Zainab adjusted her hijjab and kneeled down to seek blessings. Once the forehead touched the ground, it gave away the air of being someone. Prostration made her believe, she was nothing and no one to help the dismayed soul. Allah, the propeller of darkness, would give his verdict soon. She would be only instrumental in delivering the testimony. The cold earth beneath, wiped the beads of perspiration, absorbing the heat and granting relief. Mother earth-all giving!
Mothers are epitomes of sacrifice and a triumphant of success over trials. Then how could a mother do something unbelievable and paste a blob on motherhood? At the shrine, such questions crammed her otherwise metallic mind.
She could go weak and frugal here, no judgements were made. The bowing down, gave a strength that none of the risings could empower.
The bus was waiting, and she had to press an ascend nearing it. The honking reminded her of a higher calling, towards which she had to take the route to Lahore. This time, with open skyward palms, Zainab picked herself up and made her way to the call of the horns. The metal banging stopped, and the conductor cursed some expletives under his breath, yet allowing the Bohra lady to enter the bus. Jostling in the jerky ride, the plumb corn fields waved Zainab a goodbye and wished her a great indagation. The dusty lanes saw the retracting bus, wave off unsteadily, sometimes even on two wheels.
“Ammi, I can’t find my gudiya. Where have you buried it?” Little Sunni jumped frivolously, in a bid to find her friend of solitude. Blaming mothers for all your losses was customarily compulsory, for they bear the onus of certain discipline, and order in our lives.
“Shehzadi, take this, here is your gudiya. How can I ever misplace it? Knowing the flutter in your heart for this spongy object, how can I afford to lose it?”
Ammi’s explanation had no ears to it, as Sunni had already left to pamper her gudiya, for soon it was going to be her nikah.
Fresh leaves of henna were grinded. Motif dupatta with golden zari border was set. Sheer kurma topped with best kesar strands from the Lahore market, made its way through the guests’ nostrils, drawing a smile across their face.
Half the mohalla was invited to grace the occasion of gudiya’s nikah.
Gudiya’s nikah was like Ammi preparing herself for that one big day when Sunni would say, ‘Kabul hai ’. There were many untouched things to be done, to sail her Sunni to other shores. But one important preparation, Ammi believed to be necessary for Sunni’s nikah had to be done now. At seven years, unawares of Ammi’s plans, Sunni too dreamt of her knight under the sera galloping towards her on a brown mare. The motif dupatta adorned her head before settling itself on gudiya. The zari border rustled between Sunni’s fingers before it fell alongside the doll. Gudiya’s nikah was Sunni’s rehearsal of her own D-Day.
All being good, the only wish Sunni made was that someday she could see herself in the mirror. The veil of darkness be lifted, and there be light in her fairytale world. The innocent hazelnut eyes could never see the magic the sunrays did to them, by falling obliquely on its beholder.
Two poles operated in the Rangoonwala household, Sunni with the celebrations and Ammi with the preparations. The wedding preparations was a small victory for Ammi, as Sunni scared of veds and doctors had finally agreed to visit doctor sahiba post the nikah celebrations.
Why? When? How?
According to Ammi, such trivial questions bore no standing in the heart of faith.
Parents understand the need of their children more than they themselves do; Ammi understood this as discipline over authoritative behaviour. After all, neither the cat bit her kittens while clasping them in her jaws, nor does the hawk poke its chicks while pushing them for a higher flight.
“Ammi, gudiya is ready. When will be the groom arriving?” Sunni’s impatience broke Ammi’s reverie. Stirring the sheer kurma for one last time, Ammi escalated her way to dance with Sunni’s teeny-weeny baraatis.
The first day of Ramadan was selected by Ammi for this auspicious visit to the doctor sahiba. Sunni was about to undergo one of the purest fitra mentioned in the hadith literature, so the day too had to be sublime in its own way.
