My second book-Miseries, Illusions and Hope-is a collection of few short stories I wrote in the last few years. Most of them appeared on my blogs on Facebook and Blogger.
These stories are about everyday people who are working hard for themselves and their loved ones. I call these people everyday heroes. They may be illiterate or poor, but they are sincere and trustworthy. They touch the lives of others around them.
Life is highly unpredictable and very complicated. It silently teaches us so much about love, intrigue, conflict, and persistence.
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Miseries, Illusions and Hope
By Almas Akhtar
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Almas Akhtar
All rights reserved.
Cruel of Life
"Feroz, please pay this electric bill," Salima said as she handed the bill to her husband at breakfast.
Taking a sip of his tea, he asked, "How much is it?"
"Rs 25,000," she replied.
"How many times have I told you to be more careful?" Feroz sounded angry. "This is a lot."
Not at all concerned about the bill, she stated, "My children cannot stay without the AC in this scorching heat."
"Salamat Ali," Feroz said to his driver, "here is Rs 50,000. Take 25,000 Rs for the electric bill and 25,000 for this month's salary. Please pay the bill today."
"Jee Sahab," replied Salamat Ali.
* * *
Salamat Ali returned home close to midnight after a long day's work. "Here, take this month's salary," he said and handed the money to his wife, Nasim Bano. "I will not ask anyone for a loan this month. You will have only this Rs 25,000 to spend."
Nasim Bano looked at her five young children sleeping in the tiny apartment. She looked down at the money in her hand and thought, How will I buy new books for Saad, pay rent, buy groceries, buy new chappals for Sughra, pay school fees, utility bills, and get the ceiling fixed? "Ya, Allah, help me," she prayed.
* * *
"Ami, I like this dress," said Lyla the very spoiled daughter of Mrs. Amin. "I want to buy it for my Jahez."
"Beti, you already have bought so many!" her mother argued. "Why are you buying another?"
"Come on, Ami, don't be so cheap."
Mrs. Amin reluctantly handed her credit card to Ayesha who worked as a salesperson in a designer boutique to support her parents and younger siblings.
As Ayesha packed the dress, she mused about the way the world worked. It is so ironic, she thought. I get up early in the morning, change two buses to come to the mall to work in this boutique. I earn Rs 25,000 after one month's hard work, and some other young girl spends Rs 25,000 in just a few minutes and quite conveniently. Why is there so much disparity in the world? One day, my kismet will change, Ayesha assured herself.
* * *
While sorting out the clothes at his dhobi ghat in the outskirts of the city, Alimuddin found a wallet inside the shirt of one of his clients. Opening it, he saw it belonged to Mr. R. K. Inam, a famous dentist in the city. The wallet contained his credit cards, a few receipts, photographs, and some cash. Alimuddin counted the money, Rs 25,000.
A very poor dhobi and the only earning member of the family, Alimuddin lived in a tiny two-bedroom house in the slums of the city with his four children, his parents, and his wife.
He had never held Rs 25,000 in cash at once. Should I return the wallet or just keep it? I can tell them that I did not find anything if they ask, he thought. I can use Rs 25,000 to repair the only bathroom in my house and pay some of my debt. I am up to my eyeballs in debt. I need this money. Dentists charge Rs 2,000 from every patient. He will make this much money in two days.
Alimuddin could not sleep that night. "Please God," he prayed. "I have never stolen anything in my life. I am tired and helpless. I desperately need this money. Please forgive me."
* * *
Each of these people — Selima and Feroz, Salamat Ali and Nasim Bano, Lyla and Mrs. Amin, and Alimuddin and his family — live in the city of Karachi, Pakistan, but that is all Miseries, Illusions and Hope they have in common. Their lifestyles and priorities are very different from one another.
However, they all need money, and the Rs 25,000 is very important to each of them. Some spend it through a period of one month; some spend it in one hour. Some use it to enjoy more luxury; some use it to get over their worries.CHAPTER 2
Because She Is a Product of a Broken Family Because She Is a Product of a Bitter Divorce
A few days back, my dear friend, Saadia, said, "The moment when my family broke apart became a pivotal point in my future expectations of relationships. It changed me. I lost trust in other human beings."
Normally, Saadia is a quiet and somewhat guarded person. To the casual observer, she is a very confident lady with a thriving career and a loving husband. Very few people know it took her years to create a shield around herself. She never talks about her childhood or shares any childhood stories. In fact, she does not want to discuss her childhood. Saadia is a child of a broken family that was torn apart by a very bitter divorce.
I can understand what Saadia has been through. My parents' divorce remains the most painful incident of my life. I grew up as a daughter of two households. I always knew I had to tell so-called lies to each parent and paint a picture of perfection or maybe mutual respect, so they can both like each other again (at least, a little bit, I hoped). I was often left in the middle of two adults unable to manage their own anger and frustration for the sake of their child.
