After my father told me some unbelievable and filthy truths, and pleaded Afzal to protect me, I was introduced to Sana and her husband Yusuf. They were a sweet couple, living in out-skirts of Kashmir, away from all the traffic, the people, the noises. Their house was rather a palace. I was surprised at no house-staff appointed. It was my first day at their home. I was standing outside, in the lobby, while Sana was with Yusuf, inside the bedroom. I could hear their voices, faintly but what they were talking was rather understandable.
‘I don’t understand why Afzal is behaving like a foolish now. Look at that Hindu girl. He thinks he’s doing a charity by sending her to my home? This is my damn home, and not an orphanage, damn it!’ Sana screamed.
‘Darling, you are upsetting yourself unnecessarily, it’s not a big deal. She looks like a sweet innocent child, it’s fine if she will stay with us for a few days.’
‘She is a Hindu! I can’t let her eat with us. She is a ‘kafir’.’
‘Oh God, Sana! You can’t be serious? This is 2015, and you are talking like a typical 1950s politician. Stop it! She’s a human before everything. Your ideology disgusts me, you call yourself a woman?’ Yusuf’s voice became louder.
‘Honey look, I’m sorry, I was frustrated at Afzal, I’m sorry, please…’
‘No, just get away. That’s why my father always wanted me to marry someone from London. A modern Muslim woman with open-views, and I think I committed a big mistake by marrying you…’
‘Dear darling, I’m apologizing for my mistake. She can stay with us for as long as you want, okay? I won’t treat her differently I promise. Please don’t be angry with me. I love you so much, Yusuf. I can’t stay a minute away from you, my love.’ Sana’s voice was lowered and turned into babbled whispers. I couldn’t listen to them anymore, and meanwhile the door opened and both of them walked out of the room, pretending as if nothing happened.
‘Hey, what is your name?’ Yusuf asked cheerfully.
‘Kavya Shukla. I’m a Hindu.’ I said, deliberately to check the reaction on Sana’s face. She seemed to be sticking a forceful smile on her face.
‘Hi Kavya, I’m Yusuf, the man of this house, and this is my wife and Afzal’s sister, Sana.’ He shook hands with me, and so did Sana.
‘Sana will tell you everything about the house. And one more thing, I don’t think you eat meat, do you?’
‘Oh yes, I don’t. I’m a pure vegetarian.’ I smiled. Sana almost puked.
‘Alright, that’s pretty good! I was also trying to be vegetarian, but I believe that I don’t have the stomach to digest so much cellulose!’ Yusuf laughed, ‘But don’t worry, you won’t be served meat. ‘Khala’ here will take care of your dining needs. Tell them what you want…’
‘Sir, it’s completely fine, I can cook my own food.’
‘Oh lovely! That would be great. I would definitely like to taste some of your Hindu delicacies. Especially the sweet ‘halwa’.’
‘Ah, for sure Sir. I would love to make it for you and Sana ma’am.’ I smiled again, trying to be as normal and homely as I could.
Yusuf left for his work, and the moment he stepped out of the home, Sana’s reaction and her behaviour changed towards me.
‘I’ll get a new kitchen set up for you at the first floor, where your room is. Try to be there only, and don’t roam around the house too much. Khala will not make any special food for you. She’s pretty old-age herself. You are young and healthy, do your own work while you are here. And also, do help Khala in household chores.’ She walked inside her room.
Moment later, Khala was standing in the lobby with a cup of tea for me.
‘Here, take it…’ she handed it over deliberately. I was refusing, but she didn’t agree.
‘So, since how long you’re here?’ I asked while sipping my hot tea.
‘It’s been so long now. I don’t even remember the time when I came into this family. I was six at that time when my mother worked here, and I used to work with her. And since then, I’m a part of this family.’ a smile was formed on her wrinkled face.
‘That’s exciting! But did you ever marry?’
‘When you dedicate your life to someone, you don’t think about your own life anymore. This family is my life. I was born to serve them, and I will die doing that. Marriage is a selfish motive.’
‘That’s so selfless of you. I would never have that much courage, believe me.’
‘How are you here, daughter?’ she asked, lovingly, thinking of maybe I was a friend of Sana or maybe a guest.
‘I’m a Hindu…’ I stopped to check her reaction. Everyone was anyways reacting in a very hostile manner, I wouldn’t be surprised if she would’ve snatched away my cup of tea and slapped me across my face.
‘Hahaha!’ she laughed. I was confused.
‘Why are you laughing?’
‘So what if you are a Hindu? It’s fine. Hindu, Muslim, Christians, all these divisions are done by men. God never discriminates his children. For him, everyone is the same. For me, if there is a difference among people, it’s not on the base of religion, but on the base of finances. The rich, and the poor. The rich always live a better life no matter what religion they belong to, and the poor of every religion has to suffer equally. If religions can’t protect you and give you a life of dignity, of what use they are then?’ she sighed.
This was the first time I heard an old Muslim woman have so much modern views. Maybe her life as a servant at the rich politician’s place made her change her views over time. Whatever the reason maybe, I was shocked, and surprised.
‘When you die, your body maybe cremated or buried, but it’s useless afterward. All that matters is how much you lived your life, and what did you contribute into this world? We poor people, don’t have anything to contribute. Those who can, are busy killing people…’ she was referring to everything that was going on in valley lately.
‘I understand, Khala. Your life was tough and very challenging. And I’m really surprised that you have lived it all with so much strength. You are a true inspiration.’ As I was talking to her, Sana interrupted.
‘Khala! How many times do I have to tell you that don’t leave the kitchen unattended, the ‘biriyani’ is on the stove, do you want to light up the house?’ she screamed like a fox.
‘I’m sorry…I’ll go…’ Khala ran towards the kitchen, terrified. I was wondering that she was so right in every way. Religions can’t protect you or even give you a life of dignity, only money can…