Literature

Short Story: An Incredible Vision

When fifty-year-old, strong-willed, Ms Khawabi, a politician from the powerful Khawabi family, decided to contest the Presidential elections in 2047, she had little to worry about her opponents. Her family’s connections were strong with the middle-class traders—a decisive electorate after the rural peasantry. The influential clergy, since many decades, was already grovelling to them. And, on top of it all, the cultural elite and intelligentsia was totally enamoured of Ms Khawabi’s political manifesto 2047, which, during the election campaigning, was hailed as an incredible vision.

Defeating her rivals with a wide margin of over 60,000 votes, Ms Khawabi was sworn-in as the next President on a warm Thursday of May 2047. She took oath in the grand Presidential house perched atop the verdant hills of Parihaspur. People from all corners of the country flocked to see her; and everyone was served chai cuppa.

Though it took some time to negotiate the cabinet, she managed to have her favourite people on board, eventually. None dared to raise an objection, for such was the power of Khawabis.

 

***

One of Ms Khawabi’s dream projects was to build a tomb for her late father, the senior Khawabi, but her dream was, like her familial vision, no ordinary dream. It was to be the grandest of all tombs in the entire south Asia, a kind of eastern version of Westminster Abbey. For her, and the coterie of her friends and supporters, the late Khawabi was no less a saint. A regime-aligned academic had written in his obituary long time ago that senior Khawabi was a ‘political saint.’

Therefore, to make good of her promise that she had made to herself alone, Ms Khawabi hired best planners and architects for her dream project. They took three months to come up with a perfect design, and she approved it earnestly. Work on the mega 300-million pounsa project started with all fanfare. People from all corners of the country came to see the stone-laying ceremony, presided over by the head cleric. Everyone was served a chai cuppa.

“Let the whole world know what a great man my father was, we are forever grateful to his incredible vision which he bequeathed to us,” Ms Khawabi told her confidants, a cousin, a sister-in-law, and a string of avid acolytes.

Following the stone laying ceremony of the grandest shrine of south Asia, a verbal skirmish ensued in the press and immediately on social media, as the cultural elite and intelligentsia, who had got access to the leaked design of the shrine, were not happy with its certain un-Kashmiri aspects.

“How can we ignore,” said a senior journalist Jowhar Jawani, “our traditional architecture and blindly imitate European gothic style just for the heck of it.” Jawani’s opinion, shared as an acerbic social media post, received a flurry of affirmative nodes—numerous playful emoji leapt out from the comments section and vigorously bobbed their heads up and down, up and down. “Wouldn’t such a counterfeit design be against the incredible vision of late Khawabi!” Jawani opined.

 

***

In the meantime, Ms Khawabi’s cabinet was mulling a new legislation that would require anyone claiming to be a descendent of Islam’s last Prophet to prove his or her ancestry through a DNA test. This extraordinary measure was necessitated after the Population Registration Office (PRO) had sent a memo to the President complaining about unscrupulous agents who were registering names of many people with heredity titles of Syed and Peerzada. In 2042, a government scheme had made only those people eligible for membership of religious boards who had these titles in their names, and by 2047, most educational institutions were affiliated with religious boards, which, effectively, meant that all recruitments to educational institutions happened via religious boards. Which further implied that the president of the religious boards was a de facto president of the educational institutions; and all other members of religious boards, by default, had a major say in the recruitment process. Then there were over five thousand shrines which only people with these titles could manage. It was a big industry, so to speak.

Approved by a two-third majority of the Senate, the new legislation—Sadaat Verification and Registration Act—became a law and came into effect from the first day of August 2047. Kashmiri media hailed it as a landmark event, which could, in the words of senior journalist Jowhar Jawani, check the rampant corruption in public life by cleansing the society of counterfeit Syeds and Peerzadas.

Would you go for the DNA test yourself? a netizen, apparently a troll, or may be a friend masquerading as a troll, asked him. “I am 110% genuine maal,” Jawani replied half-jokingly. To a more serious, though persisting commenter, he replied, “No need for a test, we have a robust system Shajra-e-Nasb which elegantly bedecks our living room, you can come over and have a look, nincompoop f&%ktards!”

The Sadaat verification procedure was as simple as peeling a fresh cucumber. A claimant was supposed to first visit the website of PRO, upload personal details, print an online appointment and then visit the Central Clinical Laboratory in Pampore for cheek-scrapping. The results would take less than a month to arrive. As simple as that.

