The Politically Correct Coward

The dead screen of my old Nokia phone sprang to life as my rather annoying ring tone pierced the silence of the empty auditorium. I ignored it.

Ba Dum TSS

Another beep. My 6-year-old niece had set this tone when she was visiting me with her Mama. I kept the tune because it reminded me of her and made me smile. I am a sentimental fool. I often wonder if my students have any idea how ordinary a person I am. They idolize me for my radical philosophies. Little do they know, I only play a part, since impressing them is my job. The other day, I heard one of the boys comparing me to Iron Man. I have no such delusions. At the most, I am Groot — the little one!

The phone stopped buzzing. Safe to handle, I thought. A few missed calls and two messages from the same number! I opened one of them.

“Your short story has won second prize. Congratulations! Time to celebrate. PBS.”

PBS was my editor-cum-publisher. I should be dancing joyously for my huge accomplishment — international recognition and an actual prize! I tried to smile but my cemented jaws did not permit me that indulgence. The spacious hall felt claustrophobic. I pocketed my phone, hung my bag, and left the lecture hall.

I needed fresh air. I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus. I retrieved the manuscript of my story from my satchel. I had been carrying this copy with me since the past seven years. PBS got his hands on it just a year ago. Before that, it had visited the desks of at least 50 different publishers. At one time, my friends used to joke that every publisher in America must have read and rejected my story at least once in their career.

“What is the most common interview question for an editor/publisher’s job in America?” one of my comrades told this joke on every gathering.

“What?”

“Have you rejected Khizer Hassan’s story? And if the applicant’s reply is in the affirmative, they hire him on the spot.” My friends are jerks!

I glanced at the loosely bound white sheets, heavily edited by PBS. I read one particularly red paragraph.

The h̶a̶z̶e̶l̶ colored eyes of the little boy were devoid of all emotion except for hatred. The abhorrence was a reflection from the weapon pointing at his chest. The P̶a̶l̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶i̶a̶n̶ boy had acknowledged defeat. ‘Perfect’, thought the war photographer as he captured the expression in his camera. It was art, for which he will win many awards.”

I looked away in disgust. My cellphone was now ringing incessantly. Congratulations were pouring in. “Finally! =P,” my clown of a friend had texted. I put it on silent mode. I forced myself to look at another paragraph.

The woman was begging them to spare her. Yet, their hateful lust was not familiar with mercy. T̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶p̶u̶l̶l̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶a̶d̶s̶c̶a̶r̶f̶,̶ ̶l̶a̶u̶g̶h̶i̶n̶g̶…”

There was no other mention of the character’s ethnicity/religion in that part and so there were no other edits either. My house was only a few strides away. I decided to stop at the nearby café for a cup of coffee. As I went through the rest of the story, sipping my scalding espresso, I registered various replaced, marked, and deleted words. I̶s̶l̶a̶m̶,̶ ̶M̶u̶s̶l̶i̶m̶s̶,̶ ̶F̶a̶i̶t̶h̶,̶ ̶P̶a̶l̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶e̶,̶ ̶R̶o̶h̶i̶n̶g̶y̶a̶,̶ ̶K̶a̶s̶h̶m̶i̶r̶,̶ ̶I̶s̶l̶a̶m̶o̶p̶h̶o̶b̶i̶a̶, so on and so forth.

PBS had cleansed it thoroughly. There was not even a shadow left of the context I wrote it in. I recalled my meeting with him. I was visiting my sister in the States when he had called me. He needed to discuss the story with me.

“Khizer,” he had said, “Great literature is never specific. Reach out to everyone.”

“That will just murder my perspective,” I had protested, “The pleas of my people will drown in the sea of this generalization.”

This offended him. In those 6 years, he was the only one to recognize the potential in my tale. I didn’t want to tickle him the wrong way. Yet, I couldn’t stop feeling that he missed the whole point of my work.

“Everyone has rejected your story,” he said. “Because of its political incorrectness. Stick to your stubbornness and you can spend the rest of your life with this manuscript dangling at your side.”

He hurled the pages towards me, gesturing for me to leave.

When I reached the door, he added, “Or you can always publish it with any of your local publishers.” He sniggered and lighted a cigar.

