We hear what we want to hear.
We see what we want to see.
We remember what we want to remember.
Often, we hear from others’ ears.
We see through others’ eyes.
We remember what others want us to remember.
But the truth can be different.
This story is a Muslim family drama with a touch of comedy and romance. The main character, Haniya is a happy-go-lucky and impetuous girl. What happens when people start to tag her as such?
This is a light-hearted, breezy short novel, that focuses on general prejudice and judgmental behaviour towards people based on preconceived notions.
This story can be categorized as short and quick, cute and sweet, light and breezy. It does not aim to highlight any religious, social or cultural aspects. It does not address any big sensitive issues that are prevalent in society. My aim has been to highlight those tiny little individual issues that we often ignore; our baseless assumptions about people; without knowing that it can hurt them. I want to subtly inform the readers that our perceptions can sometimes cause irreparable damage; so much that their personality is broken beyond comprehension.
We judge and pigeon-hole people based on our principles, our likes, our references and our dictionary. We call their names – weird, abnormal, childish, rude, obnoxious and what not.
We tag them. And those tags become their sole identity. Who cares to find the truth? Who tries to understand the reason behind closed names?
Some people are lucky; everything is sorted out for them. Some people are brave; they survive the torture. However, most of them live their lives struggling through the predicament.
I have watched a few dear friends dealing with such ‘not a big deal’ situations. I just hope that we don’t cause that pain to anybody.
O Silly girl
O Silly girl
What are you doing?
Where are you going?
A heart full of sadness
A life completely helpless
it is suffocating
It is intimating
O Silly girl
O Silly girl
Haniya finished reading the poem in her most emotional voice, exhibiting her most sincere expressions. She looked around at her audience expecting nothing short of a standing ovation.
“This is… Interesting,” said Haider with a philosophical nod.
“This is not a poem,” said Anas.
“That’s right. Haniya has written an ode to herself.” Haider agreed wholeheartedly. The two of them broke into a fit of laughter. The girls grinned. Haniya stomped her feet like a two-year-old. It only made them laugh harder.
“I have written a beautiful poem. You guys are only jealous,” she claimed, her words full of herself but her voice lacked the conviction.
“oh my god, I am so jealous,” added Anas and another bout of laughter ensued.
“Bhaaan,” Haniya wailed.
Haniya crying and the rest of them roaring with laughter. It was perfect.
It was a typical weekend routine. All of them gathered in one place. The time afterwards could only be described as madness.
Mr Safdar was a bit strict with kids. So, kids generally camped at Nani’s place. They felt that listening to the innocent scolding by Nani was far better than the satirical and tongue-in-cheek comments from dad.
Haniya was the youngest and the most “genius” of the lot. She was like the people on telemarketing channels – talking nonstop, without breathing. She has a bucket full of tales to impress others with her indigenous. Others, in return, joked about it and ridiculed her.
The playful banter brightened up the Ali Mansion.
Ali Murtaza and his family hailed from Kashmir. His ancestors had spent their lives in a village in Kashmir. It was a beautiful place. The ugly truth was that terror attacks, firing, and riots became a routine.
Tired of the routine riots, Ali Murtaza made a life-altering decision. He decided to move out. He had a few friends in Bhopal, from the time he graduated from Aligarh Muslim University. He shifted to Bhopal and started his life from scratch.
Those were tough times. Years passed, and the family had almost forgotten about their native place and their struggles. They had a humble begging in a rented two-bedroom apartment and now lived a two floored sprawling bungalow.
Ali Murtaza had two sons, Safeer Ali and Wazeer Ali. They were fond of poetry, often wrote and participated in cultural and literature festivals in and around the city. There were quite popular in the Urdu speaking population of the city.
Safeer Ali had a small life, unfortunately. He passed away, leaving behind his wife Jahan Aara Begum and their only daughter Fatima. Jahan Aara Begum chose to stay with in-laws. Her daughter Fatima was married to a family in Kanpur. She had her mother’s fate. She lost her husband four years ago. She lives in UP with her in-laws and her son Waqas. The family met on social occasions – weddings and funerals. She did visit once or twice a year.
Wazeer Ali (Baba Jaan) married Nudrat Khanam (Amma Bi). She belonged to a respected family from Lucknow. She was educated and liked to read. Her entire family was inclined and involved in literature. It was a good match. Wazeer Ali and Nudrat Khanam still enjoyed meeting writers and poets.
The next generation, however, was not as interested in literature. It was a fact that bothered Wazeer Ali, only a little, only on a few occasions. He, however, never tried to influence his children. He believed in letting the kids choose and live their lives as they pleased.
