Moazam Rauf is based in Lahore. He studied computer science and management. Apart from writing, He is interested in philosophy (he didn't add 'studying' since he believes that philosophy is more of an activity), photography and computer networks.
The Curious Incident of the Djinn Under the Shah’toot Tree
At 5:00 a.m. Amma heard a great thud. Later, she told me that the thud was followed by a little wooden sound: dharam, thaq thaq!
By 5:10 a.m. she had thoroughly inspected the veranda and the garden; and by 5:15 a.m. she was sure that we were completely doomed.
She was wailing and banging on my room’s door with her favorite frying pan. I woke up in alarm and for a very brief moment — unwittingly — thought that Khala London had finally decided to die. Amma had told me last night that Khala wasn’t feeling very well.
I opened up the door and embraced my grieving mother.
“Amma! We mortals cannot really interfere in matters of divine providence! Besides, Khala London was an old woman. She’d lived a much fulfilled life. May Allah bless her soul and grant her a special place in Paradise, where the great springs of Pepsi Cola flow and desi kukkar grow on trees.”
Amma stopped sobbing and quizzically squinted at me. “Who is this Khala London?”
“Khala London, Amma-Amma!” I replied softly.
“Kerri Khala London?” Amma-Amma seemed genuinely perplexed.
“Your late sister, Khala Walayat… in angreezi she becomes Khala London. Ah! Poor soul, she was so fond of desi kukkar and Pepsi Cola. God will reward her fairly…”
“Haye haye! What happened to Walayat?” Amma’s eyes rounded with shock.
“She… didn’t pass away? You were howling at this hour of the night… day, I mean… I thought she’d… slipped away.”
Amma, like an expert sniper, unleashed a deadly slap that precisely landed at the centre of my left cheek. “Fittay muun tera manhoosa! If somebody doesn’t have a pleasant face, at least he can try talking about pleasant things!”
This certainly wasn’t an auspicious start to the day and I had a feeling that the subsequent events wouldn’t be as pleasant as the assumption of Khala London’s — I wish! — death.
I don’t have much against Khala London, expect for the small matter of her deciding to betroth her Banu to Chaudhry Billa last month. Banu was my mung and Khala London’s prettiest daughter. We’d been engaged since our childhood; ever since, I had loved her feverishly. Chaudry Billa was a rich buddha, feudal. He was twenty years older than Banu and had a fat belly that had assumed the shape of an ever-expanding cauldron. He was considerably dark in complexion, wore a cheap hair-wig, and kept a huge moustache that he twirled in times of distress or excitement.
Last month Khala London sent Khala Khairan as her emissary who broke the bad news to Amma-Amma. To make matters worse, Khala Khairan articulated the reasons for the sudden change of heart and mind in great detail: “Your son is a nikamma idiot; he is already 28 years old and hasn’t found a good job. Chances are that he won’t find a decent living in another ten years. Banu cannot wait for so long. She is a beautiful, educated, intelligent, and conscientious (Now that was a complete lie! Banu had only managed to clear matriculation in the third attempt) woman, who deserves better prospects in life. Billa Puttar isn’t as educated as your idiot son, but he is good looking in a manly way (another blatant lie) and owns 6 Murabba fertile lands. He is the best suitor for Banu.”
Amma didn’t protest. Instead, she locked herself in her room and whimpered all night. I felt petrified; I always feel helpless, a bit frozen, whenever she weeps. The next day, she visited Khala London’s home and congratulated her on Banu’s latest engagement. That is the sort of woman Amma-Amma is: big-hearted and unnecessarily magnanimous.
Last night when Amma told me that Khala was very sick, I hoped that Khala died before Banu got married to Chaudry Billa. I wished for Chaudry Billa’s death too. But Amma held the frying pan in a tight grasp, and she was still wailing: “Haye haye! We have the most na-murad breed of enemies. They are using the most sordid tactics against us…”
“What? Has Hindustan attacked us again… in the dark of night, Amma?”
“Nai Puttar! Our enemies have unleashed their most formidable weapon.”
“Have they unleashed the nukes, Amma?” I shuddered at the thought.
“No, no! It isn’t the Hindustan-Pakistan feud. Our personal enemies: yours and mine… they have unleashed a Djinn on us.”
“A Djinn, Amma?” I looked at her incredulously.
“Yes, a Djinn!”
“You mean a fellow made out of scorching fire?”
Amma thought about that for a moment and then nodded in the affirmative.
“Amma! You must be imagining things; please go to sleep.”
“O nai Puttar! There is a Djinn lying down under the Shah’toot tree.”
“The same Shah’toot tree where, according to you, various demons come for a little romantic rendezvous, each evening?”
“Yes! How many Shah’toot trees do you think we have in our garden, idiot?”
