I had been waiting for this day. The car made its way through a relatively narrow Faizabad Road, passed through some century old houses …and there we were,somewhere between Chowk and Nakhaas, in front of a simple looking, almost a make-shift, shop. Before I could fully analyze the complete lack of aesthetic sense used in the construction of the shop, a strong, almost pungent aroma hit me, a combination of dry fruits and juiciest mutton it was, with a freshness of the best quality of rice. Thus, it took me a little time to realize , that despite being made in a dark, unhygienic, almost dungeon-like place, Idris’ Biryani was one of the best that Lucknow could serve.
It was the last day of my vacations. I wanted to make most of it. The hot biryani assured me that I had made every minute of it. Mutton, just melted in my mouth, I chewed the dry fruits like a soul famished for months, and my taste buds were making love with every grain of the perfectly cooked rice. I was busy relishing my visit to this culinary heaven until, a voice came.
“Ama khaiye…sharmate kahe hai?”
The waiter encouraged Shiraz bhai who was a little shy in ordering another plate of this tasty offering. My father , who was well into his second course, caught hold of the scene.
“Ama Shiraz khaate kyun nahi ho…ye asli biryani hai, tum jo bade* ka meat khate ho na, use kahin achchi hai, sharmao mat, khao”
He smiles, murmured, a very low,but very courteous, “jii sahib”, and thus we continued on our tasty sojourn.
I, by now, was completely at ease with Shiraz. Last night we roamed around Gomati Nagar just to get some good puffs.We used to talk simple things, Life,lucknow, cars, jobs. Nothing philosophical, just some light chat filled with good humour, which made the journey in the car seem much shorter.
“Bantu bhai, joote rakhe hain kya puraane”, he had asked me yesterday. “Wo hua kya kii Eid me naye joote liye the par saala kutta utha k le gaya parso”
“Hmm”, I said, indifferently
“Aur kaminapana dekhiye kutte ka , saala ek joota le gaya”
”theek hai ghar me bol doonga”
We were ,now, on our way to home, passing swiftly through University road. I was proudly playing my Ghazal collection on the stereo. Actually, playing is a wrong word, I was displaying my affection of ghazals to my father,in order to prove, and that too, in desperation, that I was also a good listener, as they call it in Hindi – Sangeet ka paarkhi. And so Jagjit Singh started.
Jhoom kay jab rindon ne pila dii…
Father(in display of pride): “to kaisi lagi biryani?”
Shiraz – “achhci lagi sahib”.
Father : “tum pata nahi kyun wo bade ki biryani khate ho. Are yaar humein bhi pata hai achchi biryani
kaisi hoti…aisi kya baat hai”
Sheikh ne chupke chupke dua dii…the song continued..
Father :”waah waah…dekho ye Jagjeet Singh Sikh hai..talaffuz dekh rahe ho inka”
Shiraz( almost blindly) : jii ….
Father( as if some premonition has hit him): Talaffuz samajhte ho ?
Shiraz (with a mix of desperation and smile) : nahii sahib.
Father(irritated): “yaar tum bahut bekar musalman ho yaar…. Uchcharan(pronounciation) samajhte ho..wahi hota hai…”
Smiles, now were inevitable. Shiraz gave it in first,laughing away gracefully at his lack of getting talaffuz right. Gradually we all dipped into a pool of light moments. Meanwhile Jagjit jii was now at his full throttle
Ek kami thi Taj Mahal me …
Humne teri tasveer laga dii…
The whole atmosphere was emphatic as we approached a ‘larger than life’** signboard of Shakun Medicals. This part, the medical shop part, is a short but by no means sweet custom of my family. A day filled with a good ride, good food, great music, has to end with the gulping down of some boring tasteless antacids. And so, abiding by the culture , and with a whisper of “My dawai le ke aata hoon”, my father marched on towards the medical store. Jagjit Singh has just finished a stupendous rendition, we both sat, inspecting the various parts of the recently bought Alto. A curious silence lingered, like the one which is there between two songs in a cassette.
