The next 4 years of journey at defense academy was not at all a smooth sail for Hussain. He did face some minor hiccups of biased training officers and the major prejudice for being a Muslim among his fellow inmates. His passion and loyalty to serve the country as an army personnel was tried and tested at several occasions at times in a hard way. And like most of the other times he emerged out clean without having any damage to his soul. In fact, he was able to uproot the preconceived notion of his fellow mates about any particular community.
In any of his letters, he never mentioned any such pain to his father in particular because it was his father who taught him not to regret his decisions at any stage of life. In some of his letters to Gurmeet, he mentioned about the kind of physical assignments purposely given to him to sever his spirit. But, like a tough wooden boat he remained calm and composed. He believed that Allah might be having a test of his love and compassion for the country. In one of the photographs, the physical built of Hussain was clearly evident as he appeared very robust in it due to his broad shoulder along with a well grown mustache over his face. The picture was taken during an excursion of cadets at Bhorghat(small hilly village in the suburbs of Pune).
In one of the letters, Gurmeet replied,’You still have the same set of eyes brother. Determined and full of kindness. We all miss you a lot.’ Hussain smiled and kept the letter in a file meant for preserving such love.
At academy, he was studying mathematics, science, army’s law, mountaineering, swimming and other arms and ammunition related subjects. He was inclined towards studying all of it keeping an attitude of Leonardo-da-Vinci. His mathematical ability and precision was well acknowledged by everyone at the academy. Slowly the magic of his highly spirited personality started working by the end of second year. At many occasions, he did read the Urdu poetry flawlessly and that earned him a great reputation and admiration among the cadets and training officers. He learnt to play guitar efficiently, which made everyone believe that he was indeed a quick learner of things. He won several medals for gun shots and athletic assignments.
In the second half of the third year, he was sent to the Himalayas base camp for several mountain climbing training and assignments. He was able to conquer all of them without a single injury on his body. Sometimes going along with your passion is more blissful than anything else in this world. During those days of Himalayas, he learnt to meditate at a monastery and soon mastered the art of yoga by practicing it daily with acute commitment. It brought a different level of peace and serenity over his face and he started carrying a charismatic persona around him. Over their return to the academy, his mates mocked him for being a monk. At times they use to ask,’Hussain Miyan, are you planning to switch to Buddhism now?’
‘You see, I was already a Sikh because of my childhood friend Gurmeet. With you guys, I became a Hindu in last three years. So, I do not see any harm in switching to Buddhism now. On top of it I don’t need to worry about insane clashes between Hindus and Muslims.’
And they giggled and screamed all together “Babaaa”.
Finally, the day came when he received the very first letter from her in those years of academy. It was written on a pink paper with shining ink. Surprisingly letter was stamped by some Delhi’s post office. He opened and read it again and again like holy verses of Quran.
Hope you did not forget me. You must be wondering that why it took so long for me to write a letter to you. The sudden and unfortunate death of Abbu was a kind of thunderclap on my family. Everyone of us knows the fact that nothing is permanent in this world and we all are mere mortals, but life forces us to realize such harsh facts at a time when we are least prepared for the it. Ammi got bed ridden due to after shock of Abbu’s death and being the eldest among all my three siblings, I had to ensure that Ammi’s soul remains intact with her body because none of us are prepared for being orphans. That made me a paranoid for initial two years as I used to check whether Ammi was breathing or not during her sleep. My younger brother Adil has got admission at Zamia Milia Islamina college, Delhi. So, I came all the way from Aligarh to ensure that he get the proper hostel room accommodation. I got your address from Julie almost an year back and keep on getting updates about your training and assignments. That’s the only source of my hope and happiness. Knowing about your achievements has always been so eternal. Life is bit difficult in Aligarh at Bade Abbu’s house. He is a cleric and very infamous for his fundamentalism in political circle. At times, I do feel suffocated due to serious restrictions imposed by him, but the fact of not having my father alive makes me very vulnerable to this world. I have learnt that in a very hard way and so it is less painful now. I want to return back to my city Patna Sahib and I am sure I will be there anytime soon. Ammi is getting better and is slowly moving on with life specially after Adil showed the kind of determination you had with yourself. Want to write a lot more, but at the same time don’t want to burden you with miseries of my life. One good thing is that I have completed part 2 of my graduation and got second position in University. You can reply to me at my college address as I will have the privilege to collect it from the administration building.
