Rani who greets me with a smile every morning that day blended words bewitchingly, sprinkled rosewater saying, “Janam din Shubh kaamnaayen Zanaab Safullah!”
“Shukriya! Shukriya !”I saluted in typical Islamic style raising my right hand close to my forehead.
“Today too should you go to college? Stay back. Let’s have a jolly good day.” she asked tenderly.
“Are we celebrities to celebrate birthdays grandly? What have we accomplished? Did we reign like Akbar the great or unravel scientific discoveries like Einstein?”
“Had you been an emperor like Akbar, certainly your birthday would have been celebrated globally. Just because you are not that, let two of us celebrate at home.”
How splendid it was!
Whenever she scored over me verbally, though I became a bit touchy, inexplicable elation extended across my spirit. It was, indeed, an asset and good fortune to have an intelligent wife.
“At least till afternoon I wish to be there. I have two classes.”
“Doesn’t matter. Nothing is lost. You can as well teach me at home. Quietly I will listen.”
“There is a C.D. at home. Listen to it.”
“Buddhuu! Just for a day at least you can speak romantically. You may teach. I only want your presence here, hence that request.”
“What shall we do today? Where to go?”
“I don’t know. You can suggest.”
“I wish to give you oil bath after applying nalugu all over the body. We shall both cook.
Let us visit a park after lunch. Can it be Indira Park?”
“I am at your disposal the entire day. Your wish will be done.”
“Good boy!” complemented Rani and turned back suddenly on her way to kitchen.
“Forgot. Today is February 14th, Valentine’s day” she cautioned.
“Couples may take over all the parks. No. Let’s go some where else.”
“Why to forfeit our pleasure for the sake of others? We will visit Indira Park. Why this Valentine’s Day craze for our people? Meaningless concepts are commercially imported. Exploiting teenagers’ fads.”
“No. Yesterday’s T.V. newscast warned of Bhajarang dal’s resolve to get married all couples found in parks.”
“Why fear? We are already married.”
“Even the police are against valentine’s day. The commissioner lamented about erosion of our traditions. Whether in Necklace Road or Parks, where ever couples are found, their parents would be informed on phone.”
I was amused.
“We are not lovers now. Man and wife.”
“Does it mean man and wife are not lovers?” Rani raised a point of order.
I checked myself and shifted gears.
“Let us go to Indira Park as desired by you. O.K!”
“Is it safe?”
“No problem. I am there. Nothing to panic.” I offered protective cover.
We reached Indira Park around four in the evening. Rani hoped that by the time activity of lovers might subside.
“Shall we walk ahead and sit among bowers, so that a little privacy is ensured?” Rani proposed.
We walked and settled among a cluster of trees.
“What’s your birthday resolution today?”
“Loving you more intensely.”
“Enough. Had surfeit of it. Tell me earnestly.”
“You only wanted me to be romantic at least for today.”
“Those that love sincerely never disclose. No need. It is conspicuous like the open sky. Do you know what is the meanest, unromantic utterance? Three word expression:
‘I LOVE YOU.’”
“How does the other one know that we love?”
“Love isn’t feeble to be declared openly. Adoration in the eyes of a lover soothingly spreads as the moonlight. In his every movement affectionate paroxysms of ecstasy. Every word brims with syrupiness. Every act echoes elation. His heart throbs with her name. His breath is heady with doting nectar. When one’s love is evident in so many means should one utter I LOVE YOU? It’s all frivolous film jargon.”
I just panicked. Did I say ‘I love you’ by mistake any time? Not able to recall.
“Saif , You never declared, ‘ I Love You’. That’s why I developed a liking for you. However, you expressed the same in thousand ways. Lucky guy! Had you uttered cinematically ‘I Love You’, I would have rejected you.”
“Oh God! Don’t say so. I wouldn’t have pocketed this diamond, then.”
“How come, started praising?”
“You insisted on speaking romantically.”
“Is praising romantic?”
“My goodness! I salute you. I don’t know what it is to speak romantically. Teach me.” I pleaded with folded hands.
Rani burst into laughter.
Instead of pearls two policemen rolled in. One of them looked like a Sub-Inspector of Police.
“What are you doing here?” he thundered.
“You have seen we are chatting.” I said.
“You are lovers. Right!” one more thunder.
“Yes. We are married too.” I answered.
“Are you kidding? If you are married why did you come to this park?”
I did not understand his rationale. Married couple should not visit a park? Prohibited areas? As I remained silent lost in my thoughts, he got aggressive.
“I know. You are not married.”
Turning to Rani he asked impolitely, “What is your name?”
When do these policemen learn to address the others respectfully!
“What is your name?” he asked me.
Perhaps, it’s the uniform that makes them look harsh and speak coldly.
On hearing my name there was a sparkle in his eyes. A nasty smile stretched on his face.
“Lying with me that you are married? Now I got you. Move to the police station.”
“Can’t a Muslim and a Hindu marry?” asked Rani.
He glanced at her and said, “Did You come to the park with him informing your parents? What is your father’s name? What’s his phone number? Will speak to him.”
“Don’t you understand? We are married,” impatience in Rani’s voice.
“Am I a fool to buy your story? Never.”
“You need proof? Look at my mangalsutra! ” she showed.
“How come you have mangalsutra, when he is a Muslim? I don’t believe.”
‘Shall I pay him five hundred rupees?’ I whispered to Rani.
“Why? No need to bow our head when we are not guilty,” Rani emphatically declared.
“On Valentine’s day socializing in a park is an offence,” the S.I said.
“We are not socializing. We are just chatting,” I said.
“I saw you saluting that lady. If you are married, why should you salute her? Tell me!”
I was dumbstruck.
Rani pulled out our marriage certificate from her hand bag and asked, “Will this do?”
He scrutinized it.
“Instead of keeping it safe at home, why are you carrying it?”
“With the foresight that fellows like you will be there,” she straight away turned rough.
“How to verify it? How to confirm that you are Naga Rani? What evidence is there to show that he is Saifullah?”
“I will call my college staff. They will testify. Even the Principal will come, if needed,” I said taking out my mobile phone.
Rani glared at me.
Turning to the S.I. she asked, “What is your name?”
She deliberately addressed him impolitely.
“Can’t you see? Rami Reddy. S.I.”
“Where is the proof that you are Rami Reddy? How to believe that it is your dress? You may be a fake, borrowing the dress from a costume supplier for dramas. In fact, you might have murdered the original S.I Rami Reddy and slipped into his dress. Who knows? Both of you may be fake policemen. To extract money, you are harassing us. Right?”
He was shell shocked.
“I am a real S.I. You may verify in Police station.” he departed muttering inaudibly.
We reached home.
“You were shrewd in keeping the certificate in your bag. I know that inter-religious marriages lead to troubles. But did not envisage this sort of issue,” I told her.
“We are in a secular country, you know!” Rani smiled sweetly.
Original Story from Rani Gaari Kathalu in Telugu by Syed Saleem.
Translated from the Telugu by Dr T.S. Chandra Mouli.
Published earlier in New Journal of Fiction
Syed Saleem is a poet and fiction writer in Telugu.He won several awards and honours for his creative work. He was selected for Kendra Sahitya Academi Award for his Telugu novel Kaaluthunna Poolathota. The story chosen here is from Rani Gaari Kathalu, a novel in the form of sequential stories, an experiment that was highly successful. He is a high ranking official in Income Tax department.