Author’s Note: The story below is a short fantasy story set in Hyderabad.
The ghost of a man.
His name is Majzoob. You might have seen him. Then again, you might not. Think of him as a ghost, one moment you’re sure you’ve seen him. You’ve felt his presence, talked to him. But then you look around, stunned, was someone even there?
Not to them. Not to the town. Not to the streets of Ibrahim Bagh.
Majzoob talked to ghosts.
Majzoob talked to himself.
Majzoob saw the future.
Majzoob saw the past.
Majzoob was there.
“Do I ask Majzoob if my mother would like biryani served for her ninetieth?” the overly cautious wife asked her husband. Maybe she was overly cautious because her mother always noticed. Everything. Her mother noticed if the tea had just enough sugar. Her mother noticed if there was a slight wrinkle on the bedsheet. Her mother noticed what was being served on her ninetieth birthday from her grave. “Oh, calm down. For my brother’s thirtieth, we just bought a cake and got over with it.” “And I still don’t like it. Ah, he passed away so young.” “Okay, you, ask Majzoob. Will you be able to find him?”
The wife passes her neighbor on her way out. Of course, their houses were linked, Hyderabadis don’t understand privacy, you see. No, they call it living together. Like family. “Where are you off to?” “Majzoob.” And that was all you needed to tell. “Well, did you pack a tiffin?” the neighbor asks, examining the rich silk wrapped around the wife’s body. Now, you’re off to see Majzoob. You need a tiffin; you could be gone for days!
Once out, under the scorching summer sun, the wife looks around in confusion. Where to, left or right, she wondered. Left, she thought and hopped her way to find this mad man. The mighty Golkonda fort hovered in the scene, so majestic, you could hear the fort sing. Maybe it does, if you close your eyes and concentrate really hard, you can almost hear the fort calling you to it. Maybe that is why it is crowded there all the time.
She looked at the local enjoying his lukhmi, the beef bits falling on his long white beard. If mum was here, she’d offer the man a plate, the wife thought. “You’re looking for Majzoob, aren’t you?” the man startles her. “Oh my, yes. How could you tell?” “You’ve got the look.” The man says nonchalantly, finishing the last of his lukhmi. “What look?” the wife asks cautiously, touching her face as if her fingertips could feel the look. “Excitement, hope, and uncertainty.” “How can there be hope and uncertainty at once?” “You tell me, you’re wearing the answer.”
The local’s response got her thinking.
Thinking deep about how she hopes to find Majzoob. She at the same time knows he might not even be there. She had gone on a different trip with her thoughts entirely. So lost in thought that she didn’t notice she was at the bazaar now. Oh, the very famous bazaar.
It was chaos.
“No no, I brought this last week for less.”
“Madam, these are imported. High quality.”
“No madam, please don’t touch these, very delicate.”
“Bhaiya, I came here just yesterday, you told me a different rate.”
Diamonds just lay there, carved to perfection, putting the stars to shame. Bangles tied in bunches together of every size and pattern sat there just waiting to decorate someone’s wrists. The fine Ikhat was displayed in almost every corner so proudly. It was your typical bazaar, chaos everywhere but if you looked close enough, there was a certain calm in the chaos.
People looked at the wife oddly. In a place where one could barely hear one’s own voice, the wife seemed to have dulled the noise down to the minimum. Her eyes landed on you, but never looked at you. She looked like she had come out of a painting, used to having people look at her, but never the other way. There was a subtle urgency in her step as if she wanted to get somewhere quick at the same time hoping her legs would just stop. In an aimless crowd, full of people moving, just moving, not knowing where to go; she looked like the only one who was sure of her path.
“She’s meeting Majzoob.” the old mother-in-law whispered to her son’s wife. “How can you tell, mother?” her son’s wife asked her while her eyes were fixed on the woman who just wouldn’t blend with the crowd. “You see her face? It’s just it.” “What about her face?” “That’s what I cannot explain. People often think they set out to find Majzoob, but they don’t know that it’s him calling them.” “Like the singing of the fort.”
After walking for what felt like ages, the wife found herself in front of the Fateh Darwaza. The doorway to the fort. Maybe the fort really does sing, maybe the fort really does call you to it.
The door was old, ancient with a park close by.
The entire scene is colored with hues of mysticism. You can tell that many have been there; lost, found, not wanting to be lost, not wanting to be found. Everyone with their own secrets.
In the park, there was a bench.
The bench looked lonely. Maybe all benches are lonely, they just wait for someone, anyone, to join them. Benches know secrets; the confession of love, the confession of the absence of love, silent weeping, silent smiling. Many say if walls could talk, they would have so much to say. So many secrets to spill. Why don’t we talk about benches? Benches know just the same, maybe even more. If benches really could talk, no one would sit on them at the park. Or maybe they would sit, just to make sure to have their stories told, someday.
There was one such lonely bench.
And on that bench, there was an old man.
The old man sitting there with his shoulders hunched. Slowly tearing the soft petals of a flower one by one. His hair danced every time a soft gush of wind greeted them. The wife let out a breath, a breath she didn’t know for how long she held. Consequently, the old man sensed her presence.
The old man turned to look at her, almost as if he has been waiting for the wife all along.
Years of silence later he said, “Your mother says the silk suits you, my dear.”