In the first week after the enactment of the new law, the Central Clinical Laboratory was thronged by claimants. For the entire day the clinic technicians remained on their toes taking cheek-scrapping over three dozen people, all males. Pictures of serpentine line outside the CCL splashed on the front pages of morning newspapers, social commentary on social media didn’t cease for several days.

“What a historic moment, a social revolution par excellence!” wrote senior journalist Jawani rather ecstatically in the editorial of his weekly magazine Peer Waer.

Many young claimants posted their pictures, making V signs and smiling a happy big smile while holding their receipts. “Just came back from CCL, what a great experience! I could literally see blue hues of my special blood,” a 12th standard student posted on his Instagram.

The first sample results of approximately 500 people arrived at CCL in neatly sealed pile of white envelopes. It was 2 Sep 2047.

Negative, negative, negative… All dismissed, the first gang of counterfeits busted in just one stroke. The unscrupulous agents at PRO were overwhelmed by the news.

“This is truly amazing! Congratulations to thoroughly professional and dedicated staff of CCL for your historic contribution,” said the senior journalist on his Facebook Fan Page, followed by over 50K people. “All fakes must now cease to claim Syed titles now,” he warned the future bogus claimants, “with the new law in place you won’t be able to cheat any longer now. Bravo President Khawabi!”

In the late afternoon of 26 Oct 2047, an online news portal claimed that the government had seized the second consignment of sample results. However, soon another news spread, a different news portal quoted a high-level official saying that the sample results could take few more weeks to arrive as the tests were not completed on time, so the news of seizure was just a rumour. But was it really?

 

***

It was only few years later, that what had transpired on 26 October, became known. An investigative article by a journalist claimed that as soon as the CCL had opened the results of the second samples, the head technician was startled to know that once again none of the claimants were proven to have a direct link with the last Prophet of Islam. Though same results were found in the previous sample, what made the government seize the consignment this time was that one of the influential persons, a distant relative of the President, had his son as one of the claimants in the sample. It was a Himalayan scandal which could unravel the entire regime. Hence, Ms Khawabi had summoned a meeting of her close confidants at her farm house in Tangmarg, where she had asked her senior cabinet secretary, a distant relative, if the sample had been tempered with. The secretary had replied, “Not at all.”

The state intelligence chief had himself confirmed that a tight vigil was kept on the whole process. In fact, when the sample results were opened at CCL two government sleuths were present in the room.

Though the cabinet had enthusiastically approved the new legislation, most of the members had really no idea how the scientific process worked behind the test. Nor did most members of the civil society know about it, as the design of the grandest tomb of south Asia had captured much of their ephemeral attention. However, the news of the samples testing negative for a well-known ‘Syed family’ suddenly generated a lot of excitement.

 

***

Whereas the cabinet was having an emergency meeting at the private residence of the President Khawabi—behind very tightly-closed doors—an upbeat civil society group in Srinagar had invited an expert to learn how the test really worked.

“A male person inherits,” said a middle-aged scientist in a loosely-fit blue suit, “Y chromosome from his father and X chromosome from his mother, and in him we can trace both patriarchal and matriarchal lineages, while as in a female descendant, who can only inherit X chromosome, we can only find matriarchal lineage. So, paternal DNA sequence is passed from grandfather to father to son and so on, because Y chromosome passes from generation to generation due to its specific characteristics. In other words, genetic signature of your ancestor is a male stuff. Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] and his cousin Ali [RA] had the same grandparent and thus their paternal DNA sequence must be identical.”

Everyone nodded in unison, as if a whiff of strange air had suddenly hit their nostrils. The middle-aged, balding, expert told his attentive audience that it was some US-based genetics-testing company that traced, after testing a group of Arab clients, the genetic signature of the Prophet’s family.

“If government had cared to go through previous studies it was expected that none of the samples for Kashmir would test positive,” said the expert.

“What do the previous studies tell us, Dr Dilawar?” an audience member, a part-time guitarist, asked.

“Well, take the Harappa Study of 2030. What were its findings? Remember the study was based on a big sample of one thousand individuals, from six countries of south Asia, who claimed to be descendent from Prophet’s family. Theoretically, claimant Syeds from India and Pakistan or Bangladesh or Nepal must share the ancestry, but the study showed they didn’t. Their samples showed genetic variations. And the same will happen now.”

In a closed door emergency meeting, sombre-faced fellows ceaselessly puckered their faces as if they were being sent to gallows for some unknown crimes.

“But it is not necessary,” said a visibly agitated elderly minister, “that everything can be proven by science. After all, science is subordinate to religion, as we all know,” he fisted the oak table as he finished the last words. The company of sombre-faced fellows exuded certain mysterious vibes and darted their eyes from one person to another for assurances.

