Chore! Chore!

It was mid June, the city of Peshawar had been baking like an oven for the past two and half months. Most scientists were in agreement that it was the El Nino effect, most Mullahs also were in agreement that it was an Azab-e-Elahi, the Ummah in Peshawar was divided between the two effects according to their level of and exposure. For the educated as well as religious masses the resolution to this one was pretty easy, El Nino was actually an Azab-e-Elahi.

In a middle class residential area of Peshawar City, people were gathering outside the shop of Mansoor Roti Wala. Mansoor was a Hindko speaking Peshawari; no one could tell from his accent that he was one. He resented the fact that his father was Hindko speaking, and gave the reference of a distant village to be his own since he was ashamed of his Peshawari origins. Although Mansoor was facing competition from many other tanoors, his roti had a lower content of baking soda. This gave him an edge and he would exploit it by increasing the level of soda on random days and reaping his profits from his faithful customers. Apart from that, low quality flour also provided good healthy income, the dried up rotis were collected and then mashed into a powder, which was called BOORA. The mixing of this boora with regular flour also gave a sizeable margin per roti. The difference between him and the others was that he didn’t do these hanky pankies as often as they did, thus he claimed the higher moral ground. “Da eman barkatoona!” (The blessings of ) he would say under his breath as he looked contentedly at the people gathered at his tanoor.

Among the people was the local Imam, Molana Majid Mobeen Ahmad, he was from the mountains of Dir district and he came to the plains a long time ago to learn the of becoming a Molvi. He had great educational credentials as he graduated from the best Madrasah in the N.W.F.P. (the great Ameer ul Momineen Mullah Umar of the famous Talibans was also among the illustrious alumni of that institute.)

The Molana Sahib was in a hurry; he couldn’t wait to get back home. Actually had finally bestowed him with an Air Conditioner. It was a stroke of as a famous heroine smuggler once said his juma prayers in Molana Sahib’s Mosque. The Great Khan from Jamrud felt a pang of guilt as he turned on the air conditioning in his Land Cruiser. He went straight to the local LG showroom and bought 4 split-level air conditioners for the main hall, the Molana sahib gasped as he realized what had happened. Tears welled up in his eyes as he hugged his rich brother, and compared his gestures with those of Hazrat Usman and other philanthropists in the history of . The middle class regulars at the Mosque smiled jealously as they realized what had happened, the Great Khan had apparently scored big with the Almighty and was set to get houris and palaces for his effort. How they all hated their life, at their inability to do such great deeds. If only they could be like him… Land Cruisers in this life and Houris in the next one.
Since the Khan was never to return, the Molana Sahib helped himself with one of the air conditioners, the and his wife were ecstatic over this latest addition to their house. In the absence of the , the AC had become the of the house, as his would look with amazement at the swinging action of the blades. And listen with disbelief at the magical beeps that the AC would make in response to the remote. He smiled as he thought about his little angels, “Ah! Shukar Allah Shukar!” he said out loud.

Right next to the Molana Sahib was another regular at Mansoor Roti Shop, his name was Akhtar Hussain the local “Deputy Sahib”, he worked as a Deputy Superintendent in the department. Akhtar had had a tumultuous life, he started out as an aspiring teenager in the early 70s, hot headed and intelligent Akhtar always had a different opinion from his friends and relatives, and he was very vocal about it as well. He found words for his dreams when he first heard Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto speak. His life finally had a purpose when he set out on a quest for , But things did not work out as he planned, and after repeatedly being jailed and beaten up during the Zia regime, he gave up on his ideals and moral principles and stooped to the level which would have made him cringe during his jiyala days.

Deputy Sahib had had a pretty good summer; he was appointed the deputy controller for the Intermediate Examinations at Edwardes College Peshawar. The college was the preferred choice for the rich and the affluent of the city; generation upon generation of corrupt bureaucrats accredited their success to the famous (infamous?) C-Group of BA at Edwards College Peshawar. With such a history of glory and fortune, examination duties at Edwardes College were highly sought after in the department. Akhtar Sahib made the most of his stay at the missionary college and was the recipient of some very thick bundles of money, not to forget the numerous dinners and lunches at the Pearl Continental Hotel as well as the Namak Mandi.

Rubbing against Akhtar Hussain’s shoulder and whining for his roti was Mohammad Bashir aka Bashira!, he belonged to a small chuck in Northern Punjab. The daughter of his feudal master got married to the son of a very rich jeweler from Peshawar, Mohammad Bashir was part of the impressive dowry that the Chaudhary Sahib sent to the house of the Khan Sahib.