I can’t say if his demeaning behavior made me do it or my desperation to see the work of my life in print, but next day I submitted the story to him.

“Publish it,” I told him and he beamed with victory.

“Keep the edits,” I added in a small voice, rather unnecessarily. He returned me the battered manuscript. He had a soft copy.

I was home now. I found the published version of the story and read the heart wrenching tale. I could tell that every mother reading it will shed tears at the little boy’s death. Every mother, I thought, Muslim, American, Israelite, Indian… I pictured how the rape of the innocent woman will break everyone’s heart into a million pieces. The suffering of humanity will move them. They will tell each other what a touching story this Asian guy has penned. “So relatable, given the current situation of the world,” one of them would say, imagining the atrocities their race might be facing. “So true,” their friend would reply thinking of their own pains.

Nobody will grasp my side of the story. Being politically correct has robbed me of my opinion. I know it’s a nice a story but not the one I wanted to tell.


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, entities, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Originally Published at Medium for our WringoInk Project

Genre, Current Events.

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A Perfect Sphere—WringoInk

“Not another triangle”, her mother scowled. The old woman was trying hard to control her anger but was clearly failing at it.

“It tastes perfectly alright”, Zebo protested in a small voice.

“Perfectly?”, her mother’s tone was extremely sarcastic, “Don’t you dare defend this misshapen piece of bread in front of me.” She exhaled and added somewhat sadly, “Girl you are not going to get married easily.”

Zebo knew there was no point in arguing anymore. Her mother’s honey-brown eyes were flashing with anger. She glanced at the grandfather clock that stood in the kitchen. It was 1:30 P.M. Abba would be here any minute, she thought. She grabbed her dupatta, which was hanging on the knob of the kitchen door, and covered herself. She left for her room as Amma stood up from her favorite chair. She would make a new one for Abba, she thought, it would be a perfect sphere.

Zoobia Shahid was among the brightest students in her class. The 14-year-old had only recently learned that world was elliptical. Copernicus and Galileo had faced quite a handful of troubles before the perfectionists finally came to terms with the fact that their beloved earth was not a perfect circle. She didn’t know what kind of sacrifice she would have to make for her parents to appreciate her truly.

“The girl has exceptional talent with words”, her language teachers would tell her parents on every parent-teacher meeting at school. While her Abba looked proud about it, Amman would only frown.

“Let’s go talk to her Home Economics teacher”, she would tell him. Zebo dreaded that very moment since she knew that teacher Zulaikhan would tell her parents about all her mischiefs.

“She shouldn’t be called a girl”, Ms. Zulaikhan would start. Her Abba would look annoyed about it but her Amma would only nod her head in a gesture of understanding and sympathy.

“She is the perfect definition of the word disaster”, her teacher would resume the chiding, “She had cut herself more times while peeling vegetables in the class than politicians tell lies in their entire lifetimes. Recently, she reached new heights after she accidentally set fire to the tablecloth on which she was working. You have no idea what a nightmare it was!”

Her mother would add snippets of her sins too. “She broke a dozen eggs before coming here…”, “You should see what a mess her room is…” and “One day she was playing with her younger brother. This girl had the nerve of using the cover of my new hot pot as a shield while she pretended to safeguard some imaginary kingdom with the rolling pin…”

“Oh, I can totally imagine the horror”, her teacher would gasp in a dramatic way. After a while, they would get bored of talking about Zebo. Then one of them would comment on some fine stitch on the other’s dress and they would enter a fantasy world of their own.

“Women”, Zebo and her father would sigh simultaneously.

Then there was the Rishta parade. Zebo was 100% successful in crushing yet another dream of her mother. The girl had effectively been rejected by a dozen rishrawalas. She deserved bonus points for being rejected for different reasons every single time. Her most popular tactics included revealing to the guests that the amazingly delicious delicacies were not prepared by her as opposed to the claims made by her Amman, sitting improperly, laughing too loudly, and bragging that she could twist her left thumb into an abnormal position. Once she had even told the potential groom’s mother that she might be at the risk of developing breast cancer because of family history. Her Amman had only one breast.

“What’s in the other cup then”, the aunty had asked her jokingly. Zebo had looked at her mother who was glaring at her from the adjacent sofa. “Probably some weapon of mass destruction to destroy my existence”, she had replied.


