Syed and Gayatri didn’t mean to fall in love, but it happened. Love doesn’t look at logic or backgrounds, and least of all, religion.
Gayatri was from a conventional South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?
She glanced at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes in his car, sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy.
Suddenly her phone beeped. Syed had sent a message. “On my way. Have something important to tell you.”
Gayatri stared at it and realized she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her?
As she wondered, she sighted his motorcycle. He removed his helmet, brushed his hair with a hand, and went with long and rapid strides. Looking at his tall and trim figure with a thick mop of hair, Gayatri felt immensely cheerful and had forgiven him for the delay.
He ordered coffee and snacks and said, “I’m sorry; I took longer than expected to convince my parents.”
“OK, what’s the important thing you want to mention?” she asked, bending forward.
“I want to meet your parents. I can’t bear to meet you merely once a week. We are in love, and I want to get their consent without any delay.”
“Are you sure you can break all the barriers of religion?”
“Count on me. I do not doubt at all.”
His confidence surprised her. “You’re full of surprises.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said in a cinematic fashion.
“When do you propose to do it?”
“Why wait? Now is as good a time as any. Moreover, today is a holiday, and I’m sure I can find your parents relaxed and in an amenable mood. What do you say?”
“Let’s finish the coffee and go. My parents are at home.”
They found Gayatri’s father on the front lawn relaxing in a comfortable chair reading the Sunday newspaper.
“Namaste, Sir,” said Syed.
“Papa, this is my friend Syed, and we want to talk to you,” Gayatri said and watched her father.
As expected, he frowned, but led them to the living room, called his wife, took his customary seat, and asked the two youngsters to sit on the sofa. Meanwhile, Gayatri’s mother came in and stood next to her husband. She gave a once over to the handsome young man next to her daughter and smiled.
Gayatri could observe her mother had approved the young man.
“What’s your name, young man, and where you from?” she asked.
Syed stood, went up to her, bent, touched her feet, and said, “It’s Syed, and I’m the son of Ibrahim.”
Gayatri’s mother took a step backward. The smile on her face changed rapidly to a frown, and she turned to her daughter and fired a question, “Why have you brought him?”
“Calm down, Amma, we love each other, and we have come to seek your blessings,” Syed said.
“How dare you, Gayatri?” the mother asked.
Before she could answer her, Syed sat on the carpet cross-legged, folded his hands, and recited the Gayatri Mantra with correct diction and an impeccable accent.
The mantra had a magical effect and surprised everyone. It broke several barriers. Gayatri could not believe Syed knew the mantra and could recite it so correctly. The mother stared in utter disbelief. The father watched the proceedings in silence. With his head tilted to a side, he eyed the youngster on the carpet with circumspection.
Syed did not give them time to assess him. He started singing a famous devotional song in praise of Vishnu from a film of yesteryear. The song, written by a Muslim, music composed by another Muslim and sung by a Muslim, became an instant hit and a classic. It was set to classical music and tough to sing, but Syed sang at the high pitch required with ease and rare devotion. By the time he finished the song, his audience of three had tears in their eyes and sheer admiration. Gayatri could comprehend some more barriers crashing down and her parents nodding their heads.
The father, a music buff, closed his eyes and tapped his thigh with the beat. The mother crossed her hands over her midriff and listened with rapt attention. Syed’s rendition of the melodious song in his mellifluous voice conveyed the music’s meaning to his listeners’ utter delight.
Syed went through the full song that lasted more than three minutes. The father clapped to show his appreciation and immediately recovered his hands to hide them behind his back. His face showed a range of expressions. First, a surprise, then an appreciation, a doubt, and finally, a wonder whether it was real or surreal. The mother put her palm on her mouth and looked perplexed. She stood transfixed and speechless.
Unmindful of their reactions, Syed continued, this time, a Jayadev’s love song for Radha. He stood and danced while singing as if he were in a trance. Gayatri experienced transforming to Radha, dancing to the tune of her lover Lord Krishna on the banks of the river Yamuna. Syed looked like Krishna to her, and his dance inspired her. She too stood and started dancing, swaying left and right in step with her lover.
Syed’s rich voice and his rendering of the songs brought the neighbors to the living room’s edges. Encouraged by the positive reaction of his audience, Syed continued and sang another number of the same genre. He cast a spell, and his audience swayed their heads to the tune’s beat and in sync with the meaning.
Gayatri thought her boyfriend was nothing short of a maestro and can become a professional singer. She wondered how she did not know of his talent all these months of their courtship. She feigned anger but felt ecstatic.
Syed finished his song and marched up to the father and touched his feet. He presented a small box with a watch, then walked up to the mother, took out a pair of gold bangles, and offered it to her. “May we have your blessings, Amma?” he asked.
Gayatri observed her father for his response.
“Young man, I’m impressed, no doubt. You’re an excellent singer, and you seem to have a sound knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindu ballads and customs. That said, I’m not able to reconcile that you’re a Muslim, and we’re devout Hindus. I wonder how you would fit in our family,” he said.
“I appreciate your concern, Sir. I’m not a devout Muslim. I have little time for religion and don’t understand all this brouhaha about it,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sir. I think religion should be confined to the four corners of a small room in each house where a person can pray to a God of his choice and leave it at that. Religion should not be brought into the public domain at all. I see people killing each other, invoking the name of God, and detesting it. No God would approve of such killings.” He spoke with conviction and passion.
