“Hmm?” He replied with the wrench still clenched in his teeth and his hands still dipped somewhere in his tractor’s engine.
“I have a secret!” He said in a very, very low voice. Almost like in a whisper.
“Secret?” Rehmat almost smiled at that.
“Well, what is it?” He wasn’t really interested but he liked playing along with his 7 year old’s stories often.
“Well, I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.” He said, half-heartedly. He was really used to telling his father everything…well, almost.
Rehmat looked back at him and winked, “Alright, boy. Tell me when you want to!”
“Mmhmm.” Ali could only say that while still nibbling on his last bit of paratha.
“You know if you promise to not tell anyone, I’ll tell you what it is.” Ali said this time.
“Oh, well, OK.” Rehmat honestly didn’t give two hoots, he just, as usual had to play along. It wasn’t a lot of times he got to spend with his family.
“You know about the old peepli in our school? A jinn lives on it.” Ali had finally gotten his father’s attention.
“A jinn?” Rehmat looked astounded.
“Yes but ssshh.. It’s a secret. If you told anyone else it will eat you and me up.”
“Ali, who told you that??” Rehmat was a farmer but he had studied till the 9th grade and had his signature in English. He had also worked as a driver for a year in the past, when the year of drought had come and they couldn’t deal with the financial crisis anymore. That could be the reason he was smarter than the rest of them… Or so he thought.
“Ustaad did.” Ali looked scared. Almost unsure of whether he did the right thing.
“Come on, Ali. It’s your turn today. What did you bring?” Ustaad Najjam said, twisting his mustache and sitting on his wooden chair such that his already swollen tummy looked even bigger than it was in the real. He was a teacher but looked nothing like one. He had long, untrimmed nails that were home to oodles of dirt. His hair were oily like everyone else’s in the village but also dirt filled, unlike most of the people in the village. He never spoke. He shouted. He always wore white, like all the people perceived to be respectable wore in their community. His whites never looked white, though; they, either looked all grey or they had brownish-black dirt smudges and smears over them. He had stench on him for the entire week, then one day he’d take bath in one of the school’s bathrooms and that’s where the stench would get shifted, but it never took long for it to return to the Ustaad. Even the ittar didn’t help. It just made the stench worse. Ali had often thought to himself the jinn of the peepli must look like Ustaad Najjam, or maybe better..and had often been punished on getting caught chuckling to himself over that thought. Ustaad never actually taught anything. He would come around 10:30 in the morning and leave around 12:30 in the noon. But it would be different on the days one of the saahibs would come. Now, on those days, everything was different. And by different, I mean really, really different. On those days, his whites looked white and his hair looked like everyone else’s. Oily but definitely not dirty..well, not as dirty, at least. He also came pretty early and left only after the saahib had gone. Also, he instantly sounded like a saraiki news anchor on those days. How sweet!
Of all the saahibs, Ali liked Amaan saahib the most. He often had double-thoughts, wondering if maybe, the jinn looked like him. After the jinn, it was saahib everyone was really scared of in the village. Or maybe they just respected him crazy much. Saahib was some director and had given charity to their school while it was being built. He was always the one the villagers had gone to if they ever had an issue. He was only an officer in the education department but they trusted him. It had to do with the fact he was also the nicest man on earth. Ali wanted to be like Amaan Sahab when he grew up. He looked like a film-star to Ali. Nobody he knew, even remotely looked like him. Nobody in the whole village. Nobody in the nearby city. He had his own ‘style’. He came from the big city, it was said. He was always clad in white latha and big black glasses that covered half the face while the remaining half was covered by his big mustache!
“ALI!” Ustaad Najjam hit Ali’s lower back with the branch he held in his hand. It was actually pretty thin but it pierced through Ali’s skin.
“Ustaad ji, this.” He held forward his plate with his hands shaking.
Ustaad looked at the plate with disgust and looked back at Ali but took the plate anyway, as he did from three kids every day. The jinn had divided all the kids into groups. There had to be a sweet, a main course item and a drink. The jinn preferred to have sweet lassi and halwa everyday, so those had to be ‘the’ must. They had to hand over the eatables to their Ustaad who would stay a couple of minutes after the school to offer them to the jinn, but the later only trusted the former so that had to be done alone. Sometimes it would be money or clothes, too. The jinn also wanted nobody to be in the school vicinity so they had to leave before the handing over took place. Good for the jinn‘s privacy-preferences, the school was located in a fairly remote area, about half an hour away from the village on foot. “What the hell is this? Idiot. Didn’t I tell you the jinn wanted pulao this time. Why do you always bring these tasteless parathas everytime. Oh and this half cooked egg? The next time the jinn will eat you if you don’t bring pulao.”
