The Royal Vase
Even though we had stepped into our new house, the question of the royal vase was there. Not only that, just to prove the significance of its presence, it posed a problem, ‘where is it to be placed now…?’
The question of ‘placing’ it was so very unpalatable to him as if the royal crown were suddenly snatched away from his head. ‘What do you mean? Well, it is a royal vase. Why shouldn’t it be placed in the drawing room itself?’ ‘Drawing room?’ to Farheen’s mind it didn’t deserve a place in the beautiful drawing room of the new house because the visiting friends and the sons of noble men did not consider it to be an antique piece, nor did their eyes venture to roam through the alleys of the tales of the lost sovereignty. They only laughed, openly, ‘oh sister…so you are there…from what rugged curio shop did you buy it?’
For asharaf this royal vase had only this much of attraction that his father’s respect for it had grown a bit too profound in his declining age and father, despite the passage of time, was still imprisoned in the castle of bygone sovereignty wherefrom it was, perhaps, not easy any more to get out at this age of his.
Yes, if it were the matter of looking for hatred attached to this ancient token, the vase, it could be found in the eyes of the mother only. Glaucoma had cast its effect there, but, despite their being over-shadowed by the dense fog, her eyes, turning the pages of the merciless past, could not speak but would say, ‘Lo. What a royal vase? Children have erected a house, and I was the one who having married you had come to the thatched collage, and since spent the whole but belonging to what kingdom? There meals of day are what even a beggar can manage.’
My name is Asharaf. Asharaf jahangeer.
I had no taste for history books in my childhood. As I grew up I developed an aversion to history. To me it was a horrifying mirror. The idea of my seeing my reflection in it filled me with horror. To me the pages of history seemed to be cruel. Since the time I stepped on the threshold of my childhood, the silence peeping from behind the infirm arches hurt me. After my birth my father submitted himself to the mosque and to the prayers (prescribed by Islamic law). In this atmosphere of want when my mother’s irritability expressed itself against my father, he, to show his helplessness takes the shelter of that royal vase forgetting everything else. ‘Lo. How could have thought that the descendants of Taimoor dynasty would come to such a wretched state and the issues would suffer for want of petty coins.’
Shaba was younger to me by two years. When she saw father and mother quarrelling, she would shut herself up in her room, curl herself on the bed and soak the pillow with her tears.
On there cruel pages of history I get just a glimpse of ‘Taimooriya paper bag store.’ lucklessness when he opened a small shop dealing in paper bags. Descending from the royal throne to the occupation of a paper bag seller to pacify the hell of the stomach my father had lost uh that was within himself. Peeping out from that ruthless of history, even today the tears are discernible in the eyes---the tears that were visible in the mornings in my father’s ‘dry’ eyes. Red and swollen, they would tell all the tale of the previous night, that what-like it felt to see the present tomb from the ‘royal hujra’ father was horrified by the present and history pleased him.
It was, perhaps, during those days that the story of my hatred of history began. Memoirs of history and tombs seemed to me to be like a filthy spider web enmeshed in which some insect had died. During those days of struggle how could we be deemed to be human beings? We were insects, dead insects…and the tattered house, telling the tales of the past royal glory, looked like a tomb, and our concern about getting rid of which was on the increase day-to-day.
Does history require any explanations? - Or, it keeps defining itself in some way or the other according to the time. With my growing age, in the strange environment of home, a new flame of hope had got lightened, and with it. I had seen the changing face of history or, say, a new aspect of the explanation of history.
The news of my appointment had come from two places. One was for the post of a lecturer at a new place, and the other was for the post of a field-officer in a reputed firm. This change had come along with a new and full explanation of an aspect of history in the making.
It was during these days that a quarrel had erupted between two groups of students in a college. And this discord took such dimensions that the whole of the city, even the little alleys of it reverberated with the shrieks of the horrified youth. Shops began to get closed. In a panic shutters began to be drawn down and shops closed. Those who couldn’t close them were looted. Other people were looking at the happenings from their windows and roofs. In those days such conflicts between the violent groups of students of the colleges of the city were nothing new, as I came out of the room, mother and Saba were looking at me much alarmed.
