Serendipity

Haarun woke up with a start. Breathing heavily, he tried to grab the glass of water by his side and it toppled over on his rug. He drank whatever was left of the water and tried to calm himself down. Today was that day. It was still dark and chilly, but Haarun was sweating like he was standing in the middle of the mid-day parade under the New Delhi sun. In twelve hours, he would be doing exactly that, but he would be calm and serene instead; a look of deliverance on his face. He will have achieved what he set out to do  five years ago, on this very day.

”As salaamu alaikum [1] brother. Had a bad dream?”

”Walekum as salaam [2].”

Ibrahim’s tone had a gloomy sound to it that Haarun did not appreciate. He just nodded and did not say anything about the dream. Ibrahim continued.

”It is Iblees [3]. He will try to dissuade you from your duty to the almighty. Do not falter brother.”

He was a fearless warrior of god, why then was he having these nightmares? More importantly, why were they able to scare him?

The Qur’an can’t be wrong.
”God protects those he favors.”
Inshallah.

He folded his rug and went to perform ablution. As he washed his hands and his face, he could feel the water going down his fingers and on his wrists and then down his forearm all the way up to his elbows. Was everything going to be so vivid?

The Azaan [4] was crisp through the morning air. Haarun hurried past the door and dashed across the stone steps of the masjid, they felt cold against his feet. As he brushed his feet on it, the carpet felt smooth and velvety. He stood along with the others for the Fajr Namaz [5].

”Allahu akbar [6]”

As he raised his hands up to proclaim that greatness of god, he noticed how small his ears were. Surely, this was not the first time he had felt that! But this was not the time for such thoughts. He tried to concentrate on the Namaz.

He went through the motions and prostrated. The fibers of the carpet tickled his fingers and he couldn’t help but notice how snugly they fit in the gaps between his fingers.

”As salaamu alaikum wa rehmatullah.. [7]”

As he turned his head for the salaam, the movement was not synced with the man next to him and he ended up staring into his eyes. They were young and fiery. Raw passion oozed out of them and they bore into Haarun as his gaze met them.

Turning the other way, he met another set of eyes; bloodshot fugitive eyes. Thin red veins stood out on the milky white background. The eyes were half closed, out of exhaustion or wisdom, he did not know.

Haarun was between these extremes, both literally and figuratively. The youth was his past and he wondered if the elder was going to be his future. Broken and exhausted. Always on the move, always wary, always alert.

He decided that did not care.

He walked back to his camp, trying hard to avoid looking at the sun peeking through the clouds, just golden-white wisps of air, but so magnificent!

He entered the room to find Ibrahim packing his jacket.

”Last minute packing..” Ibrahim smiled.

Haarun just went to his corner and sat there. Ibrahim was worried. He had seen this look on the face of many soldiers and despite having sent so many of them away, he had still not learned how to deal with this last minute regret.

He tried his best to make light of the situation, but Haarun wasn’t responding too well. It was time to call Imam sahab [8].

”As salaamu alaikum, Haarun.”

”Walekum as salaam, Imam sahab!” Haarun quickly stood up.

”You don’t look like you are ready for this great and pious act. I think you shouldn’t go.”

”No!”

”Yes! I see on your face the pangs of regret that appear on the Munafiq [9], who only pretends to be doing the work of god.”

”Astaghfirullah! [10] That is not the case Imam sahab, my faith is strong as ever.”

”Why are you sulking then?”

Haarun wanted to tell him that very moment how he felt. How a feeling of impending doom had engulfed him and made him sick. How he longed to sleep in his mother’s lap, as she stroked his hair. How every moment seemed so much more today, as if beckoning him to experience it all over again. Even the dank Delhi air seemed invigorating!

What he was going to do today would become his death sentence. He wanted to tell him that he did not want to die. Not yet.

”I don’t know sir.”

”You are very lucky, son.” Imam sahab was now the father than Haarun never had.

”Not everyone gets the chance to be a hero. Not everyone gets to meet god with his head held high and his heart clear of malice and filled with the innocence of a new born child. You are doing the work of god and he will never let you down. Do you understand child?”

Hero? How can a man who will be labeled a terrorist by one billion or more, be a hero? How does someone who kills for vengeance be free of malice? How does the innocence of a child find its way into a heart filled with hatred?

There was much to be said, but no courage to say it.

”Yes, Imam sahab.”

”I too was a kid like you and I was also swayed by these earthly delights. I too wanted a taste of these pleasures. But god himself says in his book that these frolics and delights of earth are nothing compared to the eternal bliss of paradise. Isn’t that our ultimate goal? To be in paradise with those who are favored by the almighty? For this we do what we must. And we cannot afford to falter.”

Eternal bliss at the cost of what? Death? Not one but so many! What god would want his creation to kill so mercilessly and that too in hismerciful name? Who decides who is favored and who is not? Surely it isn’t god!

We must kill, but when will this spate of violence die its own death?

”I will not falter. I promise.”