“There is no way to domesticate this wildflower”, her mother would often say and smile. Apparently, she was wrong because her death did the trick. Her Amman’s other breast had cancerous cells too. However, they were incurable being at the last stage.

Zebo is now a mother of two. You would never find a sphere more perfect in the world than the Rotis she cooks.

Originally published on Medium

Category ‘Young Adult’, Story 2

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The Secret Passageway

Jahandad Balkhi was wise beyond the few years of his existence in this temporary world. He was blessed with an element of mystique, which his disciples linked with his spiritual history. He belonged to a family of Sufis. If rumours were to be believed, Jahandad was 100 years old in reality, out of which only 25 years belonged to this world. He had spent the rest of his existence exploring the secrets of the permanent world — the one that preceded and succeeded this sojourn of a few moments.

Ever since his birth, Jahandad had received divine guidance in his dreams. Initially, the situation had terrified his mother as he could not narrate to her the subject of his reverie. Being a mother, she could sense the disturbance he was put through in his sleep.

Zulaikhan Bibi was a single mother as her husband had selfishly decided to die right after impregnating her with his seeds of fertility. Therefore, she had learnt to rely on her father for guidance in almost every matter. Baba Jan was after all a spiritual man as well as a figure of authority. Known to everyone else in the vicinity as Sufi sahib, he had the wisdom and knowledge to figure out the solution to every problem. She turned to him for Jahandad’s condition as well.

“My beloved daughter,”, his father had said, “You may not know but Jahandad’s paternal grandfather used to worship Ahura Mazda — the wise lord in Zoroastrianism but he had converted to Islam after his 40th birthday. He had received a sign and as a result of it, he had migrated from Iran to Balkh in Afghanistan.”

“You mean here?”, asked Zulaikhan. She adored her father. His company soothed her as she felt a calming energy engulfing her. She could believe the most unbelievable as long as it was uttered by Baba Jan.

“Your father-in-law was a spiritual man as well,”, Baba Jan informed her, “Mystique never vanishes, dear, it just moves from one vessel to another.”

“Jahandad is a vessel? My son is a vessel?”, She asked agitated, “What is he carrying?”

“That is for him to find. It is none of your concern.”

The meeting was over.


“Ma, the baby wants to tell me something but before it could, my dream ends.” Jahandad was not a baby anymore but his dreams were as disturbing as ever.

“This is somehow related to your stature, Beta. Your wisdom and spirituality create the most eloquent language I had ever heard. It is as if a supreme power is communicating through you.”

“Ma, I want it to stop controlling me.”

“Do not be ungrateful, my child. It is a rare gift.” The answer had never been able to satisfy him and it did no good this time either.

On Jahandad’s 25th birthday, Baba Jan requested Zulaikhan to shift from her humble abode to his Haveli — the place where she had spent her childhood. Jahandad’s two maternal grandmothers — Sufi Sahab had married twice — were to ensure that their stay was lavish and comfortable — a task they kept failing at but not because of lack of trying. It was only that Jahandad remained restless throughout his visit as he had a feeling of being haunted at the Haveli.

The two women from the Haveli were entirely different from each other. While Nano — Zulaikhan’s real mother was an ordinary looking woman with simple tastes, Bebe — the stepmother was a different story altogether. She possessed otherworldly beauty and was a woman of wit. Yet, the villagers claimed that she had lost it when her son was murdered at the tender age of 14.

For Jahandad, his uncle was just a character from Baba Jan’s narrative of the incident. It had happened before he was born and he had not even seen any picture of his uncle. Bebe had burnt every single photograph for some reason. Moreover, his mother could not tell him anything about his uncle either because she did not remember him at all. She was only 13 when the incident had happened. Jahandad had found it curious but there was nothing he could do about it since he was never provided with a straightforward answer on this topic.

Each night that he spent at the Haveli only brought greater discomfort to him. Then one night, the matter was resolved.

“Ma, Ma”, Jahandad woke up in the middle of the night. He was sweating profusely. Zulaikhan was confused. She could sense that the situation was graver than usual.

“Ma, the baby…” his voice was incoherent. “Ma, the baby was innocent… It was not his mistake, Ma.”

