An extract from the novel Typhoon
Tuesday May, 2002
The village of Chiragpur was in mourning. Its revered head man, Baba Siraj Din, was dying. Straight after the call to prayer, from the mosque, the local qazi, judge, made an emotional appeal to the villagers, to offer a special prayer for the departure of the old man's soul.
Inside his large whitewashed home Baba Siraj Din lay on his bed. ‘ Talaq ! I divorce you!' Those terrible words came echoing back down the years.
The crimson lips curved into a smile, as she peeped up at him from behind the dark sunglasses – her long hair draping to her hips. A confident foot strapped in elegant black sandals had stepped out. The second one faltered, his stern mask of disapproval whipping away the smile.
‘ Assalam Alaikum, Baba Jee! ' She greeted him politely.
She was a stranger in ‘his' village and one who did not attempt to cover her head in his presence. Siraj Din dismissed her salutation and pointedly ignoring her walked on. The woman remained standing next to her car, bewildered by his rudeness. He turned his henna-dyed head and rested his green gaze on her bare arms and the thick curtain of hair spread over her right shoulder. Tapping his ivory walking stick firmly on the ground Siraj Din ruthlessly trod on.
‘ Aba Jan!' His daughter-in law's honey sweet voice beckoned, willing him back to her world.
The dying man's head jerked up and nestled on a fresh cool spot on the pillow, he ignored Shahzada's intrusive voice, returning instead to the reel of memories rolling behind his age-worn eyelids.
With the tightly-wound chador around her shoulders and bowed head, she glanced up from beneath the edge of the shawl. Her eyes were those of a wounded deer. Beseeching and resigned.
‘I divorce you!' The words dropped on the hushed silence.
The awed leaves on the tree in the courtyard stopped rattling. The warm afternoon breeze stilled. The villagers held their breath.
‘I divorce you! I divorce you! I divorce you!'
Three deadly talaqs pelted down onto her bent body, forcing her head to fall on her chest.
‘ Aba Jan! ' The unwelcome voice of Shahzada careered in again, scattering the memories to join the chaos at the back of his mind. Her cold hand was massaging his forehead now, bringing him back to the present.
Baba Siraj Din opened his eyes wide. Their icy green glare charged up to meet the warm brown glow of Shahzada's; unafraid, and beaming down their steadfast love at him. Then, miraculously his eyes softened. It was Shahzada, his beloved daughter-in-law. His tongue slipped out of his mouth, moistening his dry lips.
‘Shahzada, my daughter!' he croaked, craning up his neck and trying to speak again.' I am dying!' His hand feebly reached out to her arm. ‘Listen to me. Call her! Her!'
Shahzada looked astounded. ‘Zarri Bano?'
The old man's head shook on the pillow. ‘No, her. Her ! You must find her for me! Don't let me die without seeing her, please!' His head rested back again, his eyes tightly closed.
She was looking up at him again from beneath her shawl, her wounded eyes and sad words boring into him: ‘I forgive you! I forgive you all! '
The old man's head jerked up on the pillow again, the gaunt face now supplicating, his hands held high in prayers: ‘Allah pak, forgive me. Grant me enough life to beg of her forgiveness,' Siraj din loudly begged of his Almighty Lord, alarming his eldest granddaughter Zarri Bano who standing by her mother's side.
‘ Mother, who does Grandfather want to see?'
Shahzada stared at her baby grandson Adam in her daughter's arms. She did not answer Zarri Bano question. She knew. She had promised him: it was his dying wish. Without a word she turned on her heel and went to summon the village matchmaker, Kulsoom Bibi, to the house.It was an errand that only she, with her enormous networking skill, could perform.
‘ Zarri Bano ?' The old man smiled at his beautiful eldest granddaughter, dressed in her habitual black veil, the burqa . Their Holy Woman.
Zarri Bano placed her hand on her grandfather's shoulder. With a great effort Siraj Din raised his two frail hands and held them up in mafi to the woman begging of her forgiveness.
‘ Zarri Bano,' he panted, raising his head.' Forgive me for making you a Holy Woman six years ago. It was a cruel thing to do.'
‘Please Grandfather don't say that. There is nothing to forgive – I am happy with my life. Its all in the past. Look at my son, your great-grandson',
His hand brushed baby Adam's head. Contentedly he closed his eyes. But a moment later, his head moved agitatedly from side to side.
‘Zarri Bano find her for me!'
‘Who, Grandfather? Who?'
‘The doomed, badkismet woman!' came the low whimper. ‘I have to see her!'
Kulsoom Bibi, the fifty-six-year-old village matchmaker, had been summoned to the hawaili, Baba Siraj Din's ornate home, on a special errand by Chaudharani Shahzada. Always very honoured to be invited there, her face and body, nevertheless wore the strain of this special errand. After saying her ‘Salam' and paying her respects to the dying man, Kulsoom headed off to the kitchen quarters to see the cook, her best friend, Naimat Bibi. Naimat Bibi was busy making stacks of chapattis. Guests were expected from different towns and cities within the next few hours, descending on Chiragpur to pay their last respects to Baba Siraj Din.
Crouched in front of her stove, on a footstool, Naimat Bibi was just about to slap another chappati on the flat pan, when her friend breezed in.
‘What is it, Kulsoom Jee?' she squeaked in trepidation. It was not the deadpan expression on Kulsoom's dark narrow face, but the look in her eyes that immediately signalled alarm to Naimat Bibi. She knew how to interpret that look after thirty years of friendship.
Kulsoom merely stared back at her friend. It was a long while she before she answered.
‘The old man wants to see her ‘. As her friend carried on staring back at her, failing to understand her meaning, Kulsoom felt duty bound to explain, whispering …' Her! Naimat Bibi! Her! Don't you remember? The Kacheri! Twenty years ago! And what we did to her!'