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A F Kirmani



A F Kirmani


The Door

The Door

24 mins

A narrow seemingly endless lane with its variety of creatures made one dimension of my existence and the other dimension was that of a miniature world with its own colors and shades of joys and sorrows, events and excitement which in no way was different from the rest of creator's domain in its basic characteristics but for its complexities and variety which were to be found no where else. 

The citizens of this world remembered the creator the prescribed number of times and did all that was essential to be called His obedient subjects and worthy aspirants of heaven hood the way things went about in this world made very evident the special privilege granted to them by Him.

And in this special household I had a special place extremely valued and honored. Even if this world decided to spin the other way I would not be ignored.

Given to the position I was placed in, in my life and the role prescribed to me, from my just two dimensional existence I led a life seasoned with such experiences and stories to tell that many with wider horizons have missed.

Of these two dimensions the one known as the lane, just at the helm of my limits I learned to valued more or rather yearned for more and so obeying perfectly the law of nature it learned to take me for granted for it had in its service many of my creed, the presence of some of which made her more proud than mine.

And on the other dimension which was the interior of this vast house hold a long three sided baramda lay before me surrounding a grand aangan. On the side of the baramda were rooms that smelt of coal and fire during the winters and reeked of fungus and creaked of creaky insects during the summers for it was during this time of the year that and cursed the poor rooms for their helplessness about remaining cold and the entire family united under the roof of baramda.

Chatters and laughter substituted, hushed conversations intertwined, secrets slipped from overworked callous tongues and picked up by eager alert ears. Grannies complained and ointments were prescribed. Power betrayed, fans sang dead, babies cried, mothers hummed, toddlers revolted.....and the life went on.

During winters too the poor rooms were criticized for their inability to remain warm. Nevertheless the critics stuck there. And the baramda wrapped in its misty cloak wore a deserted look pierced once in while by a ray of light from one of the oms when some little kid overcame by an urge to lighten himself and accompanied by a sleepy irritated Rmother crossed the entire length of the aangan to reach umar the toilet on the other side.

During the day how ever the human beings of the house hold competed with red chilies, and pickles, and papads and murabbas for the coveted patches of winter sunshine and the aangan reveled in its glory.

"So how has the murabba turned out? Here taste it and tell me. "Sabiha bibi's nasal voice rang out and her army of grandsons established over the period of last 12 years from the time I begin my story gathered in mass around her and in matter of seconds last bits of murabba skied down the tiny throats.

Only Suhaib the eldest forsake the pleasure and loitered around the charpol where his mother and aunts sat knitting and chatting. When no one had yet noticed he found a small can near his foot and kicked it hard enough that it banged against the steel bucket and a clang echoed through

"Munna oh! Munna. Whats the matter my darling. Why didn't you eat" Sabiha bi realized late and asked concerned?

"I don't like these things. Murabba and all

"Why dear. What's upsetting you? Tell me my beloved child" Sabiha bi persisted

"Oh! Your beloved isn't a child any more" Suhaib's mother Salma said teasing," see how he kicks" her tone was caustic under the wraps. Suhaib sensed her resentment at his behaviour and hung his head.

"Oh! My little boy. Tell me what the matter is Sabiha bi Ak pulled him close. "I want the kind of guitar that Fauzan has," Suhaib said and dug his head in her lap.

"Oh! Suhalb, Fauzan will give you his guitar, we will get him another in the States" said Afshan sweetly and genuinely. But the genuine sweetness was ill timed. 

"Oh! No! I have bought up my son with very sound values and culture. I don't want these western influences ruining the good upbringing I have given him" Salma snapped back. The volcanic emotions bubbling within the tranquil surface and perfectly complimented by a loud rumble high above were not hard to discern but three year old Suhail, Fauzan's younger brother saved the day

"mama, aero plane!!!" he exclaimed pointing to the sky. extremely pleased at having made the discovery that normally adults made and notified him of.

"Yes Suhail that's an aeroplane! And now little Suhail will eat something isn't it" Afshan spoke to her son in English and carried him inside.

Someone came. Shareefun the old maid got up and I dutifully made way for the visitor.

It was the old barber woman whose lips and tongue had obtained the permanent color of beetle that she continuously chewed. She had arranged the matches for Shakeel and Muneeb and was now suggesting girls for Imran, the youngest son of Sabiha bi.

