Fiction@ATP: Rishta

Posted on January 15, 2008
Filed Under >Pervaiz Munir Alvi, Society
29 Comments
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Pervaiz Munir Alvi

PurDil Khan had been under a lot of pressure lately. Even before the month of fasting had started his wife was nagging him on a number of issues. She wanted his help to stock essentials like sugar, rice, flour and ghee before the prices would shoot up for the holidays. She also wanted him to send for their elder daughter Gul Jan and her three little children to spend Ramazan and Eid with them.

The three grand children must have new clothes and shoes for the Eid and the time was really running short. But PurDil Khan thought there was still enough time for these things and wanted to postpone addressing them for few more days if not for few weeks. More pressing on his mind was what was going on at his workshop and the situation that he might have to face at the mosque. Sitting on his lathe he thought of the days when his worries were much less and simpler to handle. Six years ago his elder daughter Gul Jan was only sixteen when his brother SherDil Khan surprised him on Eid day by asking for her rishta (engagement) for his son Afzal Khan

“But Agha Jan she is only sixteen and has not even learned the ways of household” PurDil had protested mildly.

“It matters not. She is not going to any stranger’s house. She is my daughter too and my house is her house as well. Plus my wife and our mother will be there to teach her whatever she needs to learn”, the elder brother had argued.

Before she knew it, Gul Jan was married to her cousin Afzal Khan and without a miss came along their three children; two boys and a girl. Since then for the last six years it had been a tradition for Gul Jan and her kids to spend Eid at her father’s house.

“I’ll send for her in two weeks”, PurDil said to himself. “For now I must finish all the orders I have promised to deliver right after Eid. Plus I must find out what my son Akmal Khan is up to”.

If it was not for Dr. Abdul Rashid Dundaan Saz (dentist) across the street from his workshop, PurDil Khan would not have known any thing about what was going on behind his back.

PurDil Khan was an upright and pious religious man who all his adult life had never missed his namaz (prayers). Every body at the mosque knew him well and respected him for his honesty and righteousness. Particularly kind to him was the Imam Sahab Qari Amin-ul-Haq. Often after the prayers PurDil Khan would stay behind to have a little chat with the Qari Sahab. But what Dr. Rashid told him today was totally unexpected and it had disturbed him very much.

Actually PurDil Khan was only making a minor complaint in passing when he said to Dr. Rashid that if his son would work a little harder he would not be so much behind in completing his Eid orders. But Dr. Rashid exploded a bomb when he told him that soon after PurDil Khan leaves the shop for prayers his son leaves too; except his son leaves the shop to go to the Qari Sahab‘s house. He was having a liaison with Qari Sahab‘s daughter when the two men were at the prayers.The thought of his son having a secret affair with Qari Sahab‘s young daughter was very disturbing for PurDil Khan.

“What if the people at the mosque found out what was going on? What if Qari Sahab found out what was going on? Maybe I should have a man-to-man talk with my son. Maybe I should go to Qari Sahab and ask his daughter’s rishta for Akmal Khan. Maybe I should wait till after Eid to tackle with this issue”.

PurDil Khan was pondering on all these and many more questions in his mind. Finally he decided that he would speak to Akmal Khan after the Eid but for now he must keep a strict watch on the movements of his son.

It was 27th of Ramazan. Gul Jan and her three children had already arrived at the house. PurDil‘s younger daughter Noor Jan was particularly happy to have her niece and nephews at the house and was always busy playing with them. She had just turned eighteen and was very happy with her job at this NGO office involved with abused and neglected housewives. PurDil Khan had just returned from his evening prayers and family was getting ready for their supper when some one knocked at the front door.

“I’ll check it”, Akmal Khan said quickly proceeding to the door.

It was Shireen, Imam Sahab‘s daughter at the door with a covered plate in her hand.

“My father has asked me to deliver this to your house”, she said quietly.

“She could not be more than sixteen”, PurDil said to himself.

As she was leaving Akmal Khan was ready to close the door behind her.

“May be she could make a good wife for Akmal Khan one day. But kids must come to the parents first instead of getting involved with each other secretly. I’ll discuss this subject with my son after the Eid”, PurDil was reasoning in his mind.

