Lighting up a lamp


It was a Friday. My daughter had delivered a baby girl, whom we were going to name, ‘Shama’ (Urdu for ‘lamp’). I had bought a cute frock for her costing more than a hundred rupees. With the daintily parcel in my hand ready for the naming ceremony I turned into our street.

Before reaching my gate, out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the woman standing in front of the tiny hut on my left where she lived. She was the wife of a poor mason who had put up the hut with the permission of owner of the plot, as he had nowhere else to stay. She had a new born baby in her arms.

I remembered her going away to her village for her first confinement a couple of months back. I also remembered the ceremonial send off given by her husband on that occasion. Since his wife’s departure the mason had lived a lonely life, cooking his own frugal meal every evening in front of his hut.

All the while he must have been putting away something out of his earnings and a week before his wife’s return, he had been busy doing some minor repairs to the hut and fixing up a door for the first time.

The woman stood there, looked at me and smiled, an unspoken plea for recognition of her return to our midst. Both she and her man were people of independent spirit. They never craved for pity. But a kind word or gesture from any of the neighbours always lit up their faces, though they never went out of their way to make friends with their social superiors. Many a middle class man would give his right arm for one-tenth of the contentment in the lives of these simple folk. Except for an occasional smile or nodding of the head, I had myself seldom spared a thought for her or her husband.

As this woman stood there smiling at me, my mind went back to the sermon I had heard at the mosque that day. “If you are a true Muslim,” the ‘khatib’ (the priest delivering the sermon) had admonished, “the problems of your neighbour, however humble he be, whatsoever his faith, becomes your problem, your concern.”

Suddenly my mind was made up. I took a step towards the woman. “Boy or girl?” I asked, pointing to the baby in her arms. “Girl,” she replied shyly. I took the baby in my arms, fondled it and restored it to the mother together with the parcel meant for Shama (lamp), for this tiny new born was also somebody’s lamp.

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