"Salam Alayekum Bibi" The barber women said squatting on the floor.

"Walekum as Salam" Sabiha Bi replied.

"I went to Jahangeer Sahab's house with your proposal"

"Did you see the girl?"

"O yes"

"How was she?"

"By god she is very pretty."

"So what did they say."

"Well bibi....pardon me. But you know how Imran mian's reputation leads him. Dare I say but you see it would be better to search his bride in another city."

Shareefun handed her a cup of tea. "You see bibi. I know of a family in Kanpur. Landlords they are. They have a daughter. I have met the girl. Very well mannered and God fearing. Pretty too but she has polio in her left foot. Shall I talk to them?" She said and sipped the tea making aloud sound.

"I will tell you later. For now you may go. The barber woman got up to join Shareefun in the kitchen."

"What do you say Amina" Sabiha bi looked towards her sister in law.

"Imran is like my own child. How I wish to see him settled and happy. But what happiness in fooling an unsuspecting poor polio ridden girl in a relation ship like this. Do not do a thing that Allah forbade"

"You are right"

"Granny yesterday Imran uncle got me 8 kites. Can you peruse mom to let me carry them to the States. She says its crap. I love them" Fauzan said.

"Oh! Yes my dear. I will tell her to take them" Sabiha bi said and dismissed the child

"Ask Shakeel and Muneeb to stop giving him money" said Aamina bi "money without the power of discretion is a dangerous thing. God forbid if he were to get into worst and gambling habits as if flying kites and chewing supaari,wasn't already bad enough"

Sabiha bi sighed" Ruhi where is Imran" she asked her

youngest daughter in law

"Bhaijaan is sleeping on the terrace."

Send one of the boys to call him

"Aaftab, azeem, go tell you fathers I am calling them"

"And who is going to call Muneeb" Amina bi said casting a deliberate glance at Ruhi.

Ruhi dutifully lowered her eyes and her face obediently blushed.

"May Allah bless us with a girl this time. So many boys we

have and not a single girl" sabiha bi said.

"Insha Allah" said Amina bi

And four months latter in the month of March when the air was laden with rose and qulmohar and the small garden in one corner of the aangan was making a riot of colors and cardigans were beginning to be shred Ruhi gave birth to the much awaited and much desired baby girl.

Celebrations followed and gifts were showered on the little girl child. Children and elders and men and women and

young and old observed her. She cried, or smiled or slept or observed them back.

Names were endlessly discussed and at last the little girl got 5 names to learn and respond to, one for each set of enthusiastic relatives.

"At last we have a girl in the house, All thanks to Him." Sabiha bi said

"I had something to tell you. But I kept it till this got over." Amina bi said

"Is every thing fine?"

"Oh yes fine but just a bit unexpected"

"What's it tell me."

"Zubair's letter came a week ago, from England"

"What has he written?"

"Munna o Munna get the letter that's kept under my pillow"

Munna got the letter

"My eye sight is failing me. Salma Oh! Come here for a minute. Just read it out"

Salma read the letter.

Dear ammi salam wale kum,

I do not how you will receive this news that is why I had been putting it off for so long. But I had to tell you one day or the other so finally I mustered enough courage to write and break the news to you. Ammi, I married here last year: Salma, Ruhi and rest of the company present there led out a gasp. Salma continued the letter "And divorced 4 months ago a louder gasp emitted this time. ammi, I don't know how life goes on. There is Asif, lesser of the two of us but finally happier than me. He has peace, a proper family and a spiritually enviable life.

I have money and loads of it but not that what I yearned for and worked so hard-happiness and peace of mind. I now realize I had set out wrong. My perceptions and priorities were wrong right from the beginning but their fallacy was hidden under the illusion of my brilliance. An Illusion so intense that its craft escaped even you and father.

Ammi I have borne punishment for my follies. And I beg you to come to my rescue. It is my heart felt desire that you come and live with me in England. If you don't like it here then you can go back. But I am sure you will love it here. I will try my best to prove a worthy son to you.. Please think TAR about it Amma. I will be waiting for your reply.

"He needs you Amma. I think you should go" Asif said

Before morning the news had reached the deepest nook and corners of the mohalla and to the distant of the distant relatives.

