“So what happened exactly on that night?” Shikha asked Faizal who was still not ready to look up into the camera.
“Faizal? Faizal?” She called out again, but he didn’t reply. He kept looking down.
“Cut it,” she told the cameraman and the shooting was cancelled.
Shikha, the senior journalist of a leading news channel came out of the newsroom without completing the episode she wanted to make on honor killing.
“Shikha, you have to make him talk. This is a sensational story. Everyone is talking about it. We are so close. Make it work.” Her boss said.
“Boss, the guy doesn’t seem to be in a right mental state for a conversation,” she replied.
“I don’t care. We aren’t a charitable organization. We have already spent a lot of money in bringing him to Delhi.”
“You were adamant about telling his story to masses. Now you can’t back off. You don’t have that option.” The editor said.
Shikha came back to her desk, sipped some water and thought about Faizal. She remembered meeting him for the first time in Lucknow. He wasn’t Faizal then. His name was Narender.
He was working as the personal assistant of one of the politicians she interviewed in Lucknow.
“Madam, aap bahut achcha bolti hai (you speak so well),” he complimented her after the interview and then sat at the front seat of her cab to drop Shikha to the hotel.
Narender loved to talk. During the forty five minutes journey from the studio to her hotel; he hardly sat quiet. He told her all about his life and his wife “Aaina”.
“My wife is a Muslim. We ran away from home a year back and got married in Lucknow. We were in love since childhood. Everyone hated out relationship in village. Every single day I used to get up and hope that Aaina should be alive. My family wanted to kill her and her family wanted to kill me. Everyone just wanted to separate us.” He said then.
“Great that you made your love work,” Shikha replied in a semi attentive state.
“It’s all because of her prayers madam. Aaina prayed everyday for our relationship. Finally we are together and happy. Now we just pray for our family’s approval of our relationship.”
“Good luck with that,” She said and got outside the car.
“Bhagvan khush rakhe apko,” Narender said and smiled. His smile was so infectious. I couldn’t control smiling myself. His eyes shone like sparkling stars when he smiled.
The chapter ended there.
Shikha flew back to Delhi on the next day. She had to attend a function where she would be honored with “woman of the year” trophy by Agarwal Samaj club. It was the club formed by the religious group she belonged to. Together the club held seminars, cultural fests, and award ceremonies, to stay bonded towards each other. She didn’t want to go but she had to go because her sick father insisted.
“We are really proud that you belong to our religious society,” the announcer said after the award was handed over to her.
“I am sure you are as proud as we are.” The chief guest said.
“Proud about?” She asked.
“Proud about being an Agarwal?”
“What is in it to be proud about?”
“That you belong to such a cultured society.”
“Every society is cultured in their own say. I had no say in where I was destined to born. So there is really nothing to be proud about.” She snapped and left the function.
When she reached home, her father had already received a phone call about her daughter’s inappropriate behavior.
After a heated conversation about religion, rules and culture; she went to her room and closed the door.
The next day started like any other and life moved on until one day, when she read the news of a Muslim girl being set on fire by her family members for marrying a Hindu guy. They wanted to teach their whole society a lesson that there is no mercy for anyone who jeopardizes the cultural boundaries been set for one.
The Hindu guy Nalin (name changed) whom she married and went to Lucknow was in a hospital and fighting for his life. Nalin’s family had almost beaten him to death but somehow he survived.
Shikha sensed something familiar in that story. She called up the newsroom in Lucknow and enquired more about the news. Yes, this guy was Narender, minister’s personal assistant she had met a few days back.
When she met Narender again in the hospital, he was a changed man. He didn’t talk, didn’t laugh and didn’t eat anything.
“I shouted for mercy. I cried. No one even let me see her dead body. Is this what religion teach us?” He said after he recovered from the initial shock.
Whenever Shikha went to Lucknow, she made sure to enquire about the well being of Narender.
Then one day she found out that Narander was no longer Narender. He was Faizal. He converted to Islam.
“People are happy that we didn’t get each other. Least do they know that I can still see her and feel her presence around me.” He said.
“Why did you convert to Islam?” Shikha asked.
“That night I was sitting under a bridge and talking to Aaina, and then I noticed that she was very unhappy. I asked her what had happened. She told me that she was feeling very sad because she could not pray for our love anymore. I saw the intense pain in her face, in her eyes. Next morning, I converted to Islam and become Muslim. Since then I never missed any prayer. I do not know if Allah will accept my appeal or not. But I am praying for our love like Aaina did her whole life.” Narender (Faizal) said.
On that day, Shikha decided to do a story on Faizal. She bought him to Delhi by much insistence but Faizal wasn’t cooperating.
“Faizal, I will lose my job if I am not able to do this story.” She told him.
“I am worried about your life more than your job madam. Nothing will change. People will talk and forget.”
“No, it will bring…………..” Shikha said and stopped. She knew that sharing of another heart wrenching story would not have more value than some extra TRP for her news channel or some sharing of Facebook posts.
Faizal was against standing up against his or his wife’s family; like most kids.
What divides us? Religion. But don’t we give more value to religion than what it deserves? Why can’t we measure a person through qualities? Why can’t we let and let live? What has made us so insecure? Why we are so unsecure?
Religion isn’t only about love marriages but having a holistic view and a sense of mutual respect and admiration. The day we stop judging and start understanding, things would become much cleared.
And among the one thousand other small reasons that people lose their life for; one doesn’t have to lose it for falling in love.
- Neha bindal