Jaffer checked his clothes. He was wearing a decent shirt, and the jacket that he had received from Arun bhai was pretty good too. The aroma of chicken in the air was inviting. He walked slowly to the venue and waited.
There was no one going inside. At the entrance, Mujeeb bhai was waiting with his hands folded in a ‘V’, to welcome any guests that arrived. It was already 10 pm and he wanted to go back inside for the family photograph. He stayed behind just because he still expected a few important guests to show up.
25 minutes passed. Jaffer’s tummy started growling, but he couldn’t just enter the hall like that. This was the wedding of his friend’s son. A childhood friend who no longer kept in touch with him, but a friend nevertheless. He was feeling ashamed, but there was no other wedding to crash. He felt his tummy rumble and tried to muffle it by punching himself. Hunger has a way of making its presence felt and Jaffer was no stranger to this feeling. He waited for an opening; any moment now.
Mujeeb bhai  was also getting anxious. He wondered why Kamal Ashraf had not made it to the wedding yet. Kamal was the local MLA  and Mujeeb had sent him the invite twice – once from his side and again from the bride’s side. He had also sent him 15 extra cards to give to his lackeys. Was that not enough? Did he feel insulted? He wondered if Suhail was right and that he should have sent at least 30 cards. But, they cost Rs 50 each! There was no way he was going to blow close to a thousand rupees on those useless hooligans! 15 was the ideal number. Now, if only that pompous ass showed up!
Jaffer looked up and gazed in the direction of the highway. He could make out a faint sound, but he couldn’t say if it came from the road or his belly. Then, finally his eyes granted him the vision of two cars speeding towards the venue. He felt relieved. Now he just had to follow the group and he would be inside in no time. Mujeeb bhai rejoiced. He called Kaju  from inside the hall. Kaju was busy eating and by the time he came out, the cars had reached the gate. Mujeeb slapped Kaju on the back and asked him to hurry up with the fireworks. The useless fellow always managed to leave him stranded at the most inopportune times. But all was not lost. He had already take out the garlands and kept them ready by the door. He was ready to give the dignitary a grand welcome that he would remember when they picked their candidates for the municipal elections.
The smoke and noise from the fire crackers was a nice cover for Jaffer and he quickly slid into the group accompanying Kamal Ashraf. There were 15 people and they commanded a lot of attention from the welcoming party. Rose water was sprinkled and garlands were put around their necks. Mujeeb bhai personally greeted them. This turned out to be Jaffer’s undoing. Every man in the retinue had an invitation card with him and duly showed it to Mujeeb bhai before entering. Jaffer was empty-handed.
Mujeeb had noticed Jaffer and his lack of invitation card from quite a distance. Every leader has a few rascals among his followers. Mujeeb immediately understood Jaffer to be that rascal. His jacket did not fool him. Mujeeb had seen his shoes and the way he walked. His wafer thin body was also a dead give away. He could swear that this guy was a junkie from the stone cold eyes and the wobbly gait. He shuddered when he imagined him among the people who were dearest to him. Though he was against having such people around, Mujeeb did not want to create a scene by turning this guy away. He might be a junkie, but he was with Kamal. He looked at Jaffer and decided that even the rascals must be entertained sometimes to appease the leader. The things he did for his political ambition! He decided that day to keep such people away from him when he became a leader, so that no one else would have to suffer like him.
Jaffer slowly stepped up to Mujeeb. A pair of watery eyes met Mujeeb’s and he was taken aback to see a smile on his face. Mujeeb grabbed him by his shoulders and he let out a faint cry immediately confessing that he did not have an invite. Mujeeb looked at him, still smiling, and gave out a huge guffaw. That was not going to be a problem, he said. He was his friend and friends don’t need invitations! Jaffer was overwhelmed. In all the years that he had known him. Jaffer had always regarded Mujeeb as a pitiless miser who wouldn’t even give alms to the poor. Now all of a sudden, he was being called a friend! Agreed that they had grown up in the same neighborhood, but Mujeeb’s family was the richest and theirs, the poorest. They had only played together a few times as kids. Jaffer was overcome with joy to see that Mujeeb remembered him. He hugged him with all his might and wept tears of joy.
Mujeeb was sure now that the man was stoned. After all, what sane man hugs a stranger and cries like a baby? He broke free from Jaffer and smiled at him. Kaju was at the door and was asked to usher the guest inside. Mujeeb wanted to tell Kaju to keep an eye on the guest, but Kaju was more than eager to get inside and left immediately. Curses! Mujeeb decided that he would have to personally see to it that nothing untoward happens because of the junkie. He sighed as he welcomed the last person and started to walk towards the buffet line.
