Chapter 4

In the early 1970’s, and telephone line was stretched from Victoria street through chidiya bazaar down to Katra Abu Turab Khaan. The gali was a narrow, brick-lined walk-way sloping steeply from the road down to more winding paths. On the top of the path, exotic birds, rabbits, and chicks were sold at the chidiya bazaar. Half way down was a compact dairy farm: complete with a few dozen water buffalos. And at the other end of the slope was a large and imposing blue gate. On it was a plaquard that said: Dr Rafiq Husain.

One of the first homes to get a telephone was Dr. Rafiq Husain’s. It was black, heavy, and a perplexing machine for most of the residents of that home. Not least because when you start any conversation, you had to yell-ask, “HELLO?!”.

Qaiser was holding the receiver in her hand now, and Nafees was helping her dial the numbers. They had to be dialed in exactly the correct sequence, and you had to wait for each digit to register before moving on to the next. Also, the numbers were in English — what a presumption that English would be the language of the common citizen in India! Qaiser could only read and write Urdu.

The dial-tone was active, and in a couple of minutes, Mohsina Kidwai was at the other end. Qaiser put it out there in her characteristically polite manner: as a Union Minister of State for Labor, and a senior member of the Congress party, what were Mohsina’s thoughts on her son-in-law’s application to the Saudi call for primary health doctors?

Despite their age difference, Mohsina and Qaiser were close friends, not just because Qaiser was a huge outspoken ally of the Congress party, but also because they were women from similar backgrounds who were determined to change the social fabric that wrapped them in chains. Through the years, they had managed to keep the ties strong, and watched out for each other.

“Ah, I’m sure the prospects for Anwar are great. I will find out. How are the grand daughters doing? Is the little one walking yet?”

No — the little one, Insia, was still only crawling, and still crying each night. She had started holding on to the edge of the bed and balancing herself. Such a sweetheart.

Qaiser hung up after a short polite conversation with a smile on her face. These new machines might not be so bad afterall.

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