Mohammed was driving merrily, humming the Hindi song playing on FM when a loud, irritating honking from some mad fellow behind him drew his attention over the melody. He looked from the rear view mirror. A black Dodge Charger was behind him.
Mohammed realized that it was the same car he honked at two minutes back as it tried to enter the main road from a service lane barely a couple of meters ahead of him. Mohammed had to swerve slightly even as he honked to draw the attention of the driver. Mohammed knew it was not his fault for he had the right of way by virtue of being on the main road. Mohammed was relieved that no damage was done. The matter was forgotten. He moved on.
Apparently, Mohammed was wrong. On closer observation he found that the driver was wearing a white headscarf. In Dubai, this meant only one thing: Mohammed –and he prayed hard that the honking was not for him - had brushed a UAE national the wrong way. It was a bad state to be in as it is but Mohammed couldn’t have chosen a worse time: Ramadan, the month of fasting and 4 pm in the august heat – a perfect recipe for road rage. An Indian expat has a better chance at winning a bullfight in Spain than an argument with a starving , crossed UAE national.
Mohammed had heard stories of plain-clothed CIDs roaming around Dubai catching law breakers. He pulled over fearing that if he had bumped into one of them then any further delay in complying would only make matters worse. Mohammed switched off the radio. The charger stopped parallel to him. Mohammed heard angry outburst as the window rolled down and the face behind the tinted glass revealed itself from top to bottom like a photo materializing on a slow internet connection. A black rope called ‘aqal’ securing a white headscarf called ‘gotra’, a tuft of white hair hanging lazily, lines marking the forehead, eyebrows kissing each other in livid frenzy portending of a soon to be materialized fountainhead of abuses, dark eyes glowering on its prey, a nose that was flushed red, cheeks hanging loosely over his face like an appendage and vibrating forcefully with every sound he produced, his mouth alternating between gnarling canines and spitting invectives - a fuming octogenarian hurling abuses in broken Hindi.
“What do you bloody think of yourself, you mother**%$er? You think this is your dad’s road, you sister**%$er? Who gave you the license?”
Mohammed’s heart sank. He couldn’t have chosen a worse luck – Ramadan, a hungry, angry UAE national and to top it all, an 80 something old man. The last factor increased manifold the odds against Mohammed who had occasionally seen impatient, temperamental, aged UAE nationals breaking in the queues at various government offices and forcing their way through. The authorities would give in meekly with those in the queue seeking consolation in exchange of frustrated glances. As the damage was done, Mohammed realized that the only way to prevent further murkiness was by surrendering. This was a battle he could not win, so he had to lose – in that loss was his pyrrhic victory.
The old man jumped out of his car, repeating the same questions and abuses in the same order as if rehearsing a dialogue with the intensity of a maniacal actor. He placed his hands at the car door, tried shaking it violently. He yanked Mohammed’s seat belt, pushed the head cushion to startle him, all the while continuing to abuse. Mohammed was calm and non-reactive. That seemed to have angered the old man a lot more.
“How dare you honk at me?” The old man revealed his real problem for the first time, “You bloody mother**%$er, not knowing how to drive and honking at me. How dare you? I will show you now.”
“But you were in the service lane –” Mohammed couldn’t resist justifying, in-spite of having decided on surrender.
“Shut up you bastard,” the old man interrupted him thumping his frail, shaking hands on the car door and then in one frustrated motion punched Mohammed on his cheek.
Mohammed’s heart stopped, his fists clenched, hair on his body stood up, the calmness on his face flushed out and was replaced by seething indignation. Although the old man’s mild punch did not hurt him, Mohammed could not stand being punched for something that was not his fault. He immediately transported himself into a virtual reality where he punched the old man and broke his jaw, punched him again causing him to bleed profusely, shoved him to the ground, crushed his head between the tar road and his hands and pulverized him to dust.
Mohammed didn’t hear anything after that. He was shaking internally with a revenge he could not take, a rage he could not release, an insult he could not pay back – simply because he was stuck against a mad man in his own backyard.
The old man blabbered a lot more, noted Mohammed’s car number and silently drove off. Mohammed stared blankly at the Charger that went off silently, quite a contrast from how it approached him. He sat there, livid, shivering and yet motionless as if the whole body had gone numb. The old man, having vented his anger and gratified his vanity, passed his state of being to Mohammed with that one touch – a game of passing the parcel.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mohammed returned to his senses and blinked. He rolled up his window and drove off slowly. He didn’t bother to switch on the FM.
