“Allah Mian, thank you for not making me a rich person”
It was only early afternoon and the clear, dazzling sky, void of a single piece of cloud, was raining fire. There was still a week left of fasting before Eidul Fitr. Abdul wiped his hot face with his thick handkerchief as he walked back to the servant quarters at the far end of the palatial home, where he worked as a driver. He had unbuttoned his uniform shirt by the time he reached his quarters.
“Assalam Alaikum,” his wife emerged from the other room.
“Walaikum Assalam,” Abdul mumbled. “Please turn the fan on.”
Sajida looked at him sympathetically.
“It is on full,” she answered. “You’ve just come from a very cold car.”
“Why don’t you feel the heat?” he joked.
“Because I don’t know the comfort of air-conditioning,” she smiled. “Take a nap before you are called again. There are five hours left for iftar.”
Abdul nodded weakly.
He was drained from driving around Madam and the two choti (little) Madams since mid-morning.
“What’s for iftar?” he asked Sajida.
“Watermelon and Rooh Afza. There is no ice. There is Qeema and roti for dinner,” Sajida sounded cheerful.
They had meat only once or twice a week, so it was a treat.
There was a pile of new dresses on the designer sofa in the ice-cool, spacious family room. The huge glass windows with sophisticated drapery pulled to the sides overlooked a perfectly manicured lawn that was shining emerald even in the blistering heat.
Sixteen-year-old Mahvish sat pouting on the large traditional takht (seat) in the room. Upholstered in a royally traditional, magnificent print of damask with matching throw pillows and large gao-takyas (pillows), it had cost a small fortune. Fifteen-year-old Aalia was holding a new dress to herself admiringly in front of an ornate floor mirror.
“That’s the one I liked,” Mahvish glared.
“But you never liked this in the boutique,” Aalia answered gaily.
She dumped the dress with the rest and rummaged through the pile for something else.
“What are you doing?” Mrs Tahira Khan entered the room.
She walked to the small hill of new dresses on the sofa and started sorting them.
“You’ve mixed them all up! Where are mine?”
“They’re all there, Mama, but Aalia took the one I liked,” Mahvish complained. “She always does this and you never say anything.”
“Oh, come on darling,” Tahira cajoled the hard-to-please Mahvish as she sorted her own dresses from the radiant pile of fabric.
That entire morning’s shopping, three or four dresses for each, had cost nearly two lacs.
“Don’t you like this one?” she showed Mahvish.
“No,” Mahvish snapped. “All the ones I bought today are for the iftar parties.”
“Don’t worry darling,” Tahira smiled at her pretty daughter dressed in skinny jeans and T-shirt. “You can buy more before Eid.”
“I want two for Eid too,” Aalia declared.
“Of course, Jaani. Did you call Daddy about tonight’s iftar?” she asked them.
“You call him,” Mahvish replied. “He never listens to us.”
“You should have him fast the entire Ramazan,” Aalia giggled. “Then he’ll always be on time for every iftar party.”
“No jani,” Tahira shook her head. “Daddy works very hard. People who work very hard and young kids like yourself are exempt,” she dutifully explained to her daughters.
Just then, the maid, Shamim, wheeled in an elegant glass and wooden trolley laden with snacks and tea.
“Thank God,” Mahvish eyed the cake and the samosas hungrily.
She picked up a glass of water from the trolley and took a sip. She then looked distastefully at Shamim.
“Why are there only three ice cubes in it?” she demanded, scowling. “Don’t you know I like no less than six or seven?” she thrust the glass angrily in her hand, splashing water on the glistening floor.
“Mama, we need to leave now,” Aalia reminded Tahira. “I have to go to the mall to check out the new store and then the parlour to get our hair done for the iftar party.”
“Ok,” Tahira replied. “Keep your dresses too. We’ll get dressed at the parlour.”
It was still blazing at 4pm when Abdul’s phone rang. He awoke, startled. It was Madam calling.
“Get ready Abdul, we have to leave for the iftar.”
“But Madam, it is only four,” Abdul was confused.
“We have other things to do too,” she ordered. “We’re waiting.”
Abdul rushed to get ready. Just then, eight-year-old Alima woke from her nap.
“Are you leaving?” she asked. “Will you be back for iftar?”
“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” he answered hurriedly.
Sajida hurriedly pressed two dates wrapped in paper in his hand.
