By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn, IL
years ago, one fine evening, I had tied two black
chickens to the bed of Ramzubhai, an elderly relative,
and locked his bedroom from outside as he entered
it. It was retaliation for not having played Chess
with me on the ground that I was intellectually
deficient. Having come to know that it was I who
had performed the nefarious deed, his belief that
I was feeble-minded got stronger.
As such, I was surprised when he insisted that I
must stay at his place at least for a couple of
days during my visit to Pakistan last year. ‘
Let bygones be bygones’ he must have said
and that by now I might have regained my mental
I stepped into his house and was at once hit by
an aura of extreme seriousness. The lady of the
house, Farah bhabi, two charming youngsters, Laiba
and Imad appeared if there was a big jinn in the
house. It was all because, I soon found out, Ramzu
bhai had become a despotic master of the house and
everyone had to obey his whims and wishes.
After a silent dinner, Farah bhabi and the kids
went to their rooms and Ramzu bhai began his tales
of the adventures he had in the forests of Assam
decades ago. He described how he had single-handedly
grappled a ferocious man-eater. I was having a tough
time, listening to these tales of fantasy and looking
at his constantly fluttering left eye and the bushy,
untrimmed moustache on his thick upper lip, hairs
of which were invading his nostrils and mouth. At
last I was permitted to go to the bedroom assigned
to me. No sooner I entered, then there was a knock
on the door. Laiba and Imad were at the door.
“Uncle, could we have a word with you?”
“Sure! Come on in,” I invited.
“I think dad has gone mad,” said Imad.
Looking at my inquiring face, he added, “He
has put a lot of restrictions on us. He wouldn’t
allow mom to go to her ladies club any more. He
wouldn’t allow me to join a pop group……..”
“….. And he turned down the proposal
from Arman, when his parents came to ask for my
hand,” finished Laiba.
“Do you love each other?” I asked.
“Sure we do!”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Please convince dad that he should stop being
a dictator and allow us to do what we want to do.”
“He would never listen to me,” I said.
“ He considers me a loony.” I then told
them about what I had done in the past. Both of
them laughed out loudly.
I racked my brains, but no solution to their problem
emerged. Suddenly, I remembered Ustad Bilgrami.
“Give me the phone,” I said. At this
hour, I knew, he must be massaging his baldhead
with coconut oil; nevertheless he wouldn’t
be disturbed if I called. I dialed his number and
he was on the line. “ Ustad, we need your
help,” I said and gave him the details of
the problem. All he asked was whether the name was
Ramzubhai Masalawala. When I replied in the affirmative,
he said, “ Ah! I know him since childhood.
Used to play kabaddi while studying in a local Madressah.
Just give me some time to do some research on him.
Let me know the address and I’ll be there
“Who is Ustad Bilgrami?” asked Laiba.
“A trouble-shooter, a problem-solver. This
guy was our sports coach in college, but coaching
aside, he has always been a mentor, guide and genuine
friend. Used to solve our emotional problems in
a jiffy. Though an ultra-senior now, he is still
very much agile and the mind functions in top gear.
Drinks Lassi and eats fish and spreads sweetness
and light by helping people in distress. He will
be coming here tomorrow evening, so keep a pitcher
of lassi ready.”
At five in the evening he arrived. He had a khaki
cork hat on his head, a silk scarf covering the
wrinkles of his neck and a walking stick, which
he dangled playfully. He hugged me, smiled graciously
at Farah bhabi, put an affectionate hand on the
heads of Laiba and Imad and looked sternly at Ramzubhai.
“Well, well, well,” he said poking his
stick into the ribs of Ramzubhai. “ It is
old Ramzu, isn’t it? How are you doing? Remember
Ramzubhai was taken aback. It took him a while to
recognize Bilgrami. “Are you Sucrat?
“Sucrat Arastu Bilgrami, your childhood buddy.
I came here to meet Rafiq and also to have a serious
discussion with you in confidence.”
Ramzubhai took him to his study, and I quietly managed
to follow them and put my ear to the door, which
was slightly ajar.
“Well, Ramzu, I see you have prospered in
life, and forgotten your dark past, but let me remind
you of a few things you did. At a young age you
had run away from the house, and unable to sustain
yourself, you became a bus-conductor, shouting at
the top of your voice,… ‘Jamshed Road,
Guru Mandir, Numaish, Parsi Colony, Empress market,
Sadar…’ to call passengers.”
I could hear a sonorous sigh escaping Ramzubhai’s
lips. “ Bilgrami, shut up. Why dig into the
Ustad ignored him and continued, “ At home
at the dinner table you used to burp so loudly that
babies nearby would start crying. Then you used
to spit all around after taking tobacco-filled paan.
Stealing cigarettes from you dad’s pocket
was a common habit. Once in school, you sprayed
ink from your fountain pen on the new cream-colored
suit of our teacher Mr. DeMello when he turned ….”
”Stop it!” yelled Ramzubhai.
“The list is longer. What a delight it would
be if your wife and kids come to know about your
extra-curricular activities in your young days,”
“You are not going to tell them!”
“Why not, it would be fun. Stop me if you
“What would it take to seal your lips?”
“Peace and happiness in the house.”
”What do you mean?”
“I mean that with immediate effect you shall
stop being a Hitler. Allow your wife to attend her
club regularly, allow your son to join the pop group
and also let your daughter marry the boy she loves.”
There was a silence for a few minutes before Ramzubhai
said,” Will you keep your lips sealed if I
do all that?”
Ustad nodded, and then Ramzubhai nodded. They both
shook hands and embraced each other. “Wonderful!”
said Ustad. “Now, lets all go out and have
a game of kabaddi, but not before I drink a couple
of glasses of lassi your graceful wife has made