Servants and slaves

An allegorical piece by M.J. Aslam


Jabbar was only seven when he was hired from his parents as a domestic help by Shamas-ud-Din Shah during his service days when he was posted as a DFO in Jabbar’s village. On his transfer from Jabbar’s village to his hometown, Srinagar, Shamas-ud-Din Shah assured his father that his son would never face different treatment than the other members in his family which had a very high non-discriminatory reputation in their locality of Khojas. Such heartening assurance by him about his family being imbued with fairness & equality was more than required for a poor rustic villager,  Jabbar’s father,  so to promptly surrender him into a counter assurance that he would never ever in his lifetime visit Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s home at Srinagar lest Jabbar might get reminded about his  pastoral parentage or lineage. So, the poor man’s tongue signed a lifelong pact with Shamas-ud-Din Shah that he would never disturb his son’s prospect of attaining a better life at latter’ family, by his intervening or intermittent fatherly visits to that family that seemingly signified acquiescence to Jabbar’s induction into it as a welcome addition.

In a sense, Jabbar like a sprig was severed from its original plant and grafted on a different tree, nonetheless, he didn’t receive the sap in the same measure in which it was supplied to, or received by, the other natural branches of the tree. Oral assurances of Shamas-ud-Din Shah weren’t backed by his actions as his children received good education from their childhood till adulthood, one son becoming physician, another Engineer & daughter Lecturer. But Jabbar, at the other end, was fated, no way different from his father, not to receive any formal or informal education through Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s educated family as his destiny was written the day he was let on hire by his indigent father, who was impoverished by destitution and who wanted to see his son not getting languished like him for want of basic human necessaries of life, which he wrongly imagined were going to be realised, and readily available to his son, at Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s family.

Right from the day of his entry in Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s family, Jabbar was tasked with taking care of all menial domestic jobs of cleaning & washing and then, as he grew, under the guidance of Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s wife, Begum Sahiba, he was trained to learn preparation of some quick food recipes, just for coping up with emergent situations like sickness or absence of regular cooking-women of the family while special skill of preparing special variety of food was reserved by Begum Sahiba with herself which, after marriage of her sons, was handed down by her to their wives only as keys of food treasure of the family.

Jabbar’ responsibility was to serve food at the proper times to the family members individually or collectively in their bedrooms or on common dining table in the kitchen but, the eating-timings ultimately depended upon the wishes or orders of the family members. He also had the job of handing over gifts and pastries on festivities from the family side to the other side of the kindred.

Generally, the worn-out clothes, socks, sweaters & shoes used by Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s sons over several years were given for residual-use to Jabbar, albeit on Eid or other festive occasions new clothes, too, were bought for him. His sleeping accommodation was initially the family kitchen and then, as he grew adult, he was shifted to an outside annex of the house, where he had quotidian items of his use such as bedding, clothing, hand-mirror, comb, hair oil, shoe-polish- brush, tooth-paste, tooth-brush, scent and kohl container.

Jabbar’s service of four decades to Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s family, no way better than obliged servitude, had consumed his entire life. Although he at 40 plus was almost coeval with the children of Shamas-ud-Din Shah, he was unwed, washing & ironing their clothes, polishing their shoes, mopping floors and staircases of their home, vacuuming their bedrooms & doing market purchases of daily consumable & eatable items of the household. The children of Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s children as toddlers & kids were raised in the warm arms of Jabbar who took their care from their school-going to returning, from their eating to sleeping, while their parents in biology had awfully busied themselves with their professional entanglements. Even though not a parent by blood, the real valued-parenting, less by monetary-parenting, of Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s grandchildren was done by Jabbar.

Shamas-ud-Din Shah had already retired as Forest Conservator when he died. The whole family was dipped in a deep pool of grief on his death. Every member of his family & the other relations mourned & wailed over his death. The female siblings were seen pulling their hair, ripping their clothes, some beating their chest, while the others scratching their faces & tossing their bodies with the floor or the walls, just to vent out their deepest feelings of sorrow and pain over the demise of their loved one. All eyes were filled up with tears. The bereaved Jabbar thought he had lost his own father, so the torrents of rain in deep-felt pain rolled down his face. Shamas-ud-Din Shah was laid to rest in his grave, so all funeral rites were completed with locking up of his corpse permanently inside the vault.

Few months later, Jabbar, just 45, also died but of a cardiac arrest. But this time, though seemingly the family had also lost a ‘member’, there were no bereavement-feelings, no eyes moist, no wailing, no weeping, no chest beating, no tearing of clothes, no writhing in grieving pain and no scratching of faces. There was only a sad silence, as usual there just happens to be on such mournful occasions. In that melancholic hush, when men were jointly busy in bathing & shrouding of the dead body of Jabbar, the two domestic helps, Nazir & Bashir, of the immediate neighbourhood, present at the funeral, walked to a rear corner of the lawn of the house away from the gathering of mourners & condolers.

They sorrowfully talked to each other: “why nobody in Shamas sahib’s family is wailing the death of Jabbar, when it was all mournful here at the time of his death”, asked Bashir who wasn’t literate.

Nazir, who was a matriculate & a little sharp, replied sorrowfully: “brother! Shamas sahib was head of the family, father, husband, blood relation to…, and owner of huge property that has devolved upon his death on his successors. So, there was everything for them from blood to wealth making them weep, writhe and wail in felt-pain. But Jabbar was nothing, nobody to {T} his family….”

“But, he was a human being like…who gave his entire life to…. ‘, asked Bashir, naively.

“Yes, but he was a servant first”, replied Nazir.

“True, but, I’ve heard government employees are also servants like us …”, re-questioned helluva simple Bashir.

“Indeed, government employees are public servants whose job is always secured & on retirement also, they receive good monetary benefits. But we’re private servants, given to servitude, our job isn’t secured, we don’t retire, we only die as slaves without any property, with few clothing that are given to corpse washers & grave diggers. So, there is none to wail our death; but our ‘dead’ parents who sell us……’ explained Nazir.

“Look there, Nazir!”, intercepted Bashir, pointing towards Jabbar’ coffin that was now set for final journey. So, both of them hurriedly moved towards the coffin to join its carriers to the graveyard.

Jabbar’ body was bathed with ablution (wudu & gusl), enshrouded in white cotton cloth (kafan), now in coffin being carried for funeral prayers (jinnaza) &, then, for final resting immediate next to Shamas-ud-Din Shah’s grave in their ancestral cemetery; though in lifetime Jabbar might not have dared to sit beside his master on his left or right on sofa or carpet, like two equals, nor their inequality had occasioned such a chance for Jabbar in life. In the whole funeral gathering, only two pairs of eyeballs of two domestic servants, Nazir & Bashir, were brimmed with tears for their self-same-brother, for the message in Jabbar’s death wasn’t cryptic but, obviously, identical for them, too.

Theme grounded in a real story.

Note: Our societies abound in real stories from which theme of this piece has been drawn. 

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