Four months latter sabiha bi left. Zohra had begun to crawl and make stressed sounds. She gave her approval of people things and situations by a vigorous nod and conveyed her disapproval by contorting her face and accompanying the contortion with a shrill cry. And that she did elaborately and intensely when Aamina bi left.

2 weeks latter the post man came with Aamina bi letter. "Oh! Where are my glasses some one else read it Sabina bi said excitedly

"Salma took the envelope from her hand and tore it open.

She read

Sabiha Appi and my beloved children,

Salam wale kum,

I have arrived here safely. On my arrival an enormous surprise awaited me. Though it took me a while to come in terms with it, now I am glad to inform you that I have an eight month old grand daughter. Salma paused for the gasps. "Her mother had named her Carol, but we have decided to call her Maham. Maham has big blue eyes but thankfully our own complexion. I get a glimpse of Zohra in her. On! How I would have loved to see the two of them grow up together. But who can change destiny. I just pray Allah to give me enough strength in this age to bring up my grand child in a spiritual manner. I am concerned because of the social atmosphere of this country. Shameless is the word for these people. May I be able to keep my child from evil influences.

Zubair has grown thin like a needle. Of what my poor child was going through when we all sat happily there, I feel very sorry for him. I feel I have to brinhg him up all over again. Life is so unpredictable. Who knew at the dusk of my life I would be making na all new beginning in a new country. Just pray to Allah that I am able to fulfill these responsibilities successfully.

Write to me. I will write again.

Khuda hafiz and loads of love,


"Now this is almost a scandal" Afshan said bitterly. "Oh! You go too far Afshan" Sabiha bi chided her. And once again the new bits of the spicy tale traveled to the far off distances and fueled the fire of gossip for several days.

And one day not much later Asif announced the new job offer he had in Bombay the salary is good and the position quiet respectable".

"So what have you decided?"

"I will go"

And a month latter Asif, his wife and four sons left. keep writing and come back soon. Bombay is a strange city. Our children should know their roots" sabiha bi said. Yes chachijaan, we will come back soon

Letters came and went. And on some rare occasions trunk calls were made. Summers came and winters chased them away and again came summers chasing the winters. Crying bables grew up and no one except Zohra needed assistance to toilet at night.

Afshan came back after four years. "Oh! How big has Fauzan grown? And Suhail oh! Is this our little toddler Sabiha bibi exclaimed in tears. She pampered and spoiled them and thus did the entire house hold. But Zohra nursed a grudge against the two of them specially Suhail the 5 year old cousin, partially for snatching away her erstwhile status and partially for his mannerism that Zohra declared "irritating" "Can't you speak straight, for god's sake. Why do you twist

and turn your tongue so much" "He speaks in the American way...that's how they speak there Zohra" Ruhi said laughing.

"Americans must be very funny people"

"Ruhi your daughter is too smart. Look how she speaks non stop" Afshan said

Ruhi laughed

"Did you think only American girls are smart" Salma snapped

back. The old fire missed no opportunity to rekindle.

Sabiha bi came and joined them "Your brother in law Imran is growing into an old bachelor, she said addressing her three daughters in laws. Three of you find the fourth one before its too late "Amma first we have to put him to work"

"I have become old. You all will have to do what ever there is to be done. Talk to your husband Afshan. I bore three wonderful sons who thought the fourth would be so worthless

"Since the entire family is home we can talk now..."Ruhi said and the entire family gathered under the twinkling late evening sky, in the aangan "Imran tell us finally what have you thought of your life"

Don't know well my life

If you don't know then do as we tell you to do'


Get married have a beautiful wife and nice kids" Afshan said. "Alright"

"That's extremely nice, that you agreed to marry said Afshan

"So Imran mian what kind of a girl do you want," Shakeel said.

Imran became very shy and lowered his eyes

"Come on Imran tell us

"She should be very pretty

"O.k. what else?"

"Intelligent also


A well educated

English speaking."


Religious and God fearing

"And anything else?

"No, that's all

well that looks like a wonderful girt Shakeel said

"You could get a girt like that but there is just one problem


"A girl that good will have many suitors rich and handsome"

"Now are imran mian is quiet handsome right

"So that leaves us with one problem of having money.

