Column | Spells and a reluctant bride

Women are more than capable of saving themselves, says Phuphee. They don’t need magic, maybe just a helping hand

Updated - June 27, 2024 01:00 pm IST

Published - June 27, 2024 11:06 am IST

‘As a peer, I have come to understand that sometimes just offering help is enough’

‘As a peer, I have come to understand that sometimes just offering help is enough’ | Photo Credit: Illustration: Zainab Tambawalla

Years ago, on a hot summer’s day, Phuphee and I were lazing on the verandah. It was so hot that everyone refused to eat lunch and, instead, chose to nibble on cool cucumbers from the kitchen garden, which Phuphee drizzled with some honey and dusted with chilli powder and salt.

We were both looking up at the blazing blue sky, trying to discern animal shapes in the clouds, when we heard footsteps. We peeped through the rails to see a spindly man with a walking stick making his way towards us.

‘It is Hassan saab from Tengwani,’ Phuphee whispered. Tengwani was a village close by. She greeted him and asked after his family. She offered him a plate of honey-chilli cucumbers, which he decimated before washing it down with a large glass of cold lassi. After letting out a rather long and extended belch, he turned towards her and said, ‘My dearest sister, I am in desperate need of your help. If you do not help me, this devastated brother of yours will not know what to do with himself.’

Phuphee watched him for a minute or two, an expression of mild annoyance mixed with curiosity on her face. She lit a couple of cigarettes and smoked quietly. ‘What can I do to alleviate the deep suffering you find yourself in?’ she asked.

The gentleman narrated his tale of woe. He was a retired teacher whose wife had died many years ago. His children were grown up and married, and lived in the city. He wanted to get married again. He had a very handsome pension of ₹6,000, which he felt really ought to make any woman happy. No, he did not need help in finding a lady. He had already found one and that was where he needed help. The lady in question was a young widow of 36. She had two sons. Her husband had died unexpectedly a few years ago, and she had so far refused all offers of marriage.

‘You want me to talk to her on your behalf?’ asked Phuphee.

‘No,’ he said. He had tried that many times and she had flatly refused. ‘I see,’ Phuphee replied. ‘I guess there isn’t anything else I can do then.’

‘There is,’ he said rather excitedly. ‘Can you put a spell on her so she marries me?’

Phuphee closed her eyes for a few seconds and then said, ‘You want me to cast a spell on her, even though she has repeatedly rejected your offer of marriage?’

‘Yes,’ he stated, slightly out of breath. I could see Phuphee cross her brows and purse her lips. ‘Leave it with me, I will see what can be done,’ she said.

Once he left, I asked her, ‘Why does he want to marry her if she doesn’t want to marry him?’

‘Because he is a man and his sense of entitlement overshadows any common sense he ought to have,’ she replied.

That evening, Phuphee went to see the lady and returned just in time for dinner. After dinner, I asked her what the woman had said. She had told Phuphee that her husband, whom she loved very dearly, had been an honourable man and a wonderful husband.

A week later Hassan saab was back. ‘There is a huge obstacle in your way,’ Phuphee told him. ‘The reason the lady is not agreeing is because your enemies have put a spell on her.’

He looked relieved and then his nostrils flared up. ‘I knew her refusal could not have had anything to do with me,’ he said, running his fingers through the three strands of hair that clung desperately to his scalp.

‘There is a way out. The spell is strong but it can be broken. Every Thursday, you must go to Makhdoom saab’s shrine and offer a chicken. You must do this for at least 39 Thursdays,’ she told him.

‘But that is a long time,’ he stammered.

‘I know. The other solution is, of course, you could just leave it,’ she said, her eyes twinkling ever so slightly.

‘I will start straight away. I will leave for Srinagar first thing tomorrow morning,’ he said and left soon after.

When I returned a few months later, I asked Phuphee if he had been going to Makhdoom saab’s to make the offering. She laughed. He had indeed been going like clockwork.

I was a little annoyed at Phuphee. Why hadn’t she turned him into a frog or a goat yet? She could not just let him get away with this. Would he be able to force the lady to marry him?

‘You look worried,’ she said. I told her how I felt. ‘At times, I would like to turn some people into frogs and goats, but that would soothe only my irritation. As a peer, I have come to understand that sometimes just offering help is enough. Most people, and especially women, are excellent at finding solutions to their problems.

‘When I went to see the lady, she did not ask me to turn Hassan saab into a frog, she just wished she could have some time to think of a way out of this situation. While Hassan saab is away in Srinagar, she can think without distractions,’ she explained.

‘Do you remember, my gaash [light of my eyes], when you were little, you were afraid of going into a dark room alone. But instead of going with you everywhere, sometimes I would talk to you from another room until you did whatever it was you had to. You didn’t need me there, you just needed to know I was, if the occasion arose.’

I was a little taken aback by what she said, but she was right. Sometimes in life knowing someone has your back is enough, as most of the time we are more than capable of saving ourselves. Phuphee’s advice, just like her cooking, was simple but it always restored your soul.

Saba Mahjoor, a Kashmiri living in England, spends her scant free time contemplating life’s vagaries.

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