"I acknowledge that my parents did the best they could in those tough times," Saadia said. "I forgave them for being unable to place my emotional needs above their own. However, so much of my childhood sorrow could have been avoided. It broke me and most of my personality. The experience poured tons of negativity inside me. Now I am the adult and can't trust my husband. I try to scold myself every day to overcome my demons for the sake of my husband and for the sake of my home, but it just doesn't seem to work."
Saadia's words broke my heart.
Relationships between two adults do not have to last forever. Relationships between two adults who have kids together always last. Relationships can be bitter, but they don't always need to be discussed loudly and angrily — especially in front of the children.
"My parents stopped loving each other, and that is okay," Saadia continued. "Having a child means being willing to put the child first. When you divorce or separate from the other parent of your children, you need to remember that your child deserves to come first. The child adores both. Hearing or seeing you bitterly discussing the other only hurts the child. You may not think they hear or understand your passive-aggressive tones, but they do.
"I had no say in how my parents broke our family down and no chance to say it was too messy. You can't sugarcoat a family breakdown, but you can protect your child. You should not expose them to the ugliness of your already broken relationship," she stated. "I'm not saying that you should always stay together for the kids, but if you must split, break up softly for your children's sake."
Saadia's parents divorced when she was nine years old. Her childhood memories were of two people arguing and Miseries, Illusions and Hope yelling at each other at the dinner table. At night, she closed her door and slid under the blanket and covered her ears, so she didn't have to hear her parents' episodes of fighting. Both bought her expensive gifts and sent her to the best schools and colleges. But they were unable to buy her the one thing she really wanted — mental peace.
Saadia said, "I love them both. But I am hurt that they did not protect me. They never protected my childhood or my youth. They never stopped criticizing each other."
In school, Saadia was the quiet and timid kid. She had problems making friends and avoided inviting her few friends to her home. She rarely discussed her parents. She tried very hard to shift her focus on her studies, the hard work paid off. Now, she is a successful computer engineer for a multinational company.
Saadia was scared to get married. Her husband, Omar, was her colleague first. When he proposed to her, she refused him the first, second, and third time. Eventually, when he asked a fourth time, she accepted his proposal. She knows Omar loves her, and she loves him. Still, she is frightened that something bad will happen. She is afraid that they will fight like her parents did that they will scream at each other. She is always uneasy; she can't relax.
Her husband understands her anxiety. He tells her to relax and believe in God. Although Omar understands her shortcomings, he never lived any of her experiences. He is a product of a happy and healthy marriage. Saadia may be the only girl in town who enjoys spending more time with her in-laws than with her parents. Omar's emotional support helped her a great deal. However, even after four years together, she cannot trust him completely. Will she ever be able to trust anyone or any relationship completely?
Now pregnant with her first child, she is even more frightened. She cries every day because she dreads what will happen if her child has to endure what she had experienced. She is frightened to become a mother and does not want her child to suffer a single day.
While thoughts of her past bring her pain, Saadia is happy with her present and even dares to have positive apprehensions Miseries, Illusions and Hope about her future. Confused and sad, she not only prays for her future with her husband and child, but for herself as well.
"I will give my child what I never had. I had two houses, but not a home. I will work hard to give my baby a home. Please, God, help me," she said.
Relationships with parents and romantic partners play important roles in the transformation of their lives. I have known Saadia for a long time and can understand her pain. I am happy she has found a good, understanding man as her life partner. Soon, she will become a mother. I wish her parents would not have shown their animosity against each other in front of Saadia when she was a child. It badly bruised her personality, but no one can bring back time.CHAPTER 3
The Absent Fathers
"Those honorable caretakers"
I enjoy playing with Sahab jee and Begum Sahiba's young son. Every morning, he gives me a hug and calls me Uncle. I take him to school. He is such a nice, well-behaved kid and reminds me of my younger son back in my village. Yes, I have four children: two sons and two daughters. They live in my village with my wife, my father, and my mother in Khyber Pakhtun Khuaw province, which is in the northern part of the country.
Because few good paying jobs were available in my area, I moved to Karachi to look for a job. I have been living in this city now for almost twelve years. I came here at eighteen with my father and learned to drive cars.
He had moved to Karachi when I was five years old. He had been unable to find a job in our area to take care of his parents, wife, two children, and younger siblings. I remember a time when sent letters to us. My mom would cry after reading every letter. He visited us once every year for five or six weeks. As a driver with a family in Karachi who lived in a big house, my dad was given one of their servant quarters to live in.
My Abu sent money to us every month. This allowed us to build more rooms in the house. Abu worked with the family for fifteen years then he became sick. He suffered two heart attacks and was unable to work. At that time, I was eighteen years old. I went to Karachi to stay with Abu jee and took care of him. Abu jee taught me how to drive a car. After I got my license, he went back to the village while I started working in his place.
I was happy that my mother would not cry and that my father would be with her and my younger brother all the time. I was also scared in the big city with so many cars, people, big traffic lights and noise. I did not know anyone.
As time passed, I made friends. I returned home after a year with lots of gifts for everyone. My parents and younger brother were very happy to see me. A few days later, my mother said, "Next time when you come home, you should get married."
"Why? Not now, I can't," I replied.
