Who is Responsible?(short story)

Rehman, aged seventy three is living with his wife Ramla, sixty eight, in a palatial double-storeyed house facing the Vembanad Lake at Kumarakam in Kerala, India. He is reclining in an arm-chair watching rafts, barges, canoes, cruisers and house-boats carrying cargos, passengers and tourists to and fro. He longed to be one among them voyaging with vibrant dreams and hopes.

“I too was spirited and jovial like them. Yes, in my prime youth. Gone are those happy days. I have to abide to the laws of nature. Pleasures and pains are part of life. A hill has a valley. A sunny day is followed by a dark night. But can I nurture the hope that this my winter will be followed by a spring? Might be in the next world, or in the next birth,” Rehman’s mind drifted philosophically back to his past.

Rehman retired as the headmaster of the Government High School, two kilometers away from his house. Ramla had only school education and hence remains as a housewife. They have a son and two daughters. The daughters were married by two business men; one settles in Thiruvananthapuram and the other at Thodupuzha. Only occasionally they visit their parents. Even the phone calls are rare. Anwar, the son of Rehman and Ramla is working as an electrician in Oman. Since he was not very studious, Anwar had to end his education with a polytechnic certificate. Being their only son, Rehman and Ramla wanted him to be always with them. Since Kerala is a state where majority are educated and employment opportunities few, neither Anwar nor his parents could fulfil their wish. Anwar was compelled to seek employment abroad and thus he got placement as an electrician in a company run by an Arab in Oman. Though the work is very risky, it is highly rewarding.

Rehman family had no landed property except ten cents which Rehman had bought with his meagre salary several years back and built a small house having tiled roof. Rehman was a very reputed school teacher. He was cent percent committed to his profession. Never in his professional life had he caned or even pinched his pupils. He was always against corporal punishment whereas his colleagues were cane masters. Rehman won the hearts of his pupils and their parents through sheer love and compassion. The return of love and respect from his former pupils and the villagers is the only asset he has and that makes him content and happy in his retired old life. In the evenings he went to the community hall of the panchayat and involved in the literacy programme of the government, educating the illiterate old who had been destined to discontinue their education in their childhood.

Ramla was becoming weaker and weaker. The joints of her limbs started to ache severely. Treatments were done in several hospitals. It was diagnosed that she had severe arthritis. She had to keep awake several nights, unable to sleep. All the domestic works were done by her, since servants were unavailable. So Rahman and Ramla decided that they should get their son married. Anwar was already twenty four and Muslim boys got married in the early twenties. Though Anwar was unwilling at first, finally he yielded to his parents’ pressure. With the money he had earned, a double-storeyed house had already been built. Proposals of marriage came from several rich families. A bridegroom employed abroad had high demand in the marriage field. Photographs of the proposed girls were sent to Anwar and he selected a beautiful girl from among the photos. The marriage was fixed. After a wait of two months Anwar got leave for the marriage—a leave for just twenty five days. The wedding ceremony and the feast were conducted with all pomp. The bride was beyond doubt very beautiful—a perfect match to Anwar. Only ten days were left for their honeymoon. Anwar and his wife, Aisha went to Ootty, an enticing hill resort in Tamil Nadu, as a honeymoon trip. They stayed there for two days. Connubial bliss seemed like heavenly bliss. The day for Anwar’s departure arrived. Naturally it was heart-rending for both Anwar and Aisha to part. Tears ran like brooks over her cheeks. Anwar’s eyes also sank in tears. The fact that he would get leave only after two years added their agony. Rehman and Ramla too grieved at their son’s departure.

Every day after Anwar’s departure, Aisha contacted him through phone. Their communication went on for hours. Anwar appointed a chauffeur for his car at home, for Aisha knew no driving. Rahul, the chauffer was young and handsome. Aisha’s grief and loneliness gradually disappeared. She went out in the car almost every day for shopping, movie, to her own house as well as her friends’ houses. Neither Ramla nor Rehman had any command on her. After all, she needs to obey only her husband—that was her policy. Anwar was compelled to marry as to get help to his mother. Rahul accompanied Aisha throughout and entertained her with silly jokes. He went to his house at dusk and returned in the morning. Was Aisha crossing the lakshmana rekha of a bride or Rahul tempting her like Ravana? Ramla raised the doubt first and Rehman found some sense in it. How can it be warned to Aisha or Rahul? Suppose their relationship is only that of good friends? The doubts in the house spread to the neighbourhood and people started to gossip. Once when Ramla hinted at such gossip to Aisha, she exploded. She remarked that people were jealous of her or they should never accuse a woman who suffered from the absence of her husband. In fact she called her husband every day and talked for several minutes. Rehman had no courage to raise any doubt to Aisha. Similarly it was unfair to raise the question to Anwar which will damn him to suspicion and dejection. Moreover Anwar will accuse them for compelling him to marry and culminate into such a catastrophe. Aisha gradually stopped communication with Rehman and Ramla. She was young, healthy and full of passion. It was true that she was a bride, but her body knew no ethics. Who would satiate her carnal needs? How long could she control her desires? How could she resist the enticement? Was it fair for her husband to leave her hungry there for such a long time? Can Anwar be blamed as he was against the marriage itself? Who is to be blamed then?

