Translated by Naeem Ashraf
“Cursed was the man who attached bodily needs to the honor of a person. So called ‘honor’ is quite fragile in my homeland. People kill their sisters, daughters and wives for the sake honor and get away with it. Law seems to be favoring the killers.” Superintendent of Jail, Faqeer Hussain thought, as he waited in the side room to meet Inspector General of Prisons. Besides making a fortune, Faqeer Hussain had earned a good name in the Police Service. Left with only two years in uniform, Faqeer Hussain wished for a smooth sailing as he aspired for an extension in the service. Keeping the upcoming prudence in mind, he had started to offer his prayers more vigorously and avoided un-necessary arguments with his superiors. But the prisoner transferred to his prison yesterday could ruin his plans. The boy had been rotated to three jails in six months. Many officers were sacked or had proceeded to forced retirement. Now the lad was being sent to Faqeer Hussain. “This is not a good omen,” Faqeer Hussain thought before entering the office of Inspector General.
“I know Ghairti is a good looking prisoner. Soft and baby-faced boys are easily seduced by lewd prisoners. But we do not have a juvenile prison. It’s time the boy should cooperate with fellow prisoners. Make suitable arrangements.” The Inspector General of Prisons ordered Faqeer Hussain. But allowing soft skinned Ghairti into his prison was like asking for a trouble. “I know, Ghairti is a hot cake for his shrewd prison-mates,” the Inspector General continued. “With whom should I lock him, sir?” Faqeer Hussain inquired helplessly. “Look Mr Faqeer Husain! Disappointments don’t go well with this profession. Put him in a lone hut.” The Inspector General advised. “Sir! This has been experimented in the previous Jail…” Faqeer Hussain explained. “There, the Head Warden managed to get the keys from the central key-locker and broke into Ghairti’s hut at night with two other wardens. No one could save the boy from their onslaught. A case was registered. All three were imprisoned. I don’t have more pious people under my command than those…” Now the boss turned anguish: “If you think yourself unfit for the duty, you may resign. The next officer will take care of it.” The words came like hammer blows on Faqeer Hussain’s head. He quietly left the IGP’s office. After all, life doesn’t move on one’s whims.
Next afternoon, Ghairti arrived with a group of prisoners. On their arrival, the prisoners were first shepherded to Chakar – a round circular hall where hand cuffs and fetters are removed. Faqeer Hussain found an excuse to visit the place. Ghairti was cuter than Faqeer Hussain had visualized. Despite being imprisoned; the boy was fit and fresh. Stealing a glance at Ghairti’s glowing face, soft skin and ample buttocks, Faqeer Hussain’s mind went back to the days of his own youth. Prior to his marriage he had befriended many boys who resembled Ghairti. The faces of the lads skimmed past his mind’s eye like a film. Within a moment, Faqeer Hussain recalled numerous charming faces. “What is this nonsense? I must shed evil thoughts at once.” He thought to himself. Suddenly he realized that it was Asar (afternoon prayers) time. Humming La Hola Walaa Quwwata Illah Billah (Without help and support of God no one can escape evil or chose righteousness), Faqeer Hussain hurried to the raised platform built for prisoners to offer his belated prayers. The place was kept clean and tidy by prisoners. Since the outbreak of suicide attacks in the country, Faqeer Hussain had started to offer his prayers inside the prison. He also received solace through displaying piety and message of peace to the inmates. After witnessing many incidents in past years, Muslim supplicants in city mosques often diverted their attention towards probable suicide bombers who could martyr them anytime.
In the jail the prisoners were divided into groups based on age, race and the kind of crime they had committed. The representatives of each group received Ghairti with great zeal and enthusiasm. By the time Faqeer Hussain was done with his prayers, Ghairti was surrounded by fellow inmates. They embraced and shook hands with unusual excitement. Each group yearned to have Ghairti in their barrack. “Ghairti is our companion. He is one of us. He will live with us.” The ‘Ghairti Group’ reiterated. Ghairti was the title given to a prisoner who had landed in jail for killing his women-folk in pursuit of honor. A man’s honor was seriously injured if his sister, daughter or wife was seen or reported to have been seen with an unrelated man. In many segments of society it was considered ‘honorable’ to kill that woman. The sentence for ‘honor-killing’ was also less harsh than commonplace murder. After all, the attribute of honor has to be kept supreme at all costs.
In early days of police service, Faqeer Hussain’s ideal officer was a pimp, alias Noora. Prior to partition of the subcontinent, Quetta’s brothel had two divisions; the European Sector housed ‘fair-skinned sex workers’ whereas the Local Sector inhabited colored harlots. British officers and soldiers visited the European Sector of the brothel. From the Local Sector, Noora provided women to Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Gurkha soldiers visiting from Quetta Garrison. Noora desired that civil officers, police officers, pimps and prostitutes all maintain cordial work relations with him. Unlike the elections, wherein the politicians isolate themselves from voters after the elections, the head of the Red-Light area was chosen by administration after thorough deliberation. Therefore, it was expected that Noora must remain forthcoming and supportive to all those who mattered to his business. Faqeer Hussain was convinced that to have a smooth sailing career, a wise officer must always follow Noora.
Faqeer Hussain placed Ghairti with the ‘Ghairti Group’. The ‘Ghairti Group’ members excitedly welcomed the boy. Faqeer Hussain was satisfied with the arrangement. “This group has an honorable conscience. They will take care of him. Who has greater morality than the men who slaughter their nearest relations to protect their honor?” Faqeer Hussain murmured to himself. “They are men of character. They will protect him like their own honor. ” He took a sigh of relief but ignored the fact that lust is the greatest weakness of men.