“Aap sunni hain kii Shiya?”, I asked. This question was spontaneous. I didn’t think, nor had I intended to ask such a question. It just…came out.
“matlab aap to sunni hai naa?”
During the first query , I knew I didn’t tread on the right path, but still I was confident. But that ‘jii” of his, humble, though it was , made me drown in a sea of guilt. I started loathing myself for projecting a man , willing to earn his bread through hard work, in the X and Y axis of religion and sects. I was desperate to change the topic but then
“haan bhayiaa..suuni hii to hai” he replied back with an utmost innocence , stream of which washed away my fears, guilt and apprehension.
“to aap Muharram manaate hain kyaa?” , I expected a negative reply.
A nonchalant semicircular tilt of the head signifying just the obvious proved me wrong.
“Achca to app logon me aur shiyaon me kuch fark hota hai na?
“pata nahi bhayia…hum to kaam se kaam matlab rakhte hain. Hamaare liye to sab ek.
I smiled and put up a wry “wo to hai”, thinking that the discussion was going towards the same old ‘Hum sab ek hain’ rhetoric. I saw my father crossing the road , and fastened the seat belt.
Ek baar humre gaon me…..”, Shiraz, strangely carried on”…arthi jaa rhi thi..hum aur bhai baithe the…bhai kahin – ye batao ki tum in logon(Hindu) se kahe dosti rakhte ho. Hum bole kya farak padta hai yaar..mar ka to sab 1 hi jagah jate hai..un k yahaan jala dia jaata hai….hamare yahaan matti daal di jaati hai sab ek hi to hai…kyun bhayiaa”…..
I was short of words, no I was speechless, or perhaps I was speechless and trembling, and before I was back to normal , father marched in with a trademark “ saali bheed bahut thii”
I was right ,when I thought that Shiraz will comment on the ‘Hum sab ek hain’ funda. But the innocence which was written all over his village story blew me away.I will never categorize Shiraz as a common man. I will put him in the most ill fated column of ‘exploited men’. He is one of those who like to march on the path of truth and honor ,who never fail to put their whole life and soul on stake for the sake of daily bread. And when some revered geniuses of our society strike a communal spark, they are the ones who get the worst of that period, they are the ones who get killed, and if I may use the words, then they are the ones who get screwed , who are fucked up.
What Shiraz explained was true and logical. But that was not its beauty. His statements were sweet simple and reflected the aura of bare truth. He had given the example of death to prove his point. Death , the ultimate reality, the absolute incident which happens to each and every one of us. Death which comes alike, be it a Hindu, Muslim or a Jew. One of my very good friends often says “Dharm ka arth hai dharan karna”. Perhaps the logic is right. Religion means to imbibe raher than to follow. For Shiraz , religion meant being faithful to the duties that were there for him to perform. He categorized people through a lens where religion meant the way you were dealt by nature. Nature was equal for all, and so were the homo sapiens for Shiraz. He failed to answer the intricacies of Islam, but quite simply he had imbibed in himself , and followed the true values of religion. Religion , that he practiced by being honest to the responsibilities that life had in store for him.
Exactly 3 hours later I was there at the station. Shiraz was there too, unloading my luggage. I was still feeling a little bit guilty. He started carrying the bags. I took the heavier one from him. As we reached the gate he smiled , and while extending his hand for a last handshake, asked me
“Bantu bhayia ..wo joote?”
“Shit”, I thought. I had missed telling my mother about it.
“Haan , wo maine mummy ko bol diya hai”, I lied, somehow avoiding his eyes and handshake. I don’t know why, perhaps my guilt was overpowering my courtesies.
I rushed towards the train, reached the platform and turned back. I thought it would be good to give Shiraz a warm wave of the hand. But he was to be seen nowhere. Then suddenly I saw his back, he was busy unlocking the car. I tried calling him, but didn’t , nor did I wave the hand, instead ,swiftly boarded the train.
** Sorry for that bad similie