Eagerly waiting for your reply.
Keeping the letter below his pillow, he left out to swim. It was a no moon night and he was simply floating keeping his back in water seeing the large cluster of stars up in the sky. Today everything appeared so ecstatic to him. He was much more determined to marry Sazia than before after seeing the control over her emotions in her letter. Now, he was pretty sure that his emotions will be safe in her hands. ‘God bless my Sazia!’ He muttered to himself.
Next day after finishing his work and assignments, he got down to reply back to her without having an idea from where to start. For one hour he struggled and kept on tearing papers. Finally, he established peace with himself.
There was nothing surprising about receiving your first letter after 3 years. At times, time is the only healer we have got. I was not in your situation and so hardly can estimate the level of pain you might have gone through after Neem Sir passed away. Such kind of losses are irreparable in life, but like they always say during army training that pain is temporary and the glory is forever. Life goes on with series of such experiences. In all these three years, not a single day of my life has passed without thinking about you. There had been times, when I felt very unfortunate for not being able to assist you in any way in your bad time. May be I was not destined to. May be I was supposed to bear the pain of heavy arms and physical training in a hope to come back in a better shape to serve you better. This is going to be my last six months at academy and I will soon be travelling to our hometown before joining Indian Army as a commissioned officer. So far, results for me had been overwhelming and I hope not to have any surprises in whatever time left here. From your end it was good to know that your Ammi is getting back in shape and Adil got admission at such a prestigious college. Pay my regards to Ammi. I don’t know how to put it and so to make it simple I would like to say that my love for you has enhanced to a much greater extent and I feel like marrying you right away. But, need your opinion about the same before I speak to my parents. I am enclosing a latest photograph of mine along with this letter which may bring some more relief to you. Please do wait for me. I will come back very soon for you my love.
The letter was sent to the Aligarh Muslim University’s address through registry post and was quickly received by Sazia within 3 days. The stamp from an army base made her blush and she pasted the letter to her chest like she was giving a tight hug to the sender himself. The first thing that came out of envelope was his photograph. The robust and determined Hussain with same spark in eyes and same innocence over the face. She quickly finished reading the letter and looked at the sky whispering to herself,’Did you see that Abbu? Your student is going to help us all to emerge out of this misery.’
In her next letter which came almost after a month, she mentioned that her uncle is planning to get her married to his elder son. It was also mentioned that she will be travelling to Patna Sahib in next week for around a month to sell their house over there.
Reading the letter, Hussain quickly applied for the leaves of 10 days citing the medical condition of his parents and booked his tickets for Patna Sahib. It was the month of January and also month of holy Ramadan. He was instructed not to keep fasting seeing the toughness of arm and ammunition training, but he won the confidence of officers showing his strong willingness to do the fasting. He told his officers that keeping fast makes him feel closer to the mighty god and helps him focus more on his tasks.
Next week he took the train from Pune. The one and only Pune-Patna express, which connects many states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh to Pune. He kept his army jacket with himself knowing the kind of weather he will have to face in Bihar in the midst of winter season because temperature of cities which are on the line of river Ganga plunges closer to the freezing point at night. The sun gets eclipsed by dense fog and cloud for almost a month. Through out the journey he kept thinking about her. She might have grown into a beautiful young women like Juhi Chawla(in her sister’s word). Due to heavy fog train got delay by 12 hours and he reached somewhere around 8 PM to Patna Sahib. The market was lively due to Ramadan otherwise during winter people prefers to stay closer to fire woods within the closed doors of their houses.