"So now does one become rich?"

"By working hard

"What work?

"Any thing actually it depends

"What work will I do?"

"You can open a shop and sell garments "Do you really want to work Imran":


"You promise you will work if we buy you a shop"

"Yes I promise

Sabiha bi felt a rush of relief through her entire being. The brothers contributed equally to buy a shop for Imran.

A month later Imran crossed the threshold in a spotless kurta, freshly shaved and smelling of an American brand of perfume. "May Allah bless him" Sabiha bi said and wept.

"There is a girl Amma Salma said "the family is poor but the girl is heard to be very well mannered, educated and religious. I haven't seen the girl but she must be pretty because her mothers and sisters are quite good to look at

A weak latter Imran mian's marriage was fixed to Rahela, the girl Salma had talked about. Imran main went to shop everyday at 10 and came back at 8. At the end of one month he placed an earning of 5000 in sabiha bi hand. Sabiha bi cried again

"Oh! Who would believe that's my old Imran? Oh! Allah your ways are great"

Amma, that's the fortune of Rahela"

"You are right, or what else would a man flying kite till age of twenty nine would spend 10 hours a day earning."

"Oh! After such a long time we would all be together! Oh! 1 would be a happy woman Oh! My Imran my dear we underestimated you....."

These were the days when the post man frequented me and so he did on a sunny morning. Shareefun took the letter and handed it to Afshan,

"Amma, letter from Ashraf sahib, Rahela's father" Afshan read

"As salaam o alekum, I regret having to write a letter like this one. I am fully aware of the torrents and storms in Kishore Kumar waiting that this letter would bring about. But the entire

responsibility for such consequences would lle upon your own shoulders. Had you not kept us in dark about your boy imran's past, his frequent erratic behavior and his mental weakness matters would not have come this far and both our familles would have been saved the disgrace that we are now destined to face. Despite the uncertain future that now lays ahead my daughter I refuse to give her hand in marriage to your boy imran.

May Allah give us strength to bear this misfortune.. Ashraf Ahmed.

Imran heard the letter too and peacefully left for the shop. That afternoon a thick black smoke rose from imran's shop. Imran was no where. The shop went to ashes and Imran was never seen again. Sabiha bi passed away two days latter. Relatives came mourned and left. Afshan went back to US after two months.

Time rushed, Zohra began school. Every day the rickshaw picked her at 8 in the morning and brought her back at 1. Then she threw her little bag and bottle at my feet and rushed to the kitchen where her mother and aunt would be and start narrating the day's events. "My teacher said "good" because I made a straight T. One boy hit me. I hit him back. He said he will tell his mother and his mother will cry. My tiffin box did not open so I did not eat it. My teacher sald that Delhi is the capital of India, but I believe its Lucknow. She does not agree with me. And she has given me a lot of responsibility for such consequences would lie upon your own shoulders. Had you not kept us in dark about your boy Imran's past, his frequent erratic behavior and his mental weakness matters would not have come this far and both our families would have been saved the disgrace that we are now destined to face. Despite the uncertain future that now lays ahead my daughter I refuse to give her hand in marriage to your boy Imran.

May Allah give us strength to bear this misfortune.

Ashraf Ahmed.

Imran heard the letter too and peacefully left for the shop. That afternoon a thick black smoke rose from Imran's shop. Imran was nowhere. The shop went to ashes and Imran was never seen again. Sabiha bi passed away two days latter. Relatives came mourned and left. Afshan went back to US after two months.

Time rushed. Zohra began school. Every day the rickshaw picked her at 8 in the morning and brought her back at 1. Then she threw her little bag and bottle at my feet and rushed to the kitchen where her mother and aunt would be and start narrating the day's events. "My teacher said "good" because I made a straight T. One boy hit me. I hit him back. He said he will tell his mother and his mother will cry. My tiffin box did not open so I did not eat it. My teacher said that Delhi is the capital of India, but I believe its Lucknow. She does not agree with me. And she has given me a lot of home work. And that boys mother will come tomorrow so you better be there."

"All right, now shut your mouth and eat."

Chorob would come an hour latter and pick up Zohra's bag and bottle from my feet. "Oh! My little Zohra you are such a mess. What will you do when you grow little fool." Then he would pick her up and throw her up in the air .....

