By: Dr Shahnawaz Ahmed
He loved Ismat and charas with cavernous passion. He genuinely cared about her. Friends usually advised him to let one go. And Ismat left him.
By the time he woke up, his table clock had only shown a microscopic displacement but the moment he peeked in through the window he coughed heavily, punched his pillow and the newly white-washed wall wailing inconsolably. He was sweating like a pig and trembling like a leaf and the massive explosion of truth shook the ground beneath him. Tears welled up in his eyes forgetting which path to descend and finally flowed like flooded river tearing ruthlessly every bank of it. Time had put him on self-combustion of guilt and remorse. His rapid heart rate and fast breathing made him paralysed with fear. He buried his face in his palms but the immeasurable pain was choking him with anxiety. Motionless, helpless and breathless he laid there. He had missed the Pre-Medical entrance exams and also Ismat.
Adeel was a bright convent-born chap, a topper throughout. Things changed the moment he smelled the air filled with Ismat’s smile. Now, there were two reasons to immerse his head in books, the only thing he cared for was coaching. This was the first time he was happy in Aligarh and the virgin smiles of her made his own existence felt. He was conscious of what he was wearing. Very soon, the Founders house became his new home. He didn’t like talking physics and chemistry but he was tutoring Ismat with sparkling wit. She succeeded.
Adeel was never social ever before; he was a man of few words and mostly expressions and who would deny the company of a person of immense wit and great insight, as he was. He occasionally used to puff cigarettes and one night out of curiosity and friends daring him to try charas he was framed in a vicious circle of experimentation. Earlier it was weekly and as months passed by, he was doing it religiously.
On the hostel rooftops, at the canteens, sitting at the Dhabas, clocking around the open fields, sitting in the silent Qabristan and behind the closed doors.
As a routine, he appeared for the intermediate exams and scored more than anyone around.
Ismat hadn’t found Adeel on the admission list. He hadn’t contacted her after the entrance. He didn’t know how to respond to the situation. He told her a few hundred lies none to be believed by her. She was there in his platelets. Thousands of calls from Ismat had only lurked him in disgust and pain.
Adeel tried successive attempts but couldn’t qualify the entrance. The white apron on Ismat’s shoulders hadn’t brought a shred of arrogance in her attitude and demeanour. She used to cry like an infant whenever they would meet. Adeel had told her everything, every bit of it and the psychological dependency. He had his shortcomings but Ismat still admired him in bits and pieces. Every time Ismat came to see him, she desperately announced her bitterness filled with dismay and he would promise, not ever again. They liked and admired each other as the lovers had done for eternity.
After failing in sequential attempts Adeel ended up studying biochemistry; the first cousin of medicine. He topped here as well. Adeel had again become reticent, more withdrawn like his school days and mute. He was regular with intoxication and Dhabas.
The serpentine presence of Dhabas in Aligarh has its own share and importance in shaping social, cultural, political and intellectual atmosphere in the university. Although it also has a handsome share of consuming bright futures.
It was his fifth cigarette while waiting for her, it had grown heavy ash on it when she reached, he flicked it and crushed it under his sole with the same intensity he is used to feeling when parting with Ismat. This was the last time they were weeping in front of each other. Everyone in the family and friend had convinced and requested Ismat to let him go. Every language and any sagacious construction of sentence lacked the power to describe the concept of faith in love to Ismat. Falak standing there tried to make out incomprehensibility of their relationship and failed miserably to fathom the depth of her teary-eyed friend Ismat.
His bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils, heavy eyelids, stained teeth, pale skin, aggressive behaviour, impulsivity, slurred speech, clenching of fists and the frail skeleton was making him more predictable like the stars, the moon, the sea. His story was getting shorter, no colour, no joy, no hope, no love, no destination, no dream and absolutely no Ismat around.
This time he had failed devilishly short on attendance. He didn’t know where to go, whom to ask. He asked a friend and he gave him a number to call. When he met him, Marhoom didn’t scold him while passing the cup of tea. He gave Adeel a hard look and enquired how a topper failed to attend his classes. And the second question left Adeel perplexed.
‘Dry or Liquid ?’
‘Both,’ Adeel had replied looking here and there around. But the question had jolted him out of his stupor.
All the way back to his hostel he kept recalling where had he seen him and how did he know of his drinking tendencies. After charas, he had tried everything available and feasible for his pocket and even the mess charges now bought him booze to wet and quench his throat.
Among the oglers, eve-teasers, stalkers, street Romeos, intimidators and campaigners of character assassination masquerading as the champions of women empowerment he had once participated in the rally. He had seen Marhoom talking to media in his resplendent sherwani. He remembered how the rally took the shape of narcissistic selfie poses and pout.
