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Serving Humanity

by Ritu Gulabani
Serving humanity gives us not only a sense of satisfaction but an inner happiness.
Here is my story which was published in the Literature Studio Review, an e-journal published by Literature Studio.

Religion – Humanity

He looked pale and upset, as he entered the café.

“Abbu and Ammi want me to get married by the end of this month, to my Uncle’s daughter,” said Hamid fixing his eyes on the table. “I am……”  
Before he could complete, Ambika interrupted, “What?” with her wide eyes she stared at Hamid in anger. “But you had no plans to marry and what about your college?”
She wanted to scream out all her fears but Hamid tried to calm her down. He placed his hand gently on hers. Ambika suddenly became aware of the people around them. The cashier, sitting near the entrance, was looking at them.
The gentle touch soothed Ambika and she looked into his deep grey eyes. Her own eyes filled with pain.
“You have not even given me a chance to tell my parents,” said Ambika. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized that Hamid was equally in pain.
Ambika belonged to a conservative Hindu Keralite family while Hamid although a Keralite but Muslim.
“Neither have I been given any. They are after me ever since my aunt brought the proposal,” replied Hamid.
“I have thought of all possibilities. We are not left with any option but to run away.”  He waited for her response but when none came, he persisted, “What say? Should we run away and come back after a month or so? Will you marry me?”
A multitude of thoughts flooded Ambika’s brain. She could only visualize love and happiness together. “It has been just two months! And he is a muslim.  Ama and Acha will never agree. May be he is right. But what if he betrays me? After all I have heard so many cases of abduction and betrayal by Muslims…… But Hamid is definitely different. He is a gentle-man. He knows exactly how to care for and pamper me. He can never betray.
Hamid ordered coffee while Ambika analyzed the situation.   
“Where will we go?” asked Ambika finally, while nursing her cup of coffee, “What will happen to our college?”
Hamid sighed in relief “We will go to Pathanamthitta where we can stay in my friend’s farm house. He stays abroad. We can give our studies a month’s break. It’s good that the session has just started.”
Indeed he appeared to have thought of everything but a few things still haunted Ambika.
“How will you bear the burden of the two of us? Who will pay our fees? We have not yet completed our graduation?” asked Ambika.
Hamid put a finger on her lips. “Shhhh! I am there for you!” he replied, “Don’t you worry about funds!  One lakh is deposited to my account every year from my deceased grandfather’s trust. I don’t need Ammi and Abbu for financial assistance at all. In fact my future is already safe. According to his will I am the only heir to my grandfather’s huge property.”
Although assured from all directions, Ambika could not stop herself from thinking negative. Yet at the same time, she loved Hamid and she knew that Hamid loved her too.
The next day, they fled to Pathanamthitta. The duo hired a taxi from Thiruvanathapuram. For the first time in her life, Ambika felt free. Free from the clutches of her parents, free from the paws of religion, free from the eyes of priests who were always suggesting a match to her parents, free from the never-ending advice of all sorts of people around, and free from those eyes who would see her with an unknown boy and report. After all she was going to marry Hamid.
She loved his muscular arm around her exposed waist. She knew that she looked good in the white traditional saree. She was enjoying the way he was playing with her curly black locks plunging over her shoulders. She felt heavenly in his arms.
“I don’t think I will ever repent this. He loves me a lot,” thought Ambika.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Ambika’s father lodged a complaint. Police had discovered through the hints from friends and café staff that Ambika had eloped with a muslim boy. The local Hindu political leader tried to help the family using all his links and protests against the Imam.
Within a few hours they were in the farm house. The spirit of love kept growing for the next few days. She was in bliss till she reminded him of marriage.
“Ambika! My heart!” he replied playing with her tresses and running his hands onto her arms. “It is not permissible for a muslim man to marry a non-muslim woman. You will have to convert if you want to marry me, else leave it we will keep enjoying like this.”
Ambika stood aghast looking into his eyes while Hamid continued without any hesitation, “Oh! I know! You are a traditional Indian girls and would’t go for live-in. So tell me when would you like to take the Shahadah oath? Once that is done we can immediately go for a nikah.”
“How could you even think of it? Why can’t we go for a court marriage?” screamed Ambika “You know I belong to a staunch Hindu family. How could you even think that I will convert?”
“I thought you have already left that world far behind or do you want to go back?” Hamid said angling his brows “Will your Ama, Acha and those friends, relatives or neighbours accept you even if you remain Hindu? After all you are living with a Muslim. You have seen the newspapers already. Everyone knows. What is the harm? Remember you will be abhorred anyways.”
Ambika sensed the creeping shackles but she was left with no other option.  She remembered the words of her grandpa Appopan, who was a farmer but practical and possessed a broader outlook as compared to Ama, Acha and Achamma , whenever she had whined to be a part of those meaningless rituals , “Humanity should be your first religion. As far as rituals are concerned, just obey. After all they are your parents.”
She murmured to herself, “Hmm! After all he is going to be my husband!”
Life became difficult for Amma and Acha. Acha, Ambika’s father was a government officer but had a pathological fear of opinions which was killing him more. Every day he tried to analyze where he went wrong in parenting and karmas.
People around had started advising each other to get their girls married rather than getting them educated.
“A bright girl can be a bane. Don’t you know about Ambika? She has dragged down the name of this area with the same speed with which she had brought laurels.”