"Ruhi" Salma said one day. "See how this house has become sad and abandoned. Wonder if anyone is going to come back. Asif's children have their future abroad; Meraj has no question of coming back, Afshan used to come for Amma's sake. They haven't even written in the last so many years.

"I know what you are trying to come to"

Salma began to cry "I told Suhaib's father not to send him to the hostel. Who comes back ever? They all go in quest of their lives. Who cares for the one does.

"Let him go. When everyone else is going why shouldn't he." The next summers when Zohra completed her 6th year Suhaib left for the boarding.

"My poor girl. She has become so lonely" Ruhi said one day. "She will leave us too one day. How lonely will we become! These silent nights haunt me" salma said.

"Summers went away and winters came" these patches of sun look so worthless. Who cares for them? Who cares for the pickles and murrabas anymore? Oh! My good old days. They are gone forever." Salma lamented. Day and night followed each other. No more did they chase each other as Kas they used to. years passed. Letters came and went. But mortals did not. Asif's elder son was settled abroad. Maham was studying in California. Suhail had become a civil engineer and had married and divorced twice, once with an Indian girl living in America and then with an American.

Zohra at 17 was a pretty girl. Her tall slender frame and sharp proud features set her apart. She had long fingers and a dusky complexion.

"Amma. Will Asif uncle's family ever come back here?" Zohra said one day flipping through the family album. I don't know. Why don't you write and ask your aunty to spend a few days with us

The reply came sooner than expected. The following month aunt.....came to stay with her youngest son Majid. At 19 was fair, tall and handsome.

"Hi Zohra"


Ruhi raised an eyebrow at the unconventional style of

greeting but preferred to ignore it.

"Well do you remember the house" Zohra said

"Not really. But I do remember you"

"Oh come-on"

"Can you show me around?"

"Yes sure"

"So in which class do you study?"


"I am preparing of engineering. I am going to qualify

engineering and then go abroad like my brothers" "Interesting. And then you are going to marry some English woman."

"Of course not"

"Well. I asked just like that. You know how Suhail bhai..."

"Oh! There family is almost American. They never had any values. My bhaijaan tells me how they used to behave like foreigners when they visited here. Mineral water and all and no sidewalk stuff, very sophisticated. I will marry an Indian girl of course"

"So you will retire back to India?"

Well no I think I am going to stay there"

"So your kids will become American and you will end up with white grandchildren loitering about your house." Zohra laughed

"But I wish I have dusky grandchildren. Alright I will retire to


Both of them laughed then Zohra suddenly became very quiet.

"What are you thinking Zohra?



"No nothing"

"Oh come on you have suddenly become so serious are

you thinking about my dusky grandchildren" Majid said

teasingly "Well yes"

"And exactly what about them"

"That your poor grandchildren are the dwellers of your sand

castle Zohra laughed.

Come now ammi is calling for dinner

"Our room used to be upstairs I believe"


Did any of my belongings remain here?" "Yes your ammi left your cot that I inherited"

"Do you still use it?"

"Oh! No. you can take it start using it both of them giggled.

"When I began to walk shareefun daadi had a grandson so ammi gave it for him. Poor child he passed away in his fourth month"

"Oh! But they have so many children they don't mind a few missing

"Oh! No children are after all children"

Well when I was 6, at the time Suhaib bhai left...I used to ask ammi for a little brother or sister. Ammi used to say

god had written just one in her fate"

"And thank god it was you"

Zohra smiled

"You such a treasured child"

"Over here yes....but on my maternal side there are so many

girls and all so pretty. My maternal grandmother regrets my complexion."

Oh is beautiful 

"Dare you call me black! I am dusky"

"Oh! Sorry. So you have a temper too. I believe all pretty girl have" he said and laughed

"So that looks like you know a lot about girls and pretty

ones at that

Oh! No. Not at all" Majid blushed "Actually my friends at college. Very ultra modern stuff you will find in Bombay. They have girlfriends and all... and partying out. Loitering around"

"You don't have girlfriend?"

"Oh! No I don't like such girls"

"What kind of girls do you like?"

Suhaib blushed again but looked Zohra straight in to the eyes.

"Simple and homely"

"I see"

Oh! Let's get going quickly. Ammi has already called twice"

"So what does our little Zohra cook?" Majid's mother asked

at the table.