‘Father hasn’t come….!’
‘Who should know where he is?’
My mother voice, one among so many shrieking voices from the road, trembled.
When two hours had passed father came back with his shaky voice…to tell us that the louts had looted the shop. The paper bags were thrown away onto the road, machine parts were taken apart. Deciphering the look in father’s eyes---that were fastened to the royal vase on the balcony, I was passing along new paths of history and its explanation. Father was simply affecting for us his being disheartened and terrorized. He was by no means burdened or distressed, not even over fact that the shop had got looted and the question how we were going to meet the household expenses now. He was looking steadily at the royal vase. This contradiction fully explained the history. He had given precedence to the golden past over the frightfulness of the present.
‘What shall we do now?’ mother had lowered her head seeing a bat taking its flight from the courtyard to the veranda.
I said quietly, ‘father needn’t do anything now for I have got an offer of employment.’
No. at the moment the shine that rippled in father’s eyes would be missing in the eyes of Taimoor. Kings when they returned to their palaces after a war had been won.
Love gives a meaning to your life. Perhaps it is a better and proper time when that slender and tall Farheen should also be talked about. Farheen, who would press between her teeth an end of a corner of her shawl, and feel annoyed because once and again her shawl would not keep in its pro9per place, and perplexed as soon as she faced my eyes. The time when Ferheen had begun her visits to our house as Saba’s friend slipped off unnoticed, but by her arrival she won the heart of all the members of the family. Putting oil in father’s hair, sometimes taking, per force, the work off my mother’s hand in the kitchen, or combing Saba’s hair, she had silently declared that the house was hers and whatever she did was for the sake of her own house. A little conversation in the beginning, then a little bashfulness and then certain things in the presence of father and mother.
‘Why doesn’t he say prayers?’
‘What’s the use of reading lots and lots of books?’
‘he ought to visit the mosque, on Fridays at least.’
Father, tell him if others don’t.’
Or, at some other time asking Saba.
‘Why is your brother wearing angry airs all the time?
And one day finding Faheen alone in the kolkari of the house, I surreptitiously took this chit of a girl into my arms. Instead of crying out, ‘Ui Allah’ and taking to her heels, she almost nestled herself in my embrace and closed her eyes. Tremblingly, as if a river having been thirsty for years had got some solace. She whispered.
‘Some one will come.’
‘Then why do you make so much of mischief?’
Her ear-lobes were deep red, her eye-lids fluttered; the corner of her shawl had slipped a little. In a low voice she replied.
‘Please say a prayer, that brings brightness to the house.’
Pulling her once again to my chast I said,
‘Look here, Farheen I pay my respect to religion. But, you see the desolation of this crumbling house. This house, and so many questions arising there from, has carried me off the rituals, and the situation has prevailed for how long, I don’t recollect. But don’t get frightened. I am not so far removed that can’t come back. But you will not persuade me about the matter.’
With her frightened eyes, taking leave of me she said this much, ‘Never mind, I’ll say prayers for you too. I’ll beg for Rod’s pardon for you too.
Adjusting her shawl, Fareen had gone away in a hurry. At that very moment, on her having collided with the wall a large patch of crisp white-wash patch crust had fallen off the wall. Perhaps it was a knock by the present and a small part of the history had fallen off because of this momentary romantic feeling.
Why do so many lizards creep up the walls of old houses? My sight happened to fall on the wall wherefrom two lizards were looking at me attentively. I was looking at the weak ceiling of the room that trickled when it rained, the other near by walls were blackened because of the smoke from the kitchen fire. Thick bamboo poles had been installed to give support to the ceiling. Now these poles, having passed a very long period supporting their fall any moment.
A fragrance having touched me softly had just departed. The house had grown old. Father’s paper bags had been looted and the glow of the history of the brilliance less royal vase had succeeded in pacifying father’s eyes. While departing Farheen left behind, in my body the feel of the fragrance and the heat of her own inflamed body.
I had to make my choice. The two placement opportunities were there for me. I made up any mind to accept the offer by Delhi’s reputed firm-a journey from a small courtyard to a big one. There lay a chance of seeing the living history of Delhi while I stood rooted in the black one. Delhi where monuments of the beautiful past of Taimoor dynasty was sounding its knock at every step.