Dressed like gudiya, Sunni walked hand in hand with Ammi first to the Masjjid to offer morning namaz, and then to doctor sahiba’s clinic. Her long, straight, silky tresses danced, as the mother-daughter procession meandered their way through the curvy lanes. With a sprint in their legs, one Rangoonwala pole prayed for a safe fitra while the other rejoiced in the red colour applied to her pink lips, even though it was Ramadan. Only Ammi knew the secret of the beetroot doing wonders to fool a blind, bubbly child.
The procession-Sunni’s corporal dancing and Ammi’s mental singing; halted at the doors of Noor Jahan Nursing Home. Dr.Nushrat Ali better known as doctor sahiba, welcomed the swinging duo with the most cordial smile.
Sunni stopped her celebration the moment, the strong phenyl odour irritated her olfactory receptors. As instructed by Ammi, she had to be her best self. Though Sunni couldn’t see the chubby baby poster dangling precariously on the wall, she kept smiling aimlessly at it as if a dialogue transpired between the two. Both had eyes without sight and will without power.
“Sunni beta, there will be a small pinprick and then you will be Allah’s blessed child.” Doctor sahiba escorted Sunni to a compact operation theatre. Her fingers still intertwined with those of Ammi, refused to part ways; yet Ammi loosened the grip, and let her fairy trail off amicably.
Dressed for the fitra, Sunni went stiff on the operation table. The smile faded and a bitter frown surfaced, when the assistants changed her into an apron. Grumpily, she stood rigid not allowing any co-operative movements, to submerge with the hospital’s procedure. Forcibly, the adamant child had to be placed on the steel stretcher.
And then a horrendous shrill echoed the Noor Jahan Nursing Home.
The baby frame dropped off from the loose hook. Pigeons fluttered from the roof of the Masjjid, some taking a flight into the open sky, directionless and aimless. The evening call for namaz tried to pacify the panicked air, and its elements.
After a brief span of time Sunni limped back home, with Ammi trying to form a tight grip with Sunni’s slack fingers. The grip somehow never tightened, and the slack fingers only gained strength later to point at its offender.
Zainab got down from the turbulent ride, and made her way through the tumultuous crowd gathered for Eid ul-Fitr at the Badshahi Masjjid.
Chirpy children ran forming chains of assurance to each other. Bohra women clad in passably embroidered blouses and skirts chatted animatedly, with frequent stern glances to their naughty toddlers. Men adjusted the white caps and spoke subtle business to their acquaintances. The vendors sang in glory of their delicacies, while the aromas of the savouries wafted to their tunes.
The air, proud of its merriment, blew coolly over the setting sun. Zainab stood for a quiet moment in middle of the joyous atmosphere. Before her eyes, the sun vanished, regally swathed in brilliant arctic pink and violet and orange.
Her duty beckoned Zainab. A legal adviser from India had come to solve a family dispute, on request of the Maulavi. Family matters, be best resolved within the genial walls of the home. But here, Zainab had to visit two components divided by a wall, by an incident, by ignorance and even more by versions formed out of bout of pent up anger, remorse and bottled up emotions. May Allah Ta’lah, give me the wisdom to seam up the torn patches, she prayed intensely. The threads though old, waited reunions, even if it meant for some time.
“I was cheated, betrayed and ousted by my own mother!” Sunni cried accusations.
“What was my fault, when I all of seven was forced to follow this fitra? I need justice, and only justice can sooth my burning soul.” Zainab expected Sunni to break down but the newly- wed, twenty year old only banged her fist aggressively on the table that separated the two of them. So powerful was the jolt, that it brought a nearby vase crumbling down to the floor. SHATTERED!
Zainab pushing aside her chair, tried picking up the broken, scattered chinaware.
“No use.” Sunni’s clamorous command shook Zainab.
“Absolutely, no use in mending them; the damage is irrevocable.” The command, impertinent and obsolete, made Zainab raise herself and look beyond the damaged situation.
Settling again in her position, Zainab offered Sunni a glass of water, who stared blankly at the portrait of a wolf staring back with bloodshot eyes, hanging firmly on the cream wall. This time no conversation happening, only a resolution of revenge.
“Sunni, I need to know the full story before I can even try mending the loss. I deserve a true version of your turmoil.” Zainab spoke probing into Sunni’s now cavernous eyes, in quest for light.