Eid day was very busy at the mosque. A large crowd had turned up for the prayers and Qari Sahab delivered a well thought out Khutba for the occasion. He pointed out that while month long fasting and extended prayers during Ramazan were to please God, Eid day was to be thankful for His blessings and to share the joy with family and friends and to give alms to the poor. After the prayers PurDil exchanged hugs and warm hand shakes with all of his friends and with Qari Sahab.

“Oh PurDil, could you meet me at my hujra before you return home. I want to discuss some thing very important and personal with you”, Qari Sahab said.

“Does he know about the secret meetings between Shireen and Akmal Khan? How much does he know? How I am going to defend myself and my son’s behavior”.

All these questions started to run through PurDil‘s mind.

“How is the family”,

Qari Sahab nervously started the conversation sitting face to face with PurDil Khan.

“Every body is fine, alhamdolillah. My older daughter Gul Jan is home with her kids and my younger daughter Noor Jan got a very good job with this NGO. At least for now”, PurDil was saying with equally nervous discourse.

“Yes I know. I see Noor Jan every afternoon passing my Hujra when I sit here for my daily reading. She is a very fine girl. In fact I wanted to ask you her hand for myself”.

“Qari Amin”. PurDil Khan got up with the agility of a wild cat. “What are you talking Qari Amin. You are already married. Plus she is hardly any older than your own daughter. Have you gone mad”, PurDil snarled at him with anger.

“But I have not asked you anything outside the Shariat. She is way past sixteen and it is good for girls to be married once they come of age”. Qari Amin was saying.

“You must forget it. Shariat or no Shariat, this rishta is not acceptable. Not to me. Not to my daughter. We must never speak on this subject again. Never”.

PurDil quickly left Qari Amin‘s Hujra without further exchanging any words with him.

The moment PurDil returned home his three grand kids wrapped themselves around his legs.

Eid Mubarak Baba Jan”,

“Khair Mubarak”, PurDil Khan tried to return the greetings with a smile while still seething about his earlier encounter.

Noor Jan offered a small chair to PurDil to sit down while his wife came over with a hot bowl of sheermall. Akmal Khan too came in from outside and sat down next to his father.

“Where were you this morning? I did not see you at the Eid prayers.” PurDil inquired his son.

“Oh Baba Jan I was with my friends getting ready for the Eid“. Akmal Khan tried to explain.

The two men sat quietly for some time, each thinking about what to say next. Finally Akmal Khan broke the silence.

“Baba Jan I wanted to talk to you about Qari Sahab‘s daughter Shireen. I was wondering if you would ask Qari Sahab about her rishta for me”.

“Enough Akmal Khan. Enough”, PurDil said with a slight of his hand. “This rishta is not good for us and don’t ask me why. Now go get your sisters Gul Jan and Noor Jan. I need to give every body their Eidi“.

29 responses to “Fiction@ATP: Rishta

  1. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:

    Thank you again Tina. Your detailed comments show that you care for the quality of original work produced by others here at ATP. In my opinion it is not only the writers but the readers and commenters as well like yourself who make ATP a wonderful post that it is. May be we could collaborate on my next ‘project’. Feel free to contact me directly if you like.

  2. Tina says:

    Pervaiz,

    I am very glad that you had fun writing it. I hope you will not end at this point, but continue to coax out all the issues raised by the story. The readers need most of all to care about and know the reactions of the young lovers, (whether it is good or bad). And remember, “God is in the details”, as they say.

    I think a non-Pakistani English speaker would have problems with 1) too many non-English words and 2) what is creating the pressure on PurDil Khan is not at all clear from a Western viewpoint. I mean, to someone familiar with the culture, it is understood. But if your audience is English speakers generally, you will have to find some way of dramatizing the conflict Khan is facing in a way that people unfamiliar with his society will understand. Even a couple of well-placed sentences can do this.

