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Beside The New Mosque

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About Jia

Zia Haque, is a poet and short story writer from Moukhali village under Magrahat police station of South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. He graduated with English Literature at Maulana Azad College and did his Masters in Bengali Literature from Jadavpur University. Zia has four collections of Poetry so far, namely, Abgahaner Shabdo, Jantronaprobaho, Ke Go Tumi Sarolyamoy Alo, and Sthul Padabali.

Zia has one short story collection titled Bibidh Maskora o Onanyo Dabi.

This story in the current issue of Haoajan is translated from his original Bengali short story titled Notun Masjid-er-Dhare.

Beside The New Mosque

By success, I mean paradise. Dwellers of paradise find absolution from their daily sins on a daily basis. That is why, to me, the truly successful ones are those who dwell in paradise. I am not saying that I shall not be a part of a family. But I shall never be a slave to it.

Pigeons have their nest in the tallest minaret of the mosque. They store grains there. They flew in the western sky with the grains on their beaks. The azaan of Maghrib will begin now. Before coming to the temple this call would not be heard in the microphone. Once there was no microphone. Once there were no cars. People would still travel miles – walking, riding on animals. The Muazzin who reads the azaan is clearing his throat. There are no clouds in the sky.

The sacred Wudu-cleansing before the prayers is done in a place behind a thick fat wall. On one side of the wall, women do their Wudu; on its other side, the men do. The wall was tall enough to prevent them from seeing each others’ faces. But one can hear the water flowing, the glass bangles on the women’s hands clinking. Even the women must be listening to the sound of men doing their Wudu. The water of Wudu flows and falls on a stone. There is music in this. This music is not forbidden in Islam. “Ashadu Alla Ilaha Illallah”. The azaan of Maghrib gets over. When the azaan gets over, a Dua-invocation is read. The azaan that is broadcast on radio in Dhaka is also one where the Muazzin reads the Dua in the microphone. The one who makes such sacred readings and invocations including the azaan is called the Qari. Qari Basit of Egypt reads the azaan like a cry – continual. It is as if grave danger confounds up ahead. It is as if, this moment of the reading is all we have left in the world. After this, everything will be fanah. Everything will destroy. Namaz is a programme, and the one who offers the Azaan is its convenor.

In this city, women come to the city and offer their namaz. There is a separate room for them in the mosque. Next to their namaz room lies the namaz room of the men. Little children can be heard crying from the women’s side. The mosque is silent – like all mosques are. It is only during the namaz that a combined, well-disciplined music rings out. It plays in rhythm with the invocations by the Imam. The windows are blue. Deep blue.

That girl in a flowing green alkhalla-robe was standing outside the mosque gate. She cannot be seen clearly from the distance. Everyone had read their namaz gone home. There is a rush to eat food after the namaz of Johar. That girl was standing. Women finish their namaz before men and go home. They have got household chores to do. It is not so that they are not devoted towards the namaz prayers. It is just so that they do not take the mosque as a place for gossip and chit-chat. The men, on the other hand, talk to each other in the times before and after the namaz.

I was counting tasbih-rosaries. The stone beads were slipping between my fingers. This tasbih is from Saudia Arabia. Someone had gifted. Along with the tasbih, that person had also gifted me a bottle of atar-perfume from Arabia. All that is beside the point. It seemed to me that that girl and I were the only two people in the mosque.

For a few days back to back I observed that the girl stands holding the iron pillars of the mosque-gate after the Johar namaz. I have come to know she does not wait for anyone. She just stands there. In these few days, I have not seen anyone go out of the mosque to meet her or go with her. She stands staring at the prayer room for men. After a point of time, she hangs her head low and goes away. I look at her direction at times and continue counting the tasbish beads. When I say ‘Subhanallah’, I cannot ascertain if I am saying this to Allah or if I am saying this to the beauty of the distant existence of this girl. She wears a green robe everyday when she comes.

I uttered: “Assalam Alaikum” A man can greet an unknown woman with a salam-greeting. He cannot touch or hold her hands.

She stayed silent. What is the cause of such diffidence? – I wondered. Salam is not even a proposition to get to know someone all the time. It is just an oral communication – just like how ants do. There is no emotion or personal feeling separately associated with that. I offered Salam once again. This time, the girl replied, with much shyness in her demeanour – “Oa Alaikum Assalam”

I wondered what the reason for her to be so shy was.

She was not very old. Hardly 20 or 21 years old she must have been. She had beautiful features. There was no naqab-veil over her face. I could see her eyes have been reddened. There is no black kohl on her eyelashes. No water of Wudu can wipe that off.

I said – “I see you standing here every day after the Johar”

She replied – “Yes, I stand here every day like this.”

“The mosque looks so good from a distance, does it not?”;

“Truly how different it is inside and outside the mosque!”

 Her initial shyness had eroded a bit. Salam-greetings often help in this regard.

I asked her again – “Do you stand here just to see the mosque?”

She said – “I wait”

“Whom do you wait for?”

“Farishta-Angels arrive in these times. Most people do not have patience”

“It is true. We have very little patience.”

