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    Volume 9 Issue 36| September 03 , 2010|

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Cover Story

Aasha Mehreen Amin

It is that time of the year when maintaining a low profile is essential. Our man Sharif, a thirty-something, unimpressive, middle class man now working at an obscure firm with vague, insignificant duties, is desperately trying to avoid that dreaded subject – Eid Shopping. Although his bonus has reached his account a long time ago, he has spent most of it paying for the loan he took for last year's Eid shopping when his darling daughter blackmailed him into buying a Mashakkali (Delhi 6) churidar suit. Now his wife Ata Begum is hounding him to go and finish buying gifts for the various members of the immediate and extended family, the domestic staff and their families, both their office colleagues and so on. His head starts to spin and his stomach has that familiar sinking feeling at the prospect of facing his beloved Ata and telling her that there is not much left of his bonus. Ata, dear Ata, sweet, chubby yet pretty Ata, Lord knows why she had to get so worked up over such little things as money. He could just see her working herself into a frenzy that would end up in days of the silent, glaring treatment followed by incessant crying followed by more humiliating borrowing from wealthier friends who would gloat over the fact that he was too hard up to do Eid shopping…

Sharif feigns a severe headache and rushes to the room to take a nap before iftar, a rare indulgence that Ata allows in the holy month. There is no electricity, hence no fan, yet despite the enervating heat and sound of incessant honking and tinkling of rickshaws outside his window from the three hour gridlock, Sharif in a bid to escape, falls into deep sleep.

Sharif is falling, down, down, down, through a nasty tunnel that gives off an assorted array of smells. Is it a clogged sewer, rotting garbage on the street or burnt oil after cooking the 100th piaju? Everything is rolled into one and Sharif is about to regurgitate his sehri when the black hole ends and he tumbles into The Garden of Possibilities. It is a lovely Krishnachura tree that welcomes Sharif into what seems to be the entrance to a party.

Beyond the enchanted garden fragrant with Hasna Hena and Gondhoraj flowers is an elegant hall decorated with fairy lights, balloons and colourful buntings that announce 'Eid Reunion for the Delusional'. The hall is brimming with richly dressed guests and Sharif recognises quite a few famous faces. Sharif's jaw drops to his chest as he spots two of the nation's Most Influential Women in the middle of the auditorium. Queen Shaksina and Queen Dolly Bee, two monarchs who take turns ruling the Kingdom of the Clueless and Naïve. They are known for their bitter hatred of each other that is evident from the venom that comes out every time they even think of each other. The tirades, if translated into physical battles would have led to severe injuries including fists full of hair being torn out of each opponent's head. Now here they are laughing and joking together like high school buddies. The two finely-dressed ladies do not seem to notice Sharif gawking at them in sheer amazement as he walks closer, hypnotised like a somnambulist, to them to hear their conversation.

Shaksina: Is he looking this way, please please see Dolly. No? Thank Goodness. I just can't take another 'I'm so sorry, past is past' refrain anymore.

Dolly Bee: I know, but what can he do? He knows he has no more rabbits in his hat after the seventh amendment fiasco. Don't you remember how he was when we brought him down in '89? He kept calling us on the phone saying he was 'soo sorry'. Pathetic!

Shaksina: I know, good times, eh? Life was so simple. We were on the same side, fighting with the people for the people. Even your hairstyle was simpler, I guess without the bee in your bonnet.

Dolly Bee: Careful, sister, don't get me started. Just because you get to be queen this round doesn't change anything. Your government has failed in pretty much everything – maintaining law and order, getting enough power and gas and water to the people; you have unlawfully withdrawn cases of your errant knaves – what was that with Sean and Fiqbal getting off the hook after killing four people during a royal procession in my reign? And your above-40 youth squad Crazy Legions – they are just like rabid dogs, tearing everything apart and admit it, you have no control over them, do you?

Shaksina (mustering all her strength to quell the venom in her mouth: Ha ha PLEASE. Don't talk about the power and gas crisis. We inherited all of that from you. We are actually trying to do something about it. And who created this idea of having armed youth squads in universities, it was your king remember, it was he who started messing with our Divine Constitution, making his illegal takeover legal, pardoning the traitors of the state, the sorcerers who cast evil spells on the people. They were given special brooms by your king to fly off to unknown lands to hypnotise more people in believing their fascist ideology.

See now my courts are setting the record right. By the time they finish, your king's reign and that impostor's reign will be declared unlawful. As for your friends from the Treachery Bench who exploit faith for political gain, who have killed and raped during the noble war, they too will be punished and expelled from the scene. You better start packing your bags Dolly, especially with your offsprings in so much trouble... Oh and by the way one of your Dukes has been arrested for trying to blow me up.

Dolly Bee: How dare you, just wait till we mobilise the subjects of this country against your oppressive reign, we will call hartals and movements in the entire kingdom.

Shaksina: Pah! You mean like the last hartal that ran out of steam? That should work...(derisive laughter)

Dolly Bee: It was hot and my men are aging, some of them are diabetic. I have decided to use the younger ones now.

Shaksina: Dream on sister. You just want to blame me for everything. How was your reign any different? You would blame me for a bad hair day!

As the royal bickering threatens to mar the rare moment of amity between the two, a strange figure approaches. Wearing his characteristic Armani suit and Versace cravat to hide the wrinkled neck is H.M. Borbaad, the alleged impostor who had usurped the throne with military forces, changed the constitution according to his needs and then proceeded to rule the kingdom, indiscriminately putting people in dungeons, extorting huge amounts of money from his subjects for every trade and monetary transaction possible and becoming a fulltime Casanova as well. (Note: All this the democratic monarchs have been accused of, the only difference being that they didn't use any illegal force but exploited the undying faith of their subjects who voted them to power). At this venue he is his usual charming self, smiling away and ingratiating himself to the two most powerful women in the country. But he keeps fading out, almost disappearing like an indecisive genie, for the evidence at the Royal Court of the Supreme Elders is indicating that he should not have existed at all in all those nine years. But of course, tenacious and unashamed as he is, he is a survivor and will try to win over the Queen whichever one is in power, at any cost.