He crossed the market and walked for around 4 km, which gave him little warmth to his frozen legs and some energy to knock the door at Gurmeet’s house before going to his own. The door was opened by Gurmeet’s father who felt surprised and blessed to see the young Hussain in Army uniform. Hussain touched his feet to seek his blessings and he in return touched his cheeks with both hands out of compassion. ‘Waahe Guru!!’
He took hold of Hussain’s strong shoulder and gave a warm hug to him and then almost dragged him inside the door with full strength to protect him from cold wave.
‘Gurmeet, please come and see who is at our door.’
Gurmeet came out running from kitchen and surprisingly looked at him. He screamed out of joy. ‘Kaake!! Why did not you mention about your trip? I should have come down to receive you.’
‘It was planned out of sudden. Did not get time to write a letter or call you guys? So, how are the things going on?’
‘With god’s grace everything is going fine. I have started to help my father at our ancestral shop in gurudwara complex, which gives him free hand to spend more time at kirtan. Mother is in a much better condition after operation for arthritis. She has gone to my grandmother’s house with sisters. Rizwan has gone to Mumbai for an examination. Will be back in two days. So, its only me and daddy here. Come inside the kitchen. Coincidentally, I was preparing your favorite halwa today.’
‘That’s great! But make it quickly as I have to reach home on time otherwise I will keep on struggling to get in my own house.’
‘Don’t worry. I will drop you.’
They had some chat while having halwa in kitchen. Hussain told his friend about the reason behind his surprise visit, which Gurmeet has already anticipated. After all, he knew about all the nerves in Hussain’s body.
Reaching at Hussain’s door, Gurmeet asked him to hide behind so that his family members do not see him. He knocked the door and the youngest one opened it.
‘Ammi, Gurmeet bhaijaan has come.’
Ammi came out quickly. ‘What is it beta which brings you here at this time? Come inside. Don’t stand outside. You will catch the cold.’
‘I came to handover a gift to you.’
‘Nonsense. First you step inside and sit beside the fire. Why you guys have to trouble me all the time rather than helping me out?’
‘Here is your gift.’
It was Hussain with his signature smile all over his face. Ammi could not believe her eyes. He bent down to touch Ammi’s feet, who caught his hand in between and hugged him.
‘I will take a leave Aunty as daddy is waiting for dinner. Take care of him. I will come tomorrow morning for breakfast’, saying that Gurmeet left.
All three sisters came running to their brother, who brought lot of gifts for all of them from army cant. There was a beautiful shrug kept in his bag, which his youngest sister pulled out. Hussain took it away from her hand to tease her and said,’ This one is for Juhi Chawla.’
She started to cry seeing such a cruelty from his brother. She never expected him of such a behavior towards her and like a heart broken she returned back all the dresses and dry fruits to him and shouted badly ,’ Give all of them to her.’
‘It was you who started calling her Juhi Chawla and now you are jealous of her. You are turning out to be a dayan(witch) day by day.’ Hussain mocked her to death laughing out loudly.
‘You just leave my hands and go better sit in her lap. And I don’t need to be jealous of anyone as she is not that beautiful. Even our maid is better looking than her.’
‘O Really! Then our maid must be Madhuri Dixit.’
Ammi came with a cup of tea and screamed at him,’ You started again with the ritual to trouble her. And you the little monster. From where did you get so much of anger, jealousy and hatred in you. If you have to fight him then why you keep on praying for his safety all the time. Now go and finish you home works. Will call you once dinner is ready’.
Abbu was off to duty like he always was. Hussain took off his shoes and jacket and handed it over to Ammi, who kept them at an appropriate place. He told her that he only got ten days of leave to celebrate Eid festival with family. He did mentioned that after completing the training it would be difficult to manage the leaves frequently and so they all will have to shift with him. Ammi was glad that he was there for Eid.
Next day, early morning both Gurmeet and Hussain reached to Rizwan’s house. Like everyone they too were surprised to see Hussain but not Julie. She was pretty confident about why he was hovering in Patna Sahib. She quickly went to Sazia’s house riding her cycle and came back in an hour having a letter from her. At that time both of them were having their tea with her mother near the fire wood. She carefully handed the letter to Hussain who got up from his place and asked Gurmeet to come along. Before Rizwan’s mother could understand anything, they were gone.
