Jamshed was absolutely ecstatic. He felt like he was walking on air. Today was the day he was reaping the results of his three years of tireless, backbreaking work in the form of the magnificently awe-inspiring shopping plaza in a prime location of the city. Built at the cost of 20 crore rupees and with the collaboration of the leading architects and construction gurus he could find, the shopping plaza was indeed no less than a classic work of art.
This evening was the opening of the shopping plaza. Just as he had meticulously poured his energies into the design and construction phases of the building, he had selected his guests for the ribbon cutting ceremony just as scrupulously. His close friend Abdullah was also among the guests at the grand affair. However, he had made Abdullah’s invitation and possible presence at the event contingent upon one condition; Abdullah would not speak unless he was spoken to nor would he ask any questions from anyone. Abdullah had amusedly agreed. He acknowledged the fact that his tongue had the tendency to run away with him often at the most inopportune moment for the other person.
Jamshed and Abdullah had known each other for the past twenty five years. They had grown up together, gone to school together, and had shared not only each other’s joys but also their trials and tribulations. But despite all the commonalities they shared, they were worlds apart when it came to the question of human nature and their socio-economic statuses. Where Jamshed was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, Abdullah was an entirely self-made person who had overcome ruthlessly insurmountable odds to make a place for himself in the world.
After all the guests had left, Jamshed turned to Abdullah, pride spilling from his eyes and euphoric exultation on his face.
“So Mr. Opinion,” he jokingly addressed Abdullah, “since you have a logical and ironclad conclusion for everything in life, tell me what you think of my grand endeavor? This plaza will give this city a new identity. People will recognize the city by its very name. It will provide jobs to hundreds of people. There is nothing I haven’t included in it; from shopping malls and food courts to all sorts of entertainment like banquet halls, dancing arenas, and cinemas.”
Abdullah was seemingly listening to him, but there was a far away lost expression on his face. Jamshed was in no hurry either. He watched his friend’s face with interest, enjoying watching him being at a loss for words. Abdullah finally spoke, choosing his words carefully.
“If you really want my honest opinion,” he solemnly told Jamshed, “all this seems supremely artificial, to me. So…so…contrived.” He waved his arm around to express his point and then continued. “On one side of this feigned oasis you have created, there are millions of people who are dying of hunger and poverty. Young children do not even have a piece of bread to last them through the day. Entire families are living in shabby huts alongside the banks of stinking, trash-filled gutters, and practically dried up water holes. And right across this hideously real picture of life, you have created this oasis. Do you really feel you have altered the nature of the vicious, unforgiving desert around this plaza by creating this tiny escape from the actual truth?”
Jamshed’s expression changed to indignation and irritation. He squinted his eyes and glared at Abdullah who was now turning into the proverbial rain that threatened to ruin a parade. Jamshed was well aware of how the millions in the country were suffering; he just didn’t like to be reminded of it. He was happy in his content life which was more than just good. He opened his mouth to cut Abdullah’s little speech short. But Abdullah wasn’t done.
“Tell me Jamshed,” Abdullah started again seriously, “if you die today, which particular brick from this plaza will come and become your savior in the grave? The one from the cinema? Or perhaps the one from the banquet hall or the bars that you have also created in there?”
By now Jamshed had had enough. He raised his hand to stop Abdullah’s torrent of harsh words.
“Stop Molvi sahib, stop!” his voice was seething with sarcasm. “Keep your fatwas to yourself. These fatwas do not provide any financial support to anyone in need nor are they helpful in improving anyone’s status in life. They don’t put bread in starving mouths or clothes on bare bodies. I, on the other hand, am providing all these things and hence am completing my entire share of religious obligations.”
Abdullah simply smiled at him, not at all ruffled by his friend’s reactionary flare-up.
“I see that you have indeed done all those things. However, all these are things that Allah (swt) has already promised to provide. Man cannot claim to be the provider above Allah (swt).” Abdullah set the record straight.
“You mean my accomplishment accounts for nothing?” Jamshed glared at him. Abdullah smiled and shook his head.
“You are not getting my point Jamshed,” he started to explain. “Why don’t people, yourself included, think about establishing institutes that would nurture the minds of generations through education and skills? Why don’t people like yourself ponder new ways to lend a hand to those who have been rejected by society? Or make them so stable that they would rise out of their current rejection, and rejected status in this country?”
