Abu’s Jinns returns to narrate the tale of a woman who, after cheating on her husband, tries finding her path back to God, only to be stopped by a jinn.
“Sharam karo thori si.” ama’s words rang in my ears. “Thori si sharam.”
For as long as I could recall, I had been a stubborn, guilt-free child. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was the only daughter, or because my father was more well-off than his brothers. I had been wired this way; to be careless, to not have the tiniest tinka jitna regret on my actions.
As a child, I had the habit of smacking children my age; boys and girls. Without a care in the world, I’d walk up to them and give them a spicy chamaat on their face. Sometimes, I’d cry afterward and run to baba holding my pink, swollen hand. The drama wasn’t just restricted to logoun kay bache. At times, when apa would smack or scold me, I’d repeatedly place my arm between the revolving kitchen doors to bruise it. Of course, I’d blame apa for it.
But, this wasn’t a movie and soon, everyone got to know what sort of a troubled, shaitaani bachi I was.
Time passed and I grew up, but the sharam never came. I learned the art to respect people once I was out of the premises of my house. I learned to share my chips and not spit jellies on the floor. I stopped stealing pencils with chewed off erasers, and I started washing my face with soap. I stopped lying to ama about where the milk powder went, and started to give my qari sahab an actual pen to mark my sabak with, rather than a prank electric-current one. However, I didn’t care about someone dying, or about the constant thread of jhoot that my tongue needled.
When Mariam – that girl who spent mornings curling her ponytail with the tip of her fingers – got caught cheating, she turned a shade of bright red tomato paste. I wondered how people got ashamed. I, for one, never did.
Anyway, when I turned 22, aunty Shabnam sent her son Bilal’s rishta to our house. Young, dashing and ameer, he was. And I deserved nothing less for I had blossomed into the finest summer-time flower, and I had recently acquired the ability to make Chinese food, provided all vegetables were given to me chopped by the house help.
I had dated many boys, you know – flings shlings, nothing ever serious, just for the fun of it. But, when Bilal came into the picture, I knew that I had to become wifey material. I had that much sense, of course. I had it all planned out; falling in love with him, and making him go all Mariam-type red whenever I smiled.
The scheming had not even started, when all my senses went haywire- you know like when you give a chota bacha a gulab-jamun for the very first time and the sugary-sheera in it makes his eyes pop open. I was that chota bacha and Bilal’s younger brother Sarbuland was my gulab-jamun. At first, there was only a harmless attraction but after marriage, when he’d sit and talk about how opposite of his shareef bhai he was, I slowly started adoring him.
Bilal would be gone for weeks at end, and Sarbuland and I would spend the evenings, just talking. The air between us would become light and the time would stop, as if the universe wanted us to talk about everything in the entire world – and that we did.
And then, do you know how milk just boils, and within a blink of an eye, the dollar ink just spills – we made love.
It was a forbidden romance that we had that was hidden between the choices of dupattay he made for me and the extra cup of chai that I drank so I could have an excuse to make his.
And because it wasn’t a movie, there was no climax and no getting caught – the romance became timeless. I welcomed a doctor bhabhi into our house, and with all the patients she checked on her duty, I made it my duty to check her husband. We’d sit together with my mother-in-law, we’d go for brunches which we almost never liked, and we’d sleep in separate beds with our partners, but in the darkness of the night, we’d return to each other’s arms.
Nothing particular happened. But then, for the very first time in my life, sharam came knocking on my door. Actually, it was a quiet afternoon and I had tagged along with my mother-in-law to a Quran class, many of which I had attended before. I don’t even recall what it was about, but during it, I saw a girl my age, almost prettier, wrapping herself like a gift that she wished for no one to touch, and when she stumbled on the floor, no one helped her. I thought that she’d get up on her own, but mumbling under her breath, she slithered here and there – till the tip of her nose turned red from the carpet’s bristles roughly brushing across her face.
