The Missing Bracelets
by Humera Ahmed
It was nearly midnight when we returned after attending Shama’s wedding reception at the Town Hall. Shama was my sister Naaz’s husband’s niece. The arrangements had been lavish as the bridegroom was working in Dubai and his family was eager to flaunt their petro dollars to the hilt. Amena, Shama’s mother though a widow and in straitened circumstances, had, with the financial help from her mother and Nasir, Naaz’s husband put up a good show.
So after the hectic activity of a whole week and considerable tension to ensure that everything went off smoothly we felt we could now relax. Many of the relatives were leaving the next day by late evening. I planned to stay a day or two more to help Naaz and Amena to re-arrange the house. Exhausted, we retired to the room where the female relatives had been put up. It was originally the sitting room but the furniture had been removed and the floor was covered with carpets on which white bed sheets and bolsters were placed.
“Ah. Now I can sleep peacefully,” crooned Amena “getting a daughter married is proverbially like taking a bath in the Ganges.”
I wondered why this proverb was used to accomplish an onerous obligation. And was getting a girl married such a difficult task? Naaz, pretty, affable and mild tempered had no such problem and I had met my husband in college. But then Amena was a widow and Shama was choosy: she didn’t wish to live with in-laws.
“Yes. You all can get up late tomorrow.” Naaz said “But I will hardly get any sleep. Asad is getting so restless. He wakes up any time in the night and wanders around. I am really tensed up about him.”
“Why don’t you leave him with us? With five of us lying here, he cannot wander about much,” I said.
“That’s a good idea,” Naaz replied as she removed her jewelry. “This is really heavy,” she said taking off her necklace and her long dangling earrings.
“Isn’t this the same set which your mother-in -law had presented to you at your wedding?” One of the cousins inquired.
“Yes. But these Kangans,” she said removing the bracelets intricately and beautifully inlaid with tiny rubies and pearls," were presented to me when Asad was born.”
The bracelets were exquisite, looked very regal and elegant.
“They must have cost a fortune!” I exclaimed.
“They have been handed down for three generations. I am told Nasir’s grandmother belonged to a Nawab family and this was presented to her at the time of her marriage. She in turn gave them to Nasir’s mother when he was born.”
After we had admired the Kangans, Naaz placed the jewelry between two bolsters and we lay down and gossiped. But just as the momentum of stories was picking up we heard Naaz’s mother-in-law‘s shrill voice.
“Naaz where are you? Your son has woken up and he is creating such a racket here.”
Naaz’s mother-in-law tended to exaggerate. Little Asad was a peaceful child, only a little hyperactive. Almost 15 months old, he had started crawling –pushing away objects which got in his way and sometimes accidentally breaking them.
Naaz rushed out, picked up her son, came back, and placed him in our midst. Asad was delighted to be the center of attraction of so many women particularly his aunt, and after Naaz left, taking her jewelry with her, we continued playing and baby talking with him for some time. Finally at about 2 am, he fell asleep and so did we.
We were awoken at about 8am or so with Naaz and the servants frantically searching for the gold bracelets. It seems that when Naaz checked the jewelry in the morning – she had not done so in the night – and found the bracelets missing! She thought that these might have got concealed in the bolsters! The bed sheets and carpets were removed but there was no sign of the bangles. By afternoon Naaz’s mother–in- law, Nishat Begum, - a difficult lady even in normal circumstances –had worked herself into frenzy. At first the servants were the target of her fury: their quarters were searched; they were reported to the police. But the police interrogation yielded no result. Then she directed her anger at Naaz, lambasting her for being careless, foolish, unworthy. The poor girl was beside herself with repentant grief. I wanted to remonstrate with Nishat Begum but Naaz begged me not to.
“She is very upset and is suspicious of everyone. She has called a holy man, a mendicant, Baba Maqbool to open a Faal.”
“Oh God! Does she still believe in the efficacy of such things?”
is desperate. She considers the Kangans to be an heirloom”
Baba Maqbool had a formidable reputation for witch craft and also for being able to overpower evil spirits and jinn’s. Middle aged with large rolling eyes, a booming voice, long, unkempt, unwashed hair, untrimmed beard, dressed in a long green shirt and sarong, his neck encased in a number of amulets, he struck awe and fear in everyone. He conducted the Faal behind closed doors of the room from which the bangles were suspected to have been stolen. I was not present but Naaz later told me about the procedure. He had first said a short prayer and then randomly opened the Quran and then turned seven pages and then placed his finger on the 7th line but the meaning of the lines was not clear. Hence he took a verse from the Quran, wrote it on a large white cloth, above which the names of the suspected persons were written – commencing with the servants, followed by the cousins and relatives present that night and ending with mine! Then the cloth was nailed to the wall and it was foretold that within a month either the bracelets would be found or the thief would be caught. I was stunned: I had no idea that Nishat Begum was suspecting me! I left Meerut, that very day and returned to Delhi.
A month passed, but neither was the thief caught nor were the bracelets found. Their disappearance remained a mystery. Naaz said that Nishat Begum’s frustration was increasing day by day. She took the loss of the bangles as loss of face – a loss of honor. She would stare at the list of suspects nailed on the wall and curse them, wishing misfortune to befall them. Her desire for vengeance became so severe that she again called Baba Maqbool to summon the evil spirits and jinn’s and destroy the person who had taken away the bracelets.
A fortnight later, I was horrified to get a phone call from Nasir that Asad who had a bad bout of diarrhea, was serious and hospitalized. I rushed to Meerut, but he had passed away before I reached. Naaz was besides herself with grief and so was Nishat Begum.
Nasir was stoically silent. The whole extended family, friends and neighbors were plunged in grief. The thought of never seeing Asad’s cherubic face and innocent smile, listening to his baby talk was heart rending. The house seemed so empty without him – it was unbearable. One couldn’t believe that just two months back we were celebrating a wedding in this very house.
“Someone has cast an evil eye on our happiness.” Nishat Begum moaned. And then turning to Amena she said “Your son- in -law was the harbinger of bad luck .Ever since the marriage we have been dogged with one calamity after another.”
We all shook our heads in disgust .Nishat Begum would never change She was superstitious to the core and would find some scapegoat to blame But for the moment we were more worried about Naaz, her condition was pitiable. She hadn’t slept for three nights! She was given sedatives and put to sleep.
We were awoken early morning with a terrible scream from Naaz. When we rushed she was lying unconscious in the corner of the room where we had slept the night bracelets went missing, and in her hand were the missing bracelets! In front of her was a bronze urn in which some plastic flowers were placed.
Naaz gained consciousness after two days! And when she did; she went into a fit of uncontrollable weeping. But she wouldn’t speak. Later in the night, between sobs she told her husband:"Nasir we are responsible for Asad’s death. We killed our child.”
Nasir felt that she was overwrought by grief and was probably hallucinating. He tried to console her, but she was inconsolable. The next day she said between sobs. “It was Asad who had taken the bangles and dropped them in the urn.”
"How can you say that?” Her mother-in-law who was present asked in a sharp voice.
` “He told me. He came in my dream and told me the bracelets were in the urn. I went there and found them in it.” And she broke down crying hysterically.
There was a stunned silence followed by a crashing sound. Nishat Begum had collapsed –she fell on the ground with a thump. She was unconscious –her heart beats were slowing down. She was rushed to the ICU. Two days later she left the world. The much searched gold bangles lay in her drawers.***
Kangan- gold bracelets with intricate designs
Faal –foretell events, make omens