”That will not do! Promises aren’t enough! Look at me.. look at me!” Imam sahab was livid, clearly his words were not having the desired effect on the lad.

”Have you forgotten this day? The day when they dragged your brother into the open and put a bullet through his head? Do you not remember how they mercilessly massacred all of his friends? What did they do to deserve that? Sixteen year old lads, barely old enough to make their parents proud. Not yet old enough to make their own decisions. What did they call them? Traitors! Traitors to the land and terrorists!”

Haarun hadn’t. That was the only thing that pushed him on. He remembered very well.

”You don’t have to remind me.”

”I don’t want to. But just remember that if you have second thoughts. This is not vengeance. This is liberation from the shackles of guilt and helplessness that we have felt as we stood by and they murdered out loved ones. This is redemption.”

”I won’t fail you.”

”I know son. And I promise you that this isn’t the end. This isn’t a suicide mission. Once it is over, you are free. No matter what the result. You understand? No matter what the result. God be with you.”

Imam sahab wasn’t taking any chances. He put Ibrahim on the task to make sure that Haarun doesn’t back out at the last moment.

Haarun packed the rifle and took it on his shoulder. His army uniform was perfect. As he entered the army barracks, no one gave him a second look. He was in.

”The parade starts in 30 minutes. Be ready.”

Haarun was ready. He had been ready for five years. He gripped the rifle and checked the barrel. Everything was fine.

”Here are your bullets.”

Haarun needed just one.

As he stepped out into the sun, his heart went into overdrive. The gun felt cold in his hands, or was it the other way round? He cocked the rifle and positioned it.

In the crowd, Imam sahab was watching, having ensured that the bullet-proof glass was not so and that the prime minister sat plumb at the center of the first row, hindered by no guard. He was at peace. He was just waiting for Haarun to pull the trigger.

Haarun placed his finger on the trigger and flexed. He just had to lower his barrel and point at the Prime Minister. He looked at him and closed his eyes. Years of practice had made him an excellent marksman and the Prime Minister was just 50 feet away. There was no way he could miss.

Tears streamed down his face as Haarun lowered his rifle.

Bang!

The Prime Minister was down. Haarun opened his eyes and looked at the ruckus. Imam sahab was trying his best to get outside. The bullet-proof glass was shattered to pieces and There was a small smoking hole in the seat where the Prime Minister was to be seated.

Haarun couldn’t believe it. He quickly examined his rifle. The bullet was still there.

”The Prime Minister has been shot and the nation is in shock. This is a sad day for India.”

”Nobody knows what happened here but looking at the height at which the bullet got lodged, it looks like it was someone who was sitting on the terrace of a building opposite  the venue.”

”Haji Ashfaque Hussain alias Imam sahab has been arrested on location. He was found to be carrying a fake UK passport and has been apprehended for questioning. He hails from the Kashmir valley”

”Ashfaque Hussain has admitted that this attack was the handiwork of Kashmir based terror outfit, Harkat ul Mujahideen. He claims that this was retaliation for operation freedom, that was carried out by the Indian Army on the orders of the Prime Minister to clear the valley.”

‘Hussain has accepted that he was the mastermind behind the whole operation. As you can see in this footage, he ended the proclamation with a warning to anyone who dares to oppress the people of free Kashmir and promised dire consequences to any leader who intervenes in matters of the valley.”

”With a heavy heart we break this news to you. Our nation is without a leader today. As we grieve the loss of our beloved Prime Minister, condolences have started flowing in from all over the world. The world is watching this ruthless act of terror and India will not be silent.”

As he stood in the crowd and witnessed the mayhem, Haarun realized that no one blamed him. No one even knew him. He was not burdened with the guilt of murder. It was not him.

He smiled a weak smile. He was now a free man. After five years of toil, his grudging ordeal had come to an end. Looking at the sky, he thanked the heavens for being so kind. He had received a gift of anonymity and had been rid of his burden. Walking slowly to the railway station, he caught the first train home.

Footnotes:

[1] Islamic greeting meaning ‘God keep you safe’
[2] Reply to As salaamu alaikum meaning ‘God keep you safe too’
[3] Name that some Muslims use for Satan
[4] Call for prayer
[5] Fajr is the mandatory morning prayer, ‘namaz’ means prayer.
[6] A proclamation at the beginning of prayer, meaning ‘God is great’
[7] A proclamation at the end of prayer, meaning ‘God keep you safe and have mercy on you’
[8] An ‘Imam’ is religious leader
[9] A ‘Munafiq’ is a religious hypocrite
[10] A exclamation of forgiveness, meaning ‘I seek the forgiveness of god’

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9 comments

  1. amarllyis · · Reply

    Engaging. I was hoping that he wouldn’t have to do it. Also, if he did do it and blow himself up, like I thought he would, i would end the story with him meeting God.

    And then I would end with how he wouldn’t be free anymore.

    Good one!