The call for evening prayer echoed through the Rangoonwala mansion. But the two ladies stayed glued to their seats, for a noteworthy redemption was to begin.
“This house has been built by my Abba, in the memory of his late mother Shaukat Begum.” Sunni chose to spoke of her father first whom she had never felt, but only heard in the memories of her mother.
“Every brick and stone here took care of a little blind girl, who never once was hurt or cornered by a nook. The walls impervious, allowed her buoyant run while the floor embraced her wild jump. Being visionless never prevented her, from beholding the ecstasy of nature in her sight. The flowers minded their thorns, when her nose fiddled for a spray of scent, while the earth swallowed its pebbles lest they struck her bare feet. So cautious was her world, that doubt, fear, mistrust were dinosaurs of another era.”
Only if she could relive the smile with the golden memories, thought Zainab.
“Anyways..” Sunni continued, as Zainab sighed silently. How Zainab’s warm exhalation on Sunni’s folded palms indicated her to continue, was a question even the real world dinosaurs could never answer.
“It was the first day of Ramadan, precisely fourteen years back. Gudiya’s nikah celebrations had just ended, and Ammi had left no stone unturned, to add the zeal to the pomp. Ammi..” Sunni paused.
She looked at the ant climbing up her leg, shrugging the crawling sensation, she again looked up and continued firmly, “Mumtaz Begum, my Abba’s wife and so my mother had kept the spirit of the wedding high. On the pretext of receiving Allah’s blessing, I was taken to doctor sahiba’s clinic. The nurses forcibly changed me to a loose apron. Around three to four, sorry precisely four distinct voices floated around me. I was made to lie down with folded legs, kept wide apart. I refused to do so, as Ammi had always influenced me that, virtuous girls never sat or slept with their legs wide apart. Yet again with force they achieved the unachievable. And then…” with a deep inhalation and shut eyes she exploded,
“They PUNCTURED my insides; a part which till then never existed for me, oozed agonies of betrayal. In minutes, the pain died down but the memories continued to haunt. Why was my pleasure taken away? Why was my clitoris chopped off?” a puddle of welled up tears gave away. Sunni wept inconsolably, hiding her face behind her cupped palms.
Zainab couldn’t see light. Recalling her own khafz, she denied having any bitter memories. Then what so heinous had happened with Sunni, that she had filed a case of female genital mutilation, on her own biological mother? A nick on the clitoris leading to circumcision, couldn’t aggravate this storm?
There was more to it. She had to be patient till the spark died down.
The sobs were now feeble Zainab thought it was best now to probe further.
“How can you make such a claim? How can you cry mutilation?” Zainab vouched for her own belief.
Wiping off the dribbling offenders, “I cannot feel anything. Orgasm is a dream of distant shores. My matrimonial bed is a circus of mawkish moves. I’m the clown of entertainment, sitting dejected beneath the mask of fallacy. My rights over my body have been violated!” Sunni spoke agitatedly, she almost screamed on Zainab’s face.
The spit flew and landed on Zainab’s forehead.
Clearing off the aggression, Zainab backed off for the moment. Thinking it wise to let the flames cool off on themselves, she walked out for fresh air.
The star lit sky was serene and tranquil. She bathed in the quaint moment.
Each star meant only to light up paths; paths you choose, then why blame the stars? Each religion meant to propel darkness, written in the benefit of man and woman alike, then why blame its practitioners? But these were only her thoughts, why force on people?
“Beta, did you eat anything?” a soothing voice brought her to the present. A lady in her sixties stood welcoming Zainab, from the rim of an open door to the hallway. Smiling back and walking towards her, “Salam Valekum,” Zainab greeted the lady.
“Valekum Salaam, I am Sunni’s Ammi,” came, the obvious reply. The lady eager to tell her story, revealed her identity without inhibitions. No name, no place, only a relationship identifies mother, thought Zainab.
“So happy to see you. I’m…” Before Zainab could complete,
“I know you are Advocate Zainab. I’m even more happy to see you, for I wish to see my Sunni happiest.” Ammi interjected.