Bashira was not new to , he always thought he was lower in status because he was born poor and he had accepted the fact that he was just a kami kameen. But things only got worse for him when he came to Peshawar; as he felt a further demotion in his social standing, which he had already thought to be as the lowest of the low. He realized that not only was he the subject of pun but was also considered lower than the rest of the servants in the house because he was darker than them, as his Khan Sahib would lovingly remind him by calling him “toor kunnay (the one with the black ass)”. But this was not the only ridicule that he had to cope with, he also couldn’t speak proper pushto, no matter how hard he tried, his accent always gave him away and thus no one took him seriously. There was a third reason as well, Bashira had grown up in a surrounding that always respected Saints and Sufis, he remembered how his mother once took him to Daata Darbar when she had to accompany the Chudrain. He felt so lucky at the opportunity as it was said that it was the next best thing to hajj. But in Peshawar he was astonished at how people ridiculed these practices.

Bashira knew that he could never be white neither could he learn asli Pushto BUT he sure could despise the “Jahiliyaat” that was practiced by his villagers. Bashira clung on to this one point to create some respect for himself, he would pray 5 times a day and listen to one tableeghi jumaat after another. Now he craved for the day that he would go back permanently and change the fortune of his villagers by them how not to go to darbars. Because according to his newfound understanding, this was the only reason that was stopping the Muslims from getting ahead in life.

Recently in a stroke of , Bashira while passing by the Khan Sahib’s car noticed that the master had forgotten his wallet in there. In a flash, Bashira grabbed for the wallet, took a Rs.1000 note out. Later on, the driver was fired.
Bashir was excited; Khan sahib had allowed him to visit his village, in his Punjabi accent he cried “Zeer Kuwa, Zeer Kuwa” (hurry up, hurry up), every one broke into a condescending laughter, Mansoor the roti wala replied with a vulgar gesture and sneered at him. “Chup Sha! Da Punjabi bachiya!” (Shut up you son of a Punjabi). The whole crowd broke into another big laugh, and Bashir smiled sheepishly at Mansoor.

Laughing harder than the rest was Zaryab Khan, Zaryab was from the cold mountains of Chitral. He hated Peshwar and hated its heat. Although he was not a Pathan as well, his condition wasn’t as bad as Bashir’s. The reason was that Zaryab was much fairer than the average Peshawari, and thus more readily accepted. But there was a catch to this acceptance, which was a lot of unwanted attention from horny middle-aged guys.

Zaryab couldn’t wait to go back to his home in Chitral, the cool shade of the trees, the cold running water of the streams, the tall mountains, the arid climate and above all his own sweet , he hated this hellhole. He worked at a petrol station, apart from the colorful uniform and the timely paychecks this job was helping him inch closer towards his ultimate goal. Which was to have a medicine store in Chitral, he had the required amount in his mind and according to his calculations he had around 6 to 7 more months to gather it.

The calculations were not just based upon his monthly paycheck, as the attendants at his station had an ingenious method of milking the system. They would rob unsuspecting motorists by not resetting the meter; they also would at times mix fake currency notes among the bundles that were at their disposal. The daily loot was divided at the end of the shift and Zaryab had ways of ensuring that he got more than his fair share.

Over the years and after numerous episodes of sexual he had learned that he could turn this curse of standing out into a blessing and thus he would efficiently manipulate the frustrated men around him by doing them sexual favors. His ability to manipulate covered by his shy demeanor helped him rake in more and more money every day. Just a few more months he would console himself, just a few more months…

Some one patted Zaryab on the shoulder, it was Hashim Khan the traffic sergeant. Hashim’s duty was in the square right next to Zaryab’s petrol station. Hashim Khan was from the fertile region of Swabi, his father had been a serf on the local feudal’s land and he had worked extra time to enable his eldest son Hashim to get his . Hashim never was interested in school but he still managed to clear matric on his 3rd attempt. This enabled him to get a job at the traffic police department all thanks to his local MNA. The local MNA in return got the votes of Hashim and his father’s extended , which included his two mothers and his other brothers all of whom grew up working the land of the feudal because Hashim’s father could only afford the of his eldest son.

This particular square was one of his favorites as many un-suspecting and overloaded tongas, Suzukis and Mazdas took it as a short cut and thus were at the mercy of Hashim and his challan book. The money was good, sharing it with the seniors was a pain but still he would make enough for himself as well as his . It went all the way up to the IG they would say, he knew that he would be happy as long as he kept the senior officers happy.

