Alvira's parents were happy. They liked Sakina and thought Alvira would be safe with a good Muslim friend.

In the first year itself, Alvira found herself a boyfriend. She was pretty, confident and everyone loved to be around her. When she entered the room, it became fun and everyone wanted to be with her. Sakina on the other hand was quite and a serious student. She went to college, attended the classes and went back home to continue studying. Sakina and Alvira had little in common. Alvira studied fours hours before the exams and scored eighty percent. Sakina studied twelve hours a day and scored ninety and above.

The only common thing which they shared was - they belonged to the same faith. Islam. Alvira never thought about it while Sakina lived it. For Alvira, Sakina was a nice hassle free alibi for her parents. Since she was staying with such a responsible girl, her parents felt at rest.

Sakina had realized within a month that Alvira was a flirt. She saw her in class, the way she would talk to boys and laugh. While Sakina prayed all her prayers, Alvira didn't believe in praying. Sakina had asked her many times to pray, indirectly and politely but Alvira was not interested. At times Sakina saw a guilty look in Alvira's eyes and at times, just darkness. Alvira did fast though during the month of Ramadan but as soon as the month was over, she was back to being the carefree or rather careless teenager. The choice of clothes were designer tank tops, cut jeans, and many revealing dresses. There was no doubt that Alvira was beautiful. She has flawless fair skin, lovely hazel eyes, beautiful hair and she stood out on her five feet six inches. Sakina had seen at least ten guys fall for her within a year of college.

To her dismay, Alvira decided to make Ritesh, a spoilt rich boy her boyfriend. It had been now a year since Alvira had started going out with him, to clubs, parties and at times they'd spend the weekend at vacation spots like Goa and Ooty. Sakina was now beyond shock. She had contemplated many times to tell Alvira's parents and once she did. She called up Alvira's parents and explained that she was going out with a guy.

All hell had broken loose then. Alvira's father came down from Dubai and threatened to take her away if she did not stop. Alvira had given a betrayed look to Sakina and Sakina looked away. She loved Alvira in her strange way. No matter how many times she ignored Sakina and used her for her personal gain, Sakina loved Alvira, her spirit, her intelligence and at the end of the day, no matter how she was, she was her Muslim sister.

Alvira's dad left after two days. Alvira promised him she would break up with her boyfriend and try to 'become like Sakina' as her father mentioned. For the next week, Alvira did not talk to Sakina. Alvira gave Sakina a cold shoulder and her nights out increased even further. "You have no right to interfere in my business. As you say, God gave us a mind to think and a will to choose. I have thought and I have chosen. This is my life so mind your own business".

That night Sakina had cried to sleep. She had gone out to help a friend, a friend who was not realizing what she was doing only to be hurt by her words. She decided then that she would not interfere, advice or say anything to Alvira. She would remain her loyal friend, from heart and from faith but like Alvira said - she had chosen her life and it was her right.

But there was one thing she never stopped doing. She never stopped praying for Alvira. After every Salaat, she would pray to God to help her friend come back to the right path.

Days past after the night Alvira came late. Exams were approaching and as usual Sakina helped Alvira understand all the subjects within a week of the examinations. When the results came out, Alvira had got 85% while Sakina 92%. "You study twelve hours a day and I just four hours before exam yet we have only a difference of 7%" Alvira smirked at her friend. Sakina smiled "Actually, I should thank you. It's by teaching you that I achieve such high marks. Not only do I understand the concepts well but they are reinforced by explaining them to you. You also make me think when you ask your smart questions. I don't think I would have achieved 92% without you." Sakina smiled at Alvira. "So thank you" she said shyly.

Alvira was speechless. She had intended to be mean and her friend was actually thanking her. "That's ok" she said dismissingly and looked away. "I've got to go. Ritesh is taking me for dinner. It's a surprise. I think it's going to be The Leela. I always wanted to go there" she gushed on excitedly. Sakina kept quite. She kept her face neutral. Alvira knew Sakina did not approve but she cared nothing for it. She was happy and her happiness meant everything to her.

That night Sakina decided to read the at least three chapters of the Holy Quran, the book of Allah Taala. Sakina found great peace in reading Quran. She did not understand Arabic so she read the translation in English along with Arabic. That way she understood what her Lord was telling her and many a times she would weep over the love that Allah showed for her through His book. Yes for her. For Sakina. Sakina knew that Allah Taala had sent the book as guidance to mankind and what amazed her was as she read, she felt that God was talking to her personally. Addressing her, guiding her, admonishing her, showing his Signs and narrating about the great prophets of aforetime, May peace be on all of them. Sakina looked forward every evening to read the Holy Quran. She was not a strong woman but rather, through her own niceness which she couldn't see, she was a woman of strength, strength that she derived from the Holy Quran.