The incident occurred around midnight. On receiving the call, Faqeer Hussain rushed to Ghairti’s barrack. Injured Ghairti, had already been evacuated to the medical ward. The victim cried with pain in his lower back. Two guards were posted around Ghairti to prevent any other like incident. A Nursing Assistant alias ‘Doctor’, tended to Ghairti. ‘Doctor’, as he liked to be called, was an old hand and experienced hand in the prison. In all these years, the shrewd and well-connected Doctor had managed to keep the prison doctor’s post vacant. He too offered his prayers with disciplined enthusiasm. In addition, he attached special importance to Tahajjud (midnight prayers). Taking Ghairti into his care the doctor first applied ointment on his bruised face. But Ghairti’s hidden wounds ached more than the wounds on his face. The Doctor handed him a small canister of homemade paste. He called it the ‘magic-cream’. He asked Ghairti to apply the cream on affected extremities before rushing for his Fajar (morning prayers). On his return, Doctor found Ghairti at peace. The boy looked at Doctor with gratitude.
“Did the cream help?” Doctor inquired while avoiding the eye contact.
“Yes. It has quenched the burning.” Ghairti replied.
“My dear friend this cream is my own concoction. This is the best ointment against bruises, burning and irritation.” The compounder- turned doctor explained. “If you can rid of these three problems, you can cope with hardships of prison- life.”
“I have eight long years to go. By then, I would exhaust and die.” Ghairti spoke disdainfully.
“Listen to me, my friend! You should cope with the circumstances. Sooner or later, things would turn in your favor. This magic cream will help.” Doctor assured him.
“We had a love marriage. I became suspicious of my wife’s character and ended her life. It was based on a doubt. But what has just happened to me is doubtless. I have seen it with my own eyes and am still living.” Ghairti moaned with embarrassment. “How shameless of a creature am I? Doctor! Please have mercy on me, give me something for a less painful death. Please help me.” “Be a man, young man! There is no painless death.” Doctor continued consoling Ghairti. Ghairti grabbed doctor’s hand and dozed off to sleep. Two well reputed prisoners were posted as guards outside Ghairti’s room.
The very next day, an influential inmate, Sardar came around. Having learnt of the mishap, he went directly to the medical ward. Sitting on the side of his bed and stroking Ghairti’s face with his fingers, the Sardar consoled him. “You come to me. I will see who dares to cast an evil eye upon you.” His tone was mild but lecherous. Ghairti saw lust in Sardar’s eyes and replied in a trembling voice: “No, thank you Sir. ”Sardar uttered a loud laughter and continued. “You still have a long way to go. Your debauched colleagues would rag you like anything. Come with me. Be only mine. Besides other benefits, I will help get you out of here.”
Then Sardar addressed the doctor. “Listen Oye you doctor! Send this youngster to my room. He will work as a laborer with me. Tell that jailor of yours right away.” The doctor was stunned. It took him a while to summon his wits and then replied obediently, “The order shall be obeyed sir.” Sardar had a last hungry glance at Ghairti, twisted his moustache and proceeded to his barrack. Sardar was having a turbulent sailing in politics. He had enjoyed minister ship for the past two years but as they say, ‘bad times come unannounced.’ He himself didn’t know why he had abandoned his loyalties with ruling party and joined the opposition. He had been commanded by the ruling party to ‘either revert back or face criminal charges.’ Since he was not welcomed in the opposition and reverting back was a political death, Sardar chose to spend some time in jail. This was the only choice left for him to remain relevant in politics. He was given the best jail in the penitentiary. Sardar lived like kings in his cell. Whenever he desired, he could visit his home from dusk to dawn. During daytime, he roamed in the jail without any checks.
No sooner had Sardar left that the doctor ran up to inform the jailor. Faqeer Hussain came to know of Sardar’s intent and ordered the concerned staff: “Ghairti must get his treatment during daytime, in any case Sardar Sahib needs him at night. During the day, Sardar Sahib is busy with his political visitors. Ghairti may stay in the medical ward during that time and continue with his treatment.” By the time Doctor returned from his evening prayers, Ghairti was numb with fear.
“I will not go to Sardar. I will rather prefer dying. Doctor! Please give me a painless death. I request you.” Ghairti begged and cried. “His unnatural death will cast suspicion on us all. I may lose my job.” The Doctor thought while twiddling the rosary-beads with his fingers. “In my country, you can’t live a respectful life. He is asking for a respectful death. What an innocent man!”
“You have only two choices my friend.” He addressed Ghairti, looking into his eyes. “If you wish to die, drink the whole phenyl bottle lying there.” He pointed towards bottle in the washroom. “On the other hand if you want to live a happy life, take this magic cream and go to Sardar. The choice rests with you. In case you choose to join Sardar, he will get you released on parole. He is expected to be out after a couple of weeks and is likely to take over as minister again. After that, he might as well manage a decent job for you. Who knows; one day, you land here as deputy jailor. In that eventuality you will be my boss. This is how people progress in life.” The Doctor explained to him the pros and cons of his decision.
“Think over it. It is time for Isha (night) prayers now. We will talk after I have said my prayers.” Perplexed, Ghairti looked at the magic cream and then glanced at the yellow phenyl bottle lying in the washroom adjacent to his room. He was perplexed between cream and phenyl.
“Cream or poison, freedom from jail or freedom from life?” Ghairti asked himself in solitary silence. Both sentries sitting outside, least bothered about what was cooking in Ghairti’s mind, continued smoking their hashish filled cigarettes leisurely. Having said his night prayers, the doctor hurried to Ghairti’s room only to find an empty bed. The magic-cream had also disappeared from the bed-side-table.
The un-opened phenyl bottle however, peacefully rested at its place.
Taken from SWEETHEART by Naeem Ashraf
The book is available at: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=SWEETHEART+NAEEM+ASHRAF&ref=nb_sb_noss