The other attraction at this square was Zaryab, he couldn’t help grining at the ivory skinned Chitrali boy. Hashim’s twisted logic was that since illicit sex with a woman is a much bigger sin than sex with a boy, one should always go for boys. Since he couldn’t afford to get married at his current income level, his sexual escapades mostly involved boys of all ages, Zaryab was his next target and he followed him to Mansoor’s roti shop.

Zaryab greeted Hashim with a long “Pakhairrr” as per custom of the people of Peshawar. Hashim held him close to his chest while asking Mansoor for a glass of cold water with a bit of salt in it. Hashim was sweating profusely and the stench was choking Zaryab, who tried his best not to wriggle away. Mansoor sprang into action and reached for his water cooler and the bag of salt right next to it. Bashira looked around grinning to see if anyone else noticed the big sweaty embrace that was heating up the tanoor even further. Molana Sahib cleared his throat, while Akhtar Hussain the jiyala continuously stared at the ground. No one spoke as all they wanted was a roti and that was it. Finally Hashim Khan broke away and looked around him, he shook hands with the Molana sahib, glared at Bashir, ignored Akhtar Hussain, and didn’t thank Mansoor for his glass of water.

Oblivious to everyone was an 18 year old boy from a nearby village, his name was Maskeen Khan. Maskeen belonged to a of tonga owners, he had had a good childhood. His father admitted him in school when he was 6, this was unusual in his extended and his uncle was disgusted with his father for doing that.

struck their little when he was 15 years old, his father’s tonga was crushed by an over speeding Afghan trawler. Maskeen’s father and Maskeen’s horse Moati were both reduced to mangled piles of meat. He was devastated, his two best friends in the world had simply gone away. His father received a proper funeral, but the corpse of Moati was left to rot on the road, waiting for the Peshawar Municipality to be cleaned up. As the accident happened near their house, Maskeen frequently passed by Moati’s rotting corpse as he ran back and forth carrying out preparations for his father’s funeral. After the Qul ceremony Maskeen single handedly dug a grave for Moati and dragged the horse into it. During the whole ordeal which took him one whole day he threw up several times but being a Pukhtoon he had to repay Moati for all the favors he bestowed upon him and his .

Things got worse when his uncle took Maskeen’s mother as his third wife (in the name of honor). Maskeen was devastated, he cried his heart out at his father’s grave; he felt humiliated, he felt like a bayghairat, he felt that a great injustice had been done to his father and he was too weak to correct this wrong.

After his mother’s wedding Maskeen was subject to ridicule and torture in every thing he did, he had to discontinue his studies and he went on working as a laborer. After 3 years of humiliation Maskeen finally burst out, he slapped his uncle across the face. The Uncle and his sons ganged up on Maskeen and thrashed him till his mother begged them with a Koran in her hand.

He ran out, swearing never to come back. It had been three days since that happened. He had slept in parks and under sheds, he was too proud to go to any of his relatives, he had eaten nothing since the last meal that his mother had made for him. He still carried his head up high, as he was too proud to beg. He looked for work, asked for work, begged for work but to no avail. But he still was too proud to beg for , all the poetry of Ghani Khan that he had learnt to , all the high standards of conduct and the code of Pukhtoonwali that his father had inculcated in him, the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, all the Indian that he had seen, a cumulative effect of all these things kept him going. He had to carry on, had to fight his urges, had to hold his head up high. Like a Man, like a Muslim, LIKE A PUKHTOON!!

Suddenly he saw a pile of rotis, one roti after another was being piled up on Molana Sahibs dastarkhwan, Maskeen’s heart started pounding frantically as his stomach gave the loudest of growls in three days. Suddenly all the for his uncle, despair for his misfortune, the and respect for his ideals, all of it was gone. All he could see was a roti, only a roti. No verse of Ghani Khan, or any verse from the Quran could relieve the pain in his stomach, which blackened his mind. He became totally focused on one round piece of bread, one piece of bread that could provide relief from all his worries. The pain that was clogging his mind would go away with that one piece of bread. Things suddenly started to make sense, just one piece of bread and everything would be okay. He suddenly found a new in his hands and feet as he ran his tongue on his crackled lips and slowly moved towards the bread. Hypnotised. Paralysed. Dumbstruck. He had never wanted anything more in life. Never ever had a simple roti meant so much to him. He didn’t see anyone around the tanoor – all he saw and smelt was the bread.