“I admire your views, but you Muslims convert your wives to Islam immediately after marriage.”
“If that bothers you, I at this moment promise not to convert her. If it pleases her, I’ll change my religion and name. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make her happy in life. After all, that is what love is about, isn’t it?”
Gayatri felt a wave of love surging through her heart. Syed went up several notches in her esteem.
Her father, evidently pleased, took three steps, hugged Syed, and planted a kiss on his forehead. Meanwhile, her mother brought a couple of sweets and filled Syed’s mouth. She placed her hand on his head and blessed him.
Gayatri’s heart jumped with joy. She stood behind him and wrapped her arms around him.
“OK, now take your seat, and let’s work out the nuts and bolt parts,” her father said and continued, “we must contact our communities to avoid any trouble.” He called one of his faithful and asked him to summon the temple priest who also officiated as the Hindus’ spiritual head in the locality. The priest confirmed he had noticed Syed in the temple premises during some festive occasions. He approved the proposal of marriage without any reservation.
In the next few days, the head of the tiny Muslim community also gave his consent and promised not to insist on converting the bride to Islam.
Gayatri could not believe things would work out that fast and that easily as she had been worrying about several problems that she anticipated.
Both the families agreed to civil marriage. On the appointed day, a beaming Gayatri adorned her best silk sari and all jewelry presented before the Registrar with her parents. Syed, the handsome looked like eye candy in an elegant suit, a matching tie, a red silk scarf in his top pocket, and a rosebud in the lapel. Above all, he sported a broad smile that transported Gayatri to cloud nine.
Before her departure to Syed’s place, Gayatri’s father called her, hugged her, and said with mournful tears in his eyes, “I can’t believe all this. It’s too good to be true. No doubt I’m happy as you found your love, but I also have a strange feeling something may go wrong. I want you to be on guard and have a plan B always.”
“No need. Papa. Syed is a hundred percent reliable. I can take care of myself. I’m so pleased you both agreed to our marriage so quickly. I’ll be forever grateful.”
Her mother was inconsolable as the daughter was flying the coop.
Syed took her home, a sprawling old house with each room leading to the other. After passing through several places, they reached his bedroom. A huge bed decked with flowers of myriad colors stood in the center of the chamber. A huge bowl of several fruits and the second bowl with sweets stood on the bed’s right side.
As Gayatri slipped into a dream of marital bliss for many years, she got a rude shock. Syed standing next to the bed looked far different from what she had seen earlier. Gone was the sparkle in his eye, the twinkle in his smile, and the love in his looks. His eyes, now blood-red, seething with anger and his mouth with lips curled at the ends spewed venom.
“From today, you’ll be Shabnam,” he said, as he rubbed the red dot off her forehead. Second, I’ve made travel plans for us to go to Syria. We’ll be leaving soon.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“You better believe it.”
“How could you convince my parents so easily?”
“It was all drama.”
“How about the priest?”
“A few thousand bucks did the trick.”
“How did you manage the Gayatri mantra and the devotional songs?”
“A few months of rigorous practice,” he said with a vicious smile.
“You mean you’ve been planning this for months?”
“Yes, I’ve been assigned the task of recruiting people to our organization?”
“Why did you select me?”
“Because you were like gold, pure gold, appealing but malleable too.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was sure I could mold you the way I want.”
“Are you sure?”
“I never failed in my assessment of people.”
“OK, remember you married me under pretense, but you’ll never get my body. All my love has vanished and given room to hatred. I never thought my life would change so swiftly.”
“Let’s see. I’m man enough to have my way with you. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll change and be back in a few minutes.” He turned around and disappeared into the adjacent room.
Gayatri cried, shedding copious tears, but concurrently, she rummaged her handbag and opened the false bottom.
She changed her demeanor and put on a faint smile when Syed returned wearing a kurta and pajama.
“You haven’t changed yet,” he fumed.
“I’d many dreams of my nuptial night. You ruined my dreams, cheated me, and married me with deception. It was all preplanned, like premeditated murder. I can never forgive you. Now I’m helpless,” she said, crying.
“I’m not going to pretend I am sorry. Let’s get on with our marriage or whatever.”
“I’d rather be dead than give in to you,” Gayatri declared.
“Why would I let you die after all the trouble I’ve taken? Instead, I’m going to possess you tonight.” He then proceeded to undress her and forced himself on her. As he was at the peak of his passion, Gayatri took out the Swiss knife she had removed from the bag and hidden under the bed and stabbed him in the back with all the strength she could muster. She used both her hands to exert maximum pressure.
Syed screamed and rolled over. The knife penetrated deeper.
Gayatri giggled to her heart’s content. “Serve you right, you cheat Muslim bastard,” she said.
She did not realize how strong once her lover was. Syed, screaming, stood, pulled the knife out, and lunged at her. Watching his movements, Gayatri jumped out of bed and ran out of the room. As she sprinted to get past him, Syed stuck his leg out, and Gayatri tripped over. “You Brahmin bitch, take it,” he said as he rolled her and thrust the knife into her stomach. The blade went deep, and she passed out.
When she came to, she found herself in a hospital bed with her parents and a doctor peering over her anxiously.
“Where is Syed?” she asked moaning.
“In the next bed. He just died,” the doctor said.
“Thank God,” she said as she breathed her last.
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