The sight was too grand for Jaffer! He had been very brave in crashing this wedding, but it had been well worth it. In fact, it was too good to be true! Mujeeb had in fact welcomed him! It was the first time that he had been welcomed to a wedding that he had crashed. He was feeling warm from inside and tried to show this by greeting anyone and everyone that he met. They glanced at him and quickly scattered, but he smiled at them nonetheless. The least he could do for his friend, the host, was to keep the guests happy! Though he was hungry as a starved lion at a circus, he decided not to join the queue for food. He would wait for the other guests to have their dinner before eating. After all, it is tradition that the family eats last!
Mujeeb regarded Jaffer with cold eyes. First of all, he had crashed the wedding and now he was trying to mingle with distinguished guests! Mujeeb couldn’t take it any more. Mujeeb thought that the shameless fellow would dive straight for the food, but no! He just went and sat down in the last row. Mujeeb was sure that the man was ogling at all the women of his family. Ya Allah! What a despicable man! Mujeeb decided that he would have to deal with him once and for all, but he had to be careful and gentle.
Jaffer saw Mujeeb rushing towards him. He was delighted that Mujeeb had finally understood that family members don’t just hog and leave, they help in the wedding too! Jaffer stood up, expecting to hear a request from Mujeeb. He had served at many weddings. He could see that the people serving in the buffet were clumsy imbeciles. Such a disgrace! Jaffer was just waiting for Mujeeb to say the word and he would be on them, setting them straight! As soon as Mujeeb was within earshot, he poured out his heart’s contents to him.
Was that what he said? That the caterers are a bunch of fools? They have been neglecting the guests? Oh really? First he crashes the wedding, then he insults his guests and now he is criticizing his arrangement! Mujeeb felt a vein pop in his forehead. But he did not lose his composure, not tonight. He wanted to supervise the servers? Yeah, right! A junkie supervising at such an important event! Never going to happen. Mujeeb quickly grabbed him by the arm and took him to the buffet queue. He had to eat and leave, now! He called the servers and asked them to take special care of his needs. Maybe now this loafer wouldn’t trouble him. But, just to be sure, Mujeeb waited nearby, observing him.
That was unexpected! Mujeeb was being far too kind. Jaffer knew that his friend wanted him to enjoy the wedding, but putting him ahead of the queue and asking the servers to take ‘special’ care of him, well, only a true friend would do that for another! Truly, Mujeeb was a caring saint. As he moved further in the queue, he could see that Mujeeb was nearby, making sure that his friend was not being cold shouldered because of his rough appearance. He wanted to hug the old man, but he was holding a big plate filled with the choicest of delicacies. Maybe later.
Finally! Now that he has the food, he will eat and leave. Even he doesn’t want to, Mujeeb would make him! Look at that bugger, piling on food like he’s never seen it before! All that good food going into the body of a junkie. What a waste! If only he had not come with Kamal and on this auspicious night, Mujeeb would have had his way with him! He sighed and lit a cigarette, suddenly remembering that he had vowed to god that he would keep off all vices till the wedding got over. He quickly flung the cigarette to the ground and ground it to dust. He had almost broken a pledge to god, all because of this vagabond!
Savoring every morsel of the chicken and every bite of the lamb, Jaffer praised the lord and chomped on. The gravy was thick and full of flavor and the rice smelled like heaven! There were 12 varieties of sweets, some of them he had never even heard of! He had not felt so good for a very long time! Every night, he would eat quickly for fear of being caught, but not tonight! His friend was keeping watch for him, making sure that he was not troubled. Jaffer decided that moment that he was going to go home tonight and offer 10, no 20, Rakats of Namaz  for the well-being and prosperity of Mujeeb and the success of his son’s marriage.
Shabana walked up to Mujeeb and asked him to come for the family photograph. he motioned to her to wait for him. She followed his gaze and wondered why he was looking at this man so intently? She finally asked him. He said that he was a stoned wedding crasher who had come in with Kamal Ashraf. He could have turned him out, but that would have created a ruckus that he did not want, so he let him stay. Now he was turning into a nuisance and had to be driven out quickly, but politely. He didn’t want his guests to think that he was unkind to strangers. Shabana let out a sigh and asked him to stop worrying and enjoy the wedding of his son. What was the worst thing that the vagrant could do? Mujeeb gave her a look that told her to just let him be. She went back to the stage where the groom and bride were wearily posing for their 1000th picture. Shabana had featured in 990 of them. Of course, they had to have pictures of just the bride and groom, but too many pictures of them alone would look too vulgar. So, she had taken it upon herself, as the groom’s mother, to make sure that she stood between the couple in every picture for the sake of decency.