“I have seen that wherever I go, it feels like all I want to do is to go away and come back”

“Maybe because we love our homes more. Don’t you think so?”

“Then what will happen after death?”

The girl was beautiful but there was a touch of sadness about her beauty. On talking about death, it seemed like someone put a naqab of a dead veil over the white skin of her face. For whatever little we got to know each other, it felt like I don’t know her now. It feels as if it is today that I am seeing her for the first time.

She went away, with her head bowed. Her green robe played against her legs, fluttering like sail in the breeze. She seemed like a boat with green sails – sailing fast with the breeze blowing against those green sails.  

After six days, the Imam asked – “Do you talk to a girl inside the mosque?”

In these six days, I have talked with her each day after the Johar. She would stand on the other side of the mosque gate. One of those days I had badly wanted to hold her hands. It felt as if her fingers were made for a handshake. I had restrained myself. The two angels of Kirman Katibin have been sitting on my two shoulders and have been listing out the good and the bad deeds. That is why, I restrained myself.

“If you cannot control your wants and desires sitting in a mosque, where else will you be able to do the same?” – the Imam asked

“Let me be honest with you Imam Sahib. My desires are to sleep with her. But I am not, am I? I am not doing so, I am only talking to her. Does this not prove that I do have restraint?”

“It is better to not do that either”

The Imam made his reply and went away. I began to wait for the namaz of Johar to be over. I can’t stand this Imam much. However, it is not for us ordinary people to catch flaws with Alems and Ulemas. They may not be stars in the sky, but they sure are satellites. It is an ongoing new moon now.

Beautiful sunshine has wrapped the minarets of the mosque. One or two pigeons were flying along the minarets. Old music is flowing out from somewhere around in the neighbourhood. The music seemed to be touching a tiny well maintained garden of flowers in front of the mosque. The flowering plants, with their leaves, flowers and stems, were swaying gently in the breeze and the music.

I asked the girl: – “Did you find your lost Farishta?”

She hesitated for a while and said: – “Lost Farishta? But my Farishta is not lost. Just because I am looking for him does not mean that he is lost. Maybe it is me who is lost, and he waits for me outside every mosque gate after the namaz of Johar.

To this, I said: – “It is difficult to say who is lost. But if one person is waiting for another, it means that one of them is either lost, or is in hiding”

“In hiding? Maybe” the girl shook her head and shrugged her shoulders slightly out of disbelief

I asked: – “You want to find Farishta. There is nothing wrong in that. But what will you do if you find him?”

She said – “ All I want is to find him. I have not thought of what I will tell him when I do so. Maybe I will propose marriage. Perhaps I will tell her to take me to the land of death”

Her face was listless when she said this.

After quite a few days I realized why the girl talks about death time and again. She has no one in the world other than her father. The father cannot see well. She has to fetch even the Wudu waters for him. That is why she had said one day that she will tell Farishta to gift her father a pair of new eyes when they meet. I suggested – “If you ask for something, why not ask for more permanent? Is it not better to ask for Jannat?” She said – “Had you seen my father’s sufferings you would not have wanted to escape to Jannat  all for yourself”

Escape! Is this truly leaving somebody behind and running away!

The girl had begun to address me as someone equal to her. I like that. Whenever a woman addresses me as someone equal to her, I feel like we are going through a relationship of love. I don’t know her name. I had never asked. Even she hadn’t asked me mine. It is rude intrusion into personal space to ask someone her or his name. We had never met in the evening.

“May I ask you something?” – I said

“A question? When someone seeks permission before asking a question it is to be understood that it is a special question. So, what is the special question that you want to ask me?” – she explained this whole thing all by herself

“Yes, if you think it is special, it is. It is all up to how you think. I want to know your name”

“My name? I can be that girl in green robes. I can be that girl who stands outside the mosque gate every day. These can all be my names.” – she spoke thus

I felt ashamed. Maybe I should not have asked her name. It is natural to seek privacy faced with such a question. Did she think that I have begun to feel close to her in these few days? I felt shy. Getting caught about one’s own feelings by someone for whom those feelings exist can be a disconcerting state of affair. The flowers of the mosque were swaying happily with the breeze. A squirrel ran into the garden. There is a shadow. There is no sunshine. Today is Tuesday.

I had not gone to the mosque during the Johar namaz for two days.

Friday is the day of Jumma. The mosque becomes more crowded than other days. Those who do not come for namaz everyday come on Friday. Is this a fear of sin? I don’t know. But they come. The rooms of the mosque are cleaned. Water on all the sanctimony makes it all look even more divine. I cannot focus on the prayer. I am not holding the tasbih rosary in my hand. It is there in the pocket of my Punjabi kurta, beside the handkerchief. I have daubed myself with Arabic perfume. I was waiting for the Namaz programme to be over.

The Imam had met me on the previous day. He is almost six feet tall. He wore a white gown with leather shoes. He has his tasbih on his hand all the times. At times he counts the beads.

He said: “Mosque is a sacred place.”

I replied politely: “Undoubtedly it is one. It is a shrine. The hadith says that it is a piece of Jannat – paradise.”

