Sunday, April 12, 2009


Somewhere around 1987
"The seconds hand ticked away passing cross 2:23 am of night. There was an abominable lull around when some footsteps tried to break it through. A bag in hand, footsteps as silent as the lull emerged through the darkness with a veil as dark as darkness concealing the light within. The door was unbolted and the footsteps now had the liberty to make noise on the newly built asphalt road of Sonamura, a tiny town of Tripura. Aliyah hurried her footsteps near the street corner at the local chowk to prevent any unwanted encounters and turned to catch that one last glimpse of the house that crafted her childhood."

'Umar, go and bring me a kg of sugar.' Umar's mother screamed from the kitchen.

'Umar, are you even listening?' The pitch of the voice increased and shook the man-in-need from his visibly mesmerizing concentration spell.

'Yes Ma!' Umar screamed in his partially occupied voice.

'Go get a kg of sugar and don't loiter around unnecessary. Plenty of studies to be completed.'

The 15 years old lad got up, hiding the second-hand book with its yellow pages and tattered cover beneath the bundle of the newspapers. If his mother knew about his hobby of reading novels hidden inside his course books, all his novels would be metamorphosed into a heap of ash in a single second. He took a jute bag in his hand and went to fulfill his mother wishes - of bringing her a kg of sugar.

'What would have prompted Aliyah to leave her home? Was she an orphan? Were her guardians mistreating her? Was she eloping with someone? What would happen...will she be able to escape?' Questions encompassing diverse possibilities piqued his thoughts during his short journey to the market. Five minutes of pondering and he was back with a kg of sugar, enthusiastically ready to carry on with his novel.

He searched for the bundle of newspapers. Oh! They were not present. He searched frantically around everywhere in the room but he could not trace even a single bit of it.

'Ma, what happened to the papers - the newspapers?' Umar was confused.

'I sold it. The whole bundle. The paperwala gave 30 rupees for that - 4.5 kilos in total.' Umar's mother reassured him with a smile.

Woah! Umar was frenzied. He could not even react in front of his Ma, since it would make his secret hobby quite obvious and attract fatal beatings. And regarding the book, the only thing he remembered other than its thickness and the shade of the yellow pages it contained, was the name of the author - Tareeq Habeeb, which was mentioned after the acknowledgments in the beginning of the novel. The tattered cover and the withered initial few pages being the reason for the misfortunes.

'Curse my luck! With 50 rupees a month as pocket money what more can I expect? A second-hand book in a condition a bit better than rags! And that too lost. Damn!' Umar was agitated.

Days passed, weeks passed, months passed. But the enigma of the story of Aliyah never left his mind. It had become his regular habit of going through every book at every book-store that came across him, in search of that long lost book of his. He found every other book written by Habeeb in the bookshop but Aliyah never turned up.

His nights would end up in predicting what might have happened to Aliyah and his day would begin with reasons why she left her home.

Somewhere around 2008

Months passed, years passed, decades past. School passed, college passed and now he was in job.
The 15 years old lad was now a well known journalist in 'The Chronicle'. His hobby of reading novels landed him in the career of writing. With occupation and preoccupation, his obsession with Aliyah was by now subdued, but his subconscious mind still traced back the reasons of her leaving the home. His habit of checking every book-store still persisted - less frequent though as he never found the same book.

One day, his boss came up to him and asked, 'There is a literary festival going on at the Sahitya Academy. This is the list of the authors I want you to take personal interviews. You need to be there in half an hour.'

He took the list and his eyes fell out of his skull with just a sight at the first name. Tareeq Habeeb it was. Memories of long forgotten Aliyah struck his mind with a great force. His obsession was renewed and that too with a new spirit. His only unfulfilled desire had been fulfilled.

Reaching the Sahitya Academy, Umar made himself comfortable in the green room where he was allotted just 15 minutes to interview the author Habeeb. Tareeq Habeeb - 92 years old with just one teeth surviving in his mouth and beautifully crafted wooden stick supporting his fragile body entered the green room. Umar stood in reverence and helped the author to place his bony body up on the chair. He was so thin that even a blow of air from mouth could shatter him into pieces.

'Hello Sir. It's a great pleasure meeting you. I have been intrigued by one of your novel for decades!' Umar began.

'Oh really! That's the first time I am receiving such a praise. I hope you have been intrigued in a positive sense.' He laughed in his jerky and wobbly style giving his body a full throttle shake.

'Definitely sir, I started one of your novels, I don't remember the title though but yeah I remember the character in it. It was Aliyah. She leaves her home at night and runs away. What a start sir, what a marvelous start! I had such a misfortune that I could not read more than one page of that novel of yours. I searched for that book around and around but I could not get that.'

'Oh that's The Death of Honour. That has not been quite successful at the market. Its sale dropped in the second month after publishing and I had to withdraw it back from the market.' Habeeb said with another of that saucy wobble.

'It had a wonderful start though! I would be grateful if you could tell me what happened later. I have been waiting for this day for decades. Please tell me the story of Aliyah...what happened to her?'

'Oh Aliyah! She was just a minor character in the novel. Actually, all that description of Aliyah was a part of the dream of the main character of the novel - Abdul. She had a role of just two pages until Abdul's dream finishes with the painful sound of his alarm clock.' Habeeb said with another wobble giving a full stop to his statement. It looked as if he was getting an electric shock. Umar was flabbergasted. He experienced another kind of shock - which does not shake oneself rather makes one static!

P.S. This interview ended with just the above conversation and Umar spoiled the subsequent Q-A sessions too. Umar's boss became really disappointed with his inefficiency. However, his disappointment took its time and vanished two months later when Umar Taufeeq's novel titled 'The Story of Aliyah' was nominated for the Man Bookers' Prize in 2009.

P.S. It's a total work of fiction.


aditi said...

good one!!
atleast it has a happy ending..!! :)

Mir Umar Rauf said...

yeah good one...:D
waise meine aajtak kabhi cheeni nai khareedi :P :D

Buzz said...

@Umar : Heh. I chose your name, because it's such a perfect name for an author.

Mir Umar Rauf said...

itsh jaasht phine mate!!! its an honour :):D

ameen said...

u told me this story in mumbai local...too good....

Sugandha said...

This isn't real, right? :| :P
Smart choice(s) with the names! Urdu names definitely have a certain literary angle to them, with a good touch of sanctity.
This story for me was like the novel that fascinated Umar but ended up being a disappointment, I loved the first half of it, the careful use of imagery and words taken together made it look like a classic. Not really so for the second half.
I love your short stories. There's something classic about them.