It’s 9.30 pm and Dubai, the city-state on the Persian Gulf coast of UAE did not seem tired, it is still bustling like in the morning. The roads are jam packed with latest luxurious cars and bikes. Rolls Royce, Ferraris and Lamborghinis rule the roost among the cars. Vibrantly lit multifloored high-rise corporate buildings, world famous branded restaurants, 7 star luxury hotels that gift one a taste of cuisine from any part of the world, most happening discotheques and bars, mosques and breathtaking shopping malls offering trendiest products and services, overflowing with people from various nationalities filled the city.
Dubai is a shopper’s paradise. But this dream city has a flip side to it. For those with an urge to splurge this expensive city is a forbidden fruit that lures one into the gallows of hell with a mask of heaven. In this growing Arab dream city which is also one of the most sought after tourist destination by millions across the world and famous for the sprawling heavenly palaces of the aristocratic Sheikhs, one building stood apart in it’s splendour,Burj Khalifa.The world’s tallest building shooting into ‘stratosphere’ kissing the clouds and putting other skyscrapers across the world to shame.
Nightlife has become a way of life or to put in another way ‘day’ begins at night in Dubai and similar luxurious cities across the globe. And somewhere in this Arab city or better say ocean, four friends are having a great time in a five star hotel. The coloured drinks shined fluorescently in the light from the skyscrapers that passed through the glass window and into the wine, lemonade, vodka crystal glasses, as they raised and cheered in unison. Aamir, Sanjay, Christi and Musthafa, four thick friends who would stand by each other and extend whole hearted support to one another in times of agony and ecstasy. They worked for the same company owned by a Sheikh in Dubai. Their friendship is so famous in their corporate that often the Sheikh said they are like the four towering, majestic minarets of a mosque that always stand together and are nicknamed ‘four minarets’. Sales force of the company comprised of them and they are so smart,active,fast in meeting targets much before the deadline that they are called the company’s ‘fire force’. They are celebrating the success of clinching a business deal from their competitors over a small candle lit dinner table on a cold night.
Taking a sip from his glass Christi asked Aamir,”Again another feather to our cap. So Mr. Omar Khayyam with a glass of red wine in your glass, do you have any beautiful verse or prose to say at this point? ”
Aamir, the handsome charming guy with well chiseled features and the smartest among the four who looks like an Arab prince smiled at his chum’s query. At six feet one inch with jet black neck long hair combed backward, sharp nose, bright forehead and killer looks, he is a guy any woman for die for. He raised his red wine glass, holding it by the bottom with three fingers. Slowly rotated it as if admiring the red colour and said,
“You know guys, this is a significant moment as there’s similarity between two things here. Friendship is like ‘wine’, both improve in flavour & gets stronger with time. And the enjoyment is fresh each time.”
“Wow, great Aamir”, praised the three of them and all raised their glasses again as a toast to their friendship.
After spending some more time chatting, joking and gossiping they returned home in their Toyota Prado negotiating the traffic and burning fuel that’s cheaper than drinking water in UAE. They all stayed in the same seventh floor flat of the apartment.
It’s 11.30 pm and Christi, Sanjay and Musthafa have already hit the sack except Aamir who is standing with folded arms by the verandah of their flat. He enjoyed watching the speed and splendour of the city at night as it’s a magnificent view from there. From the verandah he could see the placid Dubai creek reflecting images of buildings and lights by it’s bank, which made the creek colourful like a rainbow. And ripples split these images into pieces when a boat passes through the creek and leaves a trail.The sky is clear with the crescent shining bright and it’s a bit cold. But still Aamir and likewise many were craving for a rain which happened rarely. The scorching climate of this desert land was becoming unbearable. For expatriates like him a chance to get wet in the rain is like a worn out, tired desert traveler finding an oasis and date palm after wandering through the vast desert for long hours. Lying flat in the bed with hands behind his head Aamir looked at the lit chandlier above. He faintly heard the horn of a boat cruising in the creek. Gently closing his eyes he travelled back in time to his native place.
During rainy season when the sky is clear and climate is cool after the rain at night, he used to go with friends to the beach and lie down on the sand gazing & counting the stars & constellations which are fresh after the rain. Like sparkling, heavenly diamonds strewn on a black velvet carpet. They wished they could pick few of them and take home. And if lucky, can spot celestial fire crackers, meteors, play hide and seek in between. The silence broken by sound of waves breaking on the shore and distant horn of a ship sailing. A gentle, cool breeze from the sea caresses them, as if the sea is calling to come and merge with it. Those were the best days of his life, he thought. He missed them badly, but not for long.
Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at the clock on the wall, it’s 1 am. Few more hours and he’ll be in the flight to his native place for two weeks. After a long gap he will be visiting his hometown to meet his friends and attend his close friend’s wedding. He felt elated and happy. But his mind got diverted by a thought that has been brooding him for many months.
It happened three months back. The four of them had gone for a desert safari with an expert driver in a jeep exclusively used for such thrilling but ardous journey. Again it was part of a celebration for achieving a milestone professionally. It was a roller coaster ride through the burning desert with the jeep sometimes flying in the air defying gravity while climbing a sand dune. The risky ride in the hot sun braving sand dunes, wind, quick sand and other hidden dangers of the desert was an adrenaline pumping experience and memorable part of their Dubai life so far. They made the most of it sipping cans of freezing cold soft drinks to beat the heat, howling and enjoying every moment to the fullest.
By nightfall they split into two groups. Christi and Musthafa spent the night watching Yowalah, a traditional dance form of the Arabs. Lying down relaxed on a cushion, smoking a hookah kept by their side, they enjoyed watching an Iranian lady and team dance to the tune of a yodeling Arabic song.
But Sanjay and Aamir wanted to try something different. From the jeep driver they learnt that nearby there is a nomadic tribe staying in groups and among them was a gypsy who is also a fortune teller. Since both of them were religious and believed in superstition they were curious to meet the gypsy. The nights in desert are usually windy and chilly. So wrapped in a blanket both of them made their way through the slippery sand to the gypsy’s tent. It was a small tent that fluttered in the strong wind and it seemed it will fly away soon. They entered the tent slowly and carefully without making a noise and saw a hag sitting inside with her eyes closed and meditating. Knowing that someone has come she opened her eyes. Her powerful eyes looked deep into their pupils and both of them felt they were being hypnotized. She had a lean figure with long unkempt grey hair, sunken but staring eyes, curvy long nose and a dark green cloth tied around her head like a pirate’s headband. Her hands and face were crisscrossed with wrinkles and looked dry. She wore several beaded chains around her slender neck with shells in between the beads and a tarnished oversized copper bangle with carvings in her right hand. In the tent there were some broken mud pots, coloured powder, saffron and a staff with red fabric tied to it’s tip. Altogether the tent had an eerie feeling with an oil lamp beside the gypsy as the only source of light.
Both of them sat before the gypsy on a mat. It was Sanjay’s turn first.”I do not say about a person’s future in front of others. So you please stay outside.”
She said and gestured with her hand to Aamir to go out. He got irritated but had to stay outside until she finished with Sanjay.She started predicting and explaining about Sanjay’s future picking a card from the tarot cards spread before her. After some twenty minutes Sanjay came out and Aamir went inside the tent. The hag stared into his eyes for a few minutes and saw the disinterest in him to listen what she had to say about him. She placed a crystal ball in front of him and asked him to place his palm on the ball with both hands. Reluctantly he obeyed her and she placed her palm over his. Her sharp nailed long fingers with stoned rings in all of them were cold enough to give him a shiver. Closing her eyes she chanted something in Arabic for a few seconds. Without opening the eyes she lifted her right hand with clenched fist and placed it close to her heart, still chanting. Opening her eyes she placed her fist in Aamir’s palm and dropped something. He saw that it’s a turquoise blue bead.
“Your future lies in a bead. And now you can leave”, she said in a deep and coarse voice. Angrily he left and threw the bead somewhere in the desert. That night he could not sleep thinking what she meant and what a waste of time was that meeting. Early morning the four were packing their bags to return home, but Aamir wanted to meet the gypsy again. He reached the place only to see that there was neither such tent nor any sign of the gypsy.
Was it a mirage in the desert or a ‘nightmare’? He thought for a minute. On enquiring about her from a person belonging to the nomadic tribe, he came to know that there wasn’t any such person in the tribe and they had no clue about such a fortune teller. Since then the gypsy’s words have been resonating in his mind and the incident haunting him often, especially at night during sleep.