“Make sure you open your fast on time,” she reminded him.
Madam always seemed to forget that he was fasting and Abdul’s self-respect kept him from reminding her.
Abdul dropped Madam and Choti Madams at the entrance of a high-class mall. They instantly went from a cool car to an equally cool mall, leaving Abdul to find a parking spot. He was now used to waiting in the hot car, sometimes for hours. He wasn’t allowed to operate the AC in a parked car.
He parked at the end of the busy street. Presently, his eyes caught a cart vendor with piles of glistening, sparkling bangles. He remembered that Alima’s Eid dress was green and pink. Sajida had bought the material from Sunday bazaar and was stitching it herself. Luckily, he found matching bangles in a pretty design of pink and green. He knew Sajida would be displeased. She was very strict about saving money for Alima’s education.
Abdul spent another hour in the car before finally dropping the ladies at the iftar. Decked out in new clothes, hairdos and makeup, the three Madams gracefully swept into the glittering lights. Their new attires from the mall for the iftar plus the parlour bill cost well over one lac and they still had to buy clothes for the three days of Eid celebrations.
Ten minutes before iftar, Abdul rushed home. Alima had fasted all through Ramazan and was very proud of herself. Later, Abdul handed her the small polythene bag and watched her expressions of delight.
“Oh Abba! They’re so pretty!” she chirped. “And they’re exactly the colour of my Eid dress!”
“Thank Allah (swt),” Sajida smiled at her. “Who not only gave you a new dress for Eid but matching bangles too.”
“Yes, Amma, I thanked Him in my heart,” Alima nodded. “Oh Abba, this will be such a wonderful Eid!” her eyes were glistening with joy.
“Dear child,” Abdul pat her head lovingly. “Eid is only wonderful when you spend Ramazan in fasting, praying, and reading Quran. It is not wonderful because of new things.”
“Yes Abba,” Alima nodded. “This is why this will be a wonderful Eid because I am doing all the good things.”
Abdul smiled and kissed her head.
Three more days were left before the end of Ramazan. Choti Madams and their two friends were in the lawn, planning for their Chaand Raat party. Shamim had served their snacks outside. Uzma asked for more ice-cold Coke.
Looking around, Aalia saw Alima walking in a distance.
“Alima!” she yelled.
Startled, Alima turned to see Aalia beckoning.
“Yes, Madam,” she walked up and asked politely. She was in awe of these pretty, glamorous madams with clothes that made her lower her gaze.
“Go tell Shamim to get cold Coke,” she ordered.
Hina looked at Alima with interest.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Alima,” Alima replied.
“Have a piece of cake,” Hina teased.
“I can’t. I’m fasting,” Alima tone was solemn.
“Fasting!” Hina was amazed. “You’re too young! That’s child abuse…” Uzma eyed Alima sympathetically too.
“Go find Shamim,” Aalia shooed her away.
Alima walked away rapidly. These young Madams could be very intimidating.
“It’s none of your business whether or not they abuse her,” Aalia was irritated.
“Such a young child forced to fast,” Hina felt pity. “The poor have no life. What kind of Eid will she have? It’s the merriest time with the shopping and partying, and them…?” she shook her head.
“Stop commiserating with the poor and focus on our party,” Mahvish snapped.
It was the night of 27th Ramazan that day. But it was imperative for the Choti Madams to plan their elaborate party.
“Amma, why don’t the Choti Madams and their friends fast?”Alima asked Sajida later.
“What they do is their business, Alima. You focus on your own self,” Sajida replied gently.
“But Amma, if they don’t fast, pray or read Quran during Ramazan, how can they have a wonderful Eid?” Alima was confused.
Her heart was so full of happiness and joy at fasting every day and not missing any of her prayers. She felt like she was earning her Eid joy.
“When you make Dua (prayer), ask Allah (swt) to give guidance to the Choti Madams,” Sajida smiled and explained. “If Allah (swt) turns their hearts, they too will fast.”
“I’ll make dua from today,” Alima replied solemnly.
'Imagine,' she later thought sadly, 'not being able to enjoy the day of Eid. Rich people must have such sorrowful and gloomy Eids. I must pray to Allah (swt) to turn their hearts so that they can know the real happiness of Eid day.'
“Oh Allah Mian,” she looked up at the sky, “Thank you for not making me a rich person.”
She thanked Allah (swt) fervently.