"I'm going! I'm taking the keys so I won't disturb you if I come late", Alvira cried out as she ran down the staircase. Sakina was at that time bowing down and said a small prayer to protect Alvira. She finished her prayers and sat down to read the Quran Shariff. She read for over an hour and then felt sleepy. She still wanted to read more so she decided to take a small nap and continue reading. She left her bookmark on the page and lied down on her bed. Before she knew it, she was fast asleep.

Alvira came back at 11.30 p.m. As she had guessed, Ritesh had taken her out to the Leela's and she had loved it. Everything was perfect for her. She never thought of tomorrow or the future. It was foolish to do so. Enjoy the present. That was her motto. When she entered the house, she saw Sakina's room light was on. She went in and saw Sakina peacefully sleeping. Her prayer mat was laid out and the Holy Quran was on the stool on her mat. Alvira went forward to fold the prayer mat. She guessed that Sakina would have slept while reading the Quran. As she was about to pick the Holy Quran, she hesitated. A million thoughts ran over her mind.

"You are unclean"
"You are not a good woman. Only the good touch the Holy Book"
"You are an evil woman"

Alvira stepped back. She didn't know where the thoughts came from. She didn't like them. She felt suffocated. She looked at the prayer mat, the Holy Quran; she couldn't leave them there lying open. She got up, went to her room, and changed into one of the decent salwar suits she had which she used only for Eid. She went to the bathroom and did ablution. She didn't remember when she had done it last. She washed her hands, her face, her arms, she wiped her head, her ears, neck and legs. She was surprised to find she had not forgotten the duas to pray. She walked into Sakina's room, put the dupatta, the long scarf around her head and kneeled down to pick the Holy Quran. As she held it in her hands, she sat down and without a thought opened it. Sakina had kept her book mark at Surat-ul-Al-Imran. The chapter on the family of Imran.

She sat... and read... she read the whole Chapter. Her face changed from curiosity to deep thought to fear to regret to hope to amazement. She went through a bundle of emotions. Her heart filled up and she felt her throat becoming clogged. One by one, tears started flowing from her eyes. She didn't know why she was crying. Was it at the truth that was before her eyes, or that she had gone by life without any direction and here she found one or that she had never thought of her Creator and how much He loved her. Yes HER. As bad and as many mistakes as she had done, she did not find condemnation but rather a guiding hand. She had found... a treasure.

After she finished reading the chapter, she held the Quran to her chest and cried and cried.

"Oh my Lord, forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me. Oh my Lord, I acknowledge you as my God. My one and only God and Mohammed your Messenger. I come to you with regret for what I have done. For all the years I have lived never acknowledging you, for all the evil I have done. I beg forgiveness from you my Lord and I beg of you to guide me to your rightful path, to your promised heaven and protect me from hell. I come to you Lord with hope in my heart that you are the most merciful."

With that prayer on her lips, Alvira bowed down her head and cried for a long time. Her crying woke up Sakina and as she focused her eyes, she could not believe that she was seeing Alvira bowing down to God. She felt her eyes mist as she got up and sat next to Alvira. When Alvira got up, Sakina handed her her handkerchief and they hugged. They were both crying. There was no need of words. The heart of one believer can understand each and every heart beat of another believer.

That night changed Alvira forever. It was not easy for her. But an inner light, strength, a faith she had not anticipated gave her courage. She first broke off with Ritesh. She told him about her experienced and how she realized she was on a lost path. Ritesh did not understand. He thought she had gone mad. After many accusations, pleadings, Ritesh realized that Alvira was firm in her decision. He left and though Alvira felt her heart was breaking, she did not shake from her belief.

The days that came saw Alvira turn from a flirt to a respectful girl, she covered her self, her confidence grew more, she studied more now with Sakina and even enrolled in Islamic studies. She went home and had a heart-to-heart talk with her parents. Her parents were speechless. Partly from disbelief at the sudden change in Alvira and partly from immense happiness.

As for Alvira and Sakina, their friendship grew even stronger. When they parted at the end of their degree studies, Alvira gave Sakina a beautiful prayer mat and a thank you note:

"To my friend, who did not give up on me"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Two children

Zarrah looked into the mirror and saw the pretty heart shaped face, the lovely hazel eyes lined with kohl. She smiled and the face turned beautiful with a child like quality that would make anyone want to protect its owner. She closed her eyes and remembered the first time.