HM Borbaad: Good evening oh Exalted Ones, it is such an honour to see you. Might I say how fetching you both look, eh, in a sisterly sort of way – Queen Shaksina in your deshi silk- what a patriot you are, and Queen Bee in your French haute couture. What amazing examples of womanhood. Oh I just heard, dear Queen Shaksina, you have been nominated 6th among the world's top ten women leaders by Time magazine and that too after the announcement that your kingdom, I mean our kingdom, has been ranked 88 in the World's List of Great Kingdoms. What an honour, what a great achievement!

Dolly Bee: Hmph! I was on the cover of Time once, for my exemplary role in fighting religious terrorism.

Shaksina: Oh yes, the time when you created those religious terrorists then pretended they didn't exist and then proceeded to capture them. Yeah, good job, sister. Borbaad, don't you have anyone else to bother, go write some poetry or something.

HM Borbaad: Heh heh, always pulling my leg my dear sister. I just wanted to say...

Shaksina: Please no, don't say it...
HM Borbaad: 'I'm so sorry, so very sorry. But you know, past is past, let us forget what has happened and move on, together we can make this kingdom truly great...

Sharif (remember this is his dream) is distracted by the sound of sweet melodies coming from another side of the hall. Naheed the Enlightened One is reciting poetry on the glory of universal learning that will free the kingdom from the darkness of Ignorance and Despair. In the background is Dr Sweet Moni serenely playing the tanpura as she dreams of better alliances with foreign kingdoms. As Naheed the Enlightened One ends his recitation to thunderous applause from a thousand uniformed cherubs, in comes another group. This time it is a rock band with Hero Fiqbal playing lead guitar with Sahara the Warrior Princess on the drums and Betel Chewer Delu on percussion and sound effects with his mouth. Good Man Q, Borbaad's better brother, is on vocals. He starts with a soulful rendition of ‘Baeman, Baeman’ (a bit like Rod Stuart's Roxanne) and then 'Tea with Sahara' an adapted version of a Sting (former Police guy) song. Sahara cannot help but blush with pleasure at this unexpected tribute and breaks into a rap extolling the successes of her ministry in capturing terrorists and enemies of the state and denying the bad deeds of members of The Young Royal Pain in the Neck otherwise known as Crazy Legion. There are, in fact, many members of the Crazy Legion all over the place playing 'Hall Capture', 'Kill Bill' and 'Varsity Admissions'. They show their appreciation of the rock concert by throwing their machetes in the air and firing a few blank rounds, fully synchronised. It almost sounds like fireworks from hell, muses Sharif.

Sharif's attention is drawn back to the monarchs who have been joined by others – M Maalsberg, Chief Treasurer and the legendary Fire Daughter who is now in control of the Royal Granaries. Betel Chewer Delu and Sahara Warrior Princess soon join them. They are discussing some survey done by a reputable establishment assessing the popularity of the current reign of Queen Shaksina.

Betel Chewer Delu (after swallowing a mouthful of betel mash): See your majesty (to Queen Dolly) I told you that they would sink into ignonimy. Look, it hasn't even been two years and people are already losing their faith in Queen Shaksina's reign. The polls are saying 19 percent of people are unhappy with the economy.

M Maalsberg (smiling his enigmatic, coy smile): Polls shmolls. Rubbish! I can say for a fact the economy is doing fine, despite the upheavals with the cloth workers, inflationary pressures and energy crisis. Our clothing industry is still doing well, people are buying like mad – we almost had stampedes at the shopping centres just before Eid. I think we are doing quite all right. Even Newsweek thinks so.

Fire Daughter: And we have enough food to feed our subjects, how about that?

BC Delu: But the polls also say that 31 percent of the people think the Crazy Legions are out of control and engaged in violence, crime such as killings, control of halls, extortion etc. And 43 percent believe corruption has increased and the Anti Corruption Commission is controlled by the government and has lost its neutrality.

Sahara Warrior Princess: The Crazy Legions are not involved in any crime. It is just propaganda, an attempt by dark forces to tarnish the image of the Shaksina Clan.

Shaksina: I have sternly warned my boys that no one will be spared even if they belong to the Clan, if they are engaged in unlawful acts.

BC Delu: But what about the corruption...
Dolly Bee: What about the spiteful lawsuits against my nobles, knaves and innocent sons, what about the power crisis, your constant selling the kingdom to the neighbouring land, the oppression of the people...

Shaksina: Please please, ladies and gentlemen, this is an Eid Reunion, not the battlefield of Karbala. Why don't we discuss this later in our most exalted of courts – The Royal Assembly?

Dolly Bee: The air-conditioning is faulty and the smell from the toilets...ugh.
BC Delu: They don't provide good betel leaves.

Shaksina: Just minor obstacles. We can fix all that. Just come and we will discuss all this civilly. Dolly let us now eat some sweets in celebration of this wonderful occasion where the sun has risen on the other side of the planet.

The two queens feed each other sweets, not of course before their personal Food Tasters have given the go ahead after gobbling a few and waiting for three minutes for any possible poisoning to set in.

Overcome with optimism and joy, Sharif is about to introduce himself and help himself to those sumptuous sweets when a screeching sound shatters his delicate eardrums. “Shareeeef, WAKE UP and have iftar quickly, we have tons of shopping to do, the roads will be clear right after iftar...SHAREEF DO YOU NOT HEAR ME?!”




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