Last year Mirza had been arrested on the charge of giving inflammatory speeches in his University; trying to divide the communities. He was, however, released due to lack of credible evidence and that India being a democracy, freedom of speech and religion were sacrosanct.
The arrest and subsequent release didn’t change Mirza. He went back to his old routine. Regular at college, he continued his meetings with his friends professing radical ideas.
And then Jahnavi came into his life.
Mirza and Jahnavi didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least anticipate it. Love doesn’t look at common sense, or at backgrounds and least of all, religious beliefs.
Jahnavi was from a very traditional South Indian family. Mirza was from an equally orthodox Muslim family. Their paths would never have intersected if it hadn’t been for that fateful day.
That day when he walked into the coffee shop.
Jahnavi still remembered the day, vividly.
Waiting for her friend, she had noticed the arrival of a tall young man with a pleasant personality who sat down at the next table. She was a final year student at that time. Their eyes had met, but very briefly. As she waited, unanticipated she felt an acute stomach pain. It became so extreme that soon darkness descended before her eyes and her last thoughts were that of slipping down from chair. Waking up on the hospital bed she saw him standing near the bed. The doctor said that she had been lucky to be hospitalized in the nick of time, else her appendicitis could have become fatal. Mirza had then introduced himself; he had been the Samaritan.
That was destiny bringing them together.
That day was a Thursday and she was again at her old rendezvous the coffee shop waiting for Mirza.
She looked at her watch. Mirza was late. With time in her hands her mind started wandering. She recalled, a few days ago one of her friends had divorced her husband; both were extremely unhappy since they couldn’t accept each other’s personalities and as they were.
Thinking about them, her happiness with Mirza played in her mind. What was it? She knew it was her unconditional acceptance of Mirza. His religion played no part. His controversial attitudes didn’t matter. His drawback of occasional volatile temper which made him unreasonable at times, was not significant. She realized that the value of acceptance was her strongest foundation of love. Thankfully, Mirza’s thoughts were mostly similar. This was his quality which had appealed to her. There was tender reciprocity.
Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have something vital to tell you.”
Jahnavi stared at it and realized she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her?
Soon Mirza walked in. He looked around, spotted Jahnavi, waved cheerfully and walked across to her. She felt relieved, smiled and held out her hand which he took in his firm grip and sat down. Few eyes turned towards them, a natural appreciation for the couple, the beauty of Jahnavi complimenting the rugged handsomeness of Mirza.
Jahnavi pushed aside her coffee cup; another cup for Mirza was placed on the table.
“What important thing do you want to tell me?” She asked impatiently.
Mirza was grinning. He sipped his coffee. “Spoke to my parents about you and the good news is…” he again took her hand in his, “…they have agreed. It is a miracle since they are so conservative… but they would like to meet you first.”
A sense of euphoric relief passed through Jahnavi’s mind, “Oh Mirza, I am so happy.” Leaning forward she kissed him, her face glowing, not unduly bothered about others. She knew of course that her mother wouldn’t have approved this public show of affection, not a bit.
They decided that she would visit Mirza’s parents that evening, after which both would go and meet her mother. Her father had been martyred in military action some years back.
That evening both met in the adjoining park and walked towards his house, hand in hand.
Naseema, Mirza’s mother welcomed her, “Glad to meet you Jahnavi, you look so beautiful.” She blessed her.
Hussain, Mirza’s father, came in and put her at ease.
Naseema came with two cups of tea handed them and sat near Jahnavi, “We all know about you and have full faith in Mirza’s desires and decisions…”, she paused,” …. we want you to be a part of our family but there is one request – you must change your religion to Islam so that both of you can marry as per Muslim customs. That will be paying obeisance to Allah.”
Jahnavi looked at Mirza. She was unsure about this development and concerned about her mother’s reactions. She thought with a tinge of regret that she should have informed her mother earlier about her emotions for him. God knows what she would say now.
She replied, “I will think about this Aunty”.
Coming out, Mirza held and gently kissed her, “I am sorry about my mother.” He shook his head, “She is very conservative, I did try to dissuade her, even suggested that we will marry as per special marriage law without changing your religion, but she is not agreeing. My father will talk to her.”
Jahnavi’s eyes were moist, she said, “Let’s meet my Amma.”
Savitri, her mother opened the door and looked at Mirza. She recognized him – who had saved her daughter. They came in and after making Mirza comfortable, Jahnavi took her inside.
“Amma, you already know Mirza but I didn’t tell you… how I feel about him, I am sorry for that.” She was pleading, “I love him … I want him as my husband.”
Savitri stared at her daughter; this was a bolt out of blue. Was that what her God- Tirupati Balaji wanted? A Muslim son in law? Her mind refused think. Tears swelled out of her eyes.
Jahnavi stepped forward and held her in a hug,” Please don’t cry Amma, he is my greatest happiness and I know how much you want my happiness… this is what you have given me throughout my growing years…, please do not deny me – please agree to my marrying Mirza – he is the best.”
She continued eagerly opening her heart, trying to win her over.