The letter said,’Request you to please come with your Ammi and Abbu’. Hussain looked puzzled for a moment, but then he asked Gurmeet to take him to her house. With little reluctance, Gurmeet started his scooter and drove towards Neem Sir’s house. There she was standing at the door talking to some neighboring women. She rushed inside her house seeing him coming at her house. Hussain asked Gurmeet to wait there at the famous Samosa’s shop before getting down at her door. Without any hesitation and fear about the locality, he knocked the door. In fact, seeing the kind of built and army jacket, no body in that colony could have actually dared to threat him in any way. He was having his Rayban over his eyes, which gave a tough look to him. Her mother came at door. He went ahead and touched her before saying,’ Assallam wale kum Chachi. Remember me. I am Hussain Iqbal. On that fateful day, me along with my family were going to have lunch cooked by you. We were invited by Sir.’
‘Wale kum salam beta. What a surprise? Just look at you. You are a grown man now. I was not able to recognize you at first. Please come inside. Its not very clean as you know it was closed for almost three and half years. We are still dusting it out.’
‘I completely understand Chachi. Forgive me for suddenly coming like that. I hope I did not cause any trouble to you’, Hussain said taking a chair, which was not in a very good shape but manageable.
‘I have heard so much about you from my daughter and was always seeing you in my dreams wondering how you might be appearing in Army Uniform.’
‘Chachi, I will come straight to the point. I want you and Sazia to please come with me to my house. But, before that I would like to have some words with her.’
‘Yes, I can understand. Time has changed and for me it changed the day your teacher left me alone to sail with three kids. Sazia has already mentioned everything about you and her few months before. I never been face to face with you and so I was quite skeptical about it. But, now I am quite confident that you two will make a very nice couple. There is a problem, but we will discuss about it later. First let you two decide how to take things forward.’
She went inside to look for Sazia, who was shivering and blushing at the same time. Her mother understood what she was going through. In that age, love is the only beautiful thing guys and girls are aware of. At least, it gives them the hope to live for a right cause, to perform for the betterment of this world.
“Hello Hussain!!”, She said from behind the curtain.
Hearing his name from her always made his heart shake. He replied back to her,’ Hello Sazia!! How are you girl? Please come in front of me as I am having very less time to manage all this. Please don’t hide behind the curtains. I can’t manage everything alone and need you by my side.’
She came out quickly and stood right in front of him. Her head was covered by a red colored stole. He looked at her from so close for the first time. Her eyes were having the dark circle around it clearly stating her condition. But, even then there was a spark in her eyes and she looked confident and that may be by seeing her love coming all the way to Patna Sahib just for her. Just for the sake of her happiness.
Hussain looked straight into her eyes and said,’Sazia my love, I can see that we got a situation to deal with. And I am pretty sure that we will handle it efficiently. But, the question arises that are you really willing to marry me at this stage and take an additional responsibility of marriage apart from what you already have? ‘
‘It has truly nothing to do with what I think and believe into. We are little indebted by the support rendered by my uncle after my father passed away. Next month, he want me to get married to his elder son. He has already informed all the relatives and arranged most of the things for marriage without even asking me or Ammi. I bought some time by convincing him that we need to sell the property of Patna Sahib. I too want to let Adil complete at least half of his engineering education, want to finish my graduation, want you to have sometime to settle down after completing your academy and there are other things as well in to-do list. But, every time things does not go as per our desire. In case, you need sometime then please do let me know as I have already burdened your soul a lot.’
”Hmm”, said Hussain and got up from his chair.
Ammi purposely left them alone and was listening to their conversation behind the curtain. She adored the level of maturity both were showing towards each other. She closed her eyes and whispered,’ Allah, please show some mercy upon these kids. Help them out to fulfil their dreams. I am ready to pay any cost for the sake of her happiness.’ By this time she knew that by marrying Hussain her daughter will live life with pride and dignity.