“We should not do anything sinful in such a sacred space”

“Yes. Wrong things should better be done outside the mosque”

“I did not say that. It is better to not do wrong things anywhere. You are making an incorrect explanation of what I said. I am an Imam of a mosque.”

“You are not only an Imam of a mosque but a Shah-e-Imam of a huge mosque. I express my respects for you. The government pays you monthly. This is a big thing. Please accept my respects.”

The Imam’s face hardened as he spoke softly:

“You know the hadith. You were speaking of it a while back. Then you must also be knowing that Osman Gani, the Third Caliph, was not in favour of women going to mosques to offer namaz. Have you thought of this, that, if something bad happens, what will happen to society?”

“Yes, Osman Gani had hugged his wife in the darkness of night after the Namaz of Isha to frighten her. Ever since, she had stopped going to the mosque. She was afraid. I ask, why do you plant flowering trees in front of the mosque?”

The Imam was not someone to just go away without making any reply.

“Flowering plants are not wrong or sinful things. And I speak in the language of religion. It is a social constitution for me. If he forbids someone to go to the mosque, I would tell such a person to not go there anymore.”

“Yes, it is crucial to follow the Constitution. There is death penalty in the Constitution. Likewise, there is hell, Jahannum, in the constitution of religion. It is very similar.”

I added – “If someone hangs for a crime, is that person bound to go to hell?”

Annoyed, the Imam walked away.

The namaz of Jumma is over. Everyone has gone away. The mosque is empty. The sounds of the breezes can be heard. Some blood-red roses were swaying and trembling faintly with the breeze. I saw the girl standing outside the mosque gate. She is wearing a red and maroon gown today. She has gathered her hands behind her back.

I plucked some red roses from the mosque-garden. I hid them behind me on my hands and stood facing her. Her face was not baleful today. She had a smiling countenance for a change. She was looking like a fairy in red dress. Fairies can be found in paradise.

She asked: “Where were you the last two days?”

I asked: “Have you met the Farishta?”

“I was standing right here”

“What are you holding on your hands?”

“Me? Well, what are you holding in yours?”

“A gift from Allah. I am taking it home for my father. His eyes are not in good condition. What about you?”

“A gift from Allah. I am carrying this for my mother. My mother is ill.” – I replied

Suddenly, clouds began to cover the skies. Even in this near darkness, her smiling countenance did not fade. It was burning like a candle dedicated to god.

It began to rain. Not a drizzle but heavy rain. Curtain of waters made everything hazy all around. It was as if society, civilization and nature were all wearing veils.

The girl said: – “Come let’s stand inside the mosque”

“On which side shall we stand? Towards the men’s section or the women’s?” – I asked

“I won’t go towards the men’s section”

“And I won’t go towards the women’s section”

“Then let us go to the Wudu room which lies between the two sections” – she suggested

“Yes, that is a good space to be” – I accepted

A deserted mosque is like a factory. We stood side by side in the Wudu room. The rain had become heavy. The rain had attacked the flowers of the garden with vehement sincerity. The flowers were reeling under the rain. Far away, the gate was shut such that it seemed like we were hiding ourselves in a fortress. The enemy soldiers are aware, but they cannot come close. The girl had removed her veil from her head. Her hair was wet.

“Do you know that when a man and a woman lies close to each other, the third entity that lies there is Satan?” – I asked

“How can Satan come here? It is a mosque!” – she assured me

“But beside the Wudu room is the Istinja room – the toilet! And a toilet can never be sacred. Satan can be hiding in there and can come out suddenly between us”

“I haven’t thought of it this way. But I have heard that Iblis the Shaitan was the leader of the Farishtas. But he did not prostrate himself in oblation before Adam. So Allah cursed him and banished him.” – she said

“Will you believe my word?” – I asked

“Which word of yours need I believe?”

“I can feel Shaitan in me now”

“How do you realize that Satan has come inside you now?” – surprised, she asked

“I want to hold your hands. I want it very much” – I said, feeling bashful

To this, she said: – “Yes. I also want to hold your hands. I have never held any man’s hands before. Except those of my father”

“Even I haven’t held hands with any woman till today. Except those if my mother” – I replied

The rain that had begun all of a sudden went away all of a sudden. Sunlight came out. The clouds had done pouring all the water from their bellies. The flowers of the mosque began dancing with the sunshine.

“I have seen my Farishta.” – she spoke as she move some distance away from me and covered her head with her veil

“When did you find your Farishta? How?” – I sought to know

“Take these two red roses. I had kept them thinking that I will give them to my father.” She brought her palms forward from behind her back where she had gathered them. There were two roses in her hands. She held the roses before me.

“Even I have gathered some roses for my mother. I want to give those two you. But you did not tell me about when you found your Farishta!”

She walked out of the Wudu room. She stood in the open space outside the main mosque-building. And then she spoke:

“I have found Satan in me even in this sacred place.”

“Okay, so you found Satan. But you said you found your Farishtha!”

“Even Shaitan, once, was a Farishta. Anyways, we shall never meet again”

She spoke thus and moved further away – towards the mosque gate. I kept on standing, holding the two roses given by her in many hands.   

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