    Like

    1. He wasn’t going to blow himself up at all. It was going to be an assassination.

      About the god part, I think that would have been very predictable. That is why I didn’t do that. Also, I don’t want to portray god as a just entity. That would be against the very definition of the concept :P

      Like

    2. Did you like the ending? I mean, the whole ‘news items’ followed by the realization? Could I have polished it?

      Like

  2. Hey Aamil, I am kinda curious as to what motivated you to write this post (if I am not mistaken, you are an agnostically oriented).

    I liked the description and the ambivalence of emotions, and random thoughts experienced by the Haarun character and the sun or the skies he sees, etc.

    I have mixed feelings on the end – on the one hand, I empathized with the ambivalence at the end, where Haarun is freed of the guilt and/or the onerous and soul torturing decision he almost almost made, and having to live with it for rest of his life. And of course if someone else had never pulled the trigger, we as the reader, can never be fully certain if Haarun would have pulled it himself or continued to falter and call it off eventually. So I liked that ambiguity open ended thing.

    But then again, on the other hand, in the end Haarun’s character comes across at best as an indecisive, spineless coward who lacks authentic/true moral conviction, but instead conveniently escapes his debacle/dilemma with an external copout – “Phew! Someone else pulled the trigger! I am spared both the imperative of making a conscious firm stand in my dilemma, as well as rid of the guilt of the consequences either ways.”

    Also if those extremist idiots had another guy working for them, then why select Haarun and put him through this entire charade? – especially when it’s evident Haarun is in a moral internal conflict.

    Nonetheless, it’s a good write-up. The ambiguous morality towards the end is both a plus and minus.

    Like

    1. Thank you for such a thorough analysis! I am much obliged.

      I did not really think of the moral aspect of this piece. All I wanted to convey is that life has its ways of springing surprises at you and that is what serendipity is all about. This piece is thus, an attempt to define serendipity and to capture it in a way that we can understand.

      I don’t understand how the motivation for this piece is related to my theological views (or lack thereof). Kindly elaborate on that.

      About the story, no one wants to be the one to do the difficult things in life and we always look for an escape when we are faced with such a choice. As you have noted, I have deliberately left the conclusion open-ended. I wanted the reader to think for what she would have done in a similar circumstance.

      I did not want to make Haarun a hero. But then it isn’t established anywhere that he is a coward. True, he doesn’t take a stand against Iman sahab. True, he goes on with the plan like a lamb goes to slaughter, with an attitude of resignation. However, since he doesn’t have to make the decision, you will never know if he was a hero or a coward. Whether he would have pulled the trigger or not. I wanted to keep it this way as I don’t like to do ideal Karna-type characters. There are plenty of stories out there that have done that and well.

      About the guy who actually kills the PM, well, he was someone totally unrelated to the group. I see now that this hasn’t been communicated through the story so well. He is supposed to be a third person who takes advantage of this opportunity to get rid of the PM and blame it on the terrorist outfit that willingly took the credit.

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      1. Regarding the motivation of this piece connected to your theological beliefs (or rather lack thereof) – I asked just out of curiosity. Didn’t mean to be intrusive or anything. I was just curious what thought or idea germinated in your mind to want to write it.

        Regarding the morality of the piece, given your clarifications, it makes sense. And I kind of had that intuition as well – that you intended for the ending to be ambiguous or open-ended and left to the interpretation of the reader. However, like I said, it still is both a plus and a minus, and at least for me, as a reader – I experienced some ambivalence for it. Perhaps indeed that was the intention – making the reader suffer the moral conflict of empathizing with a character, who appears docile and good natured, perhaps brainwashed into submission to extremism, who could very well have pulled the trigger, but we did not get enough time to see if he actually goes through with it.

        And regarding the third-party shooter, now that you mention it, that perhaps makes some sense too. However, as you pointed out, it isn’t directly evident from the story. Perhaps you may want to edit and refine that bit.

        Good post nonetheless. Still ambivalent on the ending :P :P

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        1. I did not find that question intrusive at all! I had the idea to write this piece after I had heard too many people use the word ‘serendipity’ in the wrong way. They used it to simple mean ‘surprise’. I think there is a lot more to it than just that and I wanted to write something to that effect. Then, on my last journey to Mumbai, I thought of the story of a terrorist and added this twist to it to link it to serendipity.

          I will definitely consider re-writing the end to make the third party involvement more obvious.

          BTW, I have changed the theme to make it less painful on the eye. Check it out and let me know if it is okay.

          Like

      2. Oh and also, the “Serendipity” part is now clearer to me. I am guessing it was the serendipitous way in which the Haarun was spared making a conscious choice by fate towards the end. Makes sense.

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        1. Absolutely! :)

          Also the fact that Haarun never really ‘expected’ that in the first place. He not only got rid of the moral implications of that act, but also got back the life and freedom that he wanted, without ever thinking or even expecting that to happen.

          His efforts were concentrated towards getting the work done and then getting away to safety. He might have never thought that he would have to do neither. That is why it is serendipitous.

          Like

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