At home, he tossed his office bag, sank into the sofa and kept staring blankly at the floor. His mind still replaying the punch and what he could’ve done in reciprocation, but didn’t. The shivering subsided but the suffering seemed to be growing with every passing moment.
Mohammed thought that the spirit of the fast was broken in the way the old man acted. If a fasting man cannot take in the right sense a cautionary honk that ensures his own safety then who else will? Ego was at its peak when it should have been seeing the bottom. Whatever happened to compassion and forgiveness? Mohammed was drowning under a deluge of fundamental questions. He was tired and wanted to run away and stop the thoughts.
He switched on the television to divert his mind. A monk with a divine peace on his face was addressing a small gathering. But Mohammed wasn’t interested. He tried to change the channel but the TV stopped responding. Having just had the most anti-spiritual experience, he was in no mood to listen to a spiritual discourse. He cursed his room-mate Kapil for watching this stupid babble and worsening his misery. Mohammed tried to ignore the proceedings but he was not at peace, the disturbing thoughts stalked him all the time. Reluctantly, he resigned to listening to the monk.
“Have you heard of the parable of the soul?” asked the monk with a simple, unadulterated smile.
Mohammed sighed as he realized that the monk was about to give some moral science lecture. The camera showed some of his disciples shaking their head in response to the monk’s question.
“There was once a soul who wanted to experience forgiveness.” said the monk, “The soul asks God to help it experience forgiveness as an aspect of Godliness. Another soul comes forward and offers itself for helping the first soul fulfill its wishes. But why will you do that asked the first soul. Because I love you said the second.”
Mohammed chuckled, not being able to gather what was going on. But in spite of himself, he started getting curious.
“But what will you do to make me experience forgiveness asked the first soul." the monk continued, “We both will go to the physical universe, to the planet earth, and I will cause to hurt you in some way said the second. But if you love me, why will you hurt me, asked the first soul, confused. How else will you experience forgiveness my beloved if I do nothing that you perceive as hurt, asked the second soul rhetorically.
I just ask one thing in return, the second soul added. Anything, said the first, overjoyed at getting the opportunity to gratify its desire.
When I do the worst possible harm to you, when I’m unkind to you, when I insult you for none of your fault, please remember who we both are, don’t forget the promise you made me. Don’t curse me for hurting you or you will not experience forgiveness, the very purpose of our interaction.
Oh, I will always remember you and my promise - my dearest one, promised the first soul.”
The monk closed his eyes for a while and asked the gathering, “Do you remember your promises now?”
The monk now opened his eyes and looked straight at the camera, “Whenever you have been hurt, have you remembered the promise you made to your beloved soul? Do you now recollect that any harm done to you is an opportunity for you to grow through forgiveness? Do you now realize that a hurt in the physical world is an act of highest love in the astral world?”
The monk’s loving eyes pierced and startled Mohammed who instantly realized that the question was meant for him. Tears rolled down his eyes as he grasped the lesson behind the disturbing incident. He cried profusely at the revelation, at the feeling of true love and compassion, and for this most amazing remembrance. The tears washed away his anger, indignation, hurt and the feeling of revenge.
The octogenarian was no longer a thorn of a memory. Mohammed had now remembered his true self and the promise he made to God through this old man. Mohammed not only forgave the old man but he also felt he could give him the biggest loving hug of his life if they ever met again. He even thanked his roommate for watching this channel, which gave him the biggest leap of faith during one of the toughest trials in his life.
Mohammed now realized that life at every moment gave us a choice between modesty and pride, love and hatred, forgiveness and revenge, joy and suffering, compassion and anger, faith and doubt. The one we choose will define the quality of our lives. We may get where we want to be in any case, but choosing the first will make the journey much more enjoyable.
Mohammed got goose-bumps as he realized that this learning was like an epiphany straight from Allah. A divine blessing that helped him live the spirit of Ramadan through forgiveness.
Lost in deep thoughts, he inadvertently pressed the remote buttons and lo! The channel changed. Mohammed chuckled and looked up at the ceiling. He smiled, for he knew the secret now – the whole universe conspired to give him this experience.