“She’s praying,” a woman across me told the woman nestled next to me. “She can’t move but that’s not an excuse for her not to pray. She has so much to thank God for.”
The words troubled me and I silently left the room. When I returned home, the air between Sarbuland and I felt denser, almost nauseous.
It wasn’t just that, it was a series of changes. I searched how to do wudu online, and hesitantly, I asked Bilal to bring me a prayer mat. Truth be told, seeing someone pray so passionately to the One who had created her with obstacles he had to overcome, boggled me. Performing actions and reciting Arabic almost seemed like a part of literature play. I prayed for the first time in my life and metaphorically collapsed on the mat.
The next time I accompanied my mother-in-law to the class, I listened. I had this urge to understand the Book, and the people who quoted it, who found happiness in baseless clothes, that made sweat drip down their foreheads in the summer heat. The change was gradual, much slower than I am making it out to be.
I kissed my brother-in-law and prayed right after and I enjoyed both his company and the classes. However, sharam had come. I sat with my hair being oiled under the sun, thinking not about the next lawn I had to book, but why I had done what I had done. What irked me was not the fact that Bilal could find out, but that God had already found out. All this time I thought no one knew – the Mightiest did. This made my heart sink, and gulab-jamuns lost their appeal. I started walking around with an enormous mark of guilt, that I could forever see.
The peaceful nights on the prayer mat became troublesome when I felt frightened of being alone. When I went into sujood on the already spread prayer mat folded on its own, I heard the growls of a beast. I had heard about the challenges one faced when turning towards the righteous path but no one had told me that it would mess with my mind.
Something felt very, very off.
I spent my days crying and nights huddled in bed, thinking that I was being watched. The eye bags under my eyes turned raven-black and during evenings, my head felt so heavy that I could no longer differentiate between my husband and his brother. The doctor said that these were symptoms of withdrawal since I had recently quit smoking. “She has quit smoking, not heroin,” Bilal said. “She sees things, hears voices and lately has started having episodes she doesn’t remember later!”
It was true. I’d say things and do things and have no memory of them. The wildest was me waking up one day at fajr, telling the maid to scamper off, so much so that she got scared, and cooking a daeg of meethay chawal, for around a hundred people. The sweet scent of the rice stayed in our house for days but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember making them. Most importantly, because I had never boiled rice in my life; let alone cook a delicacy.
Days passed and my health worsened. I’d go to sleep thinking I’d never wake up. My mother-in-law, who had seen the demise of my energy and happiness, decided to take me out for spiritual guidance. When, in one day, our car broke down, the driver fell ill, and a crow was fired onto the windshield out of nowhere, we headed back. The aalima was called home.
“Maa jee, it’s not nazar. There are several ways we can attract entities to ourselves. They can be sent by magic to harm one, they can seek revenge if you have knowingly or unknowingly hurt them, they can fall in love with us and can also be inclined towards us if we’re unclean, our immense fear for them is sensed or if we have guilt. The guilt and worry can allow them to comfort us, reside in our body and ruin our lives. The guilt – the sharam has made your daughter vulnerable.”
I looked at her as if I had seen a ghost. All this time I had been thinking that I was getting closer to God.
“When one talks about the difficulty in offering salah, it means not being able to get up to offer it or missing it due to worldly activities. Not because one feels being choked during it or one hears a dog when going in sujood. That, my daughter, is the devil.”
Without saying much, or asking me what I felt guilty for, she told me to repent and said that she would take care of the jinn herself.
“Don’t cry alone at night when no one can hear you. The jinn hears you then and hugs you and comforts you. Don’t carry a burden on your chest and weep to the sky because of it. That’s what the prayer mat is for.”
Laiba Shah went through a series of ruqya before she felt at peace. She opened up to her husband Bilal, and they moved to a separate house, a small apartment that housed many vaccinated stray cats. However, due to certain unknown circumstances, she got divorced in 2019. She now makes religious videos under a pseudo name.
Cover image via shutterstock.com