Liaquat Ali was in his cubicle, working on another production issue, where the Bank’s reports to the SEC, did not tally. The business had come back, on review of the results, that there was a discrepancy, in the numbers. The revenue numbers of the Banks divisions did not match, the Total for the bank. There had been a lot of transactions carried out in the quarter and this was a quarterly report. Now they were stuck with reconciling all the transactions in the quarter to see where the miss was. It was going to be a very long night he thought to himself. Williams his business VP, was not happy either, being asked to join the “War room,” that had been set up by the SVP, to fix the report. Their mission was to ensure that we worked till we got the file, for submission ASAP. Currently each of the divisions totals were being revisited, and checked. And everyone waited to hear back from the business, if any discrepancies were found.
The Application that Liaquat Ali was working on kept all the transactions for HQ, and it had evolved over the decades. The Consulting Company that he worked for, had helped the Bank Co-Develop this application. Ali had started off in a small village in the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. With a lot of luck ad the right education, he had created a successful career, for himself in the US. With most of the developers of his team, in India. Even here in the war room, it was the offshore system analysts, who were working with the business analysts, at onshore. Working through the night. Ali was also monitoring, the other production jobs, that were running for lights on work. His utmost desire was to ensure, they did not need another war room, if something else got delayed.
The matter was finally resolved by a sleepy old accountant in HQs. When woken up, he looked at the registers and questioned, some intra division transactions, which were not properly accounted for. It was early morning, before the changes could be done, to fix the transaction ledgers. At 6 AM they installed the fix, ran the report, and Business had it out by 7 AM The Compliance Officer was happy that it was in time, for their SLA of 8 AM, to the SEC. William was very happy to bring the war room, to a close. He came over to thank Ali,
“You are The Coder, my man.” William said sounding relaxed, now that the crisis was over. He enjoyed working with Ali, as he was technically very competent, and did not panic or scream, and shout at things, he could not control. He was easy to work with, and William shook his hand, “Go take some rest, it has been a long night.”
Ali woke up and looked at his phone and it was 9:20 and wondered who was calling him, on his work phone? “He picked it up from his bedside table and answered it still half asleep. It was Vinay the Account Manager. Ali had spoken to Vinay on the day he joined this assignment, four months ago. Ali thought he was calling about the War Room, and reached for his water bottle as his throat was parched.
“Ali, your petition has been rejected for the transfer,” Vinay announced instead.
“What the one filed with the Dept for Immigration to move from TX to here?” Ali asked, thinking back to try and remember his filings as immigration rules in America were complex, and hard to track. Ali had heard that all his Muslim friend’s applications were being turned down, this year. He was not surprised to hear that his may have been denied also.
“H R says that you have to leave the country in 48 hours.” Vinay continued.
“But there must be some misunderstanding, my visa standing has always been good. I am even getting my Green Card.” Ali replied, slowly waking up to this new nightmare.
“Hey Ali, I am only the messenger here. I know you do great work, and I am sorry to have to let you go. I cant fight the US Immigration system you know.” Vinay replied. “Talk to HR, as they know the laws and can connect you with our Immigration Law Firm, in New York.”
The HR lady called him at 9:30. She told him to start packing and they were booking his ticket to India. He would be returning back to his old office, in Lucknow. The Company was making all the arrangements, and they will inform him his Ticket details, once the travel department made the arrangements.
Ali packed what he could and got rid of all his worldly possessions, which he could not take back, to India. A guy he hated in the office, for his meanness, bought his precious, secondhand Beamer. He stared wistfully out of his window watching, the red car disappear around the corner. He fondly remembered all the road trips, he had taken with his sweat heart, all over the US. He loved those countries highways and Parks, and had traveled thousand of miles, in search of, even he did not know, what? “One kept looking, but one could not find, America,” Ali thought to himself, as he silently said bye, to his companion of so many red sunsets, on the bridges, and roads of America.
The bedroom furniture was bought by a newly married couple, in Graduate School, obviously very much in love. His big HD TV he sold on EBay and this giant black dude, just picked it up like a toy, and walked right away with it. Everything else Ali stashed away into two suitcases, and his laptop bags. The last night he spent sleeping in his old sleeping bag, on the carpet in his den, with the glass fireplace on. Early morning, he called Uber on his iPhone, and loaded his stuff, and headed out to the Airport.