She had been three. He was four. She was sitting in the sand dune playing with her friends. He came next to her and joined her. She had looked up at him and smiled. He had thick curly hair and long eye lashes. He had looked at her and her golden brown hair. “I’m going to marry you one day” he told her. Zarrah didn’t know what to say. She turned deep red and turned away. His eyes scared her. He then did that one thing that got him yanked by Ms. Ahmed and locked up in the ‘Bad Children Room’. He had ever so gently and silently leaned forward and kissed her on her cheek. All the children had squealed. Ms. Ahmed came rushing and took him away. She had been in a state of shock. She didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or to celebrate the happiness she felt. He had turned back and looked at her. A look that promised he would be back. Back.

However, that was the last day she had seen him. Her parents left the city that day. Zarrah’s father had been promoted and they were moving to the capital city. He would be managing the central office.

Soon years passed and Zarrah blossomed into a beautiful girl. Her beauty was even more precious for she covered it up. She was a jewel. Just like how the most beautiful things in the world are hidden, be it the pearl in the oyster’s protective arms or the diamond deep down the mine. Zarrah often sat and thought who would unearth her, and it was at that time she heard those words: “I’m going to marry you one day” She’d hid her face in the pillow and think of where he was. She knew she was crazy. He had been just four, yet what he said was with so much determination.

Today Zarrah turned eighteen. Today a man was coming to see her, to ask for her hand in marriage. She had overheard her mother telling her aunt. Her parents were friends with the family before Zarrah was born. They had moved to Muscat a few years back and now they were coming with their son was coming to see her. Zarrah’s mom went on to say that she would want Zarrah to marry now. It’s always good to marry early. There is charm and beauty when two who are young come together. They become one more easily and stand by each other at every point of life.

Zarrah had rushed to her room and thrown herself on the bed. Her heart was beating. She was scared. What if the man liked her, and then would that little boy, who had promised to marry her, never marry her? She laughed through her tears because she knew she was being silly. She touched her cheek, fourteen years later she still felt the same tingle.

Her parents told her a day in advance. They asked her if it was alright with her. She nodded silently. What could she say? “No Ammi, I actually am waiting for a four year old who once said he was going to marry me” They would laugh at her. She didn’t even know the name of the boy.
The smile in the mirror quivered. The heart shaped faced turned sad as the hazel eyes carried a far away look. “Zarrah!” her mother called her. It was time, time to go down and meet the man, the man who could be her future and the end of her childhood fantasy.

Adnan sat there waiting nervously. He couldn’t control his heart beat. Would she like him? Would she be ready to marry him? Would she remember his promise- the one he had made in the sand dune. If she didn’t, would she like him now? As the young man he was? His hand shook as he quickly laced his fingers to hide his nervousness.

She came in the room and he thought he had stopped breathing. She was wearing a turquoise salwar suit; the duppatta that covered her head was laced with beads that made her look like a fairy with flower buds framing her face. She kept her head bowed and eyes down. His parents saw her and nodded with approval. They looked at her and nodded to him. He seemed to notice all this from one angle of his eye. He didn’t know when he was more mesmerized: The day he first saw her or today?

His parents were talking to her. She replied still with her eyes cast down. He didn’t know he was staring at her. Until his mother nudged him. Zarrah hadn’t looked at him. “Why don’t you two go in the balcony and talk” her father told him. He nodded shyly and got up. She also got up and moved towards the balcony. It had a lovely view of the lawns- A glass panel that separated it from the living room where their parents sat. They could see them sitting in the balcony. Both seemed to be at a loss of words.

He didn’t know what to say. She still hadn’t looked up. “I did tell you I will marry you one day”. Her head jerked up. Her eyes searching his face: searching for the face of the little boy, the boy with thick curly hair and long eye lashes. Her hazel eyes shone with excitement and disbelief, of shock and relief. It was then he realized, she hadn’t forgotten. He felt a surge of happiness as he smiled into her eyes. She turned the same deep red when he had told her when they were kids. A tiny smile crept at the corners of her mouth. It was unbelievable. It was him. He truly had come.

That's how the two children came together for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Each one of us can make a difference

Sameer completed his twenty lapses and sat down on the bench panting. As his breath calmed down, he thought about Reshma. Sameer and Reshma studied together. They were Architecture students and would complete their course in a year. “A year and I may never see her again” he thought sadly. He liked Reshma a lot but did not have the courage to propose to her. At twenty three, he was after all a boy. As far as he was concerned, his life revolved around his college, his friends, hanging out at M.G. Road and doing last minute studies to get through. He knew after a year, his college life would come to an end, friends will move away, but he didn’t want to let go of Reshma.