The alarm clock started ringing informing it’s 5 am. Aamir woke up from his disturbed sleep and got ready with his packed bags and other necessary things to stay in his native for three weeks. He bid goodbye to his friends and reached the airport to catch the flight scheduled to leave by 7 am. The aircraft ran through the taxi way and took off into the air. Aamir was elated because a few more hours later he will be in his native place. He reclined in the seat and slowly closed his eyes trying to regain his sleep disturbed yesterday night by happiness and horror.
Aamir woke up from his sleep as the car screeched to a halt with a shake, when two burkha clad women crossed the road without caution and the driver failed in dodging a pothole in the muddy road simultaneously. One among them turned and looked at him with dilated twinkling eyes that had fear and shock in them. Only her eyes were visible in the outfit. It’s a four hours journey from the airport to his friend’s house and the road leading to the house was muddy owing to heavy rain in the morning. Though he felt tired and sleep deprived given the long journey by flight, he enjoyed being back in his native and the drive in car to friend’s house enjoying the sightseeing. Glistening rain drops on windscreen, wet lush green plantation on either side of the slippery road and misty view.
”Oh God I’ve been missing these beautiful things back in that desert land”, he said to himself. But he was unhappy as he could not enjoy the rain and get wet.
After some time as the car passed by a mosque he asked the driver to apply brakes He paid the driver and got out of the car with his luggage. Slowly he walked towards the mosque. The sound of dry leaves crushing between his shoes and sand echoed in the silent atmosphere of the mosque. Reaching the entrance of the mosque he looked at it’s dome and stood there staring for a few minutes. Few pigeons which have made nests out of the small arch like carvings and corners of the dome perched at it’s tip. The branches of the tall mango tree adjacent to the mosque covered almost half of the dome. Though the mosque looked dusty, old and unattended, it was still exuding serenity and maintained it’s sanctity. Towards the left side of the mango tree he saw a building in ruins, the orphanage attached to the mosque where he spent his childhood and a better part of his life. The mosque, friends, orphanage, madrasa, this small town and it’s surroundings made his life for a long time before he migrated to the land of black gold in search of a fortune after graduation.
He remembered going for madrasa classes as tiny little tots in pure white dress and cap with his other friends like a herd of sheep. In later years coming back from school, getting fresh and playing cricket with friends under the mango tree with it’s trunk as wicket. When the mango tree is overflowing with mangoes, sparrows and crows feast on them. Humming bees steal nectar from few flowers yet to become mangoes. Some mangoes are rich green, few luscious yellow & others reddish green, so sweet, tempting & mouth watering. Climbing the tree to pluck them and if lucky find a bird’s nest made of twigs and leaves on it’s branch and jumping down when ants bite for intruding into their territory. Shaking the tree or throwing stones to get the mangoes.Crouching under it’s shade and hiding when it misses the target and shatters neighbour’s or mosque’s glass window. Gone are those sweet, beautiful days he thought with a smile in his lips.
”But mango tree, you are still alive and fresh in my memories. You have seen me grow as a friend, as an integral part of my life”, he said in his mind. Suddenly a mild wind blew and the tree’s branches swayed,slowly shedding few green leaves on him, like acknowledging what he said.
Aamir moved towards the mosque to check if anyone is there inside. At the entrance he saw an old, lean, bearded fakir like man sitting cross legged on a mat making kites out of paper and straws. He had many of them in different colours in a small basket aside him.
“Salim uncle”, Aamir called him.
“Yes”, the old man replied slowly lifting his head up, looking at Aamir with constrictive eyes and placing his right palm as sun shade above his eyes. Trying hard to identify the man who called him.
“It’s me Aamir, do you remember me?
The elated old man stood up with open arms and hugged Aamir.”Aamir, my son, after a long time I’m seeing you. Where are you now? And what do you do? Every day evening when I sell my first kite I remember you son.”
The elated old man stood up with open arms and hugged Aamir.”Aamir, my son, after a long time I’m seeing you. Where are you now? And what do you do? Every day evening when I sell my first kite I remember you son.”
In his childhood while playing with friends in the mosque’s premises, Aamir and his friends used to buy kites from Salim and play till dusk. And daily, the first kid to buy a kite from Salim was Aamir, that Salim considered him to be his lucky charm.
Drops of tear of happiness rolled down their cheeks as both of them remembered old memories and shared their thoughts. They kept talking with each other until Aamir heard someone call him from behind.
