She woke at four o’clock on hearing the alarm. At once she jumped out of bed and headed for the kitchen. She washed her face and lighted the stove. She put the tava on the fire to fry papads.
Umma always demanded papads for her supper. Whatever else was there, she said that unless papads and pickles were served, the religious fast would not be broken. She warmed up the meat and the other curry she had cooked to be served with the rice, before racing to wake up Umma.
It was only minutes before the muezzin raised his call. If only everyone got up a little early, there would be no need for a bustle. But Umma could never do so. The last meal should be as late as possible.
Washing her face and hands, Umma sat before the rice. As she crumbled the papad, she asked, ‘Where is the pickle, Razia?’
‘Oh, I forgot that.’ She swiftly opened the almirah to get the pickle, the spoon and the plate. Then she sat down herself before the rice.
‘Ashik Mon had also asked to be awakened.’ Razia said with her eyes on Umma. ‘Oh, as if he needs to observe the noyambu!’ Razia did not stay to argue. Ashik was not a very small kid. He was now in the fourth standard. Many boys in his class observed noyambu. He too had observed it on the first day. However, in the afternoon Umma insisted that he take food, arguing that he was too young for such practices.
Umma too did not have enough health to observe noyambu. She was on medicines and on a diet. Yet she never considered this a handicap. She would lie down most of the day. At all niskara times she would pray. At times she would read from the Holy Mushaf. She wouldn’t do much else. If Razia chanced to tell her not to thus put herself out and observe noyambu, she would get angry and would yell.
Though she herself was pious and abstaining, she did not like any of the children to imitate her. She could not bear to see the children weak with hunger. Now she would have Ashik whimpering for not having been woken up.
Umma got up and went to get ready for the prayer. Razia cleared away the plates, taking care not to make a noise. She did not want Majidikka to wake up. He would be sure to get angry if awakened.
He had said that he wanted to go to his office early that day. Before leaving for office he would need both tea and something to eat. He did not want to observe noyambu. She also needed to iron a few clothes. She couldn’t iron the day before as she was feeling very tired. Majid too said sometimes that he must also observe the fast.
‘Do not fast like this and observe the noyambu. This is a time when you have to eat healthy food.’ In Majid’s words, she could discern his concern for the health of the new addition to the family who was due to arrive in two months.
That was not just Majid’s concern. At times she too was anxious for the baby. Yet how could she not observe the noyambu? Even if she were not observing the fast, she wouldn’t feel like having anything at all in the morning. Not only that, she would have to fast to make up for her lapse. That was why she had decided on the sensible course.
She had no time now to sleep. She prayed and took up the mushaf and walked to another room. Her voice would escalate as she prayed.
Outside a crow cawed loudly. When she looked out of the window, she saw that there was light everywhere. The children had woken up and were chattering nineteen to the dozen. She folded the mushaf and put it inside the cover. She should wake Ashik. He would then pout and go to the madrasa without taking his breakfast.
She had to warm the water for Majid’s bath. She switched the iron on and walked to the bathroom. She poured water on the cauldron to be warmed and placing it on the hearth went back to the iron that was hot. She ironed Majid’s pants and shirt, placed it on the table and went back into the kitchen.
It was better to make dosas. If the chutney too could be made, the job would be done. She lit the stove. Just as she put the saucepan on, she noticed the fire dying out. There was no kerosene in it. She had to wait another two weeks for the supply of kerosene from the fair price shop. Now there was only the option of firewood. She had made only four dosas before the kerosene ran out.
‘Razia…’ Majidikka had woken up. She knew why he had called for her. ‘Coming!’ she yelled as she ran with the hot dosas she had made. He had not dressed and when she took him tea and the chutney, he had finished all the dosas.
‘In the evening I am bringing home three guests when we break the fast.’
She did not say anything. She already knew that for he had told her so the day before. He had talked of a Thomas, a Balakrishnan or someone, whom he had invited. She had to fix the firewood as soon as possible. Only then would the food be ready on time. If the dishes were few in number, Majidiika would frown and express his displeasure. As it was the holy month, no one would be there to help her. She gave tea to both the children. Ashik went to the madrasa with dark looks.
She swept and swabbed the floor. She had not had the time to wash the clothes the day before. This meant that she had to wash double the clothes she usually washed on a daily basis. It was as she walked to the bathroom that she remembered that she had not woken Umma up. She had gone to bed after the morning prayer. Umma wouldn’t get up but she wanted Razia to check on her constantly. Otherwise she would complain.
‘ Umma, I am going to wash the clothes. Majidikka has gone. The children are in the front yard,’ Razia called.
‘Hmmm . . . , you go’
By the time that she had washed the clothes and had her bath it was ten o’clock.
‘Have you already washed the clothes and taken your bath?’ It was Alimath who had come. She wondered why Alimath was late today. ‘Where is Umma?’ she asked as she squatted on the cement floor. She was like that. Every morning, she would go out and as it was the holy month, she would go home only in the evening. She visited her acquaintances all day long and sat chatting, secure in the knowledge that her daughter-in-law was at home putting the house to order and cooking the food.
‘Alima! You have come. I don’t know why I am feeling so tired today.’ When Umma came up, Razia left for the kitchen and washed the rice for the kanji the children could have for lunch. When Majiddika left, he had said that he would send her fresh chicken. The meat had not arrived yet. She could lie down for sometime. If she left it late, she wouldn’t find time for rest at all. When she lay on her back, she ran her hand tenderly over her swollen belly. She thrilled as she felt the baby kicking.
‘Razia.’ She wondered why Umma was calling her. Before she could reach the verandah, Umma had come in. She said, ‘Razia, give Alima a chain that you are wearing. It seems that someone is visiting them this evening.’ She gave Umma a chain. She heard them both murmuring for a long time. She wondered whom they were feasting on!
After a long time, she heard Umma reciting the dikr. Perhaps, Alima had left. By the time it was five she had finished cooking. All that remained was for the food to be arranged on the table. She could do that five minutes before the call of the muezzin. Before that she could give the children their bath and give them their food. Ashik had refused to eat till noon, saying that he was observing fast. At noon, he stealthily went to the kitchen to consume the kanji she had made. He acted as if she wouldn’t know. She pretended ignorance. If she were to call him now, he may not eat. It was time for the muezzin’s call. Majidikka had not yet come. Nor had the people who were to accompany him.
She decided to lay the table. There was no one in sight when she stepped out after arranging the table. She sat staring at the road for
sometime. The she heard the muezzin’s call. The table and its spread looked as if it were abandoned. She walked into the kitchen and served Umma her food. ‘Aren’t you taking your food, Razia?’ asked Umma. ‘I will wait for Majidikka.’ She replied. Umma said, ‘If you are going to wait, you will be the one to starve. He will not remember that this is the time of the religious fast.’ Razia replied, ‘Umma, you eat.’ She sat on the verandah watching the road, waiting for him to come.
“Velichamillatha Pakalukal” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed.
N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 136-142), translated by Hema Nair R.
ZAKINA AZAD. She is a talented woman writer in Malayalam. Her stories provide deep insights into the Muslim community. She speaks in her stories of the different roles played by women as daughters-in-law, wives and mothers. Like the work of Agnes Smudley, Azad’s work by dwelling on the monotonous hardship that women face in daily drudgery brings to the fore the uniqueness of women writing.
HEMA NAIR R. Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Doris Lessing. A regular contributor to research journals. Interested in Women’s Studies.