Fiction: Javed Mamoo

Anurag Sharma

- Anurag Sharma

The train arrived at last.

My anger vanished, when I saw it coming finally.

Till this day, I could never figure out the reason of the trains getting late.

Why can't they update their schedule?

Anyway, I rushed into the train and occupied the seat. 

I was happy. I have enough reasons. I was going back to Bareilly, after a long time. 

Thirty years and three months to be very precise!

A major portion of my childhood was spent in the city of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh (a North Indian state). In India, the majority is that of the Hindus. 

Here in Bareilly, they are in majority. Except for our families in my lane, everyone else was a Muslim. Despite many dissimilarities, our language was same and so was our heritage. All my Muslim neighbors visited us to share the joy of celebrating the Hindu festivals. They also brought Sevai (sweet noodle dish) for me during the Eid.

Ours was a traditional Brahmin family. Despite that, I never felt being different from them, the Muslims. Even today, I have no desire to find such a difference.

We bought groceries from Javed Hussain; vegetables from Babu Khan; flour from Naseem Chakkiwala, and the patang (Indian fighter kites) and its manjha (the special thread used to fly patangs) from Nafees Ali. All of them were Muslims.

My tailor was a Muslim and so was my barber. Mohammad Tanvir, the electrician who sold us our first radio and later repaired it, until it was replaced by a sleek transistor, happened to be a Muslim too. Tanvir sold us the Sanskrit bhajan (Hindu devotional songs) records I grew up listening.

Among the people around, it was Javed Hussain who influenced my childhood in many ways. 

(Photo: Neeraj Hari Pandey)

He was a friend of my maternal uncle, so I used to call him Javed Mamoo (mamoo: maternal uncle in Urdu). He owned a small grocery shop across the street from our house. 

Daily, I went to his shop with a list of items. Unlike others, I never asked about the prices, since we had a monthly account with him. While there, I spent more time talking to him and observing the clientele rather than shopping. I met Muslim neighbors there. Most lived in abject poverty. They wore dirty and sometimes torn clothes. Boys generally wore minimal to cover certain parts of their bodies. Most kept their heads shaven. 

Now I assume that one of the probable reasons was to save some money on the barber's bill, the other maybe to keep their heads clean, because the daily bath was a luxury for many who did not have even the proper water connection. Whatever the reasons, they were very lively people.

I was not allowed to keep any pet, because it meant denying the freedom of the poor creatures. Another justification for not allowing pets was they were not clean enough to enter a Brahmin household. 

There were some exceptions. 

For example, one aunt of mine kept a beautiful parrot that greeted the entire household with the praise of the Lord Rama. Later when I saw dogs in some of my relatives' homes, I came to know that the dogs and parrots were the only pets accepted because they could live healthily on vegetarian diet and are non-violent. I loved to feed green chilly to the parrot that preferred it over mangoes or guava. My Muslim neighbors had all kind of exotic pets which ranged from tiny birds to huge turtles. Knowing well that I can never bring these pets into my own house, I used to play with them, when not seen by any elders.

Javed Mamoo subscribed to a Hindi and an Urdu newspaper. Whenever he came across a difficult word while reading Hindi news, he asked me to translate it in simple Hindi and I would tell him the most appropriate equivalent without fail. For example, he called me once to ask what "Sopanbaddh" (step by step in refined Hindi) meant and I told him that it meant “Seedhi-dar-Seedhi" in Urdu. He teased me that the Hindi brigade was over-enthusiastic in reverting the place names to their original ones in such a non-Urdu way that it was no more possible for him even to say the new names. He quoted the famous city of Varanasi in his typical style. He said that the city had such a beautiful name Benares and now it is changed to Vaanaanaaseee. He kept teasing me about Vaanaanaaseee, until I came to discover that Varanasi was originally called Kashi from the ancient times. I informed him about this short and sweet name which is easier to say, read and write in any language Indian or foreign. So much has changed since then. Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai and Calcutta became Kolkata. The name of Bangalore is about to change. None of them were changed by the so-called Hindi brigade. Nor did this so-called Hindi brigade ever worked to rename Varanasi as Kashi. But of course, Hindi brigade is still here to take the blame.

Because of my surroundings, it was natural for me to speak flawless Urdu. Actually, Urdu is just another dialect of Hindi with one remarkable difference that instead of Devanagari, it is written in Persian script. As a pre-teen, I did not know how to read and write Persian script. To overcome this limitation, I approached Javed who happily agreed to teach me to read and write Urdu in Persian script. One day when we were discussing the poetry of Zafar (the last Moghul emperor who was a great poet too), an elderly Maulavi (a Muslim clergy) asked him if I had come to Bareilly from a foreign country. Javed explained that I was learning Urdu. The old man got upset and started rambling. He could not understand that anyone could grow up in Hindustan (another name for India, mostly popular in Muslim regions of the world) without knowing Urdu.

