It was a mid-October night; the chill in the air had penetrated the kurta the hakim had worn, to freeze one of those dreams he often had of his friend who was no more. He loved to cling to those dreams where the pygmy witch-doctor played the lead character. But even in that exalted state, he realised he had to wrap himself in a bedspread, else the unfriendly weather would take its toll. He stirred himself and, as was the norm, smelt leftover of burnt paraffin wax that lingered, not until the sunrays had vaporised it out of the window.
Munawwar Husain alias Munna Hakim gripped the handle to lift the heavy lid of the rosewood hutch cabinet with his left hand and with the other groped for the bedspread. While his subconscious mind guided the right hand, the conscious one reminded him he had to visit Dr. Barton in the morning. Kabir, his friend, Iskandar’s son, needed backup support to make good his desire to marry the doctor’s daughter. He could not procrastinate that strategic meeting, for he did not want Kabir to return in disappointment to his farm.
‘This should be it,’ he said to himself as his fingers blindly examined the softness of the handloom spread the vendor from Burhanpur brought. He pulled that out, diligently rested the cover, and returned to bed as he had to salvage the sleeping hours to undertake the precarious job in the morning.
Kabir Shah’s three sisters and his other family friends had got married one after the other, but he was still a bachelor because a few things complicated his matrimonial configuration. His elders had not attended to this obligatory duty because they knew the nucleus of his ardour was a white, Christian girl whose family had arrived from England not so long ago.
The hakim had sensed this was not exactly a love story, but he owed to his long-time friend to perk the spirit of his love-struck son and also to convince the doctor that this would prove to be a satisfactory match. The first part posed no problems, but the latter had many hurdles, for there were racial, religious, and cultural impediments, and, to heighten the bar, the nation was also heading straight into a confrontation that would test those man-raised barriers.
Munna Hakim was among the few who knew the freedom struggle was not yet over and the coming days would witness a long drawn combat between a bare-handed mass and an armoured contingent hungry for retribution. It was not clear what lay in the future, but he believed another bradawl was looming large.