As soon as Molana Sahib turned around to shake hands with Hashim Khan, Maskeen darted at the pile, snatched the hot roti and bolted away. It took about 3 to 4 seconds for the whole gathering to realize what had happened.

“PAKRO!!!” cried Bashira as he sprinted after Maskeen.
“CHORE!! CHORE!!” shouted Zaryab and sprang into action.
Hashim Khan instinctively blew on his whistle.
“Astaghfirullah!!!” shouted Molana sahib, “WAY NEESAY ALAKA!!” (GET HIM BOYS)

Maskeen’s dash of desperation didn’t take him much farther. He didn’t see the open manhole and as his left leg went in, the roti flew from his hand, hitting a dog sleeping under a nearby tree. The dog woke up with a yelp, grabbed the roti and ran away.

Bashira was the first one to grab Maskeen by his collar and he frantically started kicking him in the chest while Maskeen was still stuck in the manhole.
Next to follow was Zaryab still shouting Chore! Chore! he too started pounding at Maskeen.
Molana Sahib and Mansoor came next.

Mansoor had a long iron bar in his hand and he prodded Maskeen with it.
“Take his clothes off” screamed Mansoor, “he should be paraded naked in the street.”
“NO NO” shouted Molana Sahib “That’s fahashi and is not allowed in .”
Instead he took a step forward, while both Zaryab and Bashir held Maskeen for him. He slapped Maskeen across the face and screamed “WHY DID YOU DO IT??? HAVE YOU NO FEAR OF ALLAH?? HAAAN!?!?!?”

Akhtar Hussain the former jiyala and Hashim Khan the constable were the final two to arrive.
Hashim grabbed Maskeen by the throat and asked him his name.
Maskeen growled and kicked the constable on his knee,
“HOW DARE YOU CALL MY FATHER A PIG? YOU SON OF A BITCH.” he screamed in his thoughts as he didn’t have the strength to say it out loud.

Bashira “the nokar” didn’t waste a second and started pounding on Maskeen again.
Zaryab “the chokra” joined in to avenge his favorite police constable.

Akhtar Hussain “the jiyala” was reminded of his own and he shuddered at the thought of what had happened to him after he kicked a police constable during one of the anti Marshal rallies. He stepped back in horror and watched the proceedings with a pounding heart, and a dry throat.

Hashim Khan the constable recovered quickly from the kick, he slowly patted the dirt off his trousers and then came up to Maskeen and started pounding on him while calling him all sorts of names and belittling Maskeen’s father and mother in the most creative manner. Maskeen didn’t have the strength to reply and he passed out while the three kept kicking at his frail frame.

The mobile police squad aka the “GASHTI party” came and took Maskeen away.

Hashim Khan turned around and patted Zaryab on the back, “Shabash!” he said as he smiled at the fair skinned boy.

“How your cheeks have gone red” as he slowly brushed Zaryab’s cheeks. The boy went scarlet.

Bashira kept repeating his story again and again as to how HE WAS the one who caught the thief first. The gathering crowd of curious onlookers didn’t mind his accent this time and for the first time in his stay in Peshawar, Bashira had an audience that actually did take him seriously.

Molana Sahib kept shaking his head in dismay,
“WHAT IS THIS COUNTRY COMING TO?” He screamed out loud and poor Bashira HAD TO stop as Molana sahib followed his question with a few Ahadith and verses from the Holy Quran.
“THESE ARE THE SIGNS OF QAYYAMMAT!!” He screamed “right in front of the was a roti snatched.” and he pointed at Hashim Khan.

Hashim Khan took his arm off Zaryabs shoulder and stood straight and nodded in affirmation.

“This country needs SHARIAH!!” continued the Molana Sahib “ If only his hands are chopped off no one would DARE commit something like this again. That is the only solution we have.”

“Bay shuck! Bay shuck!” chanted Mansoor the roti wala, as he felt a pang in his own wrists.
“Inshallah! Inshallah!” shouted Bashira the nokar as he instinctively reached for the Rs. 1000 note in his pocket.
“mmm mmm” mumbled Zaryab as he choked on the stench of Hashim Khan’s armpits as he wraped his arm around Zaryab’s back.

“Gulp” went Akhtar Hussain the jiyala as he was still forcing himself to concentrate on the roti, that he came out for, and the kapra that his wife gave him to wrap the roti in and the makaan that he had to go back to.

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 8:02 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dude this was amazing! 😀

  2. For all the six stories on this blog….Salute to the writer!

    • thanks!

      • any more writings? would love to read.

      • Not fiction, but I write on politics. have a blog for that: thanks again! 🙂

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