By Salman Abdus Samad
Uncharacteristically, Sakhawat had awoken much earlier than usual that day. Or to be more precise, he had hardly slept that night. When Laiba woke up to drink water at 3 o’clock, she noticed that her brother was still awake. She wanted to ask him if everything was okay, but ultimately couldn’t bring herself to say anything and went back to bed. Sad thoughts about her brother assailed her mind. Meanwhile, Sakhawat went out to the mosque and returned quickly, even before the azan was called.
Laiba was surprised to see this, because Sakhawat would usually go to the mosque after the azan had been called. But today, he had come back home before namaz, rather, before the azan. This unusual situation created a few bigger questions in Laiba’s mind. Her brother was lying down on his bed and talking to himself.
“Now, I am no more a Muslim. I am an infidel. Without the preaching of any Indian, I have become an infidel. It is very difficult to remain a Muslim in our country. There’s no one to help the Muslims here…” The Holy Quran lay on the shelf next to his head.
Sakhawat had four sisters; Nafeesa, Raisa, Alfia and Laiba. Raisa’s wedding was set and her two brothers, Sakhawat and Liyaqat, were under pressure seeing to the arrangement of the event. It was important to organize Raisa’s wedding ceremony on time — Nafeesa, who was older than Raisa, had all but lost hope of receiving a marriage proposal from any man, due to her being over-age.
After having breakfast, Sakhawat went to see his relatives to borrow some money. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Liyaqat – a research scholar at university – wrote several letters to wealthy professors and colleagues about his family’s financial crisis. One of those letters read as follows:
With all due respect and utter humility, I want to state that the wedding ceremony of my second sister is to be held soon. For that, we need a handsome amount of money. I do receive a monthly fellowship from the government, but I have not been receiving this for the last nine months due to problems within the banking system.
I am in dire need of money to organise marriage proceedings. I have tried in vain to acquire some amount on interest.
Therefore, I am writing to ask you with utmost earnestness and humility to assist me by lending some money if at all possible. I can assure you that I will pay it back as soon as possible. I shall forever be in your debt.
Near Masjid Baitullah,
Laiba was mulling over her brothers’ financial situation. She had always been the sensitive one among her sisters. Lately, she was upset much of the time. Her sensitivity was agitating her. She had much to share with others but no one to talk to. Suddenly, she remembered her Indian friend, Rupesh, with whom she had not been in contact with for nine months. Feeling restless, she picked up her mobile and typed:
“Hello, how and where are you, Rupesh?”
She pressed the ‘send’ button and waited for a reply from Rupesh. She thought that he might not reply, as they had exchanged some hurtful words related to political issues previously.
One day, Laiba had sent a link of a news article to Rupesh. It was about the army of Rupesh’s country. In response, he sent pictures displaying the bloodshed by the army of Laiba’s country. It was a sensitive issue between them
Laiba gloomily scrolled back to read the messages that they had exchanged in their conversations on Facebook in the past. One such conversation went like this:
“Laiba, are you apprehensive about our friendship? Are the borders of our countries barriers between us?”
”Yes, Rupesh. I think so.”
”If that’s what you think, then you are completely wrong. Let’s change our way of thinking. The borders have cost enough lives. The river of blood is flowing everywhere. We have achieved freedom at the cost of blood and we are still paying the same cost. We can’t get back what we’ve lost. But we can build a bridge over the river of blood to cross the border. Laiba, is it not possible for us?”
”I think that is a very wise comment… You’re right.”
”If we build a bridge of love over the river of blood, we will surely enjoy our friendship.”
Sometimes, Laiba and Rupesh would discuss the political conditions of their respective countries and sometimes about domestic issues. While discussing the domestic issues, they felt a closeness. Laiba would sometimes say to Rupesh: Our blood is a different color and live in different countries. Yet we feel such closeness. Why is it so?
Rupesh had no words with which to respond to Laiba’s question. One day, he sent her a photo of his bleeding finger and asked Laiba to compare it with hers.
Laiba was missing Rupesh. She wanted someone to share the problems that her family was facing with. She wished to revitalize her friendship with Rupesh.
However, when she saw that Sakhawat had returned empty-handed, with his face darkened, Laiba became anxious. Rupesh had also not yet replied, which troubled her.
Laiba went into her brother’s room to see him, but both were at a loss for words. They tried their best to talk and eventually came to the discussing the morning’s events.
“Bhai, why did you come back from the mosque before azan today?”
”Laiba… I… I became an infidel.”
”Don’t say that, bhai…”
“Why not? When there is no way for us to even survive in our own country…”
”This country is ours. It will always be ours and you are not an infidel.”
“No, I am. I am an infidel.”
“That’s not true…”
“Oh, you don’t know anything about me or about our country… Listen to me carefully; first of all, our relatives refused the proposal of Raisa’s marriage. So, then we arranged her marriage with another family. Secondly, it has been very difficult to make arrangements for Raisa’s wedding. I tried to get help from relatives, but they wouldn’t help. After that, I tried to take out a loan. But I couldn’t get that either. Finally, I went to the person who lends money on interest in our holy country. I requested that he lend me some money. But he refused. After that, I tried to convince him to lend the money on interest. He replied, ”I deal with interest for Hindus only. We have no interest scheme for Muslims.”
Laiba understood and went back to her room. Thoughts coursed through her mind and she was unable to sleep. Meanwhile, Rupesh replied to her on Facebook:
“Hello, Laiba! How are you?”
Laiba cheered up for a while. Without hesitation, the two of them began discussing the particulars of their day-to-day lives. Laiba told him the story of the wedding ceremony with despair. But it was not heard by Rupesh. He turned off his mobile. She was surprised by his attitude. Therefore, she stopped thinking about him and tried to sleep. But it was difficult.
Early in the morning, Rupesh had sent her another long message:
As you know, I am unable to help you. However, my father can. But the type of business he deals in will prevent you from accepting anything from us, if I were to explain it to you. This was the reason I didn’t say anything to you last night and just went to sleep.
Laiba, I’ve just told my father the whole story of my friendship with a Pakistani Muslim woman. He replied saying, ‘I don’t lend money on interest to any Muslim. But I made a way to deal in debt with Muslims’. That facilitated me to send such a message to you. But Laiba, I am surprised by what he said. He said, ‘Our hands are tied to this cross of the law and humanity stands upon the altar of the borders.’
The author is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.