Bakrid and Vinayaka (Ganesh) Chaturthi followed one another. Police were put on high alert fearing communal clashes. As per Intelligence information problems might arise after Friday prayers at Jama Masjid. Next day Ganesh puja festival. Trouble broke out a few days earlier, when news reached that a pandal with Ganesh idol was damaged at midnight.
The police searched every vehicle thoroughly. Unrest was there at my home as in the city. My parents came to celebrate Bakrid in my home. Rani’s parents reached my residence to perform Ganesh puja with their daughter and son-in-law. We allotted our two bed rooms to them and shifted to the hall for the night.
“Why trouble yourselves, babu! We will sleep in the hall,” my father-in-law volunteered.
I did not agree.I did not want a controversy. I respect my father and father-in-law equally.
“That’s the reason why my father loves you so much,” said Rani affectionately.
“I too like him most. You know well. He is a great man. It’s my fortune to get such in-laws.”
“Do you know how a lady respects her husband who likes and respects her parents?” Rani confided with moist eyes.
“Do you know how respectful a husband will be towards his wife who loves her in-laws as her own parents? How nice if every lady too realizes it.”
“Expert speaker you are!” she complemented me.
“Having married an M.A. Telugu, how can I lag behind?’
Though I was apparently jovial, agitation was overpowering me. As Bakrid was drawing nearer it grew manifold. A day before Bakrid my father called me into his bed room.
“Id-ul-zoha is tomorrow itself, beta!”
“Haan, abba jaan!” I responded. I always called him baa. As my Muslim colleagues made fun of me when I called so; I started addressing my father as abba jaan.
“It will be nice if a sheep is sacrificed that day. Meat can be distributed among the poor in the area.” He suggested.
I was unable to answer.
“Daughter-in-law is a Brahmin. Why trouble him?” Ammi jaan said in my favour.
“Are you going to get at least biryani with meat tomorrow?” asked my father.
“How can he get it? He gave up eating meat,” said my mother.
“What my son, Sach hai kyaa? Gave up for the sake your wife.”
“No, abbaa jaan. I did not like.”
“Having taken birth in a Muslim family how can you be so? Do they stop eating daal? Do you know these days even Brahmins started eating neesu.That’s why meat and chicken have become expensive.”
“Food habits are personal. Baa, it is left to one’s own predilection. Not because I married Rani that I gave up meat eating. I myself did not like it.”
“Except leaves and roots, what taste lies in that? Just like eating grass. Nothing to beat the taste of meat curry and chicken curry. You are the first Muslim who doesn’t like meat!”
“Baa, eating meat is like chewing rubber. Other than taste and flavour of spices and salt, chicken and meat don’t have a distinct taste. Tomato tastes in a way, potato has a different taste. Likewise each vegetable has a separate taste. The taste of daal and sambar can’t be found elsewhere.”
“Acchaa beta, it’s your fate if you don’t consume. At least for two of us are you going to serve mutton biryani or not?”
Panic gripped me that he would think I was an inefficient fellow and I managed to say that it would be done and came away. Just was wondering how to extricate myself from that quandary.
“Why are so dull?” asked Rani.
“Yes. Bakrid tomorrow.”
“Don’t know what to do?”
‘What is there? You and mama garu visit the big mosque in Himayatnagar and offer prayers. Atthayya garu will perform namaz in her room here itself.”
“How about food?”
“Tomorrow I will prepare vegetable Biryani, raita, garelu, dahi vada, ginger chutney, tomato daal and raw plantain fry. Papads and vadiyalu too will be ready. Any more items?”
I was silent.
“Instead of daal do you want sambar with cut vegetables?”
“Not cut vegetable sambar. My father wants meat pieces. It is Bakrid. He wishes to taste mutton biryani.”
“Only that? Get one kilogram of meat tomorrow. I will prepare biryani.”
I saw her with opened jaw.
“Don’t get scared. Just joked. Had you wanted I would have learnt the method. Poor darling! You sacrificed meat for my sake.”
“I did not sacrifice for any thing. I really don’t relish.”
“O.K. It’s my good luck!”
“How about tomorrow’s problem, tell me?”
“What is the problem? Take them to a good hotel. Hyderabad biryani is famous. Let them enjoy!”
“He won’t agree to dine in a hotel, when I am here.”
“Fine. Homely food, mutton biryani is to be served. Isn’t it? Done.”
“How to prepare? How about your parents’ reaction?’
“I won’t do it. Will get it cooked. I will take care of my parents. I am at the helm.” she assured me confidently.
Right away she called Fatima and gave money.
“Bakrid tomorrow. Prepare mutton biryani for my father-in-law. Prepare chicken curry also. After serving them, your family members eat. Expenses are mine. This is my gift for the festival. ”she said.
Remembering the fish curry episode Fatima replied,” I know, you don’t like the smell.”
“I won’t stay at home. Going out.” Rani informed.
She told her father, “Ashta Lakshmi temple here is very famous, naanna garu. Amma has been longing to visit. Get ready. We will go.”
She informed my father, “Piping hot biryani will welcome you when you return from namaz. Athayya will serve. We are going out to attend some work.”
Three of them left by auto at ten-thirty.
As we returned from namaz, Fatima brought mutton biryani and chicken curry in two bowls. My father sat for lunch. My mother served piping hot biryani in the plate. I was expecting him to savour the food happily. He was lost in his thoughts.
“Baa, start. Won’t taste good if it turns cold,” I reminded him.
He looked at me unhappily.
“Beta, Bakrid is the festival of sacrifice. Today my bahu made a khurbani for my sake. What greater sacrifice can be there, tell me? Even though she is a Brahmin girl, she got biryani cooked for my sake. She took out her parents to avoid discomfiture for them. I don’t want this biryani beta. I will join you to eat daal and rice.”
He further said, “My daughter-in-law shall not use these bowls and vessels. Including the plate. Give them all to the watchman. After consuming biryani, let them retain the plates and pans. My daughter-in-law should not suffer because of me.”
Any type of entreaty yielded not the required result. He did not touch biryani. Only after handing over the plate and pans to Fatima, he sat for taking food.
A call from Rani.
“May we come now?”
“Come soon. Terribly hungry I am,” I disclosed.
“Just spray room freshener around, please. It won’t look nice, if that smell lingers on as my parents step in.” she pleaded.
It was well past noon before Rani and her parents returned.
As soon as she entered home she asked,”Maama garu, had your lunch?”
“No, dear. Today is festival day. I am waiting for you so that all of us can have lunch together. Very hungry I am. Serve food quickly,” my father told her.
Baffled, Rani glanced at me. Our eyes exchanged notes. She realized the situation.
“Only one moment, maama garu,” she said and tucking her sari kongu, she started serving food at once.
After tasting vegetable biryani, my father mixed tomato daal with rice and nibbling raw plantain fry said, “There is nectar in my daughter-in-law’s hand.”
“Only in hand? Entire heart is filled with nectar!” said my mother.
Syed Saleem, a poet and fiction writer, has been awarded Kendra Sahitya Akademi’s prize for his Telugu novel Kaaluthunna PoolathoTa. He is a highly placed official in the Income-tax department, Hyderabad.
Original in Telugu by Syed Saleem.