He leaned back on the bench and put his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes and thought of her. She was an intelligent, fun-loving girl. Everyone liked her and everyone wanted to be her friend. Sameer on the other hand was an average guy, the usual bloke on the road. He didn’t think he had anything special. He was not a great public speaker or a leader. He didn’t believe he could ever contribute in a great way to the world. After graduation, he hoped to get a job in one of the construction companies.

As he got up from his bench and walked towards the west gate, he noticed a gathering of people. There was a man talking to them and giving them pamphlets. He joined them to find out what the fuss was all about. “You can also make a difference. Do save our world and let us make sure that the place we leave for our children is better than the one we got” the man was saying.

“What is he talking about?” Sameer asked one of the men in the group.

“Global warming, He is explaining about how global warming has led to the increase in temperatures and claims it’s also the cause of floods and hurricanes that are happening. Can you believe that?!” He exclaimed

Sameer had heard about global warming. Lately it was a topic that was splashed all over the newspapers and magazines. He personally thought it was exaggerated. There had been a recent seminar in his college by a group of environmentalists from a non-profit organization. He had sat there in the seminar half listening to them and half thinking about Reshma. Undoubted, he only remembered Reshma.

As he left the gathering, the man with the pamphlets came up to him and said “Good morning sir would you like to sign up for our campaign. We need volunteers to help us plant native trees around Bangalore.” ‘Not on my life’ Sameer thought. He didn’t want to go round the city planting trees. That was the job of the Municipal! “Umm, no thanks, I don’t have time.” He said as he tried to dodge past him. “Please sir, do think about it. Here, have our pamphlet and in case you change your mind” he said handing him one of the pamphlets. “Ok yeah sure” Sameer replied. He hastily took the pamphlet and hurried on before the guy could say another word.

He had no intention to join. The first thing he would do is find a dust bin and throw it. He removed his bike keys and absently stuffed the pamphlet in his pocket. Once at home, he got ready fast and left for college. He tried to talk to Reshma but he had no confidence. He smiled and acted cool but he was troubled. Damn! He was afraid of rejection. He couldn’t bear rejection. He like many other boys his age would not do something when they knew they’d hear a no.

That night, after dinner he went out in the balcony and sat on the swing. He could hear the distant sounds of the traffic. Traffic! He had noticed how much the traffic had increased the past few years. Earlier it took him fifteen minutes to reach college and now, almost half an hour. He also didn’t like the pollution. When it used to rain, he would go out with his friends and enjoy the first showers of the monsoon. Now he would do anything but that. The rain that fell mixed with the carbon emissions. They would drop on his shirt like black dirty water!

He closed his eyes and let his mind wander. Soon he dozed off. That’s when he saw the dream. His dream took him into the late century. He saw his great great grand daughter. She looked sixteen resembled Reshma but she had his eyes and like magic, he began to feel as though he was her.

“Asha please close the windows. I see some rays coming in. Make sure you have worn your gloves!” a voice called out from the back ground. “Yes mom” Asha replied. She pulled out the draw and removed her gloves. She wore them and went to the window, closed it tightly and drew the curtains. The temperatures outside must be at least 70°C. She went back to her desk to attend school. The Government had closed all real schools. They had only virtual schools. No one could afford to risk going out of the house. In the news last night, ten people had died of skin cancer. The UV rays had reported gone up by 20%.

Their house had been sealed. They used a cooler but only sparingly. The electricity was on just for an hour a day. It was the same in the whole country. They couldn’t afford to use it more than that else the carbon emissions would rise and that would mean only hotter climate and more cancer.

After submitting her essay, she went to read the newspaper. It the history section, there was an article about a city called Kolkatta. It used to be located west of India. It was known for its literature, art and culture. Millions of people lived there and the sweet Rasagulla was first made in Kolkatta. Today many people take a submarine to go underwater and explore the remains of the city. Asha sighed and put the paper down. Asha’s mother had told her that their family had been from Kolkatta. It’s a pity she would never see Kolkatta.

Asha’s mother came in and asked her to get ready so that they could go and buy the months groceries. Asha went to her room and put on her anti-UV coat, face mask and gloves. She looked at herself in the mirror. At sixteen she should be wearing pretty dresses and look charming. However, in her case, she looked more like a fireman.

They went out of the room and hurried to the car. The car was covered with aluminum foil to reflect the sun rays. That didn’t help much though. When they sat in, the car was as hot as an oven. The shopping plaza was three kilometers away. As they drove past, they couldn’t see a soul on the streets.