“Bete, what are you even blabbering about. There is no baby.” It only made her son more vehement in his claims that the poor baby was not at fault.

She knew she must take her son to Baba Jan but the west wing was too far away from where they were staying. She looked helplessly at his son who seemed to be possessed by a passionate frenzy that had made him raving mad. In her desperation, she remembered the shortcut…

“Come on, son”, she was dragging Jahandad now, “I know the secret pathway.”

Suddenly Jahandad was very still and then he asked her, his voice merely a ghost’s whisper, “Ma, who had told you about the secret pathway?”

“Why? Your uncle!” came the reply.

“So now you remember him?”

She looked stunned. Finally, she remembered… him… and everything else.

“Ma, the baby was innocent!”

Zulaikhan could see her world collapse right in front of her eyes as one session after another with Baba Jan played in her memory.

“You are being married to — ” Zulaikhan could see herself sitting across his father, clad in a bridal dress but there was no groom. Why was her belly so swollen, she was only 13…

Another scene came…

“Your husband is dead”, Baba Jan was telling her but the husband in question had never existed.

“Why is Bebe always worshipping Ahura Mazda? Who is he, Baba? Is he scary?”7-year-old Zulaikhan emerged in her memory.

“I will kill you, you rascal”, it was Baba Jan’s voice but different. It was scary and profane — the two things he never was! This time it was not his room and there were no sessions in progress but it was the secret passage way-her stepbrother had discovered for his secret activities.

Zulaikhan turned towards his son. There were no more memories left. Jahandad smiled at his mother. He knew that he was even worse than a bastard — the creation of incest!

 

This post was originally published on Medium

To Play or not to Play! Week 4, WRNGO—2017

  All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
—As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

Hello everyone!

Here I am with this week’s report on our WRINGO challenge. Our 4th week was unfortunately a bit low on production—but only in terms of quantity. The quality, my dear friends, is as good as always.

It was because of some unforeseeable circumstances that two of our writers failed to produce their share of  writing but the other three had definitely attempted to make Shakespeare proud (that is a bit far-fetched, I know).

William_Shakespeare..jpg
William Shakespeare, while devising ways to kill off each of his remotely likeable character in a story

Shakespeare devising ways to kill off every single remotely likeable character of his story.

My continuous references to the Bard is not because the genre for this week was poetry! It was the second toughest thing in the world of literature—we had to write plays and that also in a word limit of 300 to 1000. Who makes such ridiculous rules, right? Ok we do!

Anyways here are the three plays that were submitted and it was definitely our first attempt at writing a play. I, for one, was scared out of my wits and had almost skipped this  round but then my love fro writing talked me into doing this experiment anyway. Go on, lovely people, read these to have some good time:

Play 1: A Planned Coincidence

When a South Asian decides to get married, he does not only require the consent of the girl but also her parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbours?, and any stranger happening to be in vicinity. On the other hand are the problems faced by South Asian women—is it necessary that I marry the first person accepted by my family ? or is it necessary that I marry ?

These desi social problems are explored by the writers in this one short scene.

Play 2: Her and the Cat

When does a person just stop pretending to be happy? For how long can you fight a society that is not willing to accept you ? What happens when loneliness takes over?

Read this saddening story of a woman and her cat.

Play 3: Murder: A Thoughtless Guide To Taking Lives

A heavy satire on politics of the world. When chaos and motives mingle what are the results? This is a must read play with interesting characters such as Putin, Obama, Nawaz Sharif, Kiera Knightley, Imran Khan, Trump and some more.

Here is an excerpt from the play that will definitely catch your attention:

The Universe is a great establisher. It creates and enforces balance on its own. Our decisions here, the terrible ones we’ve made, the crazy ones we should have made, and the right ones we’ve avoided… out fear… uncertainty… or cowardice…have unbalanced the scales. They have taken their toll on time.

This is all from this week. For the next week, brace yourself for even more variety. We got a free space and each writer is free to follow their desires. I am excited already and I bet so are you. Why don’t you check out out previous work ?

If you are looking to read some great plays by other than Shakespeare then try these two that I simply adore—Pygmalion by G.B.Shaw and The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

Also do not forget to check our amazing Facebook page.

Ciao till next week. Happy Reading!