He was in the Company’s Lucknow Office for a week, when he was given the notice that his post would be eliminated, and he would be better off, looking for alternative employment. He was actually in Saharanpur, his home place in UP. He was visiting his uncle, in his ancestral land, when the news came. They had a large two storied home, near their land of over forty acres, and their Milk Cow sheds, and the new Poultry farms. The Ali’s had lived here for centuries from the 15th century. Like Liaquat occasionally one would venture out f the ancestral lands, and travel the world. Some Ali’s had settled in the UK, and some in Canada. It was his father’s younger brother, and his family, who were now running, the vast establishment for their clan, in UP.
Liaquat was happy to be with his uncle, and spent time with him and his family. He did not really bother with the emails or his laptop, as he was transported back to his childhood memories. His uncle Firoz was also happy to see his nephew. They had been a close knit family, his father and his younger brother and one sister, who was married. She lived away in Calcutta, in another old Muslim family and had 2 boys. The family had prospered, as their agriculture income was good, from their two crops of winter wheat, and the Monsoon rice plantings, had brought added incomes. The Artesian Wells peculiar to their sub Himalayan fields, brought all the water for their needs, from the foot hill of the Himalayas. With free water, their fruits and vegetables, also added a lot of labor, and value. Liaquat personally knew almost 500 families, which evolved around the Ali’s land and enterprises, in the area. When the family gathered for the Friday prayers at the local mosque, they had a special unspoken place for their prayers, at the head of the gathering. After all this mosque had been largely financed, by one of Liaquat’s ancestors, while working with the Sultan, in faraway Delhi, in the fifteenth century.
After the prayers they had been called to the home, of the local head master of the school, an old family friend whose education, had been paid by the family. His wife was a close friend to Ali’s Chachi and she came over to their home quite often. She had not been over for some time, so Ali was happy to see her. She ran a great kitchen and Ali was anticipating a nice feast, after the prayers, as he had only had water since the morning. She soon rushed off to give the instructions for the help, to serve chilled drinks to the men after the sunny day.
The Men sat together in the living room. Farooq the Headmaster, was in earnest conversation with my uncle already, when I got settled in. They often spoke of all the local issues, and I also sipped my cool sherbet, in a tall metal glass, with some ice, and half listened, to their words.
“The other day Chottu reported that in the Grains market, the Sangh people want to do a procession for Holi. We had all agreed, as we have always celebrated, all the Hindu and Muslim Festivals together. The market is made up of traders who are Muslim and Hindu; Sikh and other faith’s traders, also have their business, in the Grain Market.” Farooq was telling Firoz.
“This year they took over the whole market, and Lalan and his boys, were given free reign. Chottu and our young people were given no role, in the celebrations. They only used their Sangh brotherhood shakhas, and others to organize. Even in the music and plays, we were left out, as if it was only a Hindu celebration. Our singers have sung Kabir and Meera Bhajans, every year at Holi, from our old gharanas. Chottu is very worried, as to the way things are going, and we are being excluded, and marginalized. There have been fights over the stalls, and the dances, and even some of our streets, have been closed; for their use only, to make mandals and stalls. Their leaders have made it clear, that we are not part of their celebrations anymore.” Farooq continued.
“Lalan and his boys are just showing their youthful spirit. We have celebrated Holi together, for so many generations. One more Holi will come and Go, and so will our ID, later this year. Young hotheads, will be controlled, by our community, as usual. We have not had any communal riots here, and we should keep cool heads, and hearts.” Firoz replied, after thinking for some time, on what he had heard.
“I spoke to his father, but he said that Lalan is out of his control and has come under the influence of the Hindutva wing, of our town’s party. I pleaded with him to talk to Lalan, as he seems intent in making some mischief, this Holi.” Farooq said.
We were summoned for the Jumma Feast and the old friends kept talking, as I concentrated on the delicious delicacies coming out of the kitchen. I had forgotten the taste of our home made cooking, and relished everything, whether it was the tender kebabs from the Tandoor, or the fried, or curried meats, that exploded, with new tastes, in ones mouth. My palate was in a state of constant amazement, as smells and tastes I thought I had forgotten, were rekindled. The aroma of the creamier dishes, was over powering, and the Naan’s with herbs and spices, just filled the room, with their earth oven cooked, smell. I ate slowly, concentrating on each morsel, and enjoying a meal this thoroughly, after many years. I remembered coming to this home with my father, as a young boy. Apparently, nothing much had changed in the routine of life, and the traditions just carried on.
Firoz Chacha was of course proud to have his world traveled nephew, back home. He installed me in My Father’s wing, of our old Haveli. In fact, I felt strange staying in my parent’s suite. I would have loved to live in my old room by the stairs, in the back, but Firoz Chacha insisted.
