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She was sitting at the edge of her bed when Afroza entered the well-furnished bedroom of a noveau-riche house. She did not stir at her entrance and Afroza could see her lost in thought. She waited for her to take notice but Rahila didn’t budge. Finally, unable to stand the awkward silence of the gaudy room, Afroza said: “Shouldn’t you be getting dressed?” “Yes! I was going to”, Rahila said rather-impetuously. “They will be waiting for you downstairs soon. Come now, let’s get you dressed.” “I don’t want to,” replied Rahila. Afroza already knew what she was going to say, but she also knew Rahila was to be persuaded somehow. Life was being very unfair with her, she thought. To be married to someone you couldn’t even imagine falling in love with. What could be more unfair than that! Who could understand this better than Afroza! Like herself, Rahila would be torn between love and marriage for the rest of her life. More so with the knowledge that love was always within reach; that one forbidden step away. “I want to see Tariq one last time before I am married off.” “You better not”, Afroza muttered. This was an answer of a woman seasoned by time. There was nothing that could be done now. Actually, there was nothing that could have ever been done. Tariq being the youngest son of the neighbourhood baker the chances of marriage were always slim. Rahila’s brother had made quite a scandal when he found out about the love affair. He had threatened Tariq’s family with dire consequences, boasting of his father’s connections with the task force. Rahila was confined to her room, and this meant the end of her only chance at a higher education. Her father had said that he couldn’t bear the shame of being father to a girl who wanted to choose her husband herself. The whole neighbourhood had been talking about the audacity of the young generation ever since. Voices hushed and loud echoed through the lawn and over that din presided a solemn sanctity of matrimony. The sound of a wooden hammer beating on fatty meat over a stone slab juxtaposed with the beats of tumakhnari, and the hoarse singing voices of middle aged women gave the occasion at once an essence of formality and leisure. Smoked fragrances wafted from the garden into the room where they were concluding a rather awkward business of getting a reluctant bride dressed. The whole affair reminded Afroza of her own marriage which was arranged under similar circumstances. She had been a dutiful wife and loving mother, but could never truly bring herself to love her husband. She had closed that door forever with the martyrdom of Ashfaq seven months after her marriage to Shamshad. Her love for him could never die; although post-matrimony she managed to push it to the peripheries of her thoughts. Now,with this young, unwillingly-about-to-be-married girl in her sight memories of Ashfaq came back booming to claim their rightful place. She wondered how life would have been with Ashfaq while helping Rahila with her bridal dress. Seven months later she would have been a widow to a slain militant- a young man lost to the cause of an ever elusive freedom. She shuddered at the notion of being a widow, but couldn’t help her thoughts out of the web that the situation had spun. After all these years so much secrecy and intrigue had come to be woven around his name that she felt a secret pride in having known him so intimately. He always believed in doing the right thing, she concluded. “I don’t want to get married to Shoaib, baaji”,said Rahila emphatically. “Well, it’s too late for that… you can’t change your mind now…everything has been arranged for…You can’t risk our family name. What will people say!” there was sad anger in Afroza’s voice. “I don’t care about people”, she said seeing her chance in Afroza’s weak reply. “If I could only get out of here, Tariq would be waiting for me near Safa Kadal Bridge.” Mindful of the situation Afroza said nothing and made for the jewellery box. An image of Ashfaq’s imploringly smiling face was forming in her mind’s eye. What would he do in her place! The thought crossed her mind. She spread out the jewellery admiringly on a low table. There in those glittering pieces of ornament she lost herself completely to the musings of a love lost to constraints that society binds its members with. She also wondered at the courage of this young girl whom she had seen grow up, who was ready to give it all up for an uncertain future. And in that moment she loathed and respected her. More than ever she cribbed at her conformist nature. What would Ashfaq do in her situation! She thought again.Surely, he would have helped this young girl separated from her love by a society whose only major themes were calculated piety and acquisitive instinct.Surely, he would have done that. Having comprehended his course of action in her thoughts gave rise to an existential question: what course of action would she take to honour his memory? She debated it in her mind. Taking the right course would mean risking divorce and abandonment. It would also mean an insecure future for her children, and that she could not afford. Being party to injustice would be dishonouring Ashfaq’s memory, and that she did not want to do. In that instant of indecision she saw her entire life caught up between an unrequited love and an unhappy marriage. She decided to do the right thing. ‘Listen, I am going to help you. But if you get caught,remember I had nothing to do with getting you out of here.’ her voice quavered. ‘I promise…’ ‘Just stay here and do not let anyone in until I return,okay?’ Afroza said interrupting. She went out of the room and down the arched staircase. When she returned she was carrying a polythene bag. She placed it on the bed and said didactically, ‘I am taking a huge risk in helping you get out of here. I want you to understand that my life would be turned upside if anyone comes to know about it. Remember if you get caught do not tell them that I helped you.’ ‘I won’t’, Rahila replied. Taking out a Burka from the bag she said, ‘Now be fast with this and run away.’
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WE are living in a world that is governed by rules and regulations for everything, created not by anyone else but by US only. The walls of these rules and regulations are so high that one wonders what to speak, think even sometimes what to feel. Everything seems possessed and in chaos. Amidst all this pandem
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