“Aamir you are here? Why didn’t you call me? asked Razaaq, his old friend for who’s marriage he has come.
“I thought the flight is late and hence I was coming to the airport to pick you “ said Razaaq.
Bidding goodbye to Salim uncle he got into the car and left for Razaaq’s house.
Next day evening all invited people, near and dear ones and many assembled in the town hall near to the beach for the wedding. The smell of hot spicy biriyani and fragrance of rose and jasmine attar filled the air. The stage was decorated with green lights, golden confetti and lavender. A soft Sufi devotional music played in the background creating a tranquil atmosphere. The sound of sea waves was an addition to the beautiful festive mood. From the sea shore the vividly decorated hall at night looked heavenly and resembled an island. It was feast to the eyes, like a fairy tale marriage. Aamir and his old friends wished the couple good luck, presented gifts and were having a good time taking photographs and enjoying the evening. But he had a greater role to play in the evening, to be his close friend Razaaq’s best man. Dressed in a velvet dark blue sherwani embellished with golden colour stitching and design, he looked awesome and charming than the bridegroom. He was the eye candy for many in the evening.
In between he just came out of the hall and walked fast to the entrance for welcoming few guests. But he collided with someone and the tray with flowers in that person’s hand fell down producing a metallic sound. The collision tossed the roses and jasmine high up into the air and they showered gently on both of them.
“I am really sorry, I did not see you coming”, she said in a sweet voice. She bent down and started collecting the flowers and putting them back into the tray.
The collision lifted the light blue veil off her head revealing the beautiful face in the moonlight. Aamir was standing there speechless and gaping at her beauty. Dressed immaculately in a blazing blue salwar kameez embroidered with silver at the borders, light transparent blue bangles in hands and oscillating, hanging star shaped silver ear drops, she looked like a captivating princess from the Arabian Nights. She adjusted the veil with her right hand and slowly walked past him with flowers in the tray, gifting him a beautiful smile.
“Is it shining pearls in an oyster shell? or rare diamonds in that kohl lined eyes? She is gentle like a musk deer and when she smiles thousand flowers blossom. Her black long curly tresses flow over her shoulders like beautiful Niagra falls in a full moon night. Shapely and curvy eyebrows join above her nose at the centre forming a cute ‘V’ shape. Her lips, red like a rose curve into a crescent when she smiles, dimpling her cheeks. Who is she?
“Hey what happened to you Mr. Poet? About whom are you talking and describing?” asked Aamir’s friends.
“Where did she go? Who is she?
“Who? Where? waving their hands in front of Aamir’s eyes they asked.
“Yes, now I remember. The lady in burkha who jumped in front of the car while I was coming from the airport.” He remembered those twinkling eyes that stared at him while she crossed the road with her friend.
After a sumptuous dinner and wedding all occupied the seats arranged in the ground before the stage to savour the taste of ghazal by Ustad Ali Khan. The ghazal was an unexpected gift to all who attended the marriage.Ustad took all the listeners into a trance with the divinity of his soulful music.
“Ustad may have grown old but his music is getting younger and sweeter day by day. His ghazals can still weave magic.” Razaaq told Aamir.
“Yes, you are absolutely right. There in the desert land I was missing all these. His spell of music makes everyone float in it like music notes. But he seems to be sad and the ghazal lyrics are woeful.”
Suddenly Aamir noticed that beside the Ustad was seated the lady with twinkling eyes he met few minutes ago. She was playing the violin but her gaze was fixed on him.
“Who is that lady seated beside Ustad?”
“Yea, she is Ustad’s daughter Shehnaz. The apple of his eye. She herself is a great singer and the lyrics for all ghazals sung by him is written and composed by that beauty with brains. He is financially rich but pauper by happiness. In a way she is his cause of worry. Last year she got married, the marriage was celebrated like Ramzan festival. But on the way back home they met with an accident and she lost her husband. Since then grapevine spread that she is a blot on Ustad’s image and she brings bad luck for everyone around. So you can imagine what ensues later. No one is willing to take her hand and give a life to both her and Ustad out of fear. But Ustad remained unshaken and loved this motherless child even more. But I tell you Aamir,no one can find a down to earth girl like her with such pleasing demeanour and ever ready to lend a helping hand to anyone. So you can understand why the lyrics are woeful” said Razzaq.