She looked from the corner by removing the curtain slightly. Hussain went little closer to Sazia and kept his hand over her wet cheek and softly said,’Go and call Ammi.’ Ammi came out instantly from behind the curtains. He quickly removed his hand from Sazia’s cheek.
‘Well, I got some work to finish in market and I guess it may take about an hour or two for all of you to get ready. I will be back in sometime and then we will go to my house. I guess Abbu will be back from duty by that time. Chachi, you had never met my parents before and so please don’t keep any preconceived notion about them. They are one of the most lovely persons you might ever come across. You can ask Sazia about it.’
‘I don’t need to ask her beta. Any parents who give this soil a son like you is having greatness in itself. The sacrifice a parent does to send their only son in army is not comparable to any other thing in this world. But, I just want to understand that are your parents aware about all this. Or are you going to give a shock of lifetime to them?’
‘There is nothing to be shocked about in it Chachi. My father had never been against the love and his only concern remains with the timing of it in the larger interest of youngsters. I am pretty sure he will not mind it. He may get upset the way things are staged up, but we can’t help it out as the circumstance is like that. Now, if you please allow me then my friend Gurmeet is waiting outside for me.’
Before Hussain could turn back, her mother came forward and kissed his forehead and handed a five hundred rupees note to him. He was little puzzled, but kept the note in his pocket like her blessings without making it complicated.
‘What an honest eyes that child has got? Reminds me of your Abbu.’, Ammi said to Sazia with teary eyes. She asked her to come in her arms and Sazia ran to hug her mother. For few moments they wept on each other’s shoulder before Ammi kissed her hands and said,’Allah has brought him to us due to good deeds of your father. Now, go and please get ready. He is an army personal and may be little punctual with time.’
Sazia blushed and slowly went to clean the bathroom as there were lot of cobwebs and lizards hovering over the walls everywhere. Her sister Alia was cleaning up the hand pump area and washed the room where Urdu teacher used to take his classes. By any means, there were no reason to believe that they had any intentions to sell the house. Sazia told her to finish up things and take bath quickly.
Hussain went to the fish market, little away from his locality and famous for fresh fish transported from a city named Darbhanga(famous for the production of betel leaves, fox nut and special variety of fishes). He bought 3 kgs of medium sized fish and one kg of small sized catfish. While coming back he bought some dry fruits as well for Ammi to prepare his delicacies on the auspicious day of Eid.
‘I am driving the vehicle to our favorite tea shop near college. I was wondering from morning itself that what I was actually forgetting and now realized that it was that shop’, said Hussain while driving the scooter and also staring at the new buildings that were mushrooming up in the outskirts of the city.
‘They say that their is a proposed township planned at this location and probably the cluster of building under construction are the part of it. And yes, please do take me to that tea shop. It’s been long for me as well. Last year me and Rizwan went there due to some work at college. After that it never even came to our mind. Perhaps you were the biggest fan of that tea during college time.’, Gurmeet said.
‘Come on Hussain. You are under the training for being an army officer. Don’t they provide good tea at the canteen there?’
‘Nobody provides you tea. You just have to make it as per your own taste. They give you hot red tea, milk separately and sugar cubes. So, I stopped having tea and switched to coffee. Food is good as one gets a lot of choice.’
‘Of course, you mentioned it to me several times in your letters. Shall I ask you something if you please don’t mind?’
Hussain looked at him by slightly turning around, but Gurmeet patted on his back and insisted to look ahead while driving. ‘Huh!! Like it really matters to you if I mind. Nonsense.’
‘Are you serious about this marriage thing and that too with Sazia who is just 19 in age? Do you really believe that either of you hold the level of maturity required to sustain a marriage? I mean I am not sure how your father will react to it.’
‘Honestly speaking I got no answer to any of your questions. Sometimes it’s wise not to have all the answers. This is life quite real unlike what I do at academy.’
