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  • Debaprasad Mukherjee

Hinduism in Peril

“Here’s your egg curry, chapatti; old-bone,” Faizan places the plate on the rickety table of Sukhamoy reverently.

Sukhamoy Goswami casts an affectionate look at his young room-partner through his old, hazy eyes. Maybe he smiles a bit, but it remains obscure within the bush of his grizzled whiskers. His swarthy, emaciated frame trembles a little.

“Bloody Katua (circumcised)! Watch out. Times are tricky. You never know when you’ll be thrown out of the country.” Sukhamoy hurls the words at Faizan with adoring indulgence. Faizan enjoys the old man’s happiness. “You haggard! Care your own fucking ass. Fancy thinking of my ouster with a step in graveyard!”

Faizan Khan is 34, and Sukhamoy 74. Faizan is from Allahabad (now Prayagraj), and Sukhamoy from Nabadwip of West Bengal. Sukhamoy used to belong to some landlord family once. When he was of Faizan’s age, he was conned by the stakeholders. With a 12th standard education he drifted around before anchoring at Bilaspur as a supervisor in a construction company.

Dharmesh Chopra, the proprietor, was not a bad person. He had built a moderate two-storey house for the benefit of his workforce. Sukhamoy occupied a room in top floor, and visited his family occasionally.

Things took a strange turn. Sukhamoy’s son started earning by unfair means with nod from his mother. Sukhamoy became unwanted in his own family. Finally, Sukhamoy stopped visiting Nabadwip for good. He was 60 by then. He took to country liquor, and his body started taking its toll.

Faizan came five years later. He had sharp features, and possessed a technical diploma. Soon he took over many responsibilities of the firm with élan. Sukhamoy, by this time, had lost much of his working abilities, and visited the office occasionally. In a queer sweet and sour camaraderie he and Faizan kept poking each other, yet he tipped Faizan on nuances of the job.

The two sons of Dharmesh Chopra had taken over the business by now. They spoke to their father. “Why don’t you get rid of Old Goswami? He’s worth nothing.” Dharmesh nodded. But he had other plans. He called a staff-meeting. “Your Goswami Dada is retiring today. But he’ll not leave us. He’ll only stop coming to office. As he has no place to go, he’ll keep staying in his room. I’ll send him a monthly compensation through Faizan. Now, the essential point. Who will volunteer to take his responsibility?” All started looking at each other. Who’d risk taking care of a diseased drunkard? Faizan replied without batting an eyelid. “Don’t you worry, sir. I’m enough to tighten the screw on the willy fox.” A roar of chortle ensued. Even Sukhamoy laughed merrily. He’d be in caring hands. Dharmesh smiled radiantly, “Well, you take off my concern. But as far as I know, you’re at daggers drawn to each other.” Faizan reached his boss to lower his voice. “Sir, we may keep needling each other, but Goswami Dada remains a fatherly figure to me. I’m sure, he reciprocates.” Dharmesh fought his tears off. He didn’t make mistake in choosing his employees.

Faizan shifted his bed to share Sukhamoy’s room. Dharmesh died after a year. His sons stopped Sukhamoy’s monthly allowance.

“What’ll happen Faizu Mian?” asked an apprehensive Sukhamoy.

“Don’t you worry, Bangalee Dada,” Faizan made an airy gesture, “none can lay his hands on you as long as Faizan is around.”

Then he twisted his lips in a naughty smile. “Only thing, a Muslim will serve a sacrosanct Brahmin. Your heaven will shut the door on your face.”

“Damn the heaven! You must’ve been my son in last life.” Tears trickled down Sukhamoy’s hazy eyes.

“Enough of pampering, you haggard,” Faizan guffawed, “okay, I’ll feed you with chicken and fish at times.”

“And daaru (liquor)?” Sukhamoy squinted. “You’ll get a thorough bashing from me. Didn’t the doctor forbid your drinking? Okay, we’ll see.”

Faizan has visited a doctor few times to get Sukhamoy checked. He has advised strictly against liquor. Once Faizan secretly had asked the doc, “Sir, it’s a age-old habit of his. Can’t I give him a little once in a while?” The doctor had smiled enigmatically. “Medically I won’t, but life’s not all about medical advice.”

Occasionally Faizan buys Sukhamoy a small bottle. The fact is, he relishes the blissful spark in the eyes of Old Goswami. It’s for him he has reduced his trips to Prayagraj. Marriage with his long-time fiancée Shahnaz has got inordinately delayed. She suspects another affair of Faizan.

Well, affair indeed! Sukhamoy’s health has deteriorated further since a few days. He’s stopped taking food, and purging involuntarily. Faizan realises the days of his Goswami Dada are numbered. “Put him in some charity hospital,” some advise. Faizan doesn’t agree. Had it been his own abbu, would he leave him on the damp floor of a government hospital?

He rings his doctor up. “Doctor sahib, can’t you arrange for a hospital with moderate charges for this man? It’s matter of few days before he dies. I just want Dada to die respectably.”

The doctor arranges for one. Yet it’s little beyond Faizan’s purse. Let it be. The hospital is mediocre, yet with clean beds and decent service. The doctor there said, “Maybe three more days at the max. Inform his relations.” Faizan emits a wry smile. ‘Relation, phew!’ He’s the only one to provide him with funeral pyre!

Putting a labourer back, Faizan comes out of the hospital. He has got a couple of tasks. Taking a leave of few days, and withdrawing money from bank. He won’t manage to send money home for a couple of months. They’ll manage, they’ve got a farmland. He lights a bidi. From somewhere around reverberates the speech of a leader in mike. Some election is on the cards. “Brothers and sisters, remember, Hinduism is in peril today. Cast your vote judiciously. Jai Bharat, vande mataram.” Faizan blows out a lungful of smoke in air, and breaks into a sardonic smile.

“Bloody stinking broker!”

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