    From your reply, I can tell your heart is in the story. Maybe it is a book length project? Keep us informed! And remember a lot of bestselling authors are “weekend writers”…nothing at all wrong with it :)

  3. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:

    Tina: I truly appreciate the academic critique and the suggestions especially coming from a teacher of composition like yourself. I will be the first one to admit that there are perhaps many flaws and weaknesses in this short story. Yes all the conflicts you have pointed out do exist in the mind of the main character. He would have not married off his sixteen years old daughter to her cousin if it was not for the “family pressure”. Now his Imam, a guiding figure and a married man, has betrayed his trust by lusting after his eighteen year old daughter who is interested in a working career. Thus the character of the first daughter is relevant here. Teen age marriage and motherhood, marriage between cousins, family pressure: this is not what PurDil wanted for his children. He was hoping for a different outcome for his other two children. But his own son is working outside the norm of ‘parent-arranged marriage’ and now the Imam under the cover of shariet has confronted him with the subject of polygamy. PurDil Khan would have gotten along with his son’s wishes but the hopes of the would be young couple are crushed by the wickedness of the Imam. You are right that all writings could benefit from revisions and rewriting and this story is not given its due length. But such are the dilemmas of “weekend writers” that do not have the discipline, training and talents of professionals like yourself. I am not trying to find excuses here but you should know that I had fun writing it, and our readers have enjoyed reading it. Oh BTW. As a practicing engineer I am used to reviews and critiques of my work by my peers and superiors. That is how as a team we make sure that our designs contain minimum flaws. Fortunately there are greater liberties available in Arts and Literature; or at least that is what we think when the teachers are not around. Thanks again for visiting this post and taking time to express your opinions.

  4. Tina says:

    Hi Pervaiz,

    I too appreciate the change of pace and submission of creative works, and hope we see more of them. However, the story isn’t a story as such….as a teacher in the field of composition I can only say the piece has few of the elements needed to make a workable short piece. The greatest flaw of course is the lack of anything resembling a conclusive ending, which is what is leaving the readers wondering “what? is that all there is”?

    The conflict, I suppose, is that the son is in love with someone’s daughter, but he cannot become engaged to her because his father, the main character, has offended her father by refusing him the hand of his sister as a second wife. That’s a worthy soap opera plot, but too much for a short story–and this is very short. And I don’t know for what reason at all we meet the first daughter, the one with three children. In a piece with these few words, there must be one very clear, very simple point and every word and sentence must drive towards that point. The point must be the conclusion, the “punch line” as it were.

    In a 700 page novel, we could be introduced to all these people, come to know them and care about them, and work through all the ramifications of the plot. Is the boy heartbroken? How does the girl feel? What do they do? Does the father feel a conflict between thinking it is all right to marry his daughter at age sixteen to her cousin, but not all right to marry another daughter at age eighteen to his friend as a second wife–or is he not self aware enough for that? As it is we know none of that, and so are left feeling that we have been given a summary of someone else’s book.

    I hope you will take these remarks in the right spirit. I hesitated to post here basically in my “teacher mode”, but decided that, I usually appreciate the feedback that others give me, so I should give feedback also. All writing needs revision and reworking, all the time. It’s a good story that can’t be contained in the length given it.

    The best way to hone your short story craft is to read other excellent examples of the genre and note what is going on there. A Pakistani writer of short fiction who comes to mind is Daniyal Mueenuddin. Both of his excellent short pieces, “Nawabdin Electrician” and “Our Lady of Paris” (very different but both good) can be googled easily on the web. I don’t know anything more about this author; if anyone has some information I would be glad to hear it.

    The next time you write a piece only a few pages long, you might want to start with your “punch line” (main point) and work backwards, to get a feel for the story. Get rid of everything you do not need, and see what is left. That’s where I would start.

    Happy writing!

  5. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:

    Thank you Wasim Arif. I am so thankful to ATP and particularly Mr. Owais Mughal for hosting this post. Some time we get so absorbed in the political events and crisis that social issues get very little attention from us even though politics and society do not exist devoid of each other. While we are striving for a representative government, independent and honest judiciary, and rule of law in Pakistan we often forget that lack of education, age old customs and traditions, and social backwardness are equally hampering us from progress and advancement as a nation. In way of this story I have tried to highlight some of our customs and traditions, good and bad. The story is ended abruptly to allow the reader to continue in his or her thoughts even after the reading is stopped.

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