In his class, Adeel never talked to anyone. None took interest in his presence.No sooner did the class end than he disappeared. After the first year result, everyone knew the shapes of his exhaled smokes and his long t-shirts and crawling hairs on his cheeks.
One morning while entering the department with his thin copy condensed in his pocket he felt a scooty approaching and stopped behind. He looked over his shoulder and kept moving. This girl had slapped him only a day back. Nobody knew the reason. There were rumours about the relationship, most said it was an eve-teasing, some believed it was verbal molestation. The professor had asked the girl and Adeel to see her in her chamber before the class. Both appeared. The girl said he incessantly stares at her and also tried to touch her while she was filling her bottle. His deep eyes were silent and dark as a grave, numb and upset he waits there. Professor admired the brilliance and shyness of Adeel, she hadn’t a speck of doubt about his character. She asked Adeel about the complains he was accused of. Tears dancing on his cheeks kissed the furnished floor. He had nothing to say. Nobody bought the allegations except Adeel himself.
That evening when he entered his sleepy room he struggled for sleeping the whole night and that’s what was the advent of his regular insomnia. He thought of every feminine character he knew of, his elder sister, younger sister, mother, Choti Ammi, his school friend Amolika and beloved Ismat. He jumped out of his bed to realise he wasn’t turning into an animal, he was already one. Adeel sharply remembered last time when he was back home, her younger sister was telling him about the ” Rights of Women in Islam “. He told her, ‘who is giving you these rights but’. He had told her every philosophy and truth of time is used according to one’s convenience.
Adeel had told her, ‘if you’ll come for your rights, the society has weapons of mass destruction like slut-shaming, calling names, labelling you a feminist’. He cried with the burden of hypocrisy he had shown to her classmate eating her public space, following and ogling her. He hated the fact that society doesn’t appreciate the reasonableness and validity of our statements but our names, the mask we pretend to be. He was sorry. None of his constant laments could have probably preserved the lost sanctity of her classmate. He pleaded himself guilty. He was a bloody molester, a fornicator, a bastard in his behaviour. He wasn’t the person his chronically and terminally ill father wanted him to be. He was 50 kgs of flesh recklessly abusing the streets of Aligarh.
He remembered how an article in a fortnight’s magazine had flaunted cannabis as a source of happiness, a joy giver and a bringer of freedom but today he was here encroaching upon the freedom of an equal individual, he was frustrated, agitated and sick both in mind and behaviour, the fondness for pleasure had compromised the myth of happiness.
It was the same month Adeel had last met her, the month his drug peddler friend Shadab was jailed in a rape case. He was devastated. It was both Ismat and his final years at college. Sitting beside the road at one of his favourite Dhabas, he called his mother and only days had passed, his mother took her away. After a month he came back to Aligarh, he visited the psychiatrist regularly, Ismat was nowhere on her side now.
During his master’s at the Biotechnology department, the amount of consumption had declined like the Mughals after Aurangzeb. He joined the Jamaat and used to preach and practice whatever he used to read and listen. He was ashamed that he was accustomed to behaving and believing that only profound knowledge and charas gives clarity to thought. His guilty conscience was ashamed of the fact that he was among the hundreds of teenaged wayward doped on charas and ganja in the campus thinking it was a sign of intellect.
Finally, when he joined Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Mumbai for his PhD degree, the city had everything for him to offer but Ismat’s presence. The most glorious souvenir he had from Aligarh was the unending smiles of Ismat which were concealed in the deep seat of his heart.
Sitting at the canteen he thought of everything he had gone through, every moment he had survived. He was filled with guilt and shame when he thought of the way he blackmailed his mother and robbed her of huge money to satiate his hunger for poison. The way Ismat carried him on her scooty to see the psychiatrist and every time she told the doctor that he was her cousin and they wouldn’t look at each other for minutes.
He thought how seven crucial years of his existence were grazed on by toxic fumes. How the only son to his father had given seismic waves to the stability of his family and this detachment has forced his father in a more severe form of depression. How he had left her sisters to languish in the dark times. How selfish he was to never give a thought of their existence. It could have been all the better had he not chosen something out of inquisitiveness. Time does not always heal, sometimes it serves the guilt for a lifetime.
While mesmerized by the beauty of Ismat’s humility and tenderness he found his phone vibrating. He picked the phone from the pocket and remained silent for a while. Mother asked him to check his WhatsApp and the phone disconnected. The picture popped up on the screen demarcating the silhouette of her chin. It was the same girl who came along with Ismat the last time they were together. While breakfast over Chhole-Kulche it smelled of keema paratha Ismat used to bring from women’s college canteen.
Tears evaporated from the arch of his eyes while lying in the sujood asking for forgiveness.