A handful of history:
The news of my future departure for Delhi had spread through the house and for that reason the tales of students commotion and father’s paper-bag shop having been looted, were missing at the dinner table. In the eyes of father there gleamed the beautiful thoroughfare of the past and this road of the by gone ages there gleamed the red and white domes of kil-e-mualla.
‘so, you are going to Delhi?’
Father’s voice sounded as if I were going to the abode of our ancestors, to see our ancient residences.
After dinner at night we came up onto the roof. The moon was shining brightly in the sky. No speck of cloud was there any where in the sky. Our handy cots were laid out on the roof. I was on the one, Saba on another & father’s cot lay by the front balcony. Looking at the moon father got lost in the reminiscences of the history and the royal vase.
‘It was the month of may…. How should the things come to memory now? They are ancient—ancestral stories, passing from mouth to mouth, seem as if the whole thing has been from one’s own eyes…..’
Saba got up. And came to the father’s cot. She began to squeeze father’s head gently with her hands. Father’s eyes closed.
A fierce rebellion had taken place a rebellion! But only the spattering of dates remain when the actual dates have passed out. Those spatterings are repeated by the coming ages in their own ways. The rebellion was just as any rebellion would be. Who were the faithless?—our people, or the English? –was difficult to define. Aged 90, the old pensioner emperor was physically short of nothing. Doing nothing, he received Rs one lakh. The British officials worked in accordance with his consent only.
The time was about 8 and 9 the emperor was in his chamber of telling the rosary. Perhaps the prayer was over. As he came to the window, he saw clouds of smoke hovering over the far si9de of the river jamuna. The emperor sensed danger. He drew back flustered. He sent his camel men to see what the matter was. They returned and told him in embarrassed tones that the platoons of the rebel had come from Meerut. Brandishing their swords, giving fall rein to their horses, they were reckless soldiers coming from Meerut, raising commotion, massacring indiscriminately. The bungalows of the British had been around. Any English man who happened to came across was slayed. There was panic in the whole of the city through Calcutta gate. The English got the door shut. Death showered itself on Delhi. The fire of rebellion spread out far and wide. Whssen some calm resumed. After this carnage, the atmosphere reverberated with the slogan. ‘The uni9verse is Gods. The country is kings but the emperor who had passed through a long way of experiences knows that the rebels had terminated his days of peace; the future will be accompanied by ruin. And that was what exactly happened.
Father cleared his vocal cars audibly…was serene for a white...And then, once again, was shut within the dark caves of the history.
‘There was a compulsion on the part of the emperor. He had to support the rebels and also not to support them. They were his own subject who appealed to him to drive away the British and to command the royal authority once again. Now, it was either the emperor’s compulsion or the pressure of the golden history of Taimoor dynasty that, despite being angry with the rebels, he was compelled to accede to their desire…and then…how long could sentimental Indians keep their stand against the fraudulent British. The British forces entered the city through Kashmere Gate, Morie Gate, and Kabuli Gate. Massacre was let loose in the capital city.
Father turned to his side.
‘Shanzeb, ancestral record of the dynasty passes through the name. Tunny beghum was in pie Bagh. Ladies and the other women of the palace were assembled in the hall. The news was that the emperor had made preparations to hide himself in the tomb of Humayun, and the royal declaration was, ‘efforts should be made to preserve own lives.’ The tumultuous assault of the British could crack down upon the palace any moment. The palace was in a state of topsy-turvy. Futile efforts were being made to save lives. Shahzeb knew that in this state of disturbance all the near and dear ones would got separated….how could sympathy be expected to be there at the heart of the wounded British? But he did not want to leave the palace without any princely token with him…and there was the royal vase….leaving the palace, he made a parcel of this royal token, held Tunny begum by the hand and got out. By the time the news had gained currency that the emperor was taken prisoner and carried away to Delhi. The princes were killed near Khooni Darwaza and their heads brought on a platter covered with a dish cloth, to the listless emperor. Aah! This was the extreme of cruelty.
The clear and moon-lit bright sky was suddenly overcast by a few floating clouds that took the moon in their embrace.