Little later, Savitri moved away from her daughter and went into the Kitchen. Unsure of her mother’s response Jahnavi slowly entered the drawing-room where Mirza was waiting for her.
Soon she came in holding a food tray. Anxiously Jahnavi observed her. She set the tray down and sat on the sofa next to her.
“What do you do now Mirza? Pardon me, Jahnavi told me about her feelings just now.”
Mirza smiled, “Aunty I am a lecturer in the City College teaching Islamic Law and International relations, staying with my parents in Rehman Nagar. Father was working in Railways, now retired and mother is a housewife. I am their only child.”
Savitri listened to him intently, “I am very forthright Beta, we are a very conservative family, this marriage is unthinkable – but my daughter’s happiness is paramount – tell me, do you love my daughter so much that you are willing to marry outside your community? Do your parents agree?”
Mirza said, “My parents have no problem. I love your daughter. I want to marry her, come what may.”
She looked away, “I understand that Jahnavi has to change her religion ….”
“It is my mother’s desire – Aunty.”
She kept quiet, looking down at her hands. Nobody could see her anguish and tears.
A little later Mirza and Jahnavi were walking towards his car.
“My mother will talk to her brother, Venkatesh Uncle, who unfortunately has radical thoughts about conversion…. but he loves me. Let’s hope for the best.” She seemed hopeful.
A week had since passed and Mirza had gone to Mumbai on an official assignment.
It was a Sunday morning. Jahnavi was in her room when Venkatesh, her Uncle entered.
Without much ado, he spoke in a stern voice, “What do I hear from your mother about this Muslim you want to marry and that he wants to change your religion to Islam…” his voice rose, “… we will never allow this to happen …. this is a planned conversion of Hindu women to Islam by Muslim men under the pretense of love.”
Jahnavi protested, “But you are totally wrong Uncle …. Mirza loves me…I love him, he does not want to convert me, it’s his mother…”
Venkatesh cut her short, “I don’t want to hear any bullshit. Don’t you understand the suffering of your mother?” He went out slamming the door.
Jahnavi wearily touched her forehead then picked up her mobile. “Mirza….my Uncle is alleging that your love is a facade to lure me into Islam…Is it true…Is it possible… how can that be…?” She sounded indecisive and sad.
But Mirza’s response was different. He felt shocked. Only thought that reverberated in his mind was – Jahnavi doubted his love? He saw red. His temper was always volatile. Reacting in his typical manner he said, “It seems you have more faith in your Uncle than me – you think that my love is fake… not true? Is that so…that’s what you think?”
She remained quiet. His reaction was totally unexpected. Her mind refused to work.
“Okay so be it!” he retorted and disconnected abruptly before she could reply. But then he repented instantly. Why did he say those unkind words? She should be pacified. He would visit her on his return home, later in the night.
Meanwhile, Jahnavi was stunned into silence. Savitri who had come in the room, somehow had overheard Mirza’s words, faintly over mobile. She took her daughter’s hand and held it tightly, “Have courage my child.”
Little afterwards Savitri called her brother, Venkatesh.
That night Mirza was returning from the airport. The road was deserted. As the taxi turned a bend, twin headlights of a truck could be seen approaching from the opposite side at a great speed. The driver moved his vehicle to the left but the truck was upon them virtually on a collision course. With quick reflexes, he avoided the truck but couldn’t stop the taxi from breaking the side railings and going down to the field… the front left tyre bursting. It was a miraculous escape for Mirza and the driver.
Thoroughly dazed Mirza came out of the taxi on the dark open field. He looked around with difficulty. Some distance away on the highway he could see the moving head lights of passing cars.
All of a sudden Mirza’s mobile rang, a hoarse voice came in, “You dare to convert a Hindu girl. This is a warning. We could have killed you. Do not do that …ever.” The line went dead.
Extremely annoyed, he managed to reach the road and take another taxi. What Jahnavi said about her Uncle’s reactions was troubling him.
He was certain that the Uncle was somehow responsible for his predicament but unable to understand why that gentleman took such an extreme view. The family knew how much both loved each other. Was it because what he said to Jahnavi in the morning? But his reaction was only in a fit of anger.
His mind was in a turmoil. He knew that a few of his Muslim friends with radical thoughts did harbor the belief in Love Jihad; mission to convert Hindu girls. He didn’t accept it. At least not after he met and loved Jahnavi.
Ye Allah! Would she forgive him?
He reached Jahnavi’s home and rang the bell. She opened the door, looked at him with reproach then was about to close it but Mirza stopped her, “Listen to me Jahnavi, I just escaped death little while ago… some truck tried to hit my taxi …. and then a call came, threatening me …. but I am here due to Allah’s kindness.”
Jahnavi stared at him… slowly came forward, took his hand and pulled him inside the house. She was normally a perceptive and a forgiving girl. And she loved him.
Outwardly it would seem that there was a great contradiction of religion, faith and belief between Hussain, Mirza’s father and Venkatesh, Jahnavi’s Uncle. The society was divided for the alliance of a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl.
