How writers from Pakistan are narrating this pandemic
“Intruders” is an excerpt from The Stained Glass Window: Stories of the Pandemic from Pakistan. A previous story on Tillism relates to the impact on the emotional well-being of school children. There will be more stories.
Intruders by Taha Kehar
Bedlam erupted at the kitchen table when Shahid told his mother that Zoya’s wedding would have to be postponed. Mrs Akmal, who had scooped up the remnants of biryani from the plate with a fork, straightened herself on the wooden chair and gasped in horror, as if a calamity had struck the household. The fork clattered against the china and the ensuing massacre left tiny grains of orange, white and yellow rice sprinkled against the plate’s floral rim.
“What do you mean?” Mrs Akmal demanded, her frail, reptilian hand travelling towards her pounding chest in a melodramatic gesture. “Why should the wedding be postponed? Did the mehndi arrangements that Shahmeer’s family had made fall through?”
As Shahid opened his mouth to answer her question, Mrs Akmal let out a frustrated sigh and interrupted him.
“if people get dolled-up for a mehndi, they expect a grand celebration“
“I’d told Shahmeer’s mother, that no-good Mrs Saqib, we’ll plan the mehndi ourselves,” she grumbled. “But she seems to enjoy disregarding my suggestions. I’d told her we’d throw a grand party. After all, her parties always turn out to be such snooze-fests. Don’t you remember her older son’s mehndi last year? She didn’t let anyone play music or dance. Can you believe it? I kept telling her not to be so uptight, but she’s a stubborn woman. She should realise that if people get dolled-up for a mehndi, they expect a grand celebration. Mrs Saqib’s pigheadedness turned a wedding celebration into a soyem.”
“Amma,” Shahid cut in. “That’s not the issue.”
“Which god-fearing mother of the groom serves her guests mixed chaat and gulab jamun?”
“I’ll tell you what the issue is,” Mrs Akmal prattled on, wagging a finger at her nervous-looking son. “Shahmeer’s mother is stingy. I still cringe when I think of the food she served at her son’s valima. Which god-fearing mother of the groom serves her guests mixed chaat and gulab jamun? Everyone went home hungry and poor Nighat Apa’s stomach was upset for three days after eating that stale chaat.”
“Amma,” Shahid said, raising his pitch by a few decibels to drown out his mother’s voice. “We have no choice but to postpone the wedding. There’s a virus spreading all over the world.”
“I get my news over WhatsApp”
“I don’t live under a rock,” Mrs Akmal glared at Shahid, visibly offended by the insinuation that she didn’t stay abreast of world events. “I get my news over WhatsApp. But why should we postpone Zoya’s wedding because of this canola virus.”
“It’s coronavirus,” Shahid said, holding his head in his hands in exasperation.
“Whatever,” she cooed, dismissively waving her hand in the air. “This makes no sense. I’ve heard of weddings being postponed on account of rain. But never, in my seventy-five years on God’s earth, have I heard of a wedding being postponed because of a fever. Your Abbaji and I had viral fever during our wedding. And yet, we sat on stage for four hours, sneezed into our handkerchiefs when no one was looking and smiled for the camera when instructed. That’s how we fell in love.”
“his mother wasn’t going to be swayed by logic”
She held the fork, jabbed it into a kebab on a serving tray next to her plate and hurriedly tossed it into her mouth. Shahid clicked his tongue in frustration as it dawned on him that his mother wasn’t going to be swayed by logic – at least initially. Undeterred, Shahid made another attempt to persuade Mrs Akmal.
“Amma,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m sure you’ve discovered through your WhatsApp forwards that there’s talk of a lockdown. How can we possibly have a wedding at a time like this?”
Shahid’s mother chewed on the kebab, gulped down a chilled glass of water and gazed coldly at her son. He’s always been such a difficult person, she thought.
“You were conceived during an evening curfew”
“Shahid,” Mrs Akmal snapped. “You were conceived during an evening curfew back in 1965. Your Abbaji and I took out the time to make you when our country was at war with India. This time, the enemy isn’t even a country. It’s a fever!”
His mother’s words had lodged a chilling image into his mind and he lowered his head in embarrassment. Though he was unsure of how he should react to his mother’s eccentric sense of humour, Shahid gathered the strength to once again reason with her.
To continue reading, order The Stained-Glass Window: Stories Of The Pandemic From Pakistan
Taha Kehar is a journalist, literary critic and novelist. A law graduate from SOAS, London, Kehar is the author of two novels, Typically Tanya (HarperCollins India, 2018) and Of Rift and Rivalry (Palimpsest Publishers, 2014). He has served as the head of The Express Tribune’s Peshawar city pages and bi-monthly books page, and worked as an assistant editor on the op-ed desk at The News. Kehar’s essays, reviews and commentaries have been published in The News on Sunday, Hindustan Times Brunch, The Hindu and South Asia magazine and his short fiction has appeared in the Delhi-based quarterly The Equator Line, the biannual journal Pakistani Literature and the OUP anthology I’ll Find My Way. Two of his short stories will appear in a forthcoming anthology, The Banyan and Her Roots, which has been edited by Jad Adams. In 2016, he guest-edited an issue of The Equator Line, titled ‘Pakistan: After The Stereotypes’, that focused on new writing from Pakistan. Based in Karachi, he teaches undergraduate media courses and has just completed a post-modern detective novel.
Sana Munir is the author of Unfettered Wings: Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Women, which was nominated for Best Fiction at the Valley of Words Literary Festival in DehraDun. It is taught to students of English Literature at universities in Pakistan, is included in research journals is part of SBC, a celebrity book club. Sana’s work has been published in Weekly Independent, The News International, The News On Sunday, Urdu News, The Aleph Review, and The Bridge. She conducts Creative Writing workshops internationally and has taught Feminist Film Theory, Research Methodology and International Communication at Lahore College for Women, Lahore. Sana has a Master’s degree in Mass Communication Theory and Research from the University of the Punjab with two gold medals . Her dissertation comparing the portrayal of white and coloured women in films, was awarded Best Thesis of the session. She was also editor of the varsity magazine, MEHWAR. Currently, Sana is working on a novel and a collection of short stories.