Father was preparing to get asleep….’and then, this royal vase,’ he mumbled very quietly, ‘the last token…when I see it, I forget the ruin.’
Father once again passed into the caves of the past. And I had to complete my preparations for my departure for Delhi.
History and explanation
I know that history explains itself in its own way according to the time. Sometimes time presents it, making it cruel and unbearable, and at some other time it discovers for itself as clear a face as sparkling water from within the most callous faces of history.
But I had no idea that having come to Delhi any experiences could attach themselves with the past golden history in such a way. For that reason, this history of mine contains not only the history of the royal vase, but it has branches connected with it that, otherwise, would have been lost like the tributaries into the ocean-like greater history. No. perhaps you will not fully comprehend the truth contained in the fact that I am going to narrate, I must linger here a bit longer and make the things clearer.
At the time of my departure for Delhi father was pleased.
‘Just see, history has given us one more chance,’ he said.
‘That of hoisting the flag on Lal Quila or searching out the royal throne and occupying it once more,’ I mumbled.
During my days in Delhi, for four to five years, I didn’t face much difficulty in finding a beautiful floor for myself. You are already familiar with the story how father had insisted upon setting the royal vase in the drawing room as a prestigious token. And was successful in making it agreed to. Time rolled on. Saba got married and was happy in her father-in-law’s house. Farheen gained control over the household. The pressures and pains of there five years had, to some extent, made me a Delhi-wallah. Now this Asharaf Jahangeer, perhaps, was gaining courage, to some. Extent to look into the eyes of history. In the beginning Farheen had also thought of taking up a job, but changed her mind. She did not consider it necessary to sacrifice the ease and pleasure of life for a job. Moreover, after Favvad was born her responsibilities had also begun to mount with her growing age.
Outside the house, on the veranda, flower pots were set in a row. It was a holiday. I had already had a little quarrel with Farheen about a bonsai lemon plant.
‘You are mad. The plant will die.’
‘If it didn’t.?’
‘It will die.’
‘And if it didn’t?’
‘Well, let us see what turns up on time.’
On that holiday Fareen came on to the veranda. Hurried back to me, and then holding me by the wrist took me out to the verandah swiftly. The pot bonsai plant already bore a foretoken of the arrival of miniature lemons. I was almost taken aback, couldn’t believe myself. Farheen was all elation…. As if the history had stretched out its limbs. The imperialism asleep within me through years woke up quietly. What ever I was saying. I did not know what it was. Perhaps it was a fun only…but it was perhaps a defeated emperor speaking…
‘Yes, the defeat accepted. Speak out…what do you ask for? You can gain independence it you wish to…, can get a divorce from me,
‘Divorce! Talaq?’ Farheen shuddered. The minute lemon buds peeping from the plant had hid themselves under the light-green leaves for fear of the chilly gusts.
‘What….what did you say?’ Farheen was looking at me with her frightened eyes.
‘no.’ I myself was surprised. The absurd words had no sense here. Perhaps such matters running continually on news channels had turned me into a cruel ruler at that weird moment. A thing that I had never imagined of. A thing that filled great terror in the eyes of heartily laughing Farheen perhaps I had seen the blood oozing out or dripping from the minute citruses borne on the branches of history.
Farheen’s eyes were misty that night.
‘I don’t know why you said like that, but there must be something within you. You may tell me that, or you may not. You are absent from the house. You are a renowned person. You have calls from women. You are engaged in meetings. Tell me the truth Asharaf. Didn’t you think of Favvad for a second even?
I saw favvad was asleep on bed.
‘I am sorry…,’ could be the cure. I was trying to fight against myself, but the sentence ‘I’m sorry’ couldn’t come up to my lips till the end. After all what monstrous thing had I done? Just a little joke. And it is not a talaq if you utter the word just for a joke. Such jokes can pass between a wife and her husband. But Farheen seemed to be hurt. Perhaps she had kept crying over the joke for a long time. Her eyes were swollen.
‘Why don’t you say prayers?
‘That is the matter that stands between myself and my God.’
‘No. it’s not a matter between you and your God only,’ Farheen cried out, ‘now there is favvad also he is five years old now. He has to know his religion. He is to be seated to read the Quraan Sharif. Father also was saying yesterday, ‘Don’t make him another Asharaf….’