But unknown to everybody, that same night, Hussain and Venkatesh were in conversation with each other. They were friends since long but they thought fit not to disclose this to anyone or their families. Perhaps they wanted to avoid pressures of occasional Hindu- Muslim tensions in the Town.
This would have been a great surprise to all. Who would have imagined about this friendship?
Hussain said, “I fully endorse the marriage of Mirza and Jahnavi. I am sure this inter religious marriage will be good for them and all of us. I should have objected to my wife’s insistence on conversion of Jahnavi’s religion at the beginning itself which I didn’t do. It was mistake on my part knowing your niece is involved. I have now convinced my wife – we can say that Jahnavi needn’t convert to a Muslim. “
Venkatesh nodded in agreement, “I fully appreciate your gesture, but I must first apologize to Jahnavi for behaving so rudely in the morning. I don’t know how I reacted so strongly on Love Jihad. Perhaps my sister’s pain and tears had upset me. It was wrong on my part- particularly when your son is involved. I know they truly love each other. I will tell Savitri to accept Mirza. But I only hope some hotheads in my group do not harass him in these days.”
As if by prophesy, just then he received a call in his mobile and his expression changed.
“My God”, he exclaimed, “As I feared, Mirza has been attacked by my boys, little while ago just to scare him.’ He touched Hussain’s shoulder lightly. “Don’t worry, he is all right. I will try to ensure that nothing will happen in future. Extremely sorry that this attack couldn’t be stopped.”
After about a month there was another assault on Mirza while he was returning home from his University in the night. He luckily escaped. Police said that it was orchestrated by some fundamental Muslim outfit. But the question was why should they attack another Muslim?
It was very unfortunate that Mirza had invited the anger of both Hindu and Muslim radical groups.
The ire of Muslim radical groups became clear subsequently.
That day Mirza walked into a house at the periphery of the town; a meeting of like-minded radicals was in progress; the subject of discussion was Love Jihad. The name of Jahnavi who was the niece of Venkatesh, a radical Hindu leader, was the nerve center of the argument. They knew about Mirza’s plan to marry Jahnavi. Per them it was very lamentable that her conversion was not made a pre-condition for marriage. It was blasphemous! He should now ensure change of her religion to Islam, forthwith.
They, nonetheless apologized for the attack on Mirza by some immature elements of the group.
Hearing all these, Mirza shook his head, “I admit that I have supported Love Jihad in the past, but now I strongly feel that this is wrong. Freedom of religion, faith and tolerance are required for all of us to survive in this great country. Also, please don’t bring Jahnavi into this.”
They began protesting vehemently, tried to reason with him, ultimately threatened him, but Mirza walked out. He would not change his mind. Jahnavi would continue to remain Hindu.
It needed fierce courage on part of Mirza to break free. Besides, fortitude of Jahnavi was no less. Whatever happened, she knew that she would support and be at his side!
It was a Golden day in their lives when both married! Their families whole heartedly supported the union.
Months later Mirza with Jahnavi shifted to a foreign shore, a Muslim dominated nation, in pursuance of Mirza’s professional career. His new duties now concerned critical international and diplomatic assignments.
That day, both were in a car driving along the highway. However, they had been thinking of some change of plans.
About two hours later, around 150 miles towards north on the same highway there was suddenly a car explosion. It was so severe that the metal sheets of the vehicle were torn apart and the flame and smoke rose towards the sky. Those who had witnessed the detonation said that nobody could have lived in that car.
The news dispersed right away. Soon, there were unconfirmed media reports of Christian militancy targeting the Muslims in that nation! Reports also mentioned that Mirza, an Indian Muslim, involved in important diplomatic missions was in the car and he was the focus of the attack. He had been instantly killed and his body was defaced beyond recognition. Killed along with him was his wife who was not a Muslim but a Hindu.
Next day back at home, the foreign media reports had spread like wild-fire in the Town. After the relatives and friends visiting them and offering condolences had left, both Hussain and Venkatesh, in some solitude were dejectedly reminiscing. In the past, they had tried their best to heal a divided social order by ensuring that love of Mirza and Jahnavi ultimately triumphed but sadly that was not sufficient. As the fate would have had it, in another part of the world, the militant elements had extracted their unfortunate final price in the same divisive attitude! When would the society understand the importance of love and unity in the humankind?
Just then a call came in Hussain’s mobile. It was an international call. The male voice that floated in was so familiar, “ Abbu, I am Mirza…”
Hearing that Hussain’s hands started shaking, his mobile was about to fall on the ground but he could manage to hold it and switched on the speaker. Together they listened intently with happy tears flowing from their eyes about how Mirza and Jahnavi had changed their plan abruptly in a mid-way town, and thus didn’t travel any further in the ill-fated hired car. There was some other unfortunate couple who had rented that car and travelling in it when the blast occurred. The media had misinformation about who actually travelled in that car.
So, Mirza and Jahnavi were safe, miraculously!
Who could guess the vagaries and blessings of Allah and Tirupati Balaji?
7th December 2016