Syed sahab was sitting in his departmental store reciting in a low voice from a colour-coded holy book that lay on the counter. Suddenly remembering something he called out to one of the salesmen, “Fayaz!” As the addressed salesman came near, Syed sahab beckoned him closer and lowering his voice to a whisper said, “You remember those two sacks of sugar that are lying in the godown since long?”
“The ones that the food inspector last time said are substandard quality?”
Syed sahab grimaced, “Upstart! As if I don’t know his family background. His mother used to wash dishes in our home. He has grown up on our khairaat, the ingrate! In any case there’s a new food inspector now. Real khaandaani chap! That reminds me, you take one of those packs of imported dates for him later today. Yes and you take out those sacks of sugar, there’s a high demand for sugar during Ramzan so we can finish them off.”
As Fayaz turned to leave Syed sahab again called him and said, “Put up a sign outside the shop that imported sugar is available on discounted prices.”
“Yes it has a blackish tinge so let’s say that it is actually a healthier variety of sugar imported from Africa. People can swallow anything so long as it has an ‘imported’ tag.”
“Will we be selling it at a lower price?” Fayaz asked.
“No silly!” Syed sahab said with a smile, “The ‘discount’ word makes people feel smart and if you put a ‘discount’ label on things people buy them even if they don’t need them. You just write a higher price and then discount it to the ‘normal’ price!”
“I will do it as soon as Imran returns,” Fayaz said.
Syed sahab scowled, “Why where is he?”
“He had to take medicines for his mother, she is very sick.”
“Scoundrel! He must be lying! He has surely gone home to have his lunch.”
“But he’s fasting,” Fayaz said.
“Huh! I am sure none of you guys fast. Liars! As If I don’t know what a bunch of blackguards you all are! If it were not for my being vigilant all the time and these CCTV cameras you would pick this shop clean. I will deduct a day’s salary from Imran’s account. Will teach him not to lie next time! La hawlu wala quwat! Aren’t you guys afraid of Him and that too in this holy month!”
“But really Syed sahab we are not lying…” Fayaz protested.
“Be gone now! I have to complete one whole chapter of The Book yet,” Syed sahab waved him away irritably, “and yes do not forget about the sacks of sugar!”
Syed sahab resumed the recitation. A while later his friend Nizamuddin came into the store looking black as thunder. “You know what? I just saw ‘those’ people fixing one more loudspeaker to ‘their’ mosque and that too in the direction of ‘our’ mosque!” Nizamuddin who was the president of the mosque which Syed sahab patronised, said bristling with rage, “I am sure it is that Jamal Khan who has put them up to it!” Jamal Khan had a huge retail outlet only a few shops away from Syed sahab’s departmental store. Not only were the two business rivals but they also belonged to two different religious ideologies.
Syed sahab frowned, “The cheek! You go and get two loudspeakers for ‘our’ mosque, the biggest you can lay your hands upon. He took out a wad of notes from his pocket and peeling off several of the notes handed them over to Nizamuddin. Just then a beggar came in and pleaded for a few rupees. Syed sahab took out a ten rupee note but Nizamuddin stopped him and ticked off the beggar. “What were you doing?!” he chided Syed sahab, “He’s ‘their’ beggar. He’s always begging outside ‘their’ mosque on Fridays!”
A while later there was uproar in the street outside. Syed sahab and Nizamuddin came out of the store to see what it was all about. A crowd was gathered near Jamal Khan’s shop and a young man was being beaten by the crowd. What had happened was this. Jamal Khan whose piety was at its peak during Ramzan had this habit of chewing on a miswak which made it necessary for him to spit out onto the road so much so that the road bore ample testimony in wet, drying and dry forms, to his pious habit. Now this here young man happened to pass by just when Jamal Khan let loose a mouthful of spit which caught the young man on his trouser leg. The young man who looked every bit a yuppie complete with a pony tail remonstrated with Jamal Khan that he better be careful with his twig and his mouth. Jamal Khan took this as an affront to his piety and he harangued the young man whereupon others joined in and the young man was taken to task for his words which had now taken on blasphemous connotations. By the time Syed sahab and Nizamuddin reached the scene the young man had managed to make his escape but the crowd was still in a state of excitement. “We must file an FIR against this vagabond,” one of the assembled persons said. Several persons shouted in favour of this proposal. Just then Jamal Khan’s shop assistant whispered something into his ear. At once Jamal khan’s expression changed. “My dear friends aren’t we perhaps hyper reacting? After all he was just a young man and… ”
“But how can we let him get away with blasphemy,” Nizamuddin persisted because he could sense that there was something behind the abrupt change in Jamal Khan’s tone.
“Oh! Whoever said anything about blasphemy! In fact the boy was just a bit rude as all youngsters are these days. Besides he did apologize.”
“I was thinking that we would down our shutters in protest! After all this is about religion and we may have slight differences but we are one ummah ultimately,” Nizamuddin offered.
“Of course! But really there’s no need. Just a wayward youth. Besides we should be charitable in this holy month,” Jamal Khan said with a forced smile. The crowd dispersed and Syed sahab and Nizamuddin also returned to the store.
“What was bugging him?” Syed sahab asked Nizamuddin.
Nizamuddin laughed and said, “The youth turned out to be one of ‘them’ and that too a grandson of the Moulvi of ‘their’ mosque!”
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at firstname.lastname@example.org)