• 25 Apr - 01 May, 2020
  • Nadeem Alam
  • Fiction

It was the chaleswan of Dada gee and our haveli in the village was filled with people. There were about 300 chairs placed in the front lawn. It was 12 noon and the place was jam packed. Few people were reciting, but most were waiting for the dua and then food which was to follow. Women were seated inside the haveli. I passed through the shuddering row of tables and walked out to take a look at the caterers who were preparing meal for this huge gathering since last night. I had hired them from the nearby town. There were over two dozen degs of pullao, chicken curry and zarda ready to be served. The only tandoor in the village was busy preparing my order for the day. The caterers had their own tandoors with them but I really liked naans of Fazal chacha so I had asked him to prepare a thousand of these. He initially looked at me in disbelief when I told him about it yesterday but then, he went on to get help of all his known ones and they were now near completion of this daunting task.

We belonged to Hasilpur village in Tehsil Talagang of Chakwal District. The village was named after my grandfather Malik Hasil Wilayat Khan who had migrated from the Indian Punjab in 1947. He apparently had left behind one hundred square miles of agricultural land and was hence, allotted here the same amount of land with some additional benefits. He selected a place in the middle of his newly allotted land and constructed the biggest haveli in that area. Workers, labourers and his servants started making their houses around the haveli and hence, the village came into being. With his connections at the right places, he was able to name the place as well. My grandfather was already married when he came to this place but soon after settling down, he developed liking for a house maid and hence, he married again and then again. His total children from three marriages were sixteen. Ten of them, survived to see their adulthood. My father was the youngest son and I was the youngest of my father and so, I became the favourite grandson of Chaudry Hasan Wilayat Dogar.

All my uncles, aunts and their children were not allowed to speak or even remain visible in front of Dada gee. It was his strict orders that only Kamal and Saima could visit him any time. Saima was the youngest daughter of my eldest uncle from his second wife. We were hence, the only ones in the whole family who could run around without any fear of reprisal. We had heard stories of Dada gee getting the legs of a servant broken for delaying in bringing his huqa. We did not realise at that time that our favourite status will soon become a point of concern for all of our cousins who were 38 to be exact. We did not care much till our grandfather died. Everything was alright till the chaleswan. I was the one who had made all the arrangements and it all went well. It was only in the afternoon, when all the guests left and the caterers were packing their stuff when I was summoned in the baithak.

Baithak in the haveli was situated in the east corner. It had a separate entrance from outside and was made especially by Dada gee for listening to the problems of his people. He used to give directions to his aide for providing immediate relief. There were always people present in the baithak which consisted of a big hall with two adjoining rooms for the guests to spend their night. Food was prepared and served at all times to the guests and needy people who would come to seek help. I had also heard that Dada gee was a very generous man but he never gave more than what was necessary to survive for a few days. He in fact desired people to remain dependent on him. He never allowed any school or dispensary to be made in his village. Hasilpur village now comprised of about 2000 people who all lived on the land which was in the name of Dada gee.

As I walked in the main hall, the first person I saw was my eldest uncle. He was sitting on the big chair of Dada gee. Then, I looked around and found almost all my relatives there. Even my father and mother were seated near to the door along with my other siblings. Everyone was sitting quietly. I was looking for an empty chair when I spotted Saima who had a mischievous smile on her face. Saima was engaged to me and we were to be married soon. We both had studied together in the city college and used to stay at the Dada gee’s house in the city. It was in fact our Dada gee who had given the verdict about our engagement. Dada gee had spent most of the time of his last two years in his city residence due to availability of better medical care. I and Saima, took good care of him. Rest of our family seldom visited there.

Till his death, Dada gee had exercised full control on all the assets and his income. He had assigned responsibilities to all his children and grandchildren who used to get paid at the end of each month. It was only enough for them to survive but no one ever complained. They were all desperately waiting for Dada gee to pass away to the next world so, they all can get their share of property. They had to wait for long as Dada gee lived a healthy life and was in a good shape even in his seventies. Dada gee went through his first heart attack at the age of 76. I was the one who evacuated him to the best hospital in the city and then, looked after him till he died two years later. He did not talk much but very often called me in his room and listen to my stories. I used to tell him about the political situation in the country, economic crisis, about advancement of technology and latest developments in the haveli. He would take great interest in the family reports which I had to present him on weekly basis. For this purpose, I had to bribe a couple of servants who would call me every night and tell me stories of the haveli. Dada gee knew himself as well, but he wanted to listen from me as to who were desperately waiting for him to die. It was perhaps everybody. He very often laughed over my reports. One fine day, I came back from college and found an elderly man leaving Dada gee’s room with Saima. Dada gee was not well that day so, Saima had decided to stay back at home. I did not want to miss the class and so, I had gone to college without her. As she returned from the porch, I gave her inquisitive looks. She told me that he was Dada gee’s lawyer. She did not know anything further as she was sent away from the room, when Dada gee started dictating his will. That was what she told me.