Ambika, succumbing to Hamid’s wishes, changed her name to Ayesha and married Hamid. Their love was at its peak and they seemed to have forgotten the world. After about a month when Hamid got busy in some work through phone calls, Ambika reminded him of their college.
“Are you mad? Your father has lodged a complaint against me. You have been abducted according to the complaint.  I will be behind the cell if we go back.” replied Hamid with terror stricken eyes. “For them it is a case of Love Jihad.”
“Isn’t it true?” said Ambika spitefully. Hamid stared at her in anger but Ambika couldn’t notice as she felt giddy and ran towards the sink to vomit.
While she stood still with her nausea feeling, in front of the sink, holding it tight with hands from both the sides, expecting some more spurts of vomit, she saw Hamid approaching her from the back with a wide smile.
“Seems to be good news!” said Hamid hugging her from behind and giving her a kiss. He gently moved his hands to her stomach. “I will bring a pregnancy kit to confirm.”
“Hey come on! I am not ready for a child. What will happen to our career?” shouted Ambika.
“Hold on! I cannot allow an abortion. It’s a crime, at least in my religion and family. This is a life and we have to welcome it as a gift from Allah. No matter what” said Hamid while Ambika stared at him repenting for all her deeds. Hamid continued without any consideration. “Let us get your urine tested and in case of positive results; deliver the baby safely and then do whatever you want to.”
Ambika started recollecting, right from the day she had left her parental house; it appeared that he was leaving her with no option when it came to the most important decisions.
“I shall be punished for all my wrong deeds and the countdown has perhaps begun,” said her heart from deep inside.
The moment, it was confirmed that Ambika was pregnant, Hamid appeared overjoyed while Ambika felt like crushing her own self, her own identity.
“We will go back home,” declared a delighted Hamid. “Abbu and Ammi will accept us with this baby.”
Ambika kept mum and started packing as if she had locked her mind. She didn’t want to quarrel unnecessarily.
The romance suddenly vanished into thin air.
Without much talk, they reached Hamid’s house the next day. It was in the out- skirts of the city and was an old type haveli with a huge courtyard in the centre surrounded by rooms at all sides. Three beautiful young women were gossiping and children were playing by their sides.
The moment they saw Hamid, kids ran up to him shouting “Abbu ! Abbu!”
Hamid took them in his lap and hugged them together.
Ambika kept mum absorbing the worst shock of her life.
Hamid’s mother came out running with the holy Quran in her hands and placed it gently on the head of Ambika. She took her to a room adorned with flowers.
“This is your room. May you be blessed with many sons here,” she said and handed her an intricately carved jewelry box carrying dozens of heavy gold and precious stone ornaments.  “Relax for today. Tomorrow is your Walimah. Put on yourself a dress and jewelry of your choice; we will celebrate your arrival.
Day after tomorrow you will enter the kitchen and prepare food for the entire family and Maulvi Sahab.
Everything is here for your comfort. In case you need anything, talk to Salima, I will send her in a while.”
Everything appeared quite planned and Ambika undertood but she was no more the same girl. Along with her dreams she too had died inside.
Assalaamu Alaikum! I am Salima! The only muslim wife of Hamid. This is my daughter Zareen,” said the extremely beautiful female with blue eyes and kashmiri looks, who had entered the room with an equally pretty and fair little girl. “I have been sent by badi Ammi, in case you need something.”
“Can you bring me some poison?” said Ambika.
“I would request you to pray for a son. Little girls are infibulated here and boys will have to follow the suit of their father… Love Jihad.”
“Can you bring me some poison?” said Ambika again.
“Don’t kill yourself. Decide once your baby is born. Don’t kill the child,” offered Salima.
“Can you bring me some poison?” Ambika repeated.
“I cannot!” declared Salima.
“None of them have ever read the holy Quran, forget understanding and following. Believe me! I know! They are doing all the wrongs in the name of Allah. I am a true muslim and I know.” Ambika was surprised to see the tenderness in the eyes of this woman who was practically a stranger.
“Can you bring me some poison ?” Ambika repeated with her eyes welling up.
Salima turned and left the room. Ambika wiped her eyes just as she left the room.
At the walimah, she was standing as if the life had been snatched out of her body. She did whatever she was asked to without any response and energy.
Hamid noticed but ignored and kept attending to his guests. When a Maulvi entered the hall and congratulated Hamid with the biggest curve on his face; Ambika could recognize, he was the same Maulvi who had given her the nikahnama. She could easily decipher the plan but she kept mum without reacting. Salima stood next to her along with her daughter Zareen. All of them looked stunning in their blinging shararas and kurtas.
Hamid took Maulvi to the corner and said, “I have completed my targets. Fourth also….. Within six months.”
Ambika and Salima could listen to their talks.
“You will soon get your rewards. Don’t worry!” replied the priest.
“Tell me how to proceed for the fifth one now?” asked Hamid. “I want to break the record of 40 set by Salman bhai.”
“Keep divorcing the wives you don’t like or who has not given you a son or who is of no interest to you like these two. One is dead and the other has become a baby elephant.” said the Maulvi.
“Can you bring me some poison?” Ambika said again to Salima.
“Tomorrow!” Salima replied.
The next morning, when Salima was going to Ambika’s room. She heard the voice from Nazish’s room.
“Only you know, exactly, yes exactly, how to please me. How to make me happy! Only you! Uhhhhh..! You are the best Nazish! Hmmmm!” oomphed Hamid.
Salima gave the bottle of poison to Ambika.
After the lavish brunch, the family started retiring to their rooms and by the evening everyone had slept silently.
Ambika, Salima and Zareen got up in the evening to move forwards in their life.
Ambika had saved the lives of many innocent girls. She was relieved. At least she had been successful in following her religion of humanity.

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