“Lallu, this is your rightful place in our home, so just settle down here. I will hear none of this nonsense, of going back to Lucknow. It is good riddance, as who needs a job anyway. You are heir to our Ali Family Lands and Estates, I m getting tired of looking after all our family affairs, after your father passed away. I need you back here to help me,” Chacha hugged me to his heart. He looked up into my eyes and said. “Enough of this madness, you have seen your America now. Come back home son.”
Firoz was going to Lucknow, the following week, as there was a big cattle show held their annually. He had some prize bulls to sell, and he wanted to get some new cows, to replace some of his older herd, at the Milk Sheds. I had to go and do my paperwork at my old employer, in any case, to finish my termination and meet with HR, for my exit interview. I decided to join him and square up my old travel accounts, for which my presence was needed, in the office.
Firoz had rented a Truck to transport his prized Bulls to the Lucknow Cattle Fair. On the appointed day a young bearded strong man from the grain market, showed up with an old Lorry, and loaded up the bulls, with some difficulty. He finally had them safely aboard, on the back of his lorry, and headed out, through the market. There he found his way blocked by one of the bamboos and wooden pandals, being used for an impromptu lecture, from the local politician, waxing on about the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Ram Mandir. “We will now build our Ram Mandir, our time has come again. We will bring Ram Rajya, back to this great land. Mother India is blessed. Jai!”” He shouted to great cheers, and loud repeated chants , from his audience.
Lalan and his boys jumped off the back of the stage and swaggered towards the offending Lorry, with Lathis and hockey sticks, in their hands. The driver realizing his mistake, started to turn his Lorry around, to take another way. Their orange scarves, and white short sleeve shirts, and brown shorts were mlike a uniform, and they all stood around the Lorry. They could see the bearded driver and Lalan jumped up on to the Footboard of the Lorry, and yelled at the driver, “You want to disturb our Leaders speech, we will kill you, if you disgrace our leader.”
The driver replied “Lalan Bhai, it is nothing like that, I did not know you are having your rally here, as I go this way every day. You know that as you are a regular, in the market also.”
“Turn around and go quietly, I do not want to see you, or your kind here,” Lalan said jumping off, as the Driver maneuvered the Lorry around, and headed off.
One of the boys jumped up and hit the lorry’s canvas, with a hockey stick from the back. The closure gave way and the Canvas parted, and one of the bull’s heads came into view, it was slowly chewing its cud, and looked balefully, at the scene.
The Lorry sped away and the boy yelled to the others, that the Lorry is transporting, Mother Cows. There was a lot of murmuring, and discussions as the boys returned to the stage for the rest of the speeches.
My day at the Company Office went smoothly, as I went from office to office, and got my clearance. There were a few colleagues I had worked with, on numerous occasions in the past, over so many years. They decided to take me our for a Barbeque Lunch. By the time I got to the fair, I saw Chacha pacing up and down, besides the Lorry. Apparently, the day had gone well, and he had been able to get more than he had expected, for his two prize bulls. He had bought two new young Jersey Cows, and two Desi Cows, from other people at the fair, that he knew from years past. He had a satisfying day, and was now anxious to get back, to his home and family.
So, I picked up Firoz Chacha in his car, from the fair, and then he made sure that the Lorry driver, took off before us, with his fare. He had also picked up 2 other passengers from our community, who needed a ride back from the fair. So, we all set off as it was going to be a long drive, to back home. We eventually arrived very late in the night and I was tired from all the driving and went off to bed. The Lorry driver had been instructed to not drive through the night, but find a place to sleep, on the way and take his time. The cows were important, but not urgent, and it was better to be safe.
I woke up late and had a shower and breakfast. I headed off to our office in the Grain Market, as Chacha had left before me. The car was gone, and I took a rikshaw from the main road. Normally the Rikshaw peddlers would take the loop on the main road, to avoid the inner smaller streets traffic. Today however the Rikshaw puller, took the side streets way, instead. When I asked him why, he told me there was some accident on the main road, and the police had closed it off. It was slow going through the narrow streets and he often had to get off and pull the rikshaw by hand, to the side, to make room for oncoming traffic or carts. When I got to the office only the accountants and clerks were there, and Chacha was not in his office, so I went off to my larger room, and started reviewing the reports, of our business.