Farheen was silent for a moment.
‘if you said the prayers, you would be afraid of God, and then you wouldn’t have abused me so gravely. How should you know for us, the women, a talaque is much more dark than the death itself.’
Once again she burst out crying. At this occasion the defeated emperor roared out,
‘you are mad. You don’t have the capacity to digest even a little joke. Will I have to measure and weigh every word before I speak to you? That was just a cup of tea. A holiday is rare. You laid waste this holiday.’
I had shouted so very loudly that the sound soared high up to the dull rounded pinnacles of the Lal Quila. Favvad got up and began to cry. Having evicted myself of the dust storm gathering at my heart, as I descended to my drawing room, my eyes caught the sight of the royal vase, involuntarily. I felt as if there was some relation between myself and this royal vase, a relation that I probably felt, but had tried to keep away the awareness from myself.
I had the feeling; the silent eyes of father were looking at me from behind the closed doors of the adjacent room. Perhaps mother also was there behind him, mother with lack-luster eyes…perhaps it was a moment of my own examination for me. Then, was it a new explanation of the history connected with the royal vase, whatsoever happened today? The way in which the beastliness had taken possession of me in an unguarded moment of mine had never before taken possession of me. Had the dictator slumbering in my blood taken a turn? Or, was it a common thing?—a story that repeated itself against the natural behavior that had been mine till now.
And I had to make Fareen realize that whatever I had said connected with the bonsai lemon plant was just a small joke, and also to prove that it was a joke. Two or three times—and at one of the times, in a very romantic mood, taking Farheen within my arms and kissing her—I had said to her, then, why don’t you accept the talaque from me?’ and having said this much I had laughed out boisterously, crying out, ‘see! How gravely frightened you are! A talaq is not performed just by such an utterance. It was just a little joke. But why does your face grow so very pale?’
But, perhaps, I did not know that at times history in its own explanation is so ruthless and cruel that two lives are set at a stake.
The politics of ‘Fatwa’
The company in which I was one of the directors is named Millard Company. Mallard had launched a number of products---soap, oil, Basmati—in the market. Within a few years Millard become the first choice in the household. Presently, I had the responsibilities ranging from entertaining the foreign delegates to making an advertisement film for a new product. For making such a film I had recurred the services of a prominent and famous bollywood film director. After consultations, the director had secured the services of a renowned cricketer. No advertisement of this cricketer had appeared on any channel as yet.
Perhaps the story of my bad luck or the sinking of my star begins here. The advertisement was finalized. Having been finalized the budget came to me. And after I had signed, the director shot three films, ten to forty seconds each. The advertisement had come up satisfactorily well. But my ill-luck had also begun here. A panel of the board of directors had serious objections with regard to this cricketer. The story of his taking drugs and beating his wife had been highlighted on the news channels. The board was of the opinion that as the advertisement came, Indian families will oppose it, resulting in the failure of the product because our products are called house hold products, and the matter took so great a momentum that all the members of the board of directors took their stand against me. On the other hand I was alone---and these were the days when the story of Farheen’s anger had begun. On the veranda the bonsai lemon plant was in its youth but my household to have come under the influence of some evil eye. I desired to talk with Farheen when I returned at nights, but her anger was nowhere near to coming to an end. My blood pressure shot up as soon as I got back home. Coming back from my office I hoped to have calm and peace at home, but Farheen’s presence had begun to make me irritable now. At seemed as if some animal within me kept telling me quietly at every moment I spent by Farheen that none the other but farheen was responsible for all this and my mind would go on experiencing the heat as if put on the red hot coal. Under such conditions I expected I shall get help, I shall get encouragement from my wife. But, not to say anything of the help, my petty joke had also been attached with the interminable anger by Farheen. The difficulty with me that at home I could nto speaks to anyone about the opposition or the conspiracy going on in the office4 against me.
That night, perhaps, the volcano at my heart had erupted out. A meeting of the board of directors was held again about the advertisement film. Perhaps I have never suffe4red such a great humiliation in my life. When I reached home my mind had already ceased