Something was communicated in such mysterious unsettled stares, and the president, in a measured but firm tone, asked two of her junior ministers to go somewhere, retaining just five trusted ministers: his close and distant relatives. And to these five close confidants she asked, in a lowered voice, almost cryptically, “how shall we get it sorted?”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the middle-aged expert went on, “I know this is a bit complex stuff, and I am sure most of the people in this big gathering have no science background, so let me simplify it for you and guide your attention to these specific numbers on the screen here.” He gestured with his fair supple hands at the big projector screen. In the middle of the white field splashed in black font: FGC8703 and L859

“These are specific genetic signatures,” said the expert, “of Quraysh and Banu Hashem, and those of you who know, Prophet Muhammad came from the clan of Banu Hashem.”

Again, vigorous nodes in unison ensued, the audience was certainly listening in rapt attention.

“So,” the expert said, “anyone from Kashmir claiming to be descendent of Quraysh tribe must first result positive for L859. And then…” he paused a while, roving his eyes over his glass rim, and continued, “if one claims to be a direct descendent from the Prophet’s family, close or distant, must test positive for this genetic signature,” he dramatically raised his finger at the lone number on the projector screen: FGC8703. “I bet that it is going to be as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. Best of luck, anyway.”

 

***

Next morning, the online news portals circulated the fresh fatwa from the government-appointed cleric. It said: “In the realm of faith, we cannot rely on science. For us Islam is the complete way of life and alone it suffices for us. We have been guided by Islam and Islam only, and on all matters we must turn to Islamic scholars. I advise the government to rescind the recent law of establishing genealogy through DNA tests as it is not a permissible practice as per Sharia, and hence cannot be basis for us to prove Nasb. Only the traditional Shajra-e-Nasb is a valid document to establish who is a Syed and who is not.”

By the afternoon, the Minister of Human Resources and Education released a press brief that was heard on radios and Television sets and mobile phones all over the country. He announced that no further DNA tests of Syed claimants shall be conducted as the head mufti has declared it un-Islamic, and the government will soon amend the law.

Naturally, social media erupted. The senior journalist Jawani wrote in response to the new ruling, “The government has taken a right step, there was no need of such a legislation in the first place. When Shajra-e-Nasb can authenticate genuine Syed families, why to waste tax-payers’ money on expensive DNA tests? Makes no sense to me at all!”

The first comment to the journalist came instantly, and it was a troll who asked: “Mr Jawani, whatever the head Mufti’s fatwa, and since admittedly you are the man with a scientific temper, would you be up for the DNA challenge if I pay for it?”

The senior journalist didn’t answer, but someone commented rather vaguely, “I would rather live under a happy lie than pay to sadly know that I never was what I always thought I was.”

In this jostling crowd of spirited comments, some lazy dude also copy-pasted, “And say: The truth has come, and falsehood has vanished away; surely falsehood is ever certain to vanish.”

And yet another comment in the deluge of comments popped up with these lines, “Perhaps one should learn anew what our great teacher Sheikh-ul-Aalam said: ‘One who harps proudly upon one’s own caste, /Is totally bereft of reason and wisdom; /Here the good alone can claim noble /And in hereafter ‘caste’ itself will be non-existent, /Were you to imbibe the essence of Islam, /Then you will never boast of your own caste?’ ”

 

***

At the close of 2047, the Committee on Religious Boards met for its annual meeting in Srinagar. Apart from planning for the next year, it was also the occasion to declare the gross amount of public donations received by all the religious boards during the previous year. Which the committee did within hour and a half. “A total of 805-million pounsa in public donations were received by all the religious boards in 2047,” the president of the committee informed the members.

Dressed in an immaculate white kurta and black Nehru jacket, the president also announced at the meeting that the committee will earmark 200-million pounsa for the construction of the grand tomb, to memorialise the senior Khawabi’s incredible vision.

“We hope the government will reconsider the design of the tomb and keep in view why it should reflect the ethos and history of Kashmir,” the senior journalist Jawani commented at the press conference. “After all, 200-million pounsa of tax-payers’ money cannot go into replicating a pseudo-European structure on Kashmiri soil.”

Many more questions were asked to the Committee members, and all questions were answered. And in the end, everyone was served a chai cuppa!

 

 Muhammad Tahir is a PhD student of Politics and International Relations at Dublin City University (Ireland). His articles have appeared in The Japan Times, Caravan, Café Dissensus, The Express Tribune, Kindle Magazine, IAPS Dialogue, and in different newspapers and magazines in Kashmir. 

 

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