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Who decides?

Who decides?

by HUMRA QURAISHI June 6 2020, 7:45 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 33 secs

Newcomers we were to this survival game, to this locale, to this one-room setting, to this downslide, to this helplessness. We were new at sawing off names and surnames, writes Humra  Quraishi

Tucking that lone one-hundred-rupee note into my sagging cleavage, I sit back… no, not relaxed but tense and tight. Pulling the mal dupatta across my chest, I look about restlessly. I can’t decide. Decide or not decide what? Not that there are many options. Nah. Just two: a quiet exit from this new locale or go shrieking down the lanes and by-lanes, so I need no longer witness the lurking fear in  his  pair of eyes… 

Last night he looked strangely sapped. Usually, he’d make an effort to keep up the conversation while looking around for fresh bread or that stained teapot. But last night he walked in asking for neither. And made it clear that I ask him for just about nothing. He had looked disgusted when I stretched out my hand for his, flinging himself backward as though it was simply there to scratch his back. As uncomplicated as that! And though chai was his self-proclaimed ‘emotional drink’, he moved his head side to side in strict denial. For some time he sat next to the crumpled bed before throwing his vest and shirt and then himself on the bed.

I lay close by. The familiar smell of sweat reminded me how I used to lick his face, gathering that layer of dust and sweat on my tongue. But this night he turned away. Only to face me as the hours crept along. This time looking right into my eyes, blurting out that it might be time to move. ‘That fellow has sensed we’re Muslims… no, not hundred percent sure but I got that feeling… He called for Ratan to drive, dropped me off near this crossing, giving me those looks as if there’s more to my name. For this fucking job, why did I have to hack off Sami? No guts left in me. Bloody impotent they’re making me! Impotent they want me to be!’ 

As though he wasn’t in the mood to make sense of anything. Almost shrieking, raising his hands, ‘Don’t you dare say impotent! I can fuck, I know, you know, but can’t fuck these beasts! No, I’m not yet a laash (corpse)… what’s happening to me? Slashing my name, killing it. What if he tells the police what I have done?’

‘Deny it.’

‘Deny? They only have to pull off my trousers and they can see. No use cutting and chopping up names and surnames, no point hiding from these bloody third-rate saalas. Want to run away from this place where anybody can kill me! They’ll pull off my penis, fling it to the dogs, finish me off in one of those encounters, rape you and…’

‘Let’s run.’

‘Run from here? What if they come hounding, throwing charges on me?’

‘But you haven’t slashed throats, just half your name. And that too for survival.’

‘For survival! Third-class living of second-class us… bekaar! Feel like some useless bekaar laash.’ 

Suddenly, all too suddenly, he seemed no laash. Grasping my frame with an unabated fury, he pulled off the dupatta, tore the side-buttons of the shirt on me and clutched at my breasts. Unclasping the weak grip of the brassiere, his hands moved across my back. ‘See me, feel me… yet to become impotent!’

His words, his sentences, he himself deep in me. Yet I lay unmoved. Devoid of any desire to prove that there flowed any further want in me, even as his hands lay on me. On my legs, on my inner thighs. But I did not pull him towards me even when he did his very best to stay on. But not for long… There was that trickle of semen. Flowing along those unconnected words, those inter-connecting curses. Heaped on me and on himself and on the times we were living in, though we were not the only ones amputating names in the name of living.

Newcomers we were to this survival game, to this locale, to this one-room setting, to this downslide, to this helplessness. We were new at sawing off names and surnames.

Shifting overnight from the outskirts of Ayodhya to this place in the outer-city municipal limits of Ahmedabad. Only to sense that patterns didn’t differ, to see a certain staleness in facades long ripped off. His cousin Mukarram had made it clear that as Sameer Sami he wouldn’t be able to get any job in these charged times. Only Sameer could hold out. Sami had to be made redundant at least for the time being.  

Stunned he’d stood, stunned he’d looked about, stunned he’d sat for days and the week that followed. Till he went around looking for a driver’s job. Driving a big-bodied vehicle with only half his name. Coming back each day as though he wouldn’t set out ever again, but then bread had to be bought and the bandobast that goes with it. Even yesterday, he had returned looking forlorn. As though incomplete without the rest of his name. As though simply cheated by the short-sightedness of that Bollywood actor-turned-brand ambassador here who couldn’t see beyond the tourist spots.


Suddenly, all too suddenly, I get up. To make some tea. Then I stopped all too suddenly, leaving the teapot stranded. From the termite-infested, broken half-door, I saw him walking hunched over, leading to this, a one-roomed rented accommodation in which we have been  living for the last few months.

With nothing in his bare hands, he said with that raw bluntness, ‘We are going back home. At least there I’d be able to hang my nameplate, not live in fear. No, no, I don’t want to change my mind… I want to hang my nameplate with my full name in full view. I’m tired of being a weakling, I want to live! I’m not Sameer, I’m Sameer Sami.’

‘Mukarram… have you told Mukarram about this?’

‘He’s lying dead. Someone’s broken his nameplate and stuck it in his chest. He lies dead with MK Ram stuck on his kafan. I want to live or die with my full name!’ 

I shriek, shrieking all the way. His hands, his words, nothing coming in the way. No, nothing holding back those images of my father’s full name in italic splendor on his nameplate, in Urdu, English and in Hindi. Hung on our outer verandah wall, overlooking the portico. Not sure for how many years it hung on that wall, but it was removed last winter.

I’d dismantled it when those outer lanes, mohallas, bastis of Ayodhya were jolted by the goon brigades. Wrecking psyches, the already fragile, plundering the  already vacant homes. Many Muslim families had begun to pack up and move on, running away as they did during the Partition days but this time with a difference. Without a destination, without any of those baits shown for their future, running away towards none of those far-fetched frontiers, but just from one place to the next. Running about rattled, displaced in their own land.

My father’s square-shaped tuition room lay vacant, its wooden door shut tight. Locked as if the lock was there to stay. Until picked by the well-nurtured brigades, let loose by the Right-Wing outfits to demolish the Babri mosque. Going about unchecked, intruding further. Their hand-in-glove partners in the police and babus barely perturbed. Allowing the plunder.

We packed at the dead of the night. Systematically stuffing three suitcases in case the displacement went on. From weeks to months or even a year or two. My father had looked pale, giving last-minute instructions to one of his older students… Instructions dying midway as the mob gathered around, encircling the square-shaped tuition room. Hacking bodies along with the books and racks. Till quiet lay the entire mohalla. The survivors not allowed to moan or weep or cry out, barely to run away, from here to there, to just about anywhere…

The only way out was to hop into a train. With Sameer Sami, the only other survivor from my mohalla.

Heading nowhere. Then somewhere, as the train did halt.  

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