Technically speaking, it wasn’t exactly our Shah’toot tree: it had its roots in Chacha Kukkar’s house; but its braches gravitated to our little garden. Amma never really liked that tree. She always thought that there was something terribly evil about it. She claimed that she’d seen black threads tied to some of its branches — an ultimate sign that our house was under the ill effects of black magic.
“We have enemies, Challya! Why don’t you understand? Someone is after our lives.”
I liked the idea of having enemies, but I could never fathom why someone would like to be enemies with us.
“Amma, important people have enemies. We are not important. Not ever since Abba died. We don’t have enemies, and black magic practices cost a fortune. Why would someone waste it over us?” I tried to reason.
“Maybe someone is jealous of us,” Amma said innocently.
“Jealous? But what are they exactly jealous of? Our dilapidated house, your frying pan, or is it my Master’s degree second-division that they can’t digest?”
“I don’t know… jealousy doesn’t know any reason. There must be someone very jealous of our happiness. We may be poor, but we aren’t unhappy. Someone is after our happiness, and they’ve just hired a Djinn to make our lives miserable.”
“Amma, speak for yourself. I’m not happy with my life, and some of your relatives are responsible for my miseries,” I grumbled.
“You are just as stupid as the brown cat that jumps onto the dressing table every day, just to gnash at its own reflection,” Amma replied calmly.
“Do you still feed that wretched thing? Amma I bought you a water-pistol. Use the pistol on the brown cat… I don’t like cats, especially brown ones.”
“What about Djinns?” Amma brought it up again.
“Oh! The Djinn, of course! Let’s visit it, shall we?”
Amma and I walked stealthily across the corridor that led to the garden, her grip on the frying pan becoming tighter with each step. As soon as the Shah’toot tree became visible, I saw a grotesque creature sprawled flat under the tree. It looked like one of those outlandish creatures from Japanese horror movies: it had a slender chest, thin lips, and lengthy silky hair drawn forward to cover the face. To my surprise it was wearing a Dhoti with a polka dot design. I had never witnessed such horror before. Thankfully though, the Djinn was immobile.
“Amma! It really is a… real Djinn! These things move at ferocious speed. We need to retreat to a vantage point before it wakes up. Until then, we need to plan a strategy to overcome it.”
Amma and I tip-toed a few paces back to the end of the corridor.
It took me a while to recover the breath I didn’t know I had been holding. My legs were trembling furiously. After a few deep breaths, I started applying logic to the whole matter.
“Amma! I think it is Chacha Kukkar’s doing. I guess I was skeptical about his skills for nothing.”
“Amma! I had a… a bit of an argument with Chacha Kukkar the other evening.”
“What sort of argument?” Amma asked impatiently.
“Woo… he was telling one of his chaylas that during his Zia-ul-Haq days he had mastered the art of bending air. Hence, he could alter the course of aircrafts — large or small. I thought of a brilliant business idea: I asked Chacha Kukkar how much money would he demand for altering the path of a stealth air craft.”
“Acha… then?” Amma asked.
“Chacha went into a trance, his face turned pale, and he started shaking his head violently. After about 5 minutes he lifted his head, stared at me with his bloodshot eyes and said: “Rs 5 lakh!”
“That greedy toad…” she murmured.
“I offered him Rs. 15 Lakh each for the destruction of American drone planes that attack Waziristan regularly.”
“Hein? And how exactly did you plan to pay those Rs. 15 Lakhs?” Amma asked bemusedly.
“I am sure the Taliban can pay more, Amma. For an American drone, surely more…”
“Was that a joke?” Amma looked genuinely confused.
“Well it was a serious business proposal but I think Chacha Kukkar took it as a personal insult. He just cracked and started threatening me.”
“What sorts of threats?” Amma’s face contorted a bit.
“The regular ones.”
“Explain!” Amma demanded.
“He said that I was trying to be naughty and he’d unleash a Muakal Djinn on me: the naughtiest creature in his possession.”
Amma’s face turned pale and she gave me a murderous look.
“How many times have I told you not to meddle with Chacha Kukkar?”
I decided to look away.
Chacha Kukkar was a popular man in the neighborhood. We called him ‘kukkar’ because he looked like a desi kukkar: dark, loud, and always a bit cranky. More importantly, he was our most immediate neighbor.
His fame peaked in 1981, when General Zia-ul-Haq commissioned a secret task force of scientists, who were to scientifically prove the existence of Djinns. The only problem was that most of the scientists involved in the project didn’t know much about Djinns. Hence, they had to hire experts on the subject. Chacha Kukkar was one of those experts.
