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March 28th, 2006

26 th March 2006


This evening, Aga Mustafa and some of his relatives and friends are going to Mira Road. The aim is to go for the closing customs of the month of Moharram, but Aga’s special interest is in eating the khichda (a Muslim speciality made of lentils and tenderized mutton). He has readied himself for the picnic (though he does not overtly call it picnic). He has packed plates, lime pieces, a bottle of Pepsi, his RSP Scout whistle, his cap and spoons – ready to feast!


I meet Aga’s nephew Ghulam, another mad Irani man. He calls me zaani (girl). Today’s post is about Ghulam’s wife Aaliya.


A white Maruti van is ready to take us to Mira Road (on the outskirts of Mumbai, under the jurisdiction of Mira-Bhayendar municipality).

I step inside the van. A woman with a chadar (a type of veil worn by Muslim women) is sitting in the corner, a little snuggled. She looks at me a little curiously. I smile at her.

As the car begins to move, she asks Mustafa whether I am his relative. Mustafa asks me to explain myself to her. I tell her what I do.

Aaliya is all of twenty-three. But if I look at her, I think she is thirty-five.

“I had a perfect figure when I married him (she does not call Ghulam by his name). I was thin, even though I was an avid rice eater (rice associated with starch which leads some people to put on weight). Then I delivered Azeeze (their two and half year old daughter) and I lost my figure. I put on a lot of weight.”

“Don’t you want another child,” I asked her.

“Her father says we should have one more child. But I told him that I will conceive another baby only after I have regained my figure. I therefore want to join a gym.”


Aaliya was about nineteen when she was married to Ghulam. She says she was in the ninth standard when the marriage took place and hence, she has not completed schooling. Aaliya clearly says that she is from Lucknow while Ghulam is from Iran. Aaliya does not know Persian but she says she is learning a little as she is getting used to the language in the house. At some point, Aaliya tells me, “You see, these Irani people don’t have brethren among them. Look at us Shias, we have so much of love between ourselves and our brothers.” I am not surprised by Aaliya’s words. The belief that Muslims are one homogenous community is as fallacious as saying that milk is red in colour. Among sub-communities within Muslims, there are tremendous antagonisms and prejudices against one another. And therefore, just as there cannot be a singular imagination of the Hindu, I think there cannot be a singular imagination of the Muslim.


I suddenly ask Aaliya, “What is the age difference between your husband and you?”

“What do you think?” she asks, smilingly.

I tell her I don’t know.

She responds, “He is forty years old now!”

I am shocked. I ask her, “Did you not know his age when you married him?”

“An Irani aunty brought the rishta (proposal) to my mother. At that time, they said to us that he is about thirty. It is only after I married him that I found out his real age. Earlier, when I was thin, he would say we look mismatched. Now that I have put on weight, he says I look ‘proper’. But I tell you, it happens that when your husband is so much older than the wife, the wife starts to look much older after a while.”


Aaliya’s maiden home is near the ghat , close to Bamkhana , around the Dongri neighbourhood. Aaliya was coming to Mira Road for the first time in her life. She was excited and pleased. She comes across as helpless and fearsome. “When I was young, I would never leave my mother and go out alone. I have never faced the world alone. And hence, today, I find it difficult to move out on my own.”


Aaliya has mixed feelings towards Ghulam. She finds him unhelpful. “I fell off from the train five to six months ago and twisted my foot. But look at this man, he has not taken me to a proper bonesetter as yet. I have asked him to look after Azeeze while I go to a bonesetter. He refuses to do that as well.” Today, Aaliya walks with a twist, limping her way forward.


Aaliya wants to learn how to drive a car. I tell her it is not very difficult. But when she puts up her case before Ghulam, he says, “There is so much traffic and it is dangerous to drive.” Clearly, he is evading her request. She argues back and after a while, he cares not to listen.


I look at Aaliya and she reminds me of my own mother who, at one time, was helpless before my father for little, little things. As for me, having seen the helplessness of my mother, I decided to go all out and confront the world. Today, while I have confronted aspects of the world, I have my own new set of fears about success, name and fame!


But let’s come back to Aaliya, Aaliya to who this post is tributed and attributed. I look at Aaliya and I come back to the city. It is said that the city is a space where people can explore freedom, where identity can be shed and you can mix into the sea of anonymity. Yet, I look at Aaliya and wonder about her and the city. Perhaps to her, the world outside of her house, outside of her identity, outside of her thoughts, perceptions and paradigms, is too dangerous to tread into/onto. There is a sea of unknown out there for Aaliya, too dangerous and too difficult. As we head back to the place where the car is parked in order to get back home, Aaliya smirks and tells me, “Look at my husband. He is walking away to glory, without bothering and caring to see whether his wife is following him or not. Would he look for me if I went away? Maybe someday I will leave him and go!” In my own mind, I smile as I hear these words. They have been words I have heard from my mother till about some years ago. And now, I hear them from Aaliya.


Helplessness, anxiety, anguish, and yet, living.

What do I call this?

Multiple city worlds, worlds that we have not tread into, so I speak here!

I say bye to Aaliya as I step out of the car, heading back home. She says, “Bye. I will remember this time we spent together!”






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