I was meeting with the accountants to understand some of the intricate accounts that needed settlement, with one of our two banks. We worked with The State Bank of India’s Saharanpur Branch, for most of our business. We did a large business with the Food Corporation of India, and other buyers, of our wheat and paddy. Most of the funding for government accounts went through the State Bank, as it was easy to use their systems and many branches. The second bank was a Co-Operative Bank used by our Muslim traders. Many smaller farmers and traders and iron workers, and leather workers, needed banking services also. They did not qualify, for some of the bigger bank’s requirements. Here our family’s money had been invested, to take care of the families, during their needs for weddings, children, funerals etc. It was not a very big bank, but it was very effective in taking care of our many extended families, in the area. They helped build homes, dig wells, buy equipment or animals for income. The Bank and Family’s money had grown over the years, and the client families, had also prospered.
Suddenly a young man rushed into our office. His shirt was torn and one of his sleeves, seemed to be wrapped around his head. There were blood stains on the side of his head, and some on his remaining shirt. He came into the room where I was, and seemed agitated and nervous. When one of our accountants asked him, what he wanted, he just stared at him, as if at a loss for words. Then he turned to me, and said, “Please come to the clinic, your uncle Firoz has sent me.”
As I looked closer, I recognized him as one of the companions of our Lorry Driver. Intrigued by his appearance, I decided to leave with him, at once. As we walked, to find a Rickshaw, I asked him to tell me, what had happened? The young boy, as now I noticed he was quire frail, started to sob and cry. “Sir, I do not know, what to say. It is all so strange, as everything was normal, on our drive, and we slept at a Dhabha after a hearty meal, thanks to you, and your uncle. We headed out again in the morning after tea, and a good breakfast. We were doing well and only when we were near our town on the main road, that the driver stopped, and got out to use the bathrooms, and get some more tea. Lalan and his companions, were already there; having tea and got excited, when they saw us.
“Where have you been, we have been looking for this lorry, all day?” asked the young man, who had exposed the bull in the back, with his hockey stick, and called it a cow.
“We are returning from the Cattle Fair in Lucknow and it has been a very long drive.” Responded the driver, who knew Lalan.
“We saw that you took our Mother Cows, in your Lorry. What do you have there now?” the boy asked getting even more excited, “Let me see what you are carrying now, you beef eaters?”
“I am only the driver of this lorry; the goods belong to Mian Firoz Ali of the Grain Market. If you have any questions regarding the merchandize you will have to ask him,” The driver replied. “We have all the papers from the Fair, for our purchases and way bills.”
The young man looked at Lalan and asked rudely, “How can you allow this kind of trade in cows, and their slaughter? I have come from Delhi, to prevent this kind of behavior. We cannot allow the slaughter of cows in our land, as they are holy. I have come here with the specific instructions, to teach these people, a lesson.”
Lalan listened to the anger in the man’s voice and said. “This is their business. We do not interfere in their business, long as they do not interfere, in ours. They trade animals every year, and it is not a crime, to do their business.”
We and the driver sat down to one side at a small wooden table and ordered our tea. As we drank our tea, we watched the ensuing battle of words, between the boys. There seemed to be two groups, the first were Lalan and the local boys, whom we knew. The second group were outsiders, who must have come from Delhi, with their leader. They seemed far more belligerent and were far louder, and becoming more agitated, as if itching for a fight. Lalan and his friends backed off and then the group from Delhi went off to examine the Lorry’s freight.
They climbed up on the back despite our driver’s entreaties, to leave the cargo alone. When the young leader saw the young cows, being transported, he seemed to lose all his own control. He knelt and caressed the cows and put his arms, around their neck. Then some thought struck him, and he jumped up, and started shouting, “Murderers, thieves, killers of innocents, bloody meat eaters, not in our land.”
He jumped down from the lorry, and went and grabbed his hockey stick. “How dare you kill, these beautiful cows? You are monsters all of you. We will not allow you to murder these creatures. Come my companions, let us teach them a good lesson.” He yelled out loud. He and his boys then attacked our table, the driver stood up to defend us, his wards. They ganged up and circled all around him, taunting him with words. The driver threw up his arms, and cried out loudly, “That was Firoz Bhai’s prize Bull you saw us taking to the fair, to sell. Now we have brought cows back for the milk sheds. We have all the papers.”
The young leader was red in the face and jumped up on the table, in his excitement and started swinging his hockey stick, like a weapon. “You will teach us about our sacred cows, no we will teach you, how to treat them well.” He turned to his companions and said, “We have found him, let us teach him a lesson, like our leaders have said.”
Then they began to beat him up mercilessly, in front of us. Others grabbed us and started to beat us, with sticks and other instruments, and then someone hit me on the head, and a blinding pain erupted above my ear, and I fainted.”
