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The Leader

When the convoy of the Leader, arrived I was asleep.

The afternoon azans were being blasted from the loud speakers. The Maulvi Sahib would strike the microphone 3 times before he would clear his throat and recite the salutations. Then he would  plunge into the proper azan with gusto. Suddenly there would be a tumult from all around when tens of muezzins would call the faithful to the prayers.

There had been some unusual occurrences during the past few weeks. The pomegranate tree that was stunted and had never produced more than one or two puny fruits, was developing fresh green foliage. The strange tree that had grown out of the seed that the Qari Sahib had brought from Haj, suddenly seemed to be blooming and started producing a fleshy and very sweet fruit. The milkman had stopped adding water to the milk and my dad had won a long running court case.

There was a profusion of fireflies.

He had gone to stay in the house of Malik Sahib. Coins were showered on him as he came out of his car and headed towards the waiting luminaries of the neighbourhood. They all kissed his hands. Some even touched his feet. Kids were running around collecting the coins. Some were dancing to the beat of the dhol. The cars, rickshaws and tongas seemed to be in their hundreds. The queues stretched to the main road.

Next afternoon, Rafiq, our servant brought ice blocks in his Suzuki Pickup. They were broken with the help of the ice pick and used to cool water in large cisterns with taps at the bottom. The stage was decorated with a red brocade canopy. Rotating pedestal fans and movable fan coolers were used to cool the air. The big gathering was held in Sardar Ali’s large front garden, under a huge multi-coloured marquee to shield against the afternoon sun.

There were murmurs in the crowd when the Leader arrived on the stage. He was missing a beard. Nobody had ever seen a Leader who would disregard basic decorum. He was wearing a smart shirt and a tie, outlining his lean and muscular body.

He spoke to the crowd in a booming voice,

‘I have come to you with authority from the Master. Many have come before me. I come with a message and I come with renewal. What I bring is salvation and illumination.

‘You have been looking for salvation in loud speakers, whereas what you say in the quietest whispers is heard on the other side of the universe. You are looking for salvation in facial hair whereas it is the purity of your heart that is seen by your Master. You have taken the counterfeit and rejected the genuine. You have killed the finest among you and celebrated the scum. You have taken the chaff and thrown away the grain. By the authority vested in me, I abolish the loud speaker and the facial hair. I apostatise those who sing hymns and approve of those who speak up for the poor.

‘Let there be no doubt. The brave will find salvation and walk with the Master. The cowards will turn to carrion and will be eaten by worms.

‘I would like you to remove the partition. I would like to see your beautiful women and shake hands with them. Those who serve their fellow humans are the ones who will be favoured by the Master. Let me ask your sweepers to come and sit on the stage. They are the best among you. Not one of you is fit to wash their feet.’

Our sweeper was spell bound. She was supporting her grandson on her right hip. She was hoping that the bulge in his navel would be cured. She had tried tying an aubergine around his middle in the hope the hernia would shrivel up as the aubergine dried.

The Imam Sahib did not seem to be too pleased. He had been to all the demonstrations against heresy and had a great passion for snuffing out any challenge to the creed. He considered all those who did not adhere to the letter of the law as criminals. The law could not be belittled or changed. Any deviation or modification was worse than apostasy. All the deviants needed the harshest possible punishment.

The Leader said, ‘Your brothers have pulled down a mosque in the north. I would say to them, well done, great job. But your task is not complete. It won’t be complete till you have pulled down all the mosques, all the temples and all the shrines. In their place, you should build cricket grounds and hockey stadiums. The Master is not pleased with 5 prayers and 30 days of fasting. He is pleased with T20 and high scoring matches. He is pleased with cheerleaders and cheerful people. Don’t prostrate yourself to express your submission. Hit a six to extol his glory.

‘I renounce the caliphate. That is the order of the Master. I announce a new order. The new apostles will not descend from heaven or eat locusts in the desert. They will play cricket in back streets and alley ways with a taped ball. Don’t go and sit in the mosques for contemplation. Go and buy the finest willow bat you can afford. Once you have pulled down the biggest mosque in the city, once the minarets have fallen, you must construct a stadium to rival all stadiums, worthy of this nation and worthy of the Master that has sent me to bring you to the true path.

‘Discard your wraps, your veils and your gowns. Knock down your walls. I have not come to protect the veil and the ramparts, but to tear them down. I have come to offer your freedom. The one who murmurs incantations when kissing the ground will not be saved. The one who runs the fastest, climbs the highest mountain and makes the quickest century will enter the garden of paradise. That is a place where learned people, loved by the Master will discuss the marvels of mathematics and physics. Those who wield the sword are the spawn of the devil. They will rise and fall with the devil. Those who look through the telescope at distant galaxies are the favoured of the Master. They shall succeed.’

The sun was setting. Suddenly the sparrows started chirping, as they would do at this time of the day. Scores of crows were flying across the sky, heading back home for the night fall. The milkman had come with the brass milk containers hanging by metal hooks to each side of his Eagle bicycle. Imam sahib looked red in the face to the silver roots of his henna dyed hair. The mehrab on his forehead looked crimson.

‘Some of you have come to me to pledge missionary work of three days and seven days and forty days. I say to them that all the missions are abolished. They are a thing of the past and against the wishes of the Master. You should go out in groups and teach young men how to ball reverse swing and young girls how to convert penalty corners. The missionaries will be cast aside and the sports coaches will be rewarded in this world and the next.’

Yusuf Masih came up to the stage. He said ‘My Lord, please have mercy on me and my  four children. They have imprisoned my wife for 3 years now, just because she would not take abuse from her neighbours. The youngest has died last year of sickness and hunger. Please take my children with you or kill them with your own hands. I can not see them die slowly in front of my eyes.’

He broke down and started crying with a loud wail.

Sardar Ali’s gunman came up to silence him but the Leader stopped him with a gesture of his hand. He took Yusuf Masih to the stage and asked him to sit in his chair. This was unheard of, as no sweeper had ever sat in a chair in the presence of these worthies, let alone in the presidential chair.

‘It is no shame protesting against injustice. It is infamy putting up with injustice. It is not a sin to stand up and fight for your rights. It is a sin to keep quiet in the face of cruelty. The times are set to change. What is coming after me is better than what has gone before me’.

They found the knife the next day in the lawn of the Wine Sellers’ house. Someone had obviously thrown it over the wall. They never found the attacker. People did talk about the Imam Sahib’s brother in law who had come visiting just the day before from the South and was never seen afterwards. They said it was someone in the second row who had stepped forward and struck twice. Also some people claimed that they had seen a young man waiting on a getaway motor bike and one was seen, with a pillion rider, being driven at great speed towards the Junior Model School. The ambulances arrived almost immediately, but the hospital doctors said that the Leader was dead on arrival.



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