Marriage of Muneer Khan’s daughter. Nikha at Mehadi Manzil in the evening. He was my colleague who taught Urdu. Extended a hearty invitation. All lecturers along with the principal were attending it.
I informed Rani.
“I have been yearning to see a nikha. I will follow you.You explain in detail,” she said.
“How can I go without you? Get ready soon. We will start by six o’clock. He told nikha was at seven.”
Rani wore tangerine red sari with green border. Tucking a stretch of jasmine flower garland in her loosely done braid she said, “I am ready.” and stood before me.
“Your are looking like a bride,” I said in appreciation.
The bridegroom was seated on the dais. Four elderly persons with long beards sat with him.
The Khazi arrived a little later. “He is the Khazi. Like a pandit ji in Hindu marriages, this khazi conducts a nikha.” I explained to Rani.
Khazi stood up and recited aayaaths from the Khurran-e-sharief.
“Like slokas from your Vedas. Reciting in Arabic,” I explained.
He addressed the dulha and asked in the presence of two witnesses, “Nikha Kabool hai?”
Rani was very attentive, inquisitively watching.
“Now, they proceed to the bride and ask ‘kabool hai ?’”
“I know well. I read all books available in Telugu on Islam. Saw in the movie Pakeeza, then only Meena Kumari declares ‘nahin’ and walks off hurriedly.”
I was flabbergasted like a teacher who attempts to teach alphabet to a child saying ‘A for apple’, where upon the child continues and signs it off with ‘Z for zebra’.
“If you knew it, why you asked me?”
“Just to learn what is unknown.”
“Tell me, what is unknown. I will explain.”
“Only after witnessing the whole proceedings, can one know what is familiar and what is not.”
Quite a teaser!
It was difficult to succeed arguing with her. An adept at word play. Wizard in mesmerizing with ideas. She passed M.A. Telugu in first class, when I was studying M.sc in Vizag. That gave an edge.
“What next after nikha?”
“Dulha and dulhan sit together and are engaged in some familiarising activities. Like searching for a ring in water in a pot.”
“Suhaag Raat, first night.”
“All in a single day! Oh, Muslims have no hassles of auspicious hour or some thing like that. Will there be auspicious and inauspicious moments really? If that’s true, no traditional marriage should fail. When two hearts coalesce, that is the proper muhurat.”
Muneer Khan who was busily moving around, halted on noticing me.
“Thanks a lot brother, for gracing the marriage.”
“Shaadi mubaarak, Muneer bhai!” I embraced Muneer in the traditional manner.
“Have brought bhabhi too?”
Rani was beside me with a smile.
“My wife. Naga Rani,” I introduced.
“Namaskaram,” she greeted him.
Without responding, Muneer Khan looked at me in disbelief. Glanced at the bindi on her forehead. Looked at me again.
“Be seated brother. Amma, take your seat please.” he moved in a hurry. Since he was bride’s father, we thought that he was preoccupied or stressed.
Sunday morning after savouring Upma prepared by Rani, I sat reading Amrutham Kurisina Rathri [Night that rained nectar] by Tilak. Insatiable thirst for poetry made me read the volume innumerable times.
The door bell rang.
On opening the door I found Muneer Khan standing there.
Three elderly persons too were there.
Above sixty in age.
Clad in white pajama, kurta, with flowing white beards and white cap on heads.
“Come in Muneer bhai. Aayeeye janaab” I welcomed them.
Gnawing suspicion like a borer.
Why this sudden attack ?
After they settled in their seats, Rani offered water and then coffee to all.
“Bahen, you also sit with us,” Muneer advised her affectionately.
Rani comfortably settled beside me in chair. She was smiling. Leo, her zodiac sign. How regal! God, I was not that composed. Until I knew why the elderly persons appearing like moulvis came, I was not going to be at peace.
“Already it is much delayed. Saif bhai hasn’t informed me. Let us forget the past. Do you perform namaz?” Muneer Khan inquired.
“No. I don’t.”
“Yesterday looking at you during my daughter’s nikha, I realized that Saif has not trained you. He is quite reserved. Namaz has to be recited. We will teach you. Do you wish to learn?”
“Certainly I will learn.”
I was spell bound.
“Apprehensive of your response, I called these people, with the idea that you heed the advice of clerics at least. I am extremely happy, bahen.” Muneer Khan told her.
One of the visitors explained the significance of namaz, and made clear as to the number of rakaats to be recited for each session.
Rani noted down the details in Telugu in a note book.
Another 'buzurg' demonstrated how to perform namaz. Rani was quite attentive.
“Tomorrow evening we are coming again. We will be happy to see you performing namaz, beti!”, said the other elderly person.
“Yes. Please do visit us tomorrow. Saif too will be there,” Rani responded as she followed them to the door.
Scared to raise the issue after their departure, I remained silent.
Rani too was normal, as though nothing uneventful happened.
She read the rakaats she noted down a few times before retiring to bed.
I closed my eyes and pretended as if I did not notice.
As though it was a matter pertaining to her and the visitors, she too did not discuss it with me.
Next day they arrived after magarib namaz.
Rani performed namaz before them like an obedient student, without missing a syllable in the rakaats. She was much better than me. I just wondered if it is the same Rani I knew.
Nodding their heads in approval they said, “Jeeti raho beti. Should perform five times a day. Forget not.”
I asked her after they went away, “Do you really perform namaz five times a day?”
“How do I look like? Already performing puja half an hour daily. Isn’t it enough?”
“How come you performed namaz so devoutly in their presence?”
“Elderly persons. Did not wish to hurt them.”
“Suppose they come again and check whether you are regular or not?” I disclosed my doubt.
“Never. They trust me.”
“You are a believer in Hinduism. How could you perform namaz?”
“Simple. Just say Om Namah Shivaayah once.”
“Om Namah Shivayah.”
I did not understand.
“What happened?” I repeated.
“Nothing! Nothing will happen too! You just uttered the words Om Namah Shivayah. That’s all!”
“What does it mean?”
“If a devotee says the same, it will be different. With Lord Shiva at the centre in his heart, with utmost devotion he recites it. His inner spirit pulsates with ecstasy. His soul dances in trance.”
“Oh, I see. You just uttered the words during namaz. No involvement. Right?”
“You are mistaken! Did you think I pretended? Certainly, not. I am not that uncouth to cheat the elderly that came to our home to teach me namaz. I worship God with Sanskrit slokaas. In namaz too there are several terms conveying the same meaning in Arabic. Language differs. I worshipped the same God. Formless. Nirguna. Want to know my feelings while performing namaz? The same involvement that I have while worshipping the Goddess. All the while with utmost devotion, focused, wholeheartedly I performed namaz,” she said.
“Then, you can do it daily.”
“I am performing puja.”
“Instead of puja, why not namaz?”
Rani smiled and remarked, “Proved that you are a Muslim.”
She smiled again endearingly.
“It is not pertinent that the language of our prayer is Arabic, Telugu or Sanskrit. These words do not reach God. What the inner self offers reaches HIM. It has no language, except a sensation. HE knows it. That’s enough.”
I was silent.
[Translated from the Telugu by T.S.Chandra Mouli]
[Sayed Saleem is a poet, fiction writer and winner of Kendra Sahitya Akademi prize for his novel Kaluthunna PoolathoTa [ in Telugu]. He is a highly placed official in Income tax department, Hyderabad.]