In a cyclic story, one can start from any point.
Our story starts with a mother suggesting to her son that its time he got married and assumed the responsibility of sharing house-hold expenses with his father, retired last year. She makes the suggestion, although half-heartedly, because she thinks that as the only solution to be tried, to get over her 32-year son’s lethargy – a charge he vigorously refutes. She does it half-heartedly because she is witness to her son’s failure (just last week) to fix a short-circuited socket, let alone repair the chair lying one-foot broken since several months. She is hopeful that her son might let loose his hidden abilities, if he gets married, talented as he has always claimed to be.
Outwardly displaying half-willingness, (at heart quite excited), the son responds, “I don’t mind, especially, if that will make you happy.” He cautions her to look for someone like herself (she is a saree-clad uneducated traditional woman). “Additionally,” he adds, “she might be modern, educated, decent, homely, employed (if the girl so insists).”
The mother’s eyes turn binocular as she scans the society.
During the dinner invitations, and upon enquiries, she informs the parties interested in her son, that her son, although presently unemployed, is full of packed energy and should have no difficulty in finding a job, if he tried seriously. “As for not having completed his degree,” she tells parents of the sought-after girl, “It is because his teachers were so very prejudiced against him. One or two of them in fact told him point blank that it wouldn’t make any difference to the college, if he dropped out altogether. “Can you believe it?” she asks, “a teacher saying such a thing to a student, instead of encouraging him? My husband always says that these institutes have become commercial. In fact, the Chemistry teacher told my son, out of pure spite, being a non-Muslim (you know!) that she would not allow my son get a hall-ticket.”
“But why,” the parents exclaim, “should he be denied the exam-hall-ticket?”
She replies, “Well the pretext was that my son hardly attends her class.”
The other party is now alarmed, “Well, was that the reason?”
She exclaims, “Of course not. But the truth is that my son was absent from her classes a few days when one of his aunts was in the hospital and he had to deliver dinner to her. Moreover, my son was mentally so disturbed by her sickness, out of his unbound love for his dear aunt, that he was in no position to attend college.” (She conceals the fact that her son thinks that much of his troubles, if not all, have something to do with his aunt, who, he strongly suspects, has cast an evil eye om him, or maybe magic, and so, he wouldn’t be too sorry if she didn’t recover).
Having lost interest, the other party hastens to say the mother of our hero goodbye, regretting the cakes and cool drinks they purchased for the occasion, a little generously.
“I have tried at quite a few places,” the mother reports back to her son, “but the problem is that I see jaws dropping when I tell them that you are unemployed. Should you not then look for a job?”
His dreams of a beautiful beau had been the occupant of his mind – day and night – for so long that he soon gets over the disappointment, and continues with his dreams, except that he feels that it is perhaps time he convinced the stupid world of his latent talents, and, consequently bind himself to slavery; for, to him a job is slavery. He looks into the advertisement pages of a newspaper, borrowed from the neighbor, and, going by at least three advertisements that he sees, concludes that there must be a terrible shortage of salesmen in the world.
But having received no reply from any of the three ads he saw, he decides to present himself to prospective employers, whether they advertised or not.
With no luck with any, and very angry at the Recruitment Managers looking up, scanning him, and uttering dryly, “No. We don’t need any salesman,” he consults some friends. One of them suggests that some combing of his hair and a necktie might improve the situation. “Will a bow do?” he asks his friend, “I have seen some film-heroes looking so smart in a bow.” His friend tells him that he has not seen any salesman with a bow around his neck. (He asked about the bow, because he recalls having seen a piece in the attic, given as a retirement-gift to his father by the factory he worked for, manufacturing neckties, bows, napkins, and other such paraphernalia. The friend’s approval would have saved him from buying a necktie).
Ultimately, he does find a job. He will sell soap and deodorants, door to door. No salary, only commission. No quick buck that would put him into the list of millionaires overnight. Most of his friend’s circle believes that that’s how the economy works. So disappointing! But by now he realizes that the world cannot read from his face the talents hidden in him, and that, after all, he has to take off from somewhere: Tatas and Birlas started small.
The news is passed on to his mother that now he is a Sales Manager. She is happy that at least her son has acquired a smart look with that necktie on. Bride-hunting is resumed.
She proudly informs those who have decided to take the risk, that her son is employed. He is a Sales Manager in a Multinational Company.
A deal is struck. The girl is educated and employed. There are no demands, of course, she lets them know. “I am aware,” she says, “that parents love their children, and would like to equip their daughter well as she steps into her new home. After all,” she cautions against her words being taken literally, “today a girl receives as gift from her parents things like: a refrigerator, sofa set, beddings, dining table, a bureau, and a few other petty things.” (The petty things include: a meat and vegetable grinder, oven, dinner set, make-up table, etc.). Her message is carefully noted, but the demand for a motor cycle is turned down.