As I was looking around to find a place to sit in the baithak, I saw the same lawyer walking into the hall. There was no seat empty so, I stood with the rear wall with my back resting against it. Then I saw Saima getting up from her seat. She came around and stood with me. She held my cold hand in her beautiful, fluffy warm hand. All my anxiety vanished away. I was however, a bit taken back as she never displayed any signs of affection in public and this was certainly not a good place for any romantic gesture. She obviously knew something, which I was missing out.

The lawyer was given a seat next to the head chair. He however, preferred to stand. He opened his briefcase and took out a sealed envelope. The area was already quiet but there was now a pin drop silence. The old lawyer showed the seal to everyone and then, he tore open the envelope and took out a single page stamp paper. We were standing at far distance yet, we could see his every movement. He announced that he would now read out Malik Hasan Wilayat’s will about distribution of his assets. Dada gee’s will consisted of a single sentence which almost resulted in a mass massacre in the baithak. It was prevented by Saima’s timely action.

Dada gee had willed that all his assets were to be transferred to Kamal Ahmed and Saima. I was as surprised as everybody else except for Saima who was now tightly holding my hand. There was a huge uproar in the hall and some of my young and enthusiastic cousins had taken out their weapons. My five brothers immediately encircled me and Saima. They had weapons of their own. In the beginning, I did not comprehend gravity of the situation but soon Saima whispered in my ears to get out of there. We were standing close to the door. The whole family was now engaged in a heated discussion when we slipped out of the baithak. I wanted to go to the front gate where my jeep was parked but Saima dragged me to the backdoor. Her small car was parked outside the baithak entrance. We got into it and were now headed to Dada gee’s city residence. We were passing through the lush green fields spread to the farthest and it all now belonged to us. But we were running to save our lives from our own families. Saima perhaps knew about the will. She never confessed about it.

We reached the city and instead of going to Dada gee’s house, we decided to spend the night at a friend’s place. It was a safe option. At night, we talked to our parents who informed us to stay there. They did not seem happy with Dada gee’s decision either. My four dozen cousins definitely did not like the will. My father told me that it was finally decided in the meeting that Dada gee’s will must be challenged in the court. The lawyer informed them that the court will be able to provide relief to them and reverse the decision, if the case is not well defended. My father advised me to not oppose the decision and let the court handle it as per the inheritance laws.

It was the toughest decision of my life, whether to defend the case or not. All my uncles, aunts and cousins were the legal heirs to the property of Dada gee, but I and Saima were the only ones who had taken good care of him especially in the last two years of his life. An so, definitely we deserved more than everybody else. Hence, I decided to defend the case with the best lawyer we could afford and with this much at stake we hired the best lawyer in the city. We were however, told by our lawyers that the case is likely to be decided on merit and it may go against us. Saima was a good tennis player and this was where she played her master stroke. She asked our lawyers to go for settlement and get us the city house and let everybody else have the village land. The city house of Dada gee was a small house built on 300 square meters of land in an old locality of the city, and she had opted to let go almost a hundred squares miles of the agriculture land. Her logic of keeping something small instead of losing everything did not appeal to me much.

Our parents and other relatives gladly agreed to this arrangement. Instead of fighting the case in court, which may take a long time and create unnecessary rifts was amicably avoided. Our marriage was also held with full jubilations in the village haveli and it all ended at a happy note.

The biggest surprise of my life was given to me by Saima when we shifted to our city house. Saima had already got it renovated. It was our first night together when she held my hand and took me to Dada gee’s dressing room. It was always locked even when Dada gee was alive and its only key was held with Saima. Dada gee did not trust many people and that perhaps included me as well. Anyway, Saima opened the lock and for the very first time, I entered into this small room. It had a couple of ordinary suite cases in the cupboards. After Dada gee’s death, Saima’s father had visited this place and got this room opened. Saima showed his father what she wanted him to see. What Saima showed me in that room was mesmerising. She scratched a small portion of frayed distemper from the interior wall with her finger nails and what appeared from underneath was a dull golden glaze. I forgot to breathe for a few minutes. I now knew, why she let go of the hundred square miles of agricultural land just to keep this small house. Dada gee had shared few secrets of his life with her favourite granddaughter. She was now my wife and I had to keep it that way forever.