By now Jamshed had had enough of Abdullah’s ‘conscientious sermons’ as he called them.
“Oh! Forget it Abdullah,” he shooed away Abdullah’s solemn talk with another wave of his hand. “Let’s just go home and enjoy the rest of the day. I’ll drop you later. You can give me this lecture of yours some other day. I’m too euphoric with success right now and too tired to suffer through your talk.”
Abdullah sighed and let Jamshed lead him the way to his brand new, imported sports car. Jamshed’s neck was stiff with pride as he maneuvered the car out of the garage to the street.
As soon as the car pulled out into the street, Abdullah saw a naked beggar standing on the other side of the street. The man must have been about fifty years old. Standing completely naked on the street, he was loudly begging for food from every passerby and also from those in slow passing cars. People were staring at him as if he was a novel, never before seen an exhibit from a historical museum.
A spew of curses flew out of Jamshed’s mouth.
“The bloody junkie, druggie,” he exploded. “Couldn’t the miserable wretch find any other place to stand except in front of my building today? If there hadn’t been so many people around, I would run over him and get rid of him for good. The bastard…!”
Abdullah studied the beggar closely. The man had both his hands raised towards the sky, oblivious to the laughing, jeering crowd gathered all around him. He was repeating one sentence repeatedly.
“I am hungry…I am hungry…I am hungry…”
Abdullah asked Jamshed to stop the car. Jamshed was in no mood to argue with Abdullah any further. He literally dumped Abdullah right there on the road and zoomed off.
Abdullah walked to where the beggar was standing. He could now clearly hear all the taunts and mocks that the spectators were flinging at the miserable piece of humanity. Some people were threatening to get him arrested on charges of blatant exhibitionism while others were enjoying the spectacle, discussing the man’s state with their friends. There were also those who were making the most of the small pieces of technology in their hand, snapping pictures, making videos, and sharing them on all sorts of social media sites. There were also those who, verbally furious at the naked beggar, were covering their wives’ eyes making sure their better halves remained ‘unscathed’ as they passed the shameful sight.
After only a moment’s hesitation, Abdullah unbuttoned his shirt deftly and put it on the beggar. The man turned to look at him in utter amazement. Though still not enough, the shirt well covered the beggar as much as was instantly possible. Abdullah himself was now dressed only in his pants and his sleeveless undershirt.
The number of spectators surrounding the area and the public interest in the entire scene suddenly intensified.
Disregarding entirely the increased attention his little act had caused within the crowd on the pavement, Abdullah took the beggar’s hand and led him to a nearby hair cutting salon and bath area. The owner refused to let Abdullah and his nearly naked companion into the shop. It took an argument and agreement to pay nearly four times the regular rate before the two were finally allowed to enter. Leaving the beggar there to take a bath, Abdullah went in search of attire to clothe the man. By the time the beggar was done with a bath, haircut, and shave, Abdullah had returned with clothes and shoes. After getting dressed, the beggar was in tears as he looked at himself in the tall mirrors of the store.
Abdullah then took his newfound guest to a restaurant where he ordered numerous dishes for the man to have his fill. The beggar ate as if he hadn’t eaten for several days. Some people from the crowd had been curious enough to follow Abdullah and his guest from the salon and now to the restaurant. They were still whispering amidst themselves and throwing out jeers.
As Abdullah watched the beggar quietly, he wondered if this was exactly the scene within which everyone would find themselves on the day of judgment when all would be standing in the open grounds, beseeching Allah (swt) for mercy. Shouldn’t a man’s thoughts in the bath be about what is in a greater state of nakedness? His body or his deeds? Shouldn’t the jeering crowd have been more concerned about the nakedness of their own deeds than the bare body of the beggar they were so mercilessly targeting?
Abdullah’s deep reverie was interrupted by the beggar’s voice.
“I am so grateful to you, Sir,” he addressed Abdullah humbly, “you have won my heart, and I have no words to thank you. May I leave now?”
“No,” Abdullah smiled at him. “Not before you have answered some of my questions. To start with, whatever happened to your clothes?”