I tried to comfort the young boy, as we approached, the Government Medical Clinic, in the Rickshaw. He was obviously very frightened and had gone through a frightful experience. “The last thing I remember, before I fainted was seeing Firoz Bhai, pulling up in his car, and coming towards us. When I woke up, I found myself in the clinic and Firoz Bhai must have brought me in his car, along with the rest.” He said, as we approached the square whitewashed building, of the clinic.
Firoz Chacha was lying on the clinic bed, and Dr Khan from our neighboring town, was administrating to him, when I walked into the clinic. “What happened?” I asked, as I approached.
“Just a few stitches on his forearm, and some lacerations and bruises on his legs, and arms, where he defended himself. Luckily nothing broken or impaired.” The wise Dr Khan said, shaking his head slowly. The poor Driver is dead, and his companion has a left leg and a right arm fracture and is in pain and I have sedated him, for the time being. He may have some fractured ribs, and a broken nose. Ah, this is the other fellow, that I must attend to,” the doctor said looking at my companion’s injuries. “Firoz Bhai mentioned he had gone to fetch you Liaqat,” he said using my formal name, from school.
“What can I do to help?” I asked the doctor.
“None of the local clinic staff is ready to help. Firoz called me on the phone, to come and help, and I rushed over as quickly, as I could. My advice would be to take Firoz home, or to a safe place, as soon as possible, these situations can turn very bad.” Dr Khan spoke from his experience. He shouted out to one of the orderlies at the clinic, to help. Dr. Khan helped Firoz get up slowly, and handed him a crutch, as his right leg was also injured. The orderly was afraid to help, so I stepped up and put my uncles’ arm, across my shoulder and bearing his weight, walked him slowly out. We then turned to the car parked, on the roadside and he groaned with pain, as we slowly got him, into the vehicle. Dr. Khan took the injured companion with him, back to his own home, and clinic. I finally drove away carefully, avoiding any sudden turns and potholes As I turned a corner, I saw a Lorry approaching with a Saffron flag, headed towards the clinic.
For two days we stayed at the Headmaster’s home (on his advice), as Chacha was confined to bed. Dr. Khan came and prescribed anti biotics, as he was running a high fever. He also gave me a bottle of strong pain killers, to be administered every night, to help him sleep. I returned home on the third day, as work was piling on and the excitement in the Mandi had died down a bit, after Holi. We mourned the passing of the driver and his innocent companion, while the third survived, and worked for Dr Khan and his family. I was active In the Market again and our trust work, was also keeping me busy. Chacha called me “The Coder” as I tried to quantify and classify everything, and worked, with a priority system.
On some melancholy days, an anger would seize me, and I would pace endlessly; in the inner courtyard, of our ancient home. The expression of the young man from Delhi, the hatred and the poison are new for me and my anger, would rise. Those loud words of hate were seared in my brain, as most of the outsiders seemed to live in Delhi, and not Saharanpur. He would recover from the dark fits on his Chacha’s urgings, and they would throw themselves into enjoying the seasons of life. He was intent on regaining his family’s stature, in society lost in the sordid descriptions in the media which hounded them. Their work was to better their families, and to make their community safe. They actively worked in their market and their education systems, to ensure more brotherhood. Where before he had taken what this system gave him, now he wanted to give back. He put all his efforts in arranging opportunities, for the next generation of families, in his hometown. He felt he had found his life’s calling and he would remain within the heart and soul of India.
A cycle stopped and the dust in the street rose from its wheel, as it had been very dry weather. Postman Chacha tapped me on my shoulder. I looked up to see his gnarled and wrinkled, unshaven, face. “Lallu beta,“ He said, panting a little, as if he had been riding hard, to catch up with Ali. He got off his bicycle and we got on the side, of the road. He reached into his mail satchel and rummaged around, for something. He pulled out a rumpled old package and smiled that wide broken teeth smile, I remembered. He apologized that the package had undergone a lot of wear and tear, as some parts were stuck with scotch tape. He handed it to me and said. “I have been looking for you, to deliver this. “ he patted me on the head, to give me give me his blessings. In an age old custom. I automatically reached down to touch his dust baked feet, in the rubber and canvas shoes, he wore without socks. My childhood seemed to pull me back in time, as I saw him get back on the road, mount his bicycle and ride back, the way he was doing his rounds,
I opened the package from my US office, of my old company. From it came a letter from the U S Consulate and another package. From this emerged my old lost passport, from the brown envelope wrapped in red tape. I opened the passport, and there where the page opened, was the official stamp of the US Government. I was staring at my Green Card.
Wow, nice piece!
Thanks Meera, and glad that you enjoyed it!