Him and her

by Rahad Abir

lit01A SALT-and-pepper bearded man appeared. He wore a knitted topee that covered his full head. Once the topee was white but now turned into grey and its edge looked greasy. He must be the Kazi, Shelley thought. The Kazi was preparing betel. He finely folded the betel leaf, opened his mouth wide and stashed it into there. He pointed Shelley to the chair to sit. Once he took over the betel in his mouth, he spoke. ‘Want to wed?’ The voice sounded thin and nasal.
Shelley nodded, looking at his thick body that produced the thin voice. The Kazi pulled the only chair at his side, sat down and ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper beard. Sufia was standing behind Shelley, with her burqa on. Shelley winked at her. They both sat down. The Kazi gave a long look to Sufia. His piercing look seemed enough to pierce her veil.
The marriage registrar’s office, a small tin-roofed structure, had this large veranda at the front. It turned out that the Kazi lived inside and used the veranda as his office, which was basically a decrepit old table, accompanied by five shabby chairs. The Kazi began asking questions. That was more than an interview. Shelley realised this would not end anytime soon. So he told the Kazi that he loved Sufia. But their marriage was opposed on religious grounds. He’d now convert to Islam to marry her. But what he didn’t tell him was that she ran away from home last evening to evade the forced marriage that her father had arranged for her. The nuptial is supposed to take place in two days, with a suitor who lived and worked in Karachi.
The Kazi leaned back in his chair. At a regular interval, his hand would turn to his beard. His lips turned red with the betel juice. He swirled his tongue inside his cheeks, to give his chewed betel a shuffle. His fingers ran through his salt-and-pepper beard for a time. And finally he gave out a big thoughtful hmm. ‘Do you have two witnesses?’
Shelley didn’t get it. The Kazi explained that, according to Islam, either two Muslim men or four women were required as witnesses to perform a marriage. Shelley was unprepared for this. He was prepared to convert to Islam and that was all. He asked the Kazi whether he could manage the witnesses. Once again the Kazi said ‘hmm’, licked his lips and swirled his tongue inside. He stood up, told him to wait and went out.
Civil marriage was another option to get married other than converting religion. Initially Shelley preferred it. But that British-made law required the bride to be at least 18 years old. Sufia was 16. So he’d skipped the option.
The Kazi returned ten or fifteen minutes later. Behind him, two old men came in. Their dress-up disclosed that the Kazi had picked them from the nearby mosque. The two sat next to Shelley. Becoming a Muslim was much easier than Shelley thought. It was simply testifying a simple phrase: La ilaha illallah, Muhammadur rasul-ullah. There was no true god but Allah, and Muhammad was the Messenger of Allah. Saying this, one became a Muslim. Thus, Shelley became a Muslim. Following the conversion, the Kazi insisted him to take a new name. A Muslim name of course. Shelley refused. With his little knowledge about Islam, he pointed out this was not obligatory. What really did matter was belief, not names. The Kazi accepted.
The wedding also was much, much simpler than Shelley had thought. One thousand times easier than a Hindu marriage. It was similar to a Christian wedding he’d seen in Hollywood movies. The Kazi kind of asked the same stuff like a Christian priest, except the kissing part at the end.
Thus, Shelley and Sufia became husband and wife.
lit02When all the process and paper works were over, the Kazi cleared his throat. His eyes shifted between Shelley and Sufia. ‘This might be embarrassing,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how to put it, but I feel it’s my Islamic duty to inform you. You know…a Muslim man should be circumcised.’
Shelley was also unprepared for this. He blushed as the Kazi stared at him. As if his piercing eyes stared at his secret thing. Partition again, he thought, that thing was the main point of partition. India was partitioned on the grounds of circumcision.
‘Not to worry. For this type of case, I have special arrangement. Just a few days of bed rest. Not a big deal. You’ve become a Muslim. You should do it as soon as possible.’
Suddenly, Sufia sneezed. It was near inaudible. But Shelley’s ear couldn’t miss it. She was getting annoyed for sure. Whenever she got annoyed, she started sneezing. She couldn’t help it.
‘Yes, I know,’ without delay Shelley agreed with the Kazi. He wished Sufia was not here. Circumcised words would sound unimpressive to a just-wed bride.
But the Kazi wouldn’t stop. His face appeared too snooty, showed he was doing Shelley a big favour by informing him this. And he surely sounded much like a urologist then. ‘You’re an educated man. You know, circumcision has lots of benefits. Science has proved it’s good for a healthy sexual life…’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know all that,’ Shelley cut in. No more could he hear that terrible, thin nasal voice. No more he could be a shy and a nice guy to hear about their coming-sex-life. He leapt to his feet. He pulled out his wallet with an impatient hand, paid the Kazi’s fees with enough reward and walked off with Sufia.
