by Humera Ahmed
It was 11.30pm. Farhat put aside the novel she was reading and switched off the night lamp. Just as she was dozing off, she heard Saba, her niece call out in a guarded tone: "Aunt Farhat.” Farhat got up startled and opened the window. Saba was standing below it, her face covered with a veil. She was shivering in the cold night.
"What are you doing outside at this unearthly hour?"
"Shush, softly aunt. Please open the door."
Farhat did, looking hassled. Saba slinked into Farhat’s room.
"Where were you all this time? Does your mother know that you are not at home?"
"Yes. I told Ma that I was going to your place?"
"At this hour?"
"No. I informed her that I would be staying with you tonight. I had said that I would go to your place straight from college."
"Straight from college? It's 11.30! Are you coming from college now?"
"Not really. I was there until 9 pm rehearsing for the play and then went to dine with a few friends at Swagat restaurant."
"You should have informed me. Suppose your mother had rung up."
"Yes… I should have. Can you give me something to change?"
Farhat handed her an old salwar suit; she went into the bathroom to change into it.
"Aunt," she said in a purring tone getting into the bed next to Farhat’s, “Have you ever been in love?"
Farhat was quite taken back.
"Come, this is no time to ask such profound questions. I want to sleep." She said switching off the light.
"You were, weren't you?" Saba insisted.
"Good night Saba," Farhat said deliberately yawning.
"I am in love. I am sure of it."
Farhat switched on the light and gave her a searing look."Do you have any idea what you are saying?"
"Yes. Very much so. I didn't realize it until today. In fact, it struck me nearly a week ago. Since then I have been mulling over it. I am sure now."
"And the guy is surely not Aslam?"
"How can he be? I have never met him."
"But your father is very keen to get you two hitched up."
"He wants to cement his friendly ties with Amin uncle."
"But he is not making any compromise on the boy. Aslam is very eligible; he is also a Green Card holder. It's a great match."
"But I love Adil," she whispered.
"Adil! You've taken leave of your senses. Adil of all the people! His father is a tailor and his mother– she comes from a family of wrestlers!"
“So what! Adil is an engineer. He has got a good job in Chennai. And he is a great guy. We vibe well."
"Has he joined at Chennai?"
"He is leaving tomorrow. Aunt, it was his leaving that suddenly made me realize that I loved him. Otherwise, you know, I wasn't moved by his professions of love."
"But how do we persuade or convince your father?"
"You can do it, aunt. You were pushed into a loveless marriage and see what happened? You were divorced. Suppose you had …"
"Now forget about me. Let me think what I can do for you. Try to get some sleep."
"But could you broach the subject to Dad before Adil leaves?"
"What's the hurry? He is in India only. And your dad has met him – so there is no need for him to see him before his departure."
"You are a dampener. I was certain you would help." Saba said in a plaintive voice.
A few minutes later, Saba dropped asleep. But Farhat couldn’t. Her mind went back to the night, nearly twenty years back when she had bid good bye to love and had decided to make a rational, practical choice. She had decided to marry a man belonging to her social class and give up Saad whom she loved. She had done so not just because of family pressure but because she was unable to accept the bitter truth of Saad’s back ground. Her mind was conditioned by her upbringing which considered social status to be the basis of good breeding. But ironically Saad had breeding without social status.
Farhat remembered the first time she had seen him – it was in the college library, a few weeks before her final exams. She had been reading a book when she became aware of a pair of green eyes watching her intently. She felt the color rush in her cheeks. The guy with green eyes – good-looking and well dressed– smiled, and she awkwardly responded. When she left the library, she found him standing near the porch of the
"Hello. You are studying hard. Which year are you in?"
"Final year of commerce."
"Oh. So am I. But I am in the evening college. May be that's why we haven't met."
Farhat was aware that most of the working students attended evening college – they didn’t belong to the privileged class. But he was so charming, she was certain he too came from her class. Moreover, at that time, marriage was far from her mind. She had taken an instant liking to him and they regularly met in the library and after exams in the college canteen. Their friendship deepened – and she didn't realize when the friendship transformed to love. She only knew for sure that she enjoyed being with him and he occupied her thoughts when they were not together.
After their graduation results, Saad enrolled for Masters in Commerce and started preparing for the Bank exams. Farhat occupied herself in doing short courses in home science, personality development, grooming, training in teaching – the skills and accomplishments expected from girls of well to do families to find pride of place in the Marriage Market. And she was very sought after: smart and beautiful, with a father, high in the upper echelons of the government. Amongst the numerous proposals, the most eligible was that of Sohail, her Dad's friend’s son: an ambitious careerist in a multinational. Her Dad was keen she accept the proposal. It was then she realized that she wanted to be with Saad. But she wasn't sure of his feelings. He had neither professed love nor proposed marriage. She confided to her mother who felt that Saad would take years to settle down and in waiting for him, she would lose an eligible match.
When Farhat informed Saad of the pressures from the family to settle down, he looked dejected and confessed his love, and his inability to marry her.
"Your mother's right. It will take years for me to settle down. But I love you and will do all I can to keep you happy."
"We can get engaged till then. Why don't you ask your parents to send a proposal?"
He looked lost for some time and then asked, "Do you know who my father is?"
She shook her head. She had never bothered to inquire.
"He is a laborer in a mill and we – a family of six, live in a one room tenement in a chawl."
She couldn't believe she had heard it right. She was sure Saad was joking. "It is not true."
"It is. But I am trying …'
"Trying? You have taken me for a ride!"
"I didn't mean to do so. I was drawn to you and I thought that I would gently break it to you…"
Hurt and angry her eyes bleary with tears Farhat had walked away. Saad had come after her pleading, apologizing, but she just shook him off.
That night she hadn’t slept; she was angry with Saad for concealing the truth from her. In her annoyance and self-pity,she didn't realize his hurt and humiliation. The next day she consented to Sohail’s proposal. But she hadn’t been able to forget Saad all through her miserable marriage to Suhail with whom she didn’t have any emotional connect. He was a self-centered egotist and fully occupied with climbing the corporate ladder. He gave her a luxurious life style. She was admired and envied by many. Only she and her family knew how unhappy and lonely she was. After ten years, with her parent’s consent, she took divorce from Sohail and tried to re-build her life.
Saad, she learned was selected in the Banking Service Officer’s Exam, a couple of years after her marriage. A few years ago she had come across him in a Mall. He was with his wife and child –a girl with his green eyes. His eyes met hers: wistful and sad. She turned away, filled with shame and regret. They didn’t exchange a word; they went their separate ways in silence.
Farhat heard the Muezzins call for the morning prayer and realized that she hadn't slept a wink. Saba was still in deep sleep, perhaps dreaming. She got up to perform her ablutions. She needed to pray: she had an important mission to undertake today and needed the Almighty's blessing. She had decided to support Saba, for unlike her, Saba knew where her heart was. She had not bound her love by the trappings of status and class. Farhat didn't want her to go through the pain and regret she had suffered. She would persuade her brother to agree to the marriage. ***