Mullah Mchungu shows up at my door when I am right in the middle of a vigorous seven mile run on my treadmill, from where I am following highlights of a thrilling cricket match between India and Pakistan to keep me company. I don’t like my running routine to be interrupted so I ignore the doorbell when it chimes. But it keeps on tolling; so, bothered and harassed, sweat pouring down my body in rivulets, I angrily run to the door and fling it open, wanting to ensure I make my displeasure known to the offender.
But it is Mullah Mchungu I see, leaning heavily on his walking stick, looking as if he will collapse if not immediately parked. So I swallow by ire and take him in and seat him, least he falls, breaks a leg and triples my homeowner’s insurance premiums. I run for a quick shower and then serve him tea and cookies. The Mullah informs me he has flown in yesterday for his twice-annual visit to Orlando. His son Ali and family live here in Sanford, so he is a frequent guest to see his two grandchildren; one of them must have dropped him off and scooted.
I know there is a storm brewing; the Mullah will not come calling the next day of jetlagged travel to come just for my ziyaarat. So I steer him out to the porch after he has had his cuppa; the guy smokes smelly Indian beedees that can easily set off the fire alarm in the house. We sit in the porch and take in the wonderful weather Florida has to offer us this time of the year.
After Mullah Mchungu has his beedee and goes through the routine of hacking nicotine from his lungs, I see he is ready for battle. He regards me with a sullen, defiant look on his well-weathered face, a face well etched with years of frowning and grumpiness; no wonder the nickname?
So you have written a novel.
It is more of a statement than a question and I at once feel wary. Yes, I am defensive about my second published book, the result of much love and hard labor.
Yes, I say self-consciously, I did.
The Mullah rains in the bombs.
Kisukaali, he snorts contemptuously, I am so disappointed in you, ashamed of you! How can you write such a filthy book? It is full of foul language, and rape and woman’s autonomies and violence and love between man and a woman and all things un-Islamic!
I am stunned by the sudden assault; feel like I have been slapped silly. Blood gushes up my face, I feel ringing in my ears and the image of the Mullah gets fuzzy with blood in my eyes. This is not a very good sign; this happens very, very rarely, when I am on the verge of completely losing my temper and doing something stupid. I feel like lifting the Mullah by the cuff of his withered neck and shoving him out of the house. It takes utmost self-restraint and intensive dose of yoga discipline to control my fury. I take in deep breaths and recite salawaats aplenty to abate the desire to strike out and hurt.
When I can see the Mullah clearly, when the affront subsides and I can think clearly, I speak. Surprisingly, my voice is calm and steady.
Have you read the book, Mullah? I ask.
Humph, do you think I have time to read novels, Kisukaali? I am busy trying to keep my pajamas dry every time I sneeze, I don’t have time to read nonsense. But my friend in London told me about the filth you have written. His son read it, finished it in two days. He told his dad...and everybody is talking about it; in Dar, in Dubai, in London where I was recently. What made you do it, Kisukaali? You claim to be a man of God, acting pious and all; your CAI does such good for the cause of worldwide humanity. So why stoop so low, my son?
Mullah Mchungu always visits me when in Sanford and I have shown him nothing but kindness and utmost respect, even through his extreme eccentricity, but this is the first time he has called me son; I soften up to him.
Mullah sahib, I begin, I wish you had read the book; you would have thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact your friend’s son finished it in two days says a lot, nai...
He does not let me complete however, for he snorts in contempt.
He is from the same thread as you, your generation thrive on filth...
But it is the opposite of that! I shout in frustration, startling the guy, for he straightens up and reaches for his danda, the walking stick, a menacing looking thing that can be used as a lethal weapon.
Listen to me Mullah Saheb, I plead earnestly, softening my voice considerably; that danda can cause a lot of damage, even if used by a frail man. My novel is based on a true event, the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat riots of 2002. Massacres mean nasty things; riots, blood, murder, rape... Talking about these is important, necessary. I cannot write a monologue of what transpired; nobody would read it. So it had to be a story, believable story, that had to include gore and to few perhaps, unpalatable details in people’s personal lives. I have not written any fantasy, only reality. Plus, love between a woman and a man is far from un-Islamic...
I see my passionate plea does not make an impact on Mullah’s rigid paradigm; his face still reflects hostility and chagrin. So I let it go. I don’t care really, don’t care an ants ass what anybody thinks of my art. I would be ready to debate an objective opinion. To the rest...get a life!
Note: A limited number of the print version of The Chief Minister’s Assassin, my novel, a free preview is available here. You can purchase a copy here. All proceeds go towards CAI girls school / orphanage project in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Note again: My encounters with Mullah Mchungu usually traverse a very fine line between reality and hallucination. Not sure if this encounter was real or in my reverie. Not that it matters.