They hurriedly did their shopping. Mother asked the shop keeper if they would deliver the next month’s grocery home. “Sorry Behenji, we already lost two delivery boys who died of heat stroke. From now onwards we don’t deliver” Mother was dismayed. Surely life was becoming tough.

When they came back home, they made a lunch of sandwiches. They made a lot of sandwiches lately because they didn’t need to use the gas then. Gas had become very expensive. The Government increased the prices so as to discourage people in using gas. It also rationed the electricity and water.

They sat down to watch the News. “Another tornado has hit the south of India. Tornado Anjali is expected to strike the Andamans and move towards Chennai. It is likely to proceed southwards to Kerala.” The reporter was saying. They showed the pictures of the tornado and the houses being washed away. According to the reporter, it was likely that Andaman and Nicobar Island would disappear. The camera shifted to Chennai to show how millions of people were rushing inland wearing their Anti-UV coats. Babies were wrapped in Anti-UV blankets as their mothers tried to protect them from the sun and rain.

Asha looked at the news indifferently. It wasn’t something new. These calamities had become part of life. Just the other day she had seen the last of Hong Kong. She hopped the scientist would succeed in making Mars habitable. Earth was soon running out of earth.

“Sameer, Sameer, wake up son.” Sameer got up with a jerk. His mother was shaking him. “You will catch a cold out here, why don’t you go in your room and relax” Sameer nodded his head and went to his room. As he closed the door, he stood with his back to it. He was perplexed by what he had just dreamt. The dream had been so real. He had felt Asha’s emotions as though it were his. ‘Oh-my-God, will the earth really become all that in the years to come?!’ he thought panicking.

Suddenly a completely new feeling came in his mind. No, it can’t be. He won’t let it be. He didn’t want his future generation to wear anti-UV coats and live life closed door. He wasn’t going to have his great great grand daughter never know her hometown. He wasn’t going to let Kolkatta or any city go underwater. He had the chance now. He could do something. Even though he was merely a boy and merely one person, but he would contribute to saving the earth.

He remembered the pamphlet he got in Lal bagh and hurriedly checked his jeans. “Oh God please, let me not have thrown it” he muttered as he searched in a frenzy. He found it at last and breathed a sight of relief. He immediately called the number listed and told them he was interested to join their campaign and learn more about what was global warming and how he could help. The volunteer was more than happy to give him the information. “Thank you sir, you don’t know how hard it is for us to get people to realize the seriousness of this.” Thanked the volunteer. Sameer thought to himself “Well neither did I until now”

The next day, Sameer went to the Organization and enrolled as one of their members. He joined them in planting trees around Bangalore and attended the various seminars they conducted. He read as much as he could about global warming and what was causing it. He even watched the documentary movie ‘Inconvenient Truth” by Al-Gore. Soon he joined the ‘Spread-the-awareness’ campaigns and after his morning jogs, he too would give pamphlets to the joggers and ask them to do something.

He couldn’t believe that a few simple steps could help reduce so much of electricity and fuel that was increasing the levels of CO2 and CH4. Both gases had increased to 31% and 149% respectively since 1750. 149%!! No wonder the temperatures had gone up.

He got his friends Akash and Swamy to join the cause too and soon there was a whole group in their college. They gave seminars and organized tree-planting expeditions. Sameer left his bike and started traveling by bus. He would make sure he would recycle papers and encouraged his mother to make a compost pit for their garden out of the vegetable peels. They used electricity modestly, and made meals that required minimum gas usage. Sameer felt a sense of achievement at the end of three months. He began to feel that he had done something worthwhile. While he had gone ahead and done his bit, he had also got people to do the same.

Another good thing that came out of his decision was: he learnt to accept a no. He learnt that people say no a thousand times and it didn’t mean anything personal. A no after all, was just a no. Sameer’s confidence levels rose and he found he was happier and more content. Earlier, he had resolved to the fact that he would join one of the construction companies after he graduated, but now, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go into ‘Environmentally friendly and sustainable Architecture’. He had applied for his internship to a firm that practiced it and he made a promise, throughout his career, he would make buildings that would use the solar rays for light and energy. That would cut down both lights and air conditioning.

Now he had just one more thing to do. He was also ready to ask the one question he had dreaded. During the lunch break, Reshma and he went for lunch. It was there that he told her. He told her he liked her. Reshma was silent for a while. “I thought you would never tell me” she said as she smiled at him. Sameer was sure at that moment that he would have a great great grand daughter named Asha and this Asha will not wear anti-UV coats.