When Safeer Ali was alive, both families occupied one floor each of the two-storey Ali Mansion. After his demise, Wazeer Ali asked a lawyer to do the current cost analysis and paid half of that sum to Jahan Aara Begum. Now, Wazeer Ali’s family resided in both portions.
Wazeer Ali had three kids. Ameen was the eldest. Then they had a daughter, Aamna. Aman was their younger son. All of them were married and had families. Aamna lived nearby.
Both Aman Ali and Ameen Ali were civil engineers. Ameen and Aamna were married off first. Aman got married a year later. He was blessed with a baby boy soon after.
Ameen Ali and his wife Zubaida Begum had two daughters – Daniya and Haniya.
Amana Begum and Safdar Ahmed had three children – Shaziya, Haider and Naziya.
Aman Ali and Tahera had three children – Moonis, Fayeza and Anas.
There was a parking shed on one side of the big sprawling lawn. There were two doors in the small veranda. The left side door opened in a medium-sized room. It was initially dedicated for entertaining literary and cultural guests. Now it was used as a living room for men, or boy’s den.
The second door opened in the lounge. The guests were entertained here. A staircase went to the upper floor. There were four rooms on the left side of the lounge. Three rooms were taken by Amma Bi and Baba Jan, Dadi Amma, Ameen and Zubaida respectively. Daniya and Haniya lived in the fourth room.
Moving further inside from the lounge, it was a small room, sort of like a women’s baithak. It had a diwan for the two grandmothers of the house. All the big decisions were taken here – from the menu of the day to presents for various parties and functions. The family ate in the room, in the plain old style – sitting on the mats with a good spread served on the dastarkhwan. The kitchen was right next to it. If anybody felt like eating outside of regular eating times, they went to the kitchen, sat on a small wooden stool and ate alone.
The backyard was large. It housed a washing machine. There were strings tied to the walls on both ends, creating a nice dryline for the laundry. There were two servant rooms at the end of the backyard. The rooms were occupied by Sarwat Bua, their long-term caretaker of the house, treated like a family member. His son Muzaffar worked as the driver, to drive girls to schools and colleges. He was married to Parveen and had two naughty sons. Parveen also helped in the household chores, now that Sarwat Bua was not as agile as before. Apart from the main entrance, the backyard also had a door. The young generation used that door when guests were entertained in the lounge.
The upper floor had seven rooms. There were a study room and a library as well. Baba Jaan spent most of his time in the library.
Every member of the family had their own room, except for the girls who spent most of the time together. The remaining rooms remained locked, occasionally accommodating guests and visiting relatives.
Moonis Aman Ali was the first grandchild and was obviously the blue-eyed boy. Soon after, Zubaida and Tahera were blessed with daughters. The others, kids were born with a gap of one or two years.
It was a big happy family. Daniya was the second child, soon joined by Aamna Begum’s Shaziya and Haider. Zubaida Begum gave birth to Anas and Fayeza with a gap of two years in between. Aamna’s daughter Naziya was next.
Then came the princess – Haniya Aman Ali.
Moonis was the eldest and most sincere and serious amongst the kids. He remained so in the growing up years. He mostly kept to himself and did not mingle much with the other kids. He was not spoilt, but he kept a distance. He understood his responsibilities, it seemed. Now, he was working as a chartered accountant in a big firm.
Daniya and Shaziya were among the ‘elder’ girls of the family. Both of them had a sense of responsibility instilled in them. It came naturally to them. After graduation, Shaziya did not pursue further education. Daniya was doing her final year of M.A.
Haider and Anas were the devils, at least when compared with the first three kids. Haider had done an MBA and was doing an internship. Anas was a student of the third year of engineering.
Naziya, Fayeza and Haniya was almost the same age. Naziya and Fayeza were studying arts, the third year in college. Haniya was just enrolled in the first year of B.Sc.
Moonis’s car entered the porch. On the lawn, Hanya was standing on one leg, hopping and moving in a circle, like a whirling kid. She was not alone. Parveen’s sons were watching her perform the stunt with amusement. Then, she lost her balance.
“Ahhh… Aaaah… Aaaaah… Allah…”
She fell sideways, her right elbow crushed into the ground. The kids giggled, spontaneously and aloud. Moonis chuckled, too. You can hardly suppress the spontaneous laughter when you see someone fall. He went inside, peeked in the kitchen and spotted Fayeza.
“Go and check on Haniya. She has hurt herself,” he said and went upstairs to his room.