Her eagerness compelled Zainab to sit down for a session, which she had planned to do the next day. But the core was soft and it would ooze only the limpid version, and nothing else.
“The Beneficent Allah is my witness, and I have never inflicted any pain on my shehzadi. A hiccup in her throat brings tears to my eyes. A thorn in her leg bleeds my heart. How can I mutilate her flesh?” Ammi spoke amidst the brine tears.
In the sky, the stars twinkled but never did they fade to misguide their seeker. A cool breeze squandered its existence for this gust of storm would engulf its identity.
Ammi continued, ears or no ears, she had a bagful of turmoil to empty. “Tell me Zainab, do parents ask their children before they feed the first morsel? Do parents bow down to a rebellious toddler who refuses to take his first step to the Montessori? Do they seek permission from their charge, before teaching them to kneel down for namaz, then why the commotion over khafz?” Ammi couldn’t testify her act more. She only knew she was right.
Zainab had to take her time out.
“Sunnah, the behaviour and words of Prophet Mohammad is simple and yet difficult, contradictory and controversial if you make it. Khafz, a form of female circumcision is practised as equivalently as khatna– a form of male circumcision. Though the West calls for liberation of Islamic women, truth is that Muslim women have been liberated under Islamic Rule. As Allah says, ‘And in no wise covet those things in which Allah Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of His bounty.’ Khafz, a fitra set by Islam is a mere nick given on the hood of the clitoris, and not a removal or mutilation of it. It is meant for a clean, heightened sexual life, and not curbing any individual’s sexual rights.” Zainab read out from her research papers, complied by burning the midnight lamp.
“This cannot be true. You are sold!” Sunni suspected foul play.
Patiently, without reacting to the accusation, Zainab continued, “What violated your rights is not the practises of Islam but that of Dr. Nushrat Ali, who a learned orthodox, misunderstood the Sunnah. Belonging to a sect that believes Khafz was meant to keep women under control and not pollute their soul with bodily desires; your offender is the dead Dr. Nushrat Ali, and not your mother.”
Bringing the confronting poles together was a task for Zainab. Like a whistling referee, she had chosen to intervene, this delicate matter without legal nuances. She handed over the partly mutilated surgical notes of Noor Jahan Nursing Home to Sunni. How she had procured these evidences, was not the need of the hour. What needed to be cleared was a whirlpool of assumptions, and mutilated versions.
This time again, she took her time out. Walking through the alley behind the mansion, Zainab found a spongy doll dressed in a ripped zari bordered motif dupatta.
Wish gudiya understood the real essence of relationships, before she walked the aisle to the matrimonial altar, Zainab mused, picking up the dishevelled doll. But it was never too late.
The evening call for prayer rang according with her views. Turning to her right, at the Badshahi Masjjid, Zainab kneeled down, and touched the ground to seek absolution; if at all the case was mutilated.
The bus ride, however, bumpy and traumatic, had to be taken for many more versions awaited her intervention.
Author’s Note: This is a fictional piece based on the letter written by Masooma Ranalvi to the Prime minister of India to call a ban on female circumcision performed on Dawoodi Bohra girls.(dated August 19,2017, published in the Indian Express.)
Sunni’s character is inspired by Masooma’s version whereas Zainab’s character is inspired by Samina Kanchwala(DBWRF Secretary) version in The Hindu (dated 24th sept 2018).
The author has no political or social offence to any religious community and she prefers living in absolute harmony with all sections of the society. If by any means her words have offended the readers, she seeks absolution with folded hands. Apart from the internet, the author has interviewed five Dawoodi Bohra women for their experience and views on khafz.
Fitra: five deeds of circumcision, shaving pubic hair, clipping the nails, plucking the armpit hairs and trimming the mustache.
Hadith: record of traditions or sayings of Prophet Muhammed
Maulavi: Muslim religious scholars.
Eid ul fitr: religious holiday celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of month long fast.
Hijjab: head covering worn in public by some Muslim women
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