Chacha once told me that General Zia-ul-Haq took a very keen interest in the project, and most of the funding for such projects came directly from the holy lands. According to Chacha, General Zia-ul-Haq RehmatUllah, was a true Mard-E-Momin, with a grand vision. He wanted to create a formidable military jihadi wing that comprised of Djinns and monkeys and train them to perform suicide bombings. Unfortunately for Pakistan, and the whole Mulsim Ummah, the Americans learnt about his great ambitions and martyred him in the plane crash. Inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’un! That was that: the end of the project.
Until now, I always thought that Chacha was a charlatan, a maskhara, a phund! I never thought that he was capable of becoming such a ruthless enemy. Only a day ago, we were friends. We had been friends for years. After Abba’s death, he helped me understand the world. We had spent numerous hours discussing alchemy, mathematics, religion, music, politics, and pigeons. Only a few years ago — when flying kites was permissible in Lahore — we use to be a team. Chacha taught me how to maneuver the kite in mid-air, how to strike it onto the opponent’s kite, and how to use the string to maximum effect, without injuring your fingers. We were the most formidable team in the Muhalla.
“Lukh di laanut!” I cursed Chacha and craned my neck to the scene of crime for a fresh perspective. The light had improved. I could see the Djinn trying to move a little. It seemed to be struggling.
“Amma, maybe this is an accident. Perhaps the Djinn just malfunctioned and crash-landed.” I whispered after a bit of reflection.
“In that case, it is more dangerous,” Amma advised, wise in the ways of the Djinn.
“Amma, please bring the water pistol that I bought you to shoo away the cats.”
“What good would that do?”
“Well! It is very logical: these creatures are made of fire, and a water gun can actually be a deadly weapon against them. Also bring me an empty bottle.”
“Waah! MashAllah! I always knew that my puttar was very intelligent. I’ll bring the gun and the bottle in a minute.”
A few seconds later, I had the water gun tightly clasped in my right hand, the empty bottle of Pepsi Cola clenched in my left hand, and a definite plan in my head: this was my chance to get even with Khala London and Chaudry Billa. All I needed to do was enslave the Djinn in the empty bottle. Chacha Kukkar once told me that it wasn’t very hard to do, “You just have to recite the Char Qull and order the Djinn to enter the bottle and become your slave.” I recalled Chacha’s instructions distinctly.
“Amma stay here. I’m going to approach the Djinn.”
“Na puttar! Don’t go near that thing. I’m not going to let you do any crazy stunt.” Amma seemed to be at the verge of tears. Again.
“Amma, just stay here and keep reciting Ayatul-Kursi. You are my ultimate line of defense. With the grace of Allah, I will overcome this monster.”
Without staying to hear any further arguments, I crouched and started creeping towards the Djinn. As I reached closer, I saw some chunks of what looked like a broken wooden ladder.
It was too late to make sense of it all. I took aim and shot the first volley. The water splashed over the Djinn’s head. Its bloodshot eyes twitched a bit. My knees started to feel weak and shook violently. I wanted to run away but my legs were stuck in an invisible quagmire.
The empty Pepsi-Cola bottle slipped from my hand, hit the ground, and made an unnecessary ‘pop’ sound. With every passing second, the Djinn was getting more and more active.
I tried to recall the Char Qull, but my memory has a proud record of failing me in the most crucial of times. So I decided to cut short Chacha Kukkar’s prescribed way of enslaving Djinns.
“In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful, I order you to enter this Pepsi Cola bottle right away… please… and if you act defiantly, I’ll burn you. If you try to escape, I’ll burn you. If you…”
“Oh Puttar-mein-dig-gea-see,” the Djinn cried.
“Say another word and I’ll burn you.” I pointed the now violently trembling water gun to its forehead. “Enter the bottle now, merdood!”
The Djinn looked very confused and showed no signs of moving. I was confused. And Amma had her eyes shut tight.
The confusion didn’t last long though.
“O tera baira gharaq, Kukkara!” came a curse in familiar dulcet tones. Chachi (Mrs. Chacha Kukkar) had launched a full assault at her husband. It didn’t take me long to sort out the whole mystery then.
I helped the Djinn get to its feet and I offered him the water gun if he needed some water. He looked at me thankfully and took the water gun.
The Djinn was Chacha Kukkar’s father-in-law, and Chachi was already blaming Chacha for his mysterious disappearance. I led the poor old man to Chacha’s house, where he was received with much relief and joy.
Later Chacha told me that his father-in-law was very fond of Shah’toot, and that morning after saying his fajr prayers, he decided to climb the tree and enjoy a bit of early morning fruit-picking. Unfortunately, his ladder broke, and he fell right into our garden – and thus the sound: Dharam, thaq thaq!
I nodded sagely, all wise in the ways of fathers-in-law, and asked Chacha, “Now, about those stealth drones and Djinns…”