Fayeza went out on the lawn without uttering a single word. The announcement ‘Haniya has hurt herself’ was a regular one. They heard it at least once a week. How long would they empathize? How long would they worry?
Haniya was the youngest and cutest. She was still a kid at heart. She had grown up, physically. Her habits had not changed. She was still innocent and childish. She spoke her mind without hesitation. She gave her opinion even in matters that did not bother her. That, in fact, was her favourite pastime. Nobody took her seriously. After she got admitted to the college recently, she had started to think of herself as the most mature and sensible person ever.
The Kashmiri genes reflected even in the younger generation. The girls especially had milky white complexion and had a serene beauty. Haniya was beyond beautiful. She was pretty as a doll. She had brown big eyes like a dove and light brown hair. She kept hair silky hair tied up in a high pigtail. She had slightly pink complexion, the colour one would see by adding a drop of strawberry juice in a glass of milk. And the dimples, so deep, that anybody would drown in them, to never recover.
Among all the girls in the family, Tahera liked Haniya the best, even more than her own daughter Fayeza. When Haniya was not moving or talking, her beauty easily had the power to mesmerize. But the doll talked and talked a LOT. When she was little, she had not started talking until she was fifteen months old. When she learnt a few words, her family went crazy. Everyone, men and women and older cousins alike, spent their free time making her learn different words, and phrases. She looked adorable and sounded even better in her attempt to mimic her elders. Talking nonstop, therefore, became her habit – a habit that now her family found a bit bothering.
The college annual functions were about to start. It was a ‘season’ in Saifia College of Science, Bhopal. As the season began, the college was divided into two groups. Those who had participated in events were busy in planning and preparing for the same. The others bunked the classes and kept roaming around lazily and leisurely. It was almost equivalent to a holiday break.
Haniya, along with more than half of the students from her class belonged to the second group. They were free and was sitting outside on the garden, on the grass, under the shades of the giant trees. To keep themselves busy, they began debating on various topics. Perhaps, it was their way to console their inner self, that we can debate as well; even though we did not take part in any competition.
They talked on every topic under the sun. From politics to showbiz, nothing was left. Miss Haniya was busy voicing her opinion on everything, excitedly and animatedly. It was a golden opportunity for her. At home, nobody paid attention to what she said, except Baba Jaan. Others listened to her but did not take her seriously. Today was Eid for Haniya.
“So, Haniya, I have a question for you.” Her classmate Furqan Shaikh addressed her in particular and asked. “If someone likes somebody, what should be the ideal course of action? Should he go ahead and share his feelings? or, should he keep it to himself?”
Tabassum, Haniya’s best friend in college raised her eyebrows. Before she could forbid Haniya from talking on such a bold and sensitive topic, Haniya was already responding.
“It is so simple. Just send the parents. It will either make some progress and result in a positive outcome, or it will end then and there. This is the twenty-first century for god’s sake. Who keeps their feelings secret nowadays? As for talking to the person directly, it is just cheap and tacky.” She said in her most mature and sincere tone.
Furqan grinned. He had certainly not expected that response. He had not expected a response in the first place to be fair.
“I see. That’s great advice. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.”
Haniya did not worry about the reason behind Furqan’s question, nor did she realize that her reply had misled him. Tabassum frowned. She knew Haniya would argue with her if she tried to give a different spin to her words. Then, she thought of giving a hint, a clue, hoping Haniya would change her stance.
“How do you feel about love marriage?” Tabassum asked.
Haniya wrinkled her nose and paused, instead of replying right away. Great, she is thinking and reconsidering her words, thought Tabassum.
“I don’t know… I don’t have any opinion about that. I guess whatever my elders decide for me would suit me just fine. They choose the best for me, always.” Haniya replied.
Furqan was so excited to hear those words, he almost looked like he would pump his fist in the air and break into a crazy dance.
Tabassum, on the other hand, was considering killing her best friend.
“Uff… Haniya!!!” she thought.
She decided that she would need to talk to Haniya and knock some sense into her head, as soon as she would get hold of her. But first, she had to change the topic, prevent the damage she anticipated if the line of discussion continued.
“Is anybody reading Nemrah Ahmed’s new novel Haalim?” Tabassum casually brought up a topic that would certainly be more exciting.
The girls started talking all at once. That was the effect Haalim had. The boys left to hang out separately. That was the effect Tabassum was anticipating.
They got so engrossed in the discussion that Tabassum forgot all about Furqan and Haniya.
Two days had passed since the college fest was over. But Haniya was still going gaga about it, passing her expert commentary on each and every event. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the female population had a headache listening to her stories, nonstop, in the loop, infinite.
