25th March, 1993
That morning, Bano gets up before the sun does without the alarm clock. Shekhar is still asleep, the twins burrowed under each of his armpits like little mouse-children. Really, the bed is too small for all four of them, but Kabir gets up every night and comes to their bed anyway, and if Kamal doesn't follow him in the next five minutes, then he goes back and wakes his twin up and brings him back with him. Shekhar doesn't seem to mind; he says, one night, that it reminds him of their honeymoon, and in his smile she forgets, for a moment, that she is not allowed to smile.
Bano watches the sun rise, turning the rusty bars on the window into copper for a few moments. The first few sehris she had thrown up everything she ate, so she limited herself to a few sips of water until Shekhar found out. He was furious with her, and the next week of sehris they sat across each other in tight-lipped silence; he watching her swallow every mouthful of the pohein or khitchdi that he had heated up from last night, she watching the hair on the back of his hand as he served her more. Abba had had hairy hands; she remembered them tickling her nose as he would feed her a mouthful of biryani off of his plate, in the days when she could get up for sehri with the adults, but go back to sleep and have tiffin in the afternoon with the rest of the children.
Bano didn't want Shekhar to get up for sehri when he came home from the newspaper at two in the morning. He was still running after the riot stories, she knew, getting angrier and angrier when the rest of the world wanted to move ahead, cover the latest cricket match or filmi scandal. So Bano promised to eat, and not throw up, and she broke iftar with dates and water, and waited till Shekhar came home to eat dinner; their one hot meal of the day.
Kamal had asked if they would get Idi this year. Bano had wanted to slap him, and then she wanted to slap herself for the impulse, and then she had started crying as Shekhar explained that they would not celebrate Eid or Diwali this year, because of Ammijaan and Abbajaan and Dadaji.
"Can we get Christmas presents instead?" asked Kabir, in English freshly-practised in school.
Bano turns away from the window and sees Shekhar watching her, sleep-eyed and stubble-crusted.
"I thought I could come with you to the Idgah today," he whispers.
She shakes her head. She has forsaken her masjid for her home, and such prayers as she still has left in her to say, can be made in silence.
6th December, 2002
Meenakshi Ayer is aware that this is a normal day for everyone around her. Well, almost normal. Her husband has a holiday, and so is at home, but Santhanam is too young to recognize the change in routine. Instead of being able to take a leisurely bath and then make herself some filter coffee and adai, she sits down to eat breakfast at the dining table with her husband, getting up three times to fetch the pickles, the curds, and then an extra spoon. After he is finished, he gets up and goes to the drawing room. She joins him there with Santhanam after she has finished telling the maid what to do.
Her husband turns on the news channel. She sees waves upon waves of bending figures, and the news reporter talks about the Eid prayers 'live from Jama Masjid, in New Delhi'. Her husband grunts and switches the channel. There is a cricket match replay that catches his interest, and he settles down, making occasional comments about the wisdom in letting Tendulkar bat at second position.
Santhanam starts fidgeting, so she takes him outside, into the balcony. She has tried to grow flowers here, and tulsi, as a traditional Hindu home should have, but only the jasmine flourishes. She sets Santhanam down with a thali and a spoon to bang it with, and starts picking up the fallen flowers from the floor. She hates picking them when the ones on the ground are just as clean. Sometimes she even uses them for pooja, when her mother-in-law isn't around to notice.
Meenakshi wonders if Raja… Mr. Choudhary… Jehangir Choudhary…. If he is also dressed in a white kurta pajama, kneeling in a row somewhere. She had read articles in the newspaper talking about Ramzaan. She can't imagine Raja fasting for a day, let alone a month.
Her husband asks her if she would like to walk to Kalighat in the evening. Meenakshi says she has a headache and lets him take Santhanam with him. After they have gone, she cautiously picks up the phone. She has the number memorised, though she has never called it.
"Hello?" it is a female voice that picks up, and she is aghast for a moment, before realising that it sounds too mature to be, well, to be something to be aghast about, which she has no right to be in any case.
"Is… may I speak to Mr… Mr. Choudhary, please?" Her Tamil accent suddenly echoes back to her sharply, and she wonders if the person on the other end knows that she is Hindu. Or assumes that she is.
"Raja? Oh… he isn't here. He has gone to Bharatpur for some bird filming. Toomi kaun? Who is calling, please?"
Meenakshi wonders who she is, really. Would Raja's mother (aunt? Elder cousin?) raise an eyebrow at her son having female friends? He seemed so casual about things; surely he is the sort who used to hang around with girls in college without causing problems with their families.
"I… no one. I just, I just wanted to wish him happy Eid, Aunty."
When the voice at the other end warms, she is glad she took the risk in calling her Aunty, and selfishly, irrationally glad for other reasons she will not admit.
"Oh-ho, beta, Raja isn't celebrating this year anyway. Someone he knew passed away… it was terrible, during a riot, actually, do you know?"
"Yes, yes Aunty, ok sorry, I have to go, thank you."
Meenakshi's throat closes up. "Eid Mubarak," she tries to say out loud. There is no one in the room, but the words still sound too loud, and strange to her. She wonders if Raja would have laughed at her for saying them to him.
She wonders what her husband would say if she made sevaiyyan for dinner.
23rd October, 2006
Amanullah watches his wife make careful small talk with the girl – Sonia – the one who has organised this meeting. The other parents are less subdued, with DJ's mother vehemently gesticulating to Mrs Rathod, who nods back, contained, dignified.
A maid brings in tea and samosas. His wife refuses, and then, when Sonia urges her to eat something – "kuch toh? Juice? Coffee?" – she glances helplessly at him.
"We are fasting today." His voice sounds drier and harsher than he had expected it to, but he doesn't really care.
Mitro Bibi, always the quickest to react reaches out to pat his wife's arm. "Maine socha tha, is saal toh naa Id naa Diwali jalegi" she commiserates. Suddenly Amanullah finds that the anger he had thought had died with his son is back. "Just because we won't celebrate Id doesn't mean we do not keep roza."
Everyone is awkward now, staring at their tea cups or looking around for something to pretend interest in. Sonia bites a samosa, then places it hesitantly back down.
In a few moments everything will smoothen out again. The rest of them will eat their snacks as though two people in the room are not fasting, as though five boys have not died, because of stupidity… because of hot tempers and romantic nonsense and…
"No." He says suddenly, in response to what, exactly, he is not sure, but the girl is always talking about some protest action or the other, so what does it matter?
"We cannot afford to antagonise anyone. We are lucky that the police did not arrest us for being terrorists along with Aslam. I have two other sons who need me, if you will forgive me, I must leave now."
His wife gets up to follow him, but as she leaves he can hear her softly explaining how there is a lot of work to help with in the muhalla for Id tomorrow, even though they are not celebrating. Smoothing things over, building bridges, she is good at that. That is what she would do with him and Aslam as well.
As they hail an auto to take them home, she says quietly, "The boys would come over for Id, remember?"
He says nothing. He remembers them eagerly devouring the biryani and korma and sevaiyyan and making rowdy jokes that Aslam would smile gently at. When he would warn Aslam that sharing food was not the same thing as sharing a religion, his son would become sullen and closed-off.
And now they are dead, and he wonders what heaven awaits them.