The function got over by 11 pm and all returned back to their homes. Aamir also returned to his room after having a gala time with friends at the marriage. But he was unhappy because he could not talk to her. He sat before the mirror on the wall in his dressing room and looked at his image in the mirror. That’s when something hanging from his shirt’s button caught his eye. He examined and found that it’s a piece of blue cloth with a small ‘bead’ hanging to it’s tip.
In his mind Aamir cranked the time wheel few months backward to his meeting with the fortune teller. The hag’s words echoed in his mind.
”Your future lies in a bead”.
“Yes, it’s a turquoise blue bead with a piece of cloth in his shirt.” He said in his mind. He remembered the collision with the Ustad’s daughter at the marriage.
“Yes, she had beads attached to the border of her shawl”, he thought.
“Oh god, what does it mean?” he thought.
Dubai, the city and it’s people were celebrating the holy month of Ramzan.Aamir reclined in a sofa in the verandah of his flat as usual enjoying the view of the city. He saw the crescent moon slightly visible between palm trees in the horizon. He took his diary from the small table aside and started writing the beautiful moments he lived during his visit to native, reminiscing each and every moment. While writing he saw that the sky is overcast. Slowly the city came under darkness. The rumbling sound of thunder could be heard at a distance. Deep grey rain clouds rolled towards each other, suggestive of a likely thunder storm. Suddenly a crimson streak of bright light plunged into earth with a deafening noise & heavy downpour that blinded his visibility.
“At last it has started raining here”, he thought.
His long wait like a hornbill for the rain gods to oblige has become a reality. Aamir enjoyed the ‘smell of nature’, the fragrance of soil wet by rain. The downpour often disturbed by a cool breeze breaking the rain drops against the window, sprinkling the ice cold water on his face that soothed him and sent a chill down his spine. To make the rain soaked evening even more fantastic he wanted something hot. Amir called out to someone from inside.
“Shehnaz, please get me a cup of hot coffee.”
Finding the piece of cloth with bead on his shirt and the fortune teller’s prophecy, both together made him decide to meet the Ustad.Two days later with Razaaq he approached the Ustad at his bungalow and expressed his interest in Shehnaz.Hearing about him, his past and understanding his character Ustad was more than happy to give his daughter to Aamir, but wanted him to talk to Shehnaz.
“We met in your friend’s marriage function and accidently you bumped into me. And that’s how I know you.Ok, let it be. What do you know about me? Do you know anything about my past? She asked mincing words and with a stammer. Her eyes were filled with tears.
Aamir explained the whole story, his life in Dubai, prophecy, friends, meeting her at the marriage function and everything.
“When I saw you at the marriage function I was besotted by you and fell in love with your music. When I learnt about your past and family, I felt sympathy for you. Later that sympathy became empathy. I am an orphan denied parent’s love and affection by the almighty. But I know the value of relationships. I am a true Muslim who does namas five times a day with full devotion and sincerity and know the essence of Quran. Quran teaches us to love each other and not to loathe. I don’t take into consideration what people say about you. I just want to be part of your family.”
One week later they got married and they left for Dubai putting the lid on the mouth of people who spread grapevine and said negative things about their marriage.
“It’s raining heavily, which is uncommon in this desert land, Isn’t it? Why don’t you come and sit inside? And what are you writing? , queried Shehnaz.
Taking a sip of coffee from the coffee mug, he stood up and walked towards the railing of his verandah. Extending his arm he collected few rain drops and sprinkled them on her face for fun.
“You seem to be very happy about the rain”, she asked looking at him with tilted head, smiling and standing by the small table with folded arms.
“Yes I am. Though I am wealthy and live in this great city with a high flying job, I have never known happiness, except when I am in company of my friends. Because I always felt lonely. And the hot climate here was killing me, that like others I too craved for a rain. But this rain is a metaphor for the happiness in my heart. My mind was like a parched desert waiting for rain of happiness, until you came into my life. Now by Allah’s grace physically and mentally I am happy, because it’s raining and you are with me, raining in my heart. The sweet memories of my trip to our native has also invigorated my dampened spirit. I was just writing a short story for which I got the most suitable title now,Desert Rain.”
At the horizon he saw a rainbow faintly and he thought, he also saw floating image of the fortune teller. Did it signify that Allah has added colour to his black and white life disguising as a fortune teller?