Out on the street, a cool wind splashed Shelley’s face. ‘Disgusting,’ his voice grew shrilled. ‘Who the hell told him to care about my penis? It’s my thing, I’ll decide.’
Sufia lifted her face veil. ‘Nah. it’s not your thing anymore. You just lost your right there.’
Shelley ground to a halt. His face appeared choleric.
Sufia sounded serious. ‘What business you have with that? It belongs to someone else now. Let her decide. She’ll take good care of your thing as it is.’
Now he got it. He let out a gleeful chuckle. The four eyes met, the pair of lips smiled. An uncontrollable thought gave Shelley goose bumps.
‘Would you care for a wedding meal now?’ he asked.
‘I’d like that.’
Shelley took her to a good restaurant. They both had chicken biriyani, mutton cutlet, and for dessert, they had yogurt. Their bodies slowed down after lunch. Sufia yawned. All she wanted now was to drop dead on a bed.
On the street, Shelley found a horse-drawn carriage waiting for passengers. He wished to have a ride in it to savour the wedding moment. He hired it. The carriage driver asked the destination. Shelley creased his forehead, gazed at Sufia. Something surely was on his mind.
‘I think we shouldn’t go home,’ he said.
Sufia frowned.
Shelley said to the carriage driver to go to Tanti Bazaar.
Sufia waited to hear what was going on inside his head. Shelley explained. If the worst comes to the worst, her tiger-like father would hunt them down and they’d be in trouble. Finding his address was not a big deal. To stay safe and sound, it’d be wise to be away from his home for a few days. Sufia said no words, but clutched his hand in reply. She had a hard time believing that his father’s grip could reach them in Dhaka.
‘Sweetie, forget those crap.’ Shelley rubbed her hand. ‘Now enjoy our wedding moment. Imagine, the king and the queen are having a ride with their two-horse carriage.’
‘You mean a burqa queen? I’ve never seen a queen in burqa anyway.’
‘Me neither. Why don’t you take off your burqa then? It’s Dhaka, not Gopala village. No one bothers here regarding what you wear.’
Sufia eyed him warily. ‘Are you serious?’ Since morning she’d already seen enough city women, wandering around not wearing burqas and some even in sleeveless blouses.
Sufia peered down the street. Right and left. She hesitated but finally slipped out of her burqa.
A cheering whistle came from the street, followed by showering of stares. The carriage driver turned his head and laughed, flashing all his teeth. Sufia straightened her back in a nonchalant manner. A pair of magpie robins just then flew over the carriage. Shelley smiled at her. She smiled back at him; the afternoon turned romantic. The wild wind cooled off their idyllic faces.
En route, Shelley bought some sweets. ‘Listen,’ he said to Sufia, ‘we’ll be staying at my friend Dulal’s house. But he’s not there. He and his family have moved to India, only a widowed aunt lives there by herself.’
The house was at a dead end. Shelley led Sufia through a dark and damp staircase to the second floor. The musty air was depressing. Shelley knocked on the wooden door. The person who opened the door looked more depressing than the house. Shelley couldn’t recognise that wrinkled old face of the woman. But he instantly recognised widowed woman standing behind her.
‘Shelley!’ pishi cried. ‘Where’d you been lost?’ She passed the maid and held his arm. And then she noticed Sufia. It blew her. She gathered her thoughts and cried louder. ‘You got married?’
Shelley nodded with a smile.
Pishi took Sufia’s hand and pulled her into the room. ‘She’s beautiful!’ She exclaimed. She scrutinised Sufia thoroughly, head to toe. ‘Boy, you definitely don’t deserve her,’ she concluded.
Shelley remembered mentioning to this aunt in the past that he had a relationship with a Muslim girl. Now pishi demanded to know everything. Shelley gave her a brief history of everything that has happened.
Sufia’s ankle-length hair impressed pishi more than anything else. Sufia had to undo her bun to show her hair. Once again Pisi ended up announcing he was utterly unfit for Sufia.
But pishi was utterly shocked when she held out Sufia’s hands before her eyes. ‘How could you do this to your lovely fingers?’
Shelley glanced at Sufia and she started to blush in embarrassment. Pishi rebuked her and made Sufia promise that she’d stop nail-biting.
The old maid brought some snacks with tea.Pishi yelled at her thrice to bring some water.
‘See, who I am living with.’ Pishi looked at Shelley. ‘A deaf old bat! If I say right ,she goes left.’ She sighed. ‘‘For a windbag like me, God’s matched a good listener, you see.’
Shelley laughed. Sufia chuckled.
‘Laughing, eh? You didn’t even come to see me after they’d left. Six months gone. I could be dead.’ Pishi snapped.
Shelley apologised. He asked her what his friend was doing for living. Pishi explained that they were having a hard time and her nephew Dulal was planning to start a restaurant.
‘Why didn’t you go with them, may I ask?’ Shelley said.
‘Why should I?’ her voice shook. ‘The small house there doesn’t have any space for me. What’s the use of an old widow, anyway? I’m good in Pakistan. Queen of this house.’
A long silence prevailed. The silent pouring of teas went on. The tatty unkempt couch gave the room a more depressing look. Shelley tried to change the topic. He asked whether he could spend a few days here with his wife to avoid any risk.
‘Here? With your wife? No way.’ Her voice lost control, ‘Do you think I’m a moron? This’ll surely put me in trouble.’
