A pretty face on the back cover sells more copies, my book agent had told me. Which is why when dear friend Nuzhat Aziz decided to step out of her editor’s cabin and set off on a writerly path I was surprised that she took the e-route. E-books sound cool, I had argued, but how many Indian readers explore that option yet. I needn’t have worried. Her fine collection of short stories Wound Collectors would have found many takers in the publishing world, exploring as it does, vignettes of lives in a community under siege in the present day.
From Shah Bano to now, it is often argued that Islam gives unequal rights to women. In Khulaah, Saira Ahmed counts nights and days for Shahid Akhtar, the man she had married three years ago and who had deserted her on her wedding night, uttering Talaaq three times, to give his life to a cause he didn’t fully understand. ‘The holy book now had various interpretations and the youth were being motivated towards a cause – a jihad which was needed to save Islam from non-believers.
Shahid did not know when he was sucked into the vortex.’ Yet Saira waits, locking herself in her room and obsessing over cleaning herself with water, blaming herself somehow for Shahid’s disappearance. Later, in half mind, when she remarries, more for the family’s peace of mind perhaps than her own happiness, she feels a pang of guilt. She never quite gets used to her husband’s touch.
‘Their bodies met and she understood what marriage meant. But she was not sure she enjoyed it… But she gave in.’ When fate plays its hand again, and Saira knows it is time to ask for Khullah (a divorce with the consent, and at the instance of the wife, in which she gives or agrees to give a consideration to the husband for her release from the marriage tie).
In Jaayedaat, as Rahmat Islam, lies lifeless in his palatial bungalow in Ripon Street, his second wife Jameela, 25 years younger than his first wife Ismat, confronts her inner demons. ‘The sexual escapes were more like a chore for Jameela, Rahmat never stayed back after he was satisfied… Deep down Jameela felt that she was brought into the house only to serve Rahmat. She did not bear any child, but Ismat always took great care of her and treated her almost like her daughter.’
Jameela had grown up in a ghetto in a 450 sq feet room in Kolkata’s Metiabruz. A full meal was a
luxury. Which was why she ditched her young lover Imran and marry a much-older but rich Rahmat. ‘Strange was her destiny, Jameela wondered, when she was desperate for a better life, she got intimacy, when she was showered in luxury, she pined for love.’ But now that Rahmat was dead, what happens to his Jaayedaat. Would Jameela be able to plot and get a fair share of it or would she herself, in the process, end up being another man’s Jaayedaat?
In Mera Jihad, his sister watches helplessly as Khurram’s deep faith in his religion turns into something sinister. And it doesn’t happen overnight. The 5 feel 11 inches tall, quintessential hero of the mohallah, is gradually pushed into an aggressive path fired by the misplaced idea of jihad and retributive justice after his boyhood friend Akhtar is set on fire for daring to love outside his community.
The final nail in coffin comes after a new government comes to power, a government neither with a deep distrust for their community. ‘Everything changed forever. Chants of the new sarkaar erupted, as fire crackers let out pungent smell in the sky….The divide would get more pronounced.’ But in these troubled days, who would tell Khurram thaihad is not what he thinks it is. Struggling for good deeds is jihad, smiling in tough times is jihad…forgiving is jihad.’
Wound Collectors dispels many a false notion. These finely-crafted stories come as cure for our collective heart of darkness. Wait for the collection.