Ali had to go apologize to the peepli before going on to sit next to Fahim on the mat over the ground.
“Ali? What do you think the jinn looks like?” Fahim was scared for Ali but wanted to cover that with a small talk.
“I don’t know. Do you think I’ve angered him?” Ali was visibly scared.
“I have an idea.” Fahim snapped. “But I’m not helping you with it!”
Ali listened carefully as Fahim talked and gradually his eyes lit up.
“That’s brilliant, Fahim! But I know exactly how I can make it better!”
They were all pretty scared. After all, it wasn’t everyday they got to see a jinn. By now, everybody in the village knew of the jinn, despite Ustaad‘s warnings, the words had spread a long time back. The respect the villagers had for the Ustaad had consequently increased. After all, not every Ustaad could communicate with the other world. In fact, some had started giving the Ustaad treats, too. Why should only the jinn have all the fun. They had taken his address and would go to his place with virgin olive and mustard oil and ghee and eggs and rice and wheat and halwas and of course, the sweet lassi! In return they only asked him about their produce for the coming year or how many sons should they expect or if their saahibs were thinking of maybe, increasing their salaries. Or sometimes they would go for him to recite some religious verses on their sons and daughters who were either possessed or maybe were suffering from mental health issues. No actually, I take that back. Pretty sure, it was the former one! Yup!
According to the plan, some were to stand at the gate, the remaining to hide behind the school walls, the rest just had to wait with clubs in their hands, in case the jinn decided to attack someone. But it was also crucial to hide to respect jinn‘s privacy. If everything was to go according to the plan, once all the kids got free from the school they’d go home so they won’t get too scared for their lives while the adults, the adult men, that is, would reach the school on bicycles with Ali who had to take off from school for the same reasons. Ali was supposed to go in right when ustaad was offering the jinn food and hand over the pulao and drop on his knees and ask to be forgiven. Surely, that would work, right? Everyone in the village was there and knew of the plan, except for the Ustaad and Rehmat. Rehmat was out of town to sell the sugar-cane produce and he would have never let Ali do any of it, anyway. He didn’t believe there was jinn in there in the first place. But there was, of course. What else would explain the expensive scent that arose from such a remote place. Every single morning. Except on Mondays.
As Ali was contemplating what he would say to the jinn, he realized they had reached the school. At this point Ali had decided he would let Ustaad do all the talking. They got into their positions and in an instant the silence inside the school was broken by laughter and an immense scent of some expensive perfume. As Ali slowly moved inside, he started shivering. With him, some of his uncles went in too, then, more and more people started pouring in. It was not everyday the villagers got to see a paranormal entity. Somehow, the voices, both of them sounded too familiar. He finally reached a place where he could see Ustaad and …
Ali slowly muttered something under his breath as his gaze fell on ustaad chewing on something his mouth was filled with to the smallest gaps as groups of villagers climbed in with their clubs! For the first time ever, Ustaad looked like all the kids looked when they angered the jinn-open eyed, jaw-dropped.. and all the villagers looked like Ustaad Najjam, again, every time the kids angered the jinn. Ali smiled as he realized how right he was when he thought the jinn must look like one of the saahibs, he just never knew Amaan saahib was the jinn!
- Abba -Dad
- Ustaad – Master/ Spoken out of respect/ Used for a teacher in this story.
- Peepal – A kind of tree.
- Saahab – Sir/ Spoken out of respect.
- Ittar -Perfume.
- Latha -A clothing material that was worn by the older or respectable members of a community once upon a time. The tradition still continues in some of the villages.
- Jinn – A paranormal entity.
- Pulao – A rice dish, widely and wildly popular in Pakistan.
- Paratha- A fried round bread. Pretty famous in Pakistan.
- Lassi -A mad popular yogurt drink.
- Saraiki – One of the most widely spoken languages of Pakistan. Also used to describe people who come from Saraiki speaking families. I’m half Saraiki-too. 🙂