Noticing curls on the foreheads, she tries to raise their spirit by saying to them to follow her own example. “To our daughter we gave,” she says, “a lorry-load of goods (she doesn’t know the difference between a lorry and a van), and so much gold that they still thank us.”
Religion and its demands are never mentioned during the negotiations. God is on our side, they are sure. A date is set. He blunders a little when the Qadi asked him to repeat the Kalimah after him, but otherwise, the wedding is smoothly got over. “Weren’t you paid by the bride’s party?” He asks the Qadi, when he steers himself to him through the crowd to remind that he too should be offering a gift to him, for his holy services conducted flawlessly.
At the stage, the two sitting on high chairs, the mobiles constantly filming the event, while the girl is thinking, again and again, about how should she be adjusting herself to best-please her mother-in-law, the mother-in-law herself is checking on the dowry items, (some material had been delivered yesterday, has the rest arrived today?) On his part, the groom is secretly counting the cash that is coming in, in lieu of gifts.
The dinner that followed was truly grand. His parents, who hardly earned any credit for their attention to Qur’an and Sunnah, Salah and Zakah through their lives, suddenly became conscious of a Sunnah called Valimah. They insisted that they would conduct it on a grand-scale, since the party will be attended by a thousand people. Ignoring the girl’s party’s weakly pronounced pleas that they didn’t think a dinner by the bride’s party was an obligation, or a thousand ravagers were necessary, the groom’s party had said that, “If that’s what you think, then, let us combine the two, yours and ours.” Thus they succeeded in extracting half the Sunnah-cost from the grumbling party.
There soon appeared, tie-clad, some in suites, dozens of volunteers, friends of the groom, smiling, laughing, merrily serving food to the hungry nation. Some of the invitees thought they were a pretty lot, but those at the bitter end of life thought they were buffoons. As for the groom, that was the best part of the function. He hadn’t been able to host any party to his friends, and hadn’t known that his friends loved him so much.
Nature is kind, so disappointment crawls in gradually, stealthily, although the girl’s first disappointment homed in on the first night, when the man sneezed almost in her heavily powdered face, and forgot that, on any occasion, a tissue comes in handy on the nose and mouth, instead of the two hands.
It is three months now, and Sales Manager hasn’t been to his job for a single day and his wife is getting a little concerned about her jewelry that her mother-in-law says would only be safe in her custody. (She is unaware that it is already in safe custody of the pawn-shop).
Time seems to be in a hurry. It is six months since the wedding. The dowry cash that he received, only partly, because the rest was pocketed by his father: the date for renewal of the house mortgage was approaching fast. Our hero had thought he would get all the money, after all, it had been obtained in his name. Taxis to attend dinner invitations have become expensive. If not for autorickshaws he would be in a worse situation. (Next dinner, the girl will be on foot). Tension between husband and wife is brewing. Issues are several. Money taken as loan by her husband, not infrequently, is depleting wife’s account. Another issue is her salary. She gives him only one-half of it, while the rest is spent jointly. “Isn’t my money yours and your money mine?” the husband asks in anger. There are other complaints, declared legitimate by Mawlwis and Mawlanas when consulted. For instance, she is not spending enough time in the kitchen: “a woman is for the kitchen,” is the Fatwa by them. They cite the example of their own wives. (That the Prophet’s house had no kitchen, is a piece of information the two of the clergy class hadn’t heard. But wouldn’t have changed their Fatwa if they had. They would cite latter-day authorities and saints as examples).
“Why have you not wiped dark patches off the fridge?” the mother-in-law demands to know. The complaint-list is long. Mortgaging stuff (the kitchen-ware) she brought at marriage, should be, the in-law family tells her, should be of little concern to her because that is a common practice now in the society. The family has now shifted to a place at the border of the slums. Apart from the dingy new house, in a dingier wet room where you can’t walk without stepping on something, she can’t stand the stench.
Fights are commoner now. Issues are petty, insults are many, and for her it’s like walking on egg-shells. She is fed up. The husband is fed up too, but not so much on her account, which he pretentiously claims, as on account of sorrow-filled life. Sickly parents are now less dear. Educational costs of his two children are borne by the wife. Earnings from autorickshaw driving offers some relief, but not enough to meet with the medical costs of his parents. Food costs are almost borne out by the wife. He himself is not a burden on her, because he spends three-fourths of his auto-earning on himself. Home-life is almost none. He goes home only to sleep off the night. His relationship with children, if any, is customary. He has been thinking and thinking.
One evening he doesn’t turn up. Then the next, and the next too. The children miss the wrapped torso in the corner they used to see fast asleep every morning before they went to the corporation-run, hateful, school. Enquiries with the mother yield the answer, “I have no idea.”
She is not lying.
Next that we hear of her is that she has moved into a slum, and the next she hears of our hero is that he has moved to another slum, and that he has married another woman, and that he has received some beating by the slum-lord for not paying the rent, and, it appears, he has taken to drinking.
We are at the fag-end of the story, but we cannot say ‘the End’ yet, because the process of slum-filling by Muslims continues.