"I have learnt a little bit. Dal, vegetables, and all"

"And what else do you do

"I am learning to cook, a little embroidery, studying and not really much"

At night Zohra's mother came to her "my dear what do you think of Shuaib isn't he a nice boy?

Well yes quite nice but

"Your Tasneem aunty. Majid's mother wants to arry Majic

with your


"Your abba, uncle, salma aunty and I like the proposal. 

said we will give the final word only after consulting your

Zohra remained quite

"Ima sure you have no objection. Do you?

"No amma its ok Zohra said shyly and hung her head

So three months later Zohra became Majid's wife and bid adieu to the threshold that she had crossed to come into her home, from where she called out to the ice candy man and where she dumped her bag and bottle

The separation was painful but not too long. 3 years latter Zohra came back sad and bereaved when Majid passed away in an air crash while returning from us on vacation. Zohra survived and came back lonely to an equally lonely house + The previous years had witnessed the farewell of Shakeel and Mubeeb in a road accident. The coming winters were (harsh Ruhi had pneumonia and she followed her husband

So what do you think of doing now Afshan's elder son asked Fauzan asked Suhaib.

"Well I think I will shift over."

"You won't get any money in Lucknow"

Ammi and Zohra need me

Oh come on but career is important too

"I can earn enough to afford a decent lifestyle" "What is life without luxuries?"

"What is life without peace?"

So Suhaib moved to the old house. Zohra felt thankful. Life went on. Four years later Salma passed away. Zohra's childhood came to the final end.

Zohra Suhaib said one day, "You are very young Life cannot go on like this. You should marry

"I don't want to

"But Zohra life can't be spent all alone

"I want to stay in this house for the rest of my life. This

house is my companion. I don't feel lonely here."

"Well you could marry and still stay in this house"

I don't understand

"Well I wish there had been some one else to convey this but they are all gone"

"Convey what

"My proposal"

"Zohra sat quiet for a very long while.

"I have always loved you Zohra. And I always dreamt of you. And when I was away working hard towards our future Majid came and stole you from me. That was the hardest blow of my life. But I remained quiet for the sake of family honor. But destiny has given me this second chance. I won't let it go. Don't refuse Zohra. It is in the best interest of both

of us.

Soon they were married. Zohra bore two pretty daughters Before they reached 18 and 19 years respectively they were married ore in rich and respectable families

Suhaib's eyesight began to rail earty and he retired in the SOP and ath years of their lives Sunaib and Zohra became grandparents

A few years later Suhaib passed away of jaundice. For Zohra's sake destiny changed its normal course and the elder daughter who lived in a small town came to live with her when her children began school. As the kids grew up zohra orew old in the last few years she spent most of her time basking in the aangan. Later, confined in her room and by the time of her grand daughters wedding so much confined that she had to bless her from nome, Days passed on and one moming arthritis porn zohra breathed her last. Five hours later she crossed the threshold one last time

The relatives and friends went away and the daughters left after a few days

For the first time the aangan remained dead still cow webs grew and paint chapped off the walls. I stood guard to the sad quite darkness

Many days passed till one day an expensive car halted and three exquisitely dressed people alighted from it. A closer look and striking likeness to Arshan revealed the identity of the old man. He was Suhail, Afshan's younger son who had married in America and the other two were his half Apgerican children from his second wife I dutifully made way for them,

"Oh! Wonderful very quite and peaceful The young man exclaimed, "Excellent for my research and writing"

"Yes quite nice but too filthy, we have got to renovate the place the girt said,

Two hours later an interior designer joined them.

"You see what we want is to preserve the ethnic essence of the place at the same time making it comfortable and safe

for living For hours the five heads and mouths spent themselves, deciding the changes. 'Paint, air conditioner, flooring, wall

paper stray accentuated words reached me.

And finally the girl strolled towards me 'I feel the security is a very important aspect. The policemen in India are absolutely worthless so we have got to be responsible for ourselves even if that means spending a few extra bucks." "Right her brother agreed.

"We have got to change this creaky, rotten door she pointed towards me I have got a mahogany design in mind I spent the last night in my home, and the next day before

The sun patches-my good old friends came to the aangan I was taken off my hinges and loaded on a trolley.

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