A story by Naeem Ashraf
Few years back, I visited Oslo to attend a weeklong international seminar on World Peace. The seminar sessions went from mornings till afternoons. I had nothing much to do except scribbling few lines in my diary. However, I direly needed someone who could show me around Oslo. After much sweat I was able to trace six years old email address of a University mate. He was supposed to be in Italy but could guide me as how to tour Norway. My email was instantly responded. To my utter surprise he was in Oslo. I was filled with an immense pleasure. He promised to visit me next evening. Holding the diary in my hand, I started to recall my association with the University-mate.
I first met Younas alias ‘Comrade’ when he was arrested for scuffling with a police man at our University gate. The son of a mediocre landlord of Punjab, Younas in those days was a student union leader. Twenty two years old, tall and stout youth had revolutionary thoughts that he often expressed in the union meetings. Owning feminist school of thought, Comrade often targeted, gender discrimination, underage marriages and harassment to the women. Such metaphors had made him popular amongst the male and female students alike. He pledged to change the system through a revolution, making it free of corrupt practices and provide equal rights to woman in the society.
A small deviation from standard operating procedures by the University management would provoke a protest call by Comrade. One such agitation in front of University gate had resulted into a skirmish with police. Younas had remained in police custody for few days but came out as a leader. He was nicked as Comrade.
Back in the village his traditional father had started to worry about his son’s marriage. Younas had refused all the proposals. His last refusal was his cousin Nazia. Though a year older than Younas, Nazia had recently finished her college. Raised in rural ambience; pure air, grain, fruit and milk, Nazia made a simple, innocent and attractive young girl. On father’s assertion to marry his cousin, Younas first argued about the girl’s age then suddenly vanished from his home. After few months, it transpired that the he had slipped to some European country.
After six years of losing contact with the Comrade, I had an opportunity to visit Italy. The museums and ancient churches of Rome have always inspired me. Vatican Basilica, Cesar’s Palace and centuries old museums were on my list. As I embarked upon the Tour-Rome- Bus, I received shock of my life to witness Comrade driving the bus. I remained perplexed for a while then recognized his commanding voice addressing the passengers about the historical significance of each site. Stout Comrade, was sitting upright in the driver’s seat. He seemed as smart and alert as he was in University days. As the bus snaked through stony winding roads of ancient Rome, I recalled Comrade’s speeches to the University students. When we arrived at Vatican City, I got hold of the Comrade. He hugged me with great charm and warmth. Since he was on duty, we hurriedly exchanged our contacts and parted with a promise to meet in the evening.
In the evening, as we settled in a nearby Pizzeria, Comrade narrated the account of his time after the University: “While staying in Multan with my maternal uncle’s family, I met Nuzhat. She had come to Multan for vacations. Almost ten years older than me, Nuzhat had maintained her figure and looked more graceful than beautiful. Widowed only two years back, she worked in a museum in Rome. Unable to produce her own children, Nuzhat had adopted her sister’s daughter. More interaction with her revealed that Nuzhat desperately needed a young native as her companion in Italy. Since I had always dreamt of living in a foreign land, our needs converged into a hasty marriage. This is how I managed to come to Europe.
It is now fifth year of my marriage with Nuzhat. She got me a job in the tourist company, and also managed to settle my two younger brothers in Italy. I love my wife. The life is good. In my humble capacity, I shall keep working for under privilaged segments of my country, especially against the domestic violence and workplace harassment against women.” Comrade concluded when we finished famous Napolitano pizzas and gulped down last sips of Barbara wine. After spending few memorable days in the ancient architecture of Rome, I flew back to my homeland.
This diary was gifted to me by Comrade on Rome Airport. He had already penned his email in the diary. Placing the diary in the draws I went out for a stroll on a cool and quiet road of Oslo city.
Next day, Comrade showed up in my hotel lounge in Oslo. He met me with same warmth and excitement. My next five days with Comrade were memorable. We went on long drives, did fishing in North Sea, visited Fram Museum, Vigeland Sculpture Park, and dined in a two-century old restaurant in Holmenkollveien besides having panoramic view of Oslo.
One evening, as we settled down in a century-old pub for a couple of Norwegian Lager, Comrade told me the story of his moving to Norway: “In the sixth year of my stay in Italy I met Neelam. She was co-driver in the same tourist company where I worked as a driver. In her early twenties, five and a half feet tall Neelam was recently divorced. Her beauty, refined manners and submissive nature attracted me towards her. In a couple of months we are in an intimate relationship. After two years of open relationship, Neelam proposed: “Let’s move to Norway and marry there.” I had no option than agreeing to my beloved. Now here in Oslo, I run my own cab. Neelam is a home maker and also works part- time in a Montessori. I love my wife. We have a beautiful daughter. The life is good. I am also an active member of a welfare organization committed to promote the awareness against underage relationships and problems faced by unmarried mothers in the West.”
“What about Nuzhat?” I could not hold back. “Well! Here people do not compromise on happiness. When you lose interest in each other, you say good bye. This culture is realistic and at least two hundred years advanced than third world country like ours. We agreed on a divorce. She might as well found another partner. Life goes on my friend.” Comrade explained in a matter-of-fact manner.
Three more years passed. Only last year, I heard that Comrade was visiting his hometown. I went to see him in his native village located on a riverside. Comrade embraced me with the same zeal and enthusiasm. Though aged a little but looked more handsome and exhilarated than he was three years back. I was ushered to a large living-cum-bed room. A large sized portrait of [student-days] Comrade hung on the side wall. The mid-summer noon was cloudy that day. A cool breeze that blew from the riverside through windows made the environment more natural and cozy. After a simple countryside lunch, I needed a siesta. Leaving me to rest Comrade also vanished to the next room.
In the afternoon, when we sat in the living room, the Comrade narrated to me the story of his moving back for good. “I visit my parents after every alternate year. This year, when I came to Pakistan for vacations, my mother told me: “Look son! I am too old now. You cannot go back leaving me like this. I also wish to see a grandchild in my lap from a Pakistani daughter-in-law.”
Submitting to my mother’s earnest wish I wedded Munazza, her sixteen years old niece. She is now expecting my child. I sent a divorce to Neelum in Norway. I am happy, she is happy and above all, my mother is happy… Life is good.” I felt as if a bomb exploded in my head.
“But, my dear Comrade what happened to your salogans about underage marriage, harassment to women and women rights?” I inquired while struggling to recompose my posture. Comrade replied with the same flow: “Dear friend! Our Sharia does not prohibit marrying even forty years younger girl than you. Munazza is only twenty years younger than I. Moreover, the desire of parents must be heeded. Do you remember famous religious quote: “Heaven lies under the feet of your mother?”
Suddenly, I saw that the mildly blowing breeze had turned into a thunderous wind. A brisk slap of wind unpinned Comrade’s picture from the wall. The picture-frame crashed on the ground with a thump. I noted that the glass pieces were scattered on the marble, leaving Comrade’s picture naked.
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