When I think of the three of them I tell myself at least Azhar Bhai could have lived in contentment. Being a man, he had more power, more control over the events. He could have steered himself, if not his mother and sister, out of it all.
But what went wrong?
He was handsome. He still is. Only his flamboyance is gone, replaced with sobriety. But I vividly remember he was quite a lady killer. Many of my cousins were crazy about him. He was a charmer. He had a hell of a time with girls. I couldn’t have known all about it but my elder brother and I were great friends and he used to tell me some stories.
Even if my brother hadn’t told me about Azhar Bhai’s extra-curricular activities, I would have known it anyway. My cousin sister, Farah, though elder to me but closer, had a crush on him. And everybody knew it. It was in the family.
Farah didn’t use to tell me her secrets (she thought I wasn’t old enough) but whenever she had to buy a gift for Azhar Bhai she would ask me to accompany her to the bazaar and would consult me in the selection of presents.
And she used to show me what she made for him — usually silk handkerchiefs with flowers or bleeding hearts embroidered at the corners.
The elders didn’t approve of Azhar Bhai’s ways because he bunked classes and flunked exams and went about ‘having a good time with girls’.
Time was passing and he was going nowhere and wasn’t realising it. He paid for it later: with inadequate education he had a real tough time settling down. By his late twenties he was going steady with a job (not with a girl). He could have got married at that time. But marriage didn’t happen to him because he didn’t make it happen though he could have. After all he was a man.
He got married in late thirties. It was two years back. It was an arranged marriage. And there is no love between them, not even liking for each other. And that’s what makes me so mad at the whole story. He could have had love in his life and probably happiness, if he had married one of those girls he had a good time with, or Farah, or another cousin of mine who liked him very much. But he didn’t do that. Why he didn’t do that? That puzzles me.
Why would a man who goes about having love affairs end up love-less in life?
Perhaps he didn’t love anyone. Perhaps affairs happened to him but not love. Perhaps he wasn’t capable of loving, he only knew how to be loved.
“You know, it’s quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, right at the start, where you have to jump an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it,” says Sartre.
And I think Sartre is damn right: you’ve got to have courage to love someone.
But as if that wasn’t enough, Azhar Bhai let Bi Amma and Saira Aapa propose to girls 10-15 years younger to him. And come to think of it, Azhar Bhai’s proposal went as well to Farah’s younger sister (she was ten years her junior)! I thought such things happened only in short stories and novels and never in reality. Really, this bit of reality I just cannot stomach.
By the time the proposal came, Farah’s teenage crush was over and she was a mature girl. And I also know that love can turn into indifference, even hatred, with time. But still how can one be so cruel, so devoid of human sensibilities. Nobody in the family thought it particularly peculiar. Proposals for younger sisters are quite an accepted norm. I don’t know how Farah’s family reacted to it. They didn’t accept the proposal because Azhar Bhai was absolutely no match for Farah’s younger sister. But how did Farah feel? I never talked to her about it.
Azhar Bhai is married. He has a year-old baby boy. He doesn’t love his wife and neither does she love him. They don’t care about each other. And it’s so very obvious that the whole world knows it.