‘Sorry, I did not get the last one. So, you mean that whatever you are doing at academy is not real. You are literally driving me crazy now. Anyways not your problem rather it’s the blind lover kind of syndrome that I see in you. You are becoming poetic-the one, which pisses me off.’
‘Let me handle you better at the tea shop.’, Hussain said angrily.
‘Rahne doa miyaan!! Sab samajhta hun main..(leave it my friend. I understand every bit of it)’, Gurmeet said without paying much attention to his friend’s anger. He was quite familiar with that kind of artificial anger Hussain was showing. One cup of good tea was good enough to sublime it.
After having first sip of tea, he kept the cup aside and caught the collar of Gurmeet and brought him little closer to him and said,’Yes, I am in tremendous love with her and may be I am even blind folded by it. So, do you find any loss to the mankind or to our friendship? Are you jealous of seeing me getting married?’
‘Yes you idiot, I am jealous by seeing you getting married. So, what you will do? Will you find one for me as well?’. Now, it was Gurmeet, who was holding Hussain’s collar. The tea shop owner was familiar with their typical way of fighting each other and so he ignored, but other customers started running away seeing the possibility of a big fight between two young men with heavy physical built.
Shop owner came out running to both of them with folded hands requesting them to stop the display of their physical strengths as he was loosing business in that hour. They were released from each other’s grip and soon they were seen having their cup of tea sitting beside each other.
‘You can’t have a girl like her because you will get overwhelmed by it and may attain a kind of insanity. You are not at all brave like other Sikhs and often start sulking over small things. In sort, you are an emotional fool.’
‘You are insulting me now. Me being emotional is not my weakness.’
‘Of course, it is not. But, tomorrow if her uncle comes along with his gang to disrupt my marriage and take her along with him to Aligarh then what you are you going to do? Let me guess!! You will weep either on my shoulder or on Rizwan’s shoulder.’
‘Enough!!’, Gurmeet took out his kripan(sword) tied to his waist like all other Sikhs. ‘I will chop their balls if they dare to come anywhere closer to you or her. I may be an emotional fool, but surely not a coward. I am a true follower of Guru Govind Singh and a true friend of yours. So, please stop provoking me.’
Hussain burst out in laughter, but the shop owner was scared to death. ‘Now, will you please bring down your kripan back to rest. Also, drop me to the famous pir-dargah and then please go and give the fish to Ammi and do tell her to expect some guests. Also, ask your father to join us at lunch. He is supposed to be there along with my parents over such discussions.’
‘By the way, who all are the guests my child?’, Ammi asked Gurmeet.
He shrugged his shoulders and said,’Not sure, but I guess it’s our late Urdu teacher’s family. His wife and daughters. Now, please don’t ask me anything more about it. Like your philosopher son has preached me few minutes back that it is wise not to have all the answers, I have decided not apply my brain over such matter.’
‘You are right my son. You all are grown up and so becoming philosophical with parents. Go, don’t tell me anything. I will explore it myself. Will you be joining us at lunch time? And do take lunch for your father. I will cook for him as well.’, saying that Ammi got down near a water tap to wash the fish.
‘He too will be joining us for lunch.’, said Gurmeet and ran out of the gate.
Ammi raised her face up, but he was already gone. She quickly understood that something was going on, which she had not been made aware of. May be his son is up to something that he was not comfortable sharing with his mother for the first time in his life. ‘God bless these fools!!’, She muttered to herself and went back to work.
She was happy to know that she will be able to see the beautiful face of Sazia almost after four years. She had the deepest sympathy for her family. Losing man of the house can cause an irreparable loss to the women. She was able to empathize with Sazia because of her own upbringing by widowed mother and later by elder brothers after mother’s demise.
After offering a chaadar(a green cotton sheet with some holy words written on it in Urdu) to the pir baba at pir-dargah, Hussain left for Sazia’s house. In good and bad times, Hussain’s faith remained intact in pir baba. He strongly believed that at times blind faith becomes the most powerful thing in this world. It does miracle under exceptional circumstances. May be he was right.
To be continued….