"I don't want another woman to live alone without her husband. Children miss their father every day of the year, but they meet him only every ten or eleven months."
"I can't do it to myself," I replied.
"But for how long?" asked her mother.
I married a distant cousin the next year. I left my wife to live in the village with my family. It's been almost twelve years since I became a father, and I see my family just once a year. I tried to find a small apartment, so I can call them to Karachi. I earn Rs 18,000 and cannot afford to keep my family in an apartment in this city. Living is not very expensive in my village, and my family lives in my ancestral house.
I miss my family every day. How long this cycle will continue? Will my son do the same?
Many people from many small villages travel every day to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. They all leave their families and make this journey to earn money for their better future.
Every year, thousands of Pakistanis move to the Middle East or Persian Gulf in search of better, high paying jobs. They too leave their loved ones back home. When will our country have enough good paying jobs for every citizen in every small town? When will all the fathers stay with their children every day of every year?CHAPTER 4
The "Motherly" Type Fathers
The third Sunday in June is special. On that day, people around the world honor their fathers on the occasion of Father's Day. The kids paint cute paintings and glitter-clustered greeting cards while teenaged and college kids take their dads out for lunch. Schools invite fathers for special programs. Social media spoils fathers across the globe with special poems, write-ups, and memorable pictures. Some outstanding individuals are not just dads but are far more dignified than a million moms and dads combined!
I will share a true story about a "regular dad" who is more precious than a mom and dad combined.
My daughter's friend, Mila, was born to a young couple. However, both parents were college freshmen and only nineteen years old. They raised Mila while studying for tests and took care of her amid book reports and college lectures.
Mila was only three years old when her parents graduated from college. Her mom moved to another state to pursue higher education. She studied, achieved her master's degree, and landed a dream job.
What did her dad do?
He did what few very men do. He took care of his daughter and found a job after obtaining his undergraduate degree. His dream was to take care of his daughter while providing her with love and comfort.
Fast forward ten years, and Mila is a cute, thirteen-year-old teenager with big brown eyes and a beautiful smile. She also is a straight A student. Mila has many friends, but she calls her dad her best friend. Her mom initiated the divorce, remarried, and is the CEO of a multinational company living in another city.
Mila adores her dad; they are each other's best friend. She rarely talks about her mom and visits her just a few days every year.
She celebrates her dad on both Mother's Day and Father's Day. Her explanation was very simple and heartwarming, "He taught me to ride a bike and comforted me when I was sick or got up in middle of the night when I had a bad dream. He made breakfast for me and braided my hair. He even taught me and my friends to play baseball. He spends his weekends shopping with me. We cook dinner together and laugh at crazy jokes. He takes me to after-school activities and to my friends' houses. He may not have a very high degree or job, but he is the best father there is!"
Mila and her dad are the perfect family. More than anything, they enjoy life and each other's company!
I wonder why people think that it's only mothers who sacrifice for their children, when there are many outstanding fathers who are exceptional in every sense.
I would like to acknowledge all the hardworking daddies, babas, and papas across the globe. And remember those who are smiling from heaven above and to the many amazing individuals who are more than what a dad could be.CHAPTER 5
The Falangi Bahu
My wedding was a low-key affair with a very few guests invited. Only one dress was ordered for the wedding along with a small gold set. It was clear by my in-laws' facial expressions that they were not happy their son was marrying a gori. They had wanted their son to marry a "nice Desi girl" and not a farangi.
I dealt with sarcastic remarks and criticism from my husband's family. I was always degraded when compared with my older sister-in-law who was 100 percent Pakistani and the daughter of a family friend.
"Zaat, Khandan bhi to kuch hota hey. ..."
"These Cora girls don't know how to take care of the house and family. Thank Cod, we have another son."
Their older Bahu belonged to the same background and culture. Her wedding had been an elaborate affair. My parents-in-law never missed an opportunity to give examples.
I tried my best to adjust in my new family by wearing shalwar kameez and learning to cook qorma and chicken Karahi. I also bought the English to Urdu dictionary to master the language as quickly as possible. I also read about my new religion and started adding "Alhamdullilah" and "Mashallah" in my sentences.
When my children were in elementary school, I enrolled them in the Sunday school of our mosque. I spoke Urdu to them and mingled with my husband's Desi friends a lot.
Excerpted from Miseries, Illusions and Hope by Almas Akhtar. Copyright © 2016 Almas Akhtar. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Cruel Ironies of Life, 1,
Chapter 2 Because She Is a Product of a Broken Family; Because She Is a Product of a Bitter Divorce, 6,
Chapter 3 The Absent Fathers, 12,
Chapter 4 The "Motherly" Type Fathers, 16,
Chapter 5 The Farangi Bahu, 20,
Chapter 6 The Invisible Victim of Domestic Abuse ... A Man, 25,
Chapter 7 My Children, Your Children, Our Children, 31,
Chapter 8 Why Ask? Why Hurt?, 36,
Chapter 9 Those Steps Toward College, 40,
Chapter 10 I Am a Man Without a Home and Without an Identity, 44,
About the Author, 51,