Even today Uttar Pradesh is the largest sugar producing state of India. Bareilly region is called as the sugar bowl of the state, since it is a major producer of the sugar cane and related products. There was a Khandsal (A small scale and low-cost sugar mill) in our neighborhood where molasses wwere turned into unrefined brown sugar. Hundreds of bullock-carts used to wait outside the Khandsal with clay pitchers full of molasses which were used as raw material for the sugar.

The Khandsal was open for a limited period of the year during the sugarcane season. There were some children always looking for these bullock carts, so that they could steal some from the pitchers kept in the back side of the carts. Though it was sad to see the naive bullock-cart drivers from surrounding villages being teased and tortured like this, the scenes were too funny at times to control your laughter.

One afternoon when I was talking to Javed at his shop, we saw the usual scene of the rowdy boys stealing molasses. Some daring boys broke some pitchers with help of stones and started filling their aluminium pans with brown liquid. The sweet smell hung in the air. Looking at his broken pots, the bullock-cart driver got very upset and started cursing the boys. While shouting at the hooligans, the bullock-cart driver said, "Look at these looters! I wonder why only Muslim boys do it." Though the angry statement of the upset victim of this regular robbery was cent-percent true, I felt a little uncomfortable. I really did not know how to react. While I was fumbling for some words, Javed Mamoo shouted back, "You are right my brother. Hindus care about their children. They also care about education. Our people are indifferent towards both." 

Later he turned towards me and sang a Mukesh and Sahir combo from an old Hindi movie,
Taleem Hai Adhoori, Milti Nahin Majoori,
Maloom Kya Kisi Ko Dard e Nihan Hamara.
[तालीम है अधूरी, मिलती नहीं मजूरी, मालूम क्या किसी को दर्द ऐ निहाँ हमारा]

The lines were emotional and very true in depicting the situation of the community. The meaning is as such, "We do not earn sufficient wages due to lack of education but no one knows the pain inside our heart." 

Happy with my attention he continued the song. He got a bit emotional when he reached to the final stanza:
Mil jul ke is vatan ko aisa banaayenge hum
hairat se munh takega, sara jahan hamara
[मिलजुल के इस वतन को ऐसा बनायेंगे हम, हैरत से मुँह तकेगा सारा जहाँ हमारा]

The meaning in English is, "Today, we might be in bad shape but we do have strong will. Our youth is made up of steel. With cooperation from each other we shall (one day) recreate our nation in such a manner that would surprise entire world." By the time he completed the song, tears were rolling out of his eyes. He said, "I want to see a pro-active participation from Muslim community in building up India."

I still remember that Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, a Muslim was the president of India then and he was not the first but the second Muslim president of India. His wife Begum Abida Ahmed later contested from Bareilly to become a member of Indian parliament. The chairperson of Aiwan-E-Ghalib, Begum Abida Ahmed had also served as a leader of All India Women Congress.

Thirty years later, when I remember this incident, I am pleasantly surprised to see that the current president of India Dr. Abdul Kalam is a Muslim too. Besides, he is a scientist who contributed immensely in India's success in nuclear and space research in the same fashion as Javed Mamoo wished over three decades ago.

Many things have changed since but many more need to be changed. Recently there have been many attacks from Muslim mobs on the teams of doctors and social workers of the polio eradication teams visiting rural areas around Bareilly. After spread of the rumors that the polio vaccine will make their children impotent, illiterate Muslim mobs have started attacking anyone who talks about eradication of polio. The Muslim leaders have yet to come forward to let the community know the reality.

Finally, the train arrived at Bareilly. My cousin was present at the station to receive me. I was glad to see him. We hugged each other after three decades. He brought his five-year-old with him who looked exactly how my cousin looked when I last saw him.

Everything looked different in the area where I lived. It was difficult to recognize the place. Nothing around me reminded me of the old neighborhood I left behind 30 years ago. The Khandsal was out of business. It was replaced by a new building. My cousin told me that this building was bought by Javed Mamoo where he runs a flour mill. He still owns a grocery shop which is much bigger, better and modern compared to the small one where I had my Urdu lessons.

I started walking towards the mill. By the time I saw Javed Mamoo, my cousin told me many things about him. He told me that Javed Mamoo is sponsoring books for two students for almost thirty years. Around 20 years ago, when a Muslim crowd threatened to burn the Hindu shops after a stray stone hit the Muharram procession, he stood up before the rioters and challenged them to burn his shop before destroying any Hindu property. Later he explained to everyone that riot, loot or arson is the raw material for hatred which ultimately destroys all of us without distinguishing between a Hindu and a Muslim. The crowd listened to him and the area had not seen any communal tension since. His son recently completed medicine and currently runs a clinic in a small village to serve rural poor, after declining an attractive offer from a Delhi-based star hospital.

 Javed Mamoo’s old pair of eyes did not take too much time to recognize me.
“Oh my, I can’t believe, this is Bubble, my Hindi teacher!” he slowly turned his old body towards me with familiar smile.

He opened his fragile arms, “O my old friend, come near so that I can see you well”. Tears started flowing through his eyes when I bent to touch his feet.

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