Shelley and Sufia gazed at each other. He looked half-dead. Sufia looked down. Then out of the blue, pishi snorted with laughter.
‘I’m just joking kids.’ Pishi continued laughing uncontrollably.
Pishi asked the deaf maid to prepare a room quickly. As Shelley entered the room, pishi alarmed him with a query if he has slept with Sufia yet? Shelley knew pishi wouldn’t let it drop without obtaining an answer.
‘Fantastic. You get some rest in this room. I’ll keep her in my room till the bridal night.’ Pisi grabbed Sufia’s hand and stepped out of the room.
Shelley took a bath. Sufia didn’t. A late bath meant her long wet hair all night. They soon fell asleep in different rooms. And they woke up at different times. When Shelley woke up, it was already night and dinner was served. The table was full of special dishes. Pishi looked every inch excited. For her, the most painful thing in the world was having dinner alone.
It was a long enjoyable dinner.
‘You kids are not sleeping together tonight, are you?’ Pishi asked Shelley.
Shelley raised his head and gazed at pishi and then at Sufia.
Wedding night was the ominous night, pishi said. Newly-wed Hindus didn’t sleep in the same bed on this night. Pishi kept looking Shelley to Sufia and from Sufia to Shelley before she burst into laughter. ‘But you’re not married according to Hindu belief. So you can sleep together.’
Pishi made a fuss over making Sufia look like a real bride. Within an hour, she prepared Sufia and walked her to the couple’s room. Pishi wished them a wonderful life and retired to her room.
Shelley shut the door.
He turned to the bride. Pishi had invested a lot of efforts to doll up Sufia and to make her look like a colourful Bengali bride. But her natural beauty blurred that entire effort.
‘You’re angelic,’ Shelley said.
Standing by the bed, Sufia stared at the window. The room had an old odour, which was somewhat depressing. He put a hand on her shoulder. Sufia leaned her head on his chest.
‘Feeling sad, don’t know why.’ She said.
He gently stroked her back.
‘Do you know the love story of Behula and Lakhinder?’
‘More or less, but not in detail,’ he replied. ‘Why?’
‘Let’s start our wedding night with the story,’ she said with a smile.
He got into the bed with her. He faced her, half-lying on a pillow while she sat.
‘The astrologers predicted that Lakhinder would die of snake bite in his bridal bed. As Chand Saudagar repeatedly refused to worship the snake-goddess Manasa, she killed his six sons on the nuptial bed. Chand Saudagar arranged his seventh son’s marriage with a girl whose destiny said she’d never become a widow. He ordered the blacksmith to build a bridal room with solid iron. But Manasa persuaded the smith to leave a very, very tiny hole in the room. At night, a deadly cobra got in through that hole and killed Lakhinder. Behula didn’t give up. She made a journey to heaven with the corpse of her husband on a raft. She pleased many gods. And Chand Saudagar worshiped Manasa as well. Finally, Manasa brought Lakhinder and his six brothers back to life.’
‘You know the interesting thing?’ Shelley said. ‘This tale is mostly responsible for barring the newly-wed Hindu couple to sleep together on the wedding night. But this ritual is largely practiced in Bengal region but not all over India.’
Sufia breathed a silent sigh.
‘Would you like to see that nuptial room? It’s in Bogra, near the ancient Mahasthangarh citadel.’ Shelley informed Sufia.
‘Really? Does that iron made nuptial room really exist?’
‘Probably. I read it in a newspaper. We can go there someday. And I guess there won’t be a snake around to kill me.’
‘Shut up! Guess why I told you the story.’
Shelley shook his head.
‘I want the same destiny as Behula, I never want to become a widow.’ She pressed her lips to his and shut her eyes. As she opened them, she chortled to see his mouth.
He creased his forehead and realised why she chortled. The red lipstick must’ve covered his mouth. He took her face between his hands. His unblinking eyes were fixed upon there. ‘Blooming lotus face, blue lotus eyes, bimba-fruit like lips…’
‘Enough Kalidasa. Do what you’re supposed to do.’ A naughty smile flickered on her lips.
His eager eyes sparkled. He had waited for this moment for a very long time. Every time, he read Kalidasa, he imagined her. The way this poet drew women’s beauty in Sanskrit threw him off. He’d long waited to unravel her with Kalidasa’s unbeatable words.
Sufia responded by slipping her fingers between his. She had also waited for this day. She wanted him to explore her in a prime time, in a perfect place, in a pleasurable way.
She asked him to turn the light off. He insisted to keep it on. To facilitate the exploration with his sight.
‘Don’t be greedy. This is the first time I have to undress before a man.’
He did what he was asked to do. Sufia began to undo her wedding sari, to keep it from getting wrinkled. Through the window, the moon peeped into the room. In the moonlit darkness, he saw her tender hands carefully fold the silk sari and then slide it away. She now wore a short tight fitted blouse and a petticoat. This woman was a girl once. Since the age of nine, she had started liking him, long before she got her period. Shelley Majumder quickly removed his shirt and approached Sufia Akter.

One Comment

  1. Thanks Mr. Rahad for blending the Behula -Lakhinder episode successfully. Go ahead.
    With best wishes……………………………….

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