That morning was just the same. Before she left for college she talked about the drama, the heroines her costumes plenty of times. She was not talking to anybody in particular. She was loud enough for the entire house to hear her. She might have been stressing on the costume to give some hint to her mother. She would have loved to get the same dress for Eid.
The breakfast concluded amidst the regular morning chaos and everybody left for their respective offices and colleges. Zubaida Begum asked Parveen to do the dusting. She herself had to take care of the lunch’s menu.
For both grandmothers, the time between breakfast and lunch was reserved to watch television. Tahera was talking to her mother on the phone. Parveen who was cleaning the lounge came inside and informed about the arrival of some guests.
“Who are they?” Zubaida whispered. She did not want to disturb Tahera’s phone conversation or the television watching, nor did she wanted the guests to hear her.
“I don’t know. I have not seen them before. They are not our relatives, that I can say,” Praveen whispered back. “They said they want to meet Haniya’s parents.”
Tahera, who was paying more attention to the exchange of whispers, hurriedly said the greetings and hung up the phone.
Zubaida carried the tray of the vegetables back to the kitchen, washed her hands and came back. The grandmothers were not unaware, either. They switched off the television. After five minutes, the four ladies of the house was sitting in the lounge, staring at the unfamiliar faces of the unannounced guests.
Amma Bi, being the flag bearer of traditions, culture and manners started the conversation.
“Assalamualaikum, we welcome you to our house. I’m Nudrat Begum, my sister in law Jahan Aara and my daughters in law Zubaida and Tahera.”
Polite smiles and greetings were exchanged. Amma Bi is continued.
“I apologize but I am having a hard time placing you. Have we met before?” She asked.
“We are Furqan’s parents, Furqan Shaikh. He studies with Haniya in college. He likes her. We have no choice but to come here and offer his proposal for Haniya.”
Those four sentences hit like a bomb, a bomb dropped without any introduction or preliminary conversations.
Tahera began to panic. Ever since Haniya was born, she had imagined her as Moonis’ bride. She considered and treated Haniya as her daughter-in-law. It was only a proposal. It had a strong and severe effect on her nonetheless.
“We would like to apologize but Haniya is already engaged within the family,” Amma bi gracefully rejected the proposal. Tahera gave a sigh of relief.
“That was easy,” she thought.
The woman, who claimed to be Furqan’s mother asked with a smirk. “Is Haniya happy about the engagement? Our son had a word with your daughter and she had asked him to send the parents to formalize the affair.”
Zubaida Begum’s blood started to boil. It was not only the poisonous words but also the way she spoke. It was cheap, rude and downright insulting. She trusted her daughter truly and completely. She believed that Haniya, who seemed to live in a parallel world, would never ever engage in such activities. At the same time, she was confident that her naïve daughter must have misinterpreted things and opened her mouth without thinking twice. She was positive that the unannounced and poorly mannered guests were quoting Haniya out of the context, twisting and misrepresenting her thoughts.
“The decision of match-making lies amongst the elders. We do not believe in sharing these decisions upfront with our children. Their involvement is neither necessary nor appropriate. We do not want to shadow their brains during their studies.” Amma Bi said with a tight-lipped smile.
“Insha’allah, we will set the dates for the wedding after Haniya completes graduation.” Jahan Aara Begum chimed in. “I am sure Haniya will invite her classmates. We would be happy if you attended the wedding and gave your blessings.” She talked in a pleasant yet firm tone. She left no room for further discussion. Parveen was quick to serve tea and refreshments. They drank tea quietly and left.
Zubaida was shaking her head with disappointment and disgust.
“Amma, why didn’t you tell them it is a misunderstanding?” Tahera asked. She had expected Amma Bi to clear the air before they left.
“I was thinking just the same. They just accused that your daughter has invited us with the proposal,” added Zubaida.
“Don’t be upset, Zubaida. That was very untactful of them to bring such accusation so casually. They did not have manners. That does not mean that we forget ours. Besides, nobody gains a thing by pointing fingers.” Jahan Aara Begum commented in her peaceful voice.
“After dinner, the four of you should come to my room.” Amma Bi told her daughters-in-law. Then she turned to Jahan Aara Begum. “Bhabhi, I request you to be present, as well. We will talk about this,” She said with finality. She did not like talking about the same thing over and over again.
They resumed their routinely chores afterwards.
I hope you liked these sample chapters. I cannot share any more, as Amazon restricts me to share only 10% of the book. You can buy the book here.
Next week, I will post sample chapters from another book. You can read Urdu Edition here.