Jaffer had observed the whole ordeal and felt proud that Mujeeb was telling his wife about their exploits from childhood. But why did Mujeeb not introduce his wife to him? Oh right! It is impolite to interrupt a person while they ate. How considerate of Mujeeb! He was on the last morsel of his third serving and felt quite full. As soon as he finished, he would walk up to Mujeeb and declare that he should go and enjoy the party while he took care of the guests.
It is over. Jaffer walked to the wash basin after putting his plate in the waste bin. As soon as he had washed his hands and turned behind, he found Mujeeb there. Mujeeb already hailed a cab to get rid of Jaffer and was about to ask him to leave when he heard Kamal Ashraf’s voice! In his obsession over this man, he had totally forgotten about Kamal, the chief guest! Kamal beckoned Mujeeb to the stage for a picture. Not wanting to disappoint him, he rushed towards the stage.
Jaffer was slightly nervous. He didn’t know if he should be sharing the stage with such great personalities. He followed Mujeeb up to the stage, but decided to wait at the stairs. He wouldn’t want to embarrass his friend. he would speak to him when he came down.
Kamal looked at the people near the stage and was surprised to find a ragged old man among them. He looked at Mujeeb and then he looked at the man. Mujeeb met his gaze and immediately understood.
Why do these leaders humor such filthy people? Kamal had made his wishes clear, he wanted the bum on the stage with him. What does he do for him? Is he his henchman? Maybe he is the guy who does all the dirty work for Kamal! Whoa! Mujeeb was relieved that he hadn’t treated him badly. Who knows what these people are capable of! Mujeeb got off the stage and asked Jaffer to join them on the stage.
How could Jaffer refuse Mujeeb, after all that he done? He puffed up his chest, climbed the steps and faced the camera. Anything for a friend!
Kamal was puzzled, but he decided not to show it. Maybe this guy was a special friend of Mujeeb’s from his childhood. He had heard many stories about rich people getting close with poor people and then treating them as equals. There have been cases where these poor people became more successful than their rich friends and then came back to return the favor when their rich friends were in trouble. After all, your true friends are those who stand by you in times of adversity. Kamal smiled at the old man and asked him to stand next to him. Later, shook his hand.
Kamal Ashraf shook hands with him! His friend had bestowed on him a great honor! Jaffer wept and hugged Mujeeb. Mujeeb patted him on the back and told him that a cab was waiting for him, whenever he wanted to leave. Jaffer was amazed by Mujeeb’s generosity. Not only had he been the perfect host, he had even arranged a cab to drop him! Jaffer vowed that he would never forget this kindness and that he would be there for Mujeeb whenever he needed him.
Mujeeb was surprised that Kamal actually asked the junkie to stand next to him! He must be quite an important person! Mujeeb’s fears melted away. If Kamal did not mind his presence, why should he? He decided to let the guy wander around as long he wanted. The cab could wait. Surely, he would remember how well he was treated by him when he would meet with Kamal, and tell him about it.
Later that night, the cab driver dropped off Jaffer at a stinking shanty-town. He was surprised, but that is how it is with these rich guys. You never know what to expect from them!
Jaffer walked into his hut and immediately took out the prayer rug. He had a permanent dull ache in his side every time he bent down. But he paid no attention to it and offered the full 20 Rakats of Namaz to god and prayed that Mujeeb and his family play in the lap of prosperity for ever. Then he decided that 20 were not enough and offered 9 more Rakats. He wanted to do one more, but his back was broken from a fall in the open drain near his house and it had started to pain immensely. Tired and satisfied, he drifted off to sleep. He felt warm from inside and even in his sleep, he prayed for the health and prosperity of his dear friend, Mujeeb, or Mujju, as they called him when they were kids.
Many days later, on a phone call to Kamal, Mujeeb asked him about the mystery man who enjoyed so much favor from him. Kamal acted surprised and asked him the same question. Mujeeb was flabbergasted by his own stupidity. Why didn’t he ask Kaju about the man? Surely he must have known him! He sent for him immediately and showed him the picture that they had clicked at the wedding. Indeed, Kaju was acquainted with the man and informed Mujeeb that he was a childhood friend of his named Jaffer. Mujeeb felt bad that he did not recognize his own friend. He asked to meet him. At this, Kaju stiffened. Jaffer had died the night of his son’s wedding, he informed Mujeeb. Apparently, he died in his sleep when his appendix burst. People in the slums said that he had a strange glow on his face and was smiling peacefully.
Footnotes:  Bhai – Hindi word for brother. A respectful title for distinguished individuals in India. Also used as slang for a member of the Mafia.  MLA – Member of the Legislative Assembly. Elected representative to the state government in India.  Kaju – Hindi/ Urdu word for Cashew, a variety of dry fruit. Used as a nick name in this context for a person.  Rakat of Namaz – Unit of prayer for Muslims.