Things were going like this with gloom and despair haunting in Rehman’s house. Ramla’s health was declining and she staggered as she walked. Yet she did the cooking in the morning as Aisha always got up late. One day, as usual, Ramla finished her cooking in the morning and was waiting for her husband and Aisha for the breakfast. As Aisha did not come down, Ramla went upstairs to her bedroom. The room was opened but she was not there. Ramla called her loudly, but there was no reply. It was evident that she had gone out of the house. Rehman searched for her in the neighbourhood in vain. He then went to Rahul’s house and learned that he too was missing from his house. Rehman came to the conclusion that Rahul had eloped with Aisha.

“My God, why do you test us like this? What sin have we committed? How will I report the matter to my son? How can we withstand this scandal? What will happen to Ramla when she knows the fact? What’s the use in complaining to the police?” Such answerless questions crushed Rehman’s mind as he walked back to his house.

“Could you find her? Is Rahul there in his house?” Ramla asked him as he stepped into the house.

“Rahul too is missing,” Rehman murmured.

“Allah, save our son! The whore has run after the Saithan,” telling this she sank into her bed. With the assistance of the neighbours, she was taken to the hospital and admitted in the intensive care unit. The doctor reported that she was paralysed.

“Shouldn’t we inform this to Anwar?” one of the neighbours asked Rehman.

“How can I inform my son that his wife has eloped with the chauffer? What use is there in informing him that his mother is hospitalized because of it? He won’t get any leave and come back. When he calls me I shall tell him,” Rehman replied. After a few days Ramla was discharged and brought back to the house. Rehman’s brother brought a maid servant from his neighbourhood. She would serve the house from dawn to dusk and then go back to her house.

Reminiscence of his past, sweet and then bitter, passed through Rehman’s mind for nearly an hour. His heaven-like house has now declined to a hell of sorrows and dejection. Anwar has not called since Aisha left the house. Though Rehman tried to contact his son, there was no reply from the other end. What has happened to him? Has he been informed by someone about Aisha’s run away? Rehman’s worrying thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of the postman. Rehman had a registered letter. It was from the Sultanate of Oman. With shaking hands he opened the letter. The contents of the letter made him hysteric. The letter read that Anwar was dismissed from his company as he had been arrested by the government under the charge of involvement in terrorist activities. Rehman yelled:

“No, my son can never be a terrorist. I have taught him the noble values of secularism. He believes in the Creator, the only God who fosters the whole human race and preserves the universe. How can he work as a jihadist or for a faction who believes in genocide? God, why don’t you call me back? I can’t bear this. I want to die. I want to die.” The maid servant rushed to him hearing his loud cry.

“Sir, what happened to you?”

“I have lost my son, Shahana. Is your madam still sleeping?”

“Yes, Sir. Should I wake her?”

“Oh no. Please don’t inform her. Anwar has lost his job. He is arrested for terrorism. Shahana, please don’t tell this to others. Shahana, can you give me some poison. I don’t want to live any more.”

“Sir, what are you saying? Nothing will happen to your son. He will be released. He can never be a terrorist, for he is your son. If you die, who is there for the madam?”

“My God, why do you test me like this?” telling this he went to his room and shut the door. Shahana, as usual, went back to her house at 6 p.m. after her routine work. She hadn’t told the madam what she had heard from the master. She prayed to God to give strength to his master to bear the misfortune.

Early in the next morning Shahana came to her master’s house. The front door was still shut. She pressed on the electric bell’s switch. None came and opened the door. She pressed the switch again. The bell sounded but there was no reply. She called the master loudly:

“Sir, please open the door. I am Shahana.”

There was no response. She went round the house to the back door. It was kept opened. She got into the kitchen and called for the master. Still there was no answer. Shahana rushed directly to the madam’s bedroom where the husband and the wife slept at night. To her horror, she found the madam drenched in blood. She cried loudly:

“God forbid! Madam, what happened to you?”

She turned to the cot where the master slept. He too was drenched in blood. She wailed:

“How tragic! Which villain has done it?”

Yelling loudly she ran out of the house to call the neighbours. The neighbours rushed to the bedroom and found that Rehman and Ramla were stabbed to death. The beds became pools of stinky blood. The police came and searched every nook and corner of the house for any evidence of the crime. It was found that the safe where ornaments and money were kept was opened and the contents were stolen. The news of the merciless twin murder flashed the village and the entire state like lightening. Thousands flooded to the house. As mentioned early, Rehman family was respectable and dear to the whole village. Police completed the formalities. Inquest and postmortem continued for hours. The police dog searched for the murderer in vain. Rehman’s daughters, their husbands and children sat round the dead bodies crying and weeping. The whole house became a hell of wails. The dead bodies were buried in the afternoon. Several hundred mourners attended the function. The minister from the constituency assured the crowd that the murderer would be caught immediately. The police may catch the culprit. Only fifty percent chance was there as per the statistics. Who is to be blamed for the tragedy of Rehman and his family? When thousands of villainous wolves flourish and reign, innocent lambs like Rehman are mercilessly butchered. Where is the poetic justice?

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