“Sir jee,” replied the beggar, “I had only a set of clothes left. Since I have no home, I was forced to be taking a bath in a canal. Three days ago when I left my clothes under a tree, some mischievous soul deliberately stole them. I keep calling for someone for hours, but no one replied. All they did was blame me for it. They had nothing but sneers and derision for me. If I could gather all the jibes they threw at me as I begged for my clothes and stitched them together, I would have had enough cloth to last me a lifetime. Then I finally decided that this was the way Allah (swt) had meant it for me. This humiliation and abuse was my fate. I was in my wretched state because it was His desire to make me an example for everyone else. So I accepted my fate and now I’ve been naked for the past three days, begging for food. I am educated, but my addiction to drugs led me to a corner where I lost even the most meagre things in life. But you are a very good man. May the Lord reward you generously for this.”
“Do you know the meaning of the word ‘Lord’?” Abdullah asked the beggar seriously.
“Lord is He who owns. He can treat others as He wills. It is up to His discretion to either accept or reject, or never to set eyes upon one at all. He has the power to raise to the level of a king or reduce to a miserable piece of naked, groveling humanity in front of the world. There is no questioning the verdict passed by the Lord,” the beggar explained to Abdullah in detail and then squinted his eyes, viewing him intently. “But you look like an educated person. Did you really not know the meaning of the word ‘Lord’?” Abdullah ignored his question.
“What drug do you use?” he asked the beggar.
“I take the hashish that is commonly available on the streets,” the beggar replied. “It cost Rs.500.”
“How much does the good quality hashish cost?” Abdullah asked him again. The beggar laughed.
“That sir,” he replied, “is something that can only be afforded by the children of rich parents. It costs nearly Rs.3,000 for a couple of ounces.” Abdullah pushed his chair back and started to get up to leave.
“Come on, let go,” he told the beggar. “Today I will buy you the good hashish. The best on the streets.” A look of utter disbelief came over the other man’s face.
“Really?” he asked. “I can’t believe you would do that. By your face, you look like a molvi. But I don’t really care what you look like, you have certainly made my day complete with your last offer. Let me know whatever you desire most in this world and that is what I shall pray from the Lord for you till my last breath.”
It wasn’t long before Abdullah was able to acquire the tiny packet of hashish. The drug peddlers of any area could smell a loaded client from miles away and getting what one required took only a few questions here and there around any busy street. The beggar’s face now had an expression of utter glee.
“I’ll only give this to you on one condition,” said Abdullah, still holding the coveted packet of powder in his hand. “After you’ve enjoyed this last dose, I will enter you into a drug rehabilitation center for treatment. I will bear the entire expense of your treatment.”
“Yeah sure, whatever you say,” the beggar would have agreed to anything at that moment, his eyes transfixed on the packet in Abdullah’s hand. In reality, he thought Abdullah was just being nice for the sake it. Why would anyone bear the responsibility of rehabilitating a drug addict at their own expense?
Abdullah stood in a darkened alley that day watching his new found ward take the drug and go from a state of total wakefulness into a world of hopelessness, gloom, and darkness. His eyes brimmed with tears and rolled down his face. It was like he had made his ablution for the next prayer. He raised his hands in dua.
‘Oh Allah,’ he prayed silently, ‘may this man use the drug and may its effects be upon me in the form of your love. I had set aside money for Hajj but I pledge to spend it on his man’s treatment. Please call me to Makkah next year and enable me to perform Hajj then. For this year, accept the few ounces of hashish I had just bought. Use this deed to cover any nakedness of my deeds on the Day of Judgment. Oh Lord, award me the virtue to follow your commands, the strength to follow the path you have defined, and in return, I humbly beg for ease and honor in my affairs of both worlds. You are my Lord and I expect nothing from anyone else except you.”
Abdullah then turned towards the drugged, unconscious beggar, and dragged him to a taxi. With the help of the driver, he loaded his passenger inside. He took the packet of hashish from his hand and put it inside his wallet. He told the driver to drive to the city best drug rehabilitation center.
The next morning Jamshed’s grand 20 crore plaza was the front page story of nearly every newspaper in the country.
Tucked into a corner of the same page as a related story, the picture of the naked beggar snatched the glittering, vile masks off the citizens of the city, mocking their actual faces and spitting at them.