"This is quite an attractive jelly creation, Hina. How did you make it?"
"Oh, it is the easiest thing in the world, Khala. I had a wheel-shaped mould in which I set the red strawberry flavoured jelly, and in a smaller, round, traditional shaped mould I set the green flavoured jelly. When they were firm, I took out the red wheel shape first, then slipped out the green one in its centre. These jelly packets are quite inexpensive and the finished product looks quite attractive, even if it has no real nutritional value."
"The children are quite fascinated by them. Anyway, did I show you, Swaleha, the black silver bracelet I've got for Malika? Black silver, I remember, used to be in vogue when I was young, and it seems to have made a come-back."
"Oh, this is exquisite, Khala Habib. I'm going to take the address from you of the shop where you bought it, and try to get something similar for myself."
"You'll have to go to Karachi then, because that's where I bought it from. But where is our star of the evening?"
"She has been getting so many telephone calls of congratulations, from as far away as America, Canada, London, and Dubai. Everyone had read, or heard the news. She'll be out just now – oh, here she is."
"Mubarak ho! Mubarak ho!" everyone was exclaiming, as Malika, blushingly acknowledged their wishes.
"You are making me feel so awkward," she stammered, "With this formal celebration. It was nothing so great."
"Standing first amongst all the six thousand candidates of the Intermediate exam, is nothing great? You have made the whole family proud."
"Why don't we start? Fakhar Apa is waiting to read out the poem she has written on the occasion."
"Oh no, Fakhar Apa! You all are making me so embarrassed. I –"
"But Salma Phuppi is still not here. She –"
"Who says I am not here?" Salma Phuppi bearing a large dish of carrot halwa embellished with silver wafer, entered. Her huge overstuffed shining black bag was tucked a little precariously under her arm. All the girls ran to take the dish and the bag from her.
"Give me back the bag, girls. It has Malika's special present in it. I am giving you my own pearl 'champakali', Malika. You know, that I do not wear it at all now."
"Oh, Salma Phuppi!" Malika was overwhelmed. "You all are really over-doing your kindness. Ammi has given me her turquoise bracelet. This is only the beginning, you must remember. I have still got to do my B.A., and then my M.A."
"Who knows how many of us will be around then?" said her small, thin grandmother coming in. "That is why I have decided to give you just now the gold set I had actually planned to give you on your wedding. Here, let me put the necklace round your neck."
"Don't say that, Dadi Jan! I won't have it! You are Masha Allah, the healthiest of us all. I want you to be there to clap at my graduation ceremony when I, God willing, receive my doctorate. If, God forbid, you are not there, I don't want to get it!"
"Bring me my bag, girls, and let me give Malika the 'champakali'. You should eat the halwa while it is nice and hot. You know, the poor policeman had to carry it all the way upstairs for me."
"Well, my taxi driver couldn't find any place near your door to park, there are Masha Allah so many of your cars here, and when I asked him to carry the tray up the stairs for me he started grumbling that he had already lost so much time trying to find the house. You know I had forgotten the number, and kept telling him to look out for a chemist's shop because it was close to that. Then this very polite policeman came up and said "Amaji," (this was quite stupid of him, as I am certainly not old enough to be his mother) he said, "Amaji, let me carry it up the stairs for you." And then he asked me why there were so many cars, and I told him proudly, "My niece has topped in the F.A. examination, and we are all gathered together to congratulate her and to give her some gifts."
"You will all give her costly presents, and some of you perhaps, cash gifts?"
"Of course, all of us are going to give her expensive gifts suitable for the occasion. I have my pearl 'champakali' in here, for her."
" 'You are very generous, Amaji.' he said, and handed me back my bag with a kind of salute."
"I do not think it was wise to give someone your bag when there was something so valuable in it. Check it, Salma Phuppi, and see that it is there."
"Of course it is. Here it is. He was such a sweet man. And anyway he was with me the whole time. Put it on, Malika. It doesn't matter if you already have your dadi's necklace there. I want to see how it looks on you."
It looked beautiful, because it really was beautiful. Everyone had given expensive presents, which were much too costly for the occasion. As Malika had said, she still had her B.A. and M.A. ahead of her. And it was not as if this was her engagement.
"Let's start with Fakhar Apa's poem. She's written it especially for Malika."
"I think we should eat first, otherwise the jelly will melt, and the halwa, samosas and pakoras will get cold. We all want to hear Fakhar's poem when we are fully relaxed, and after we are full."
"We had planned to get a cake," said Swaleha, Malika's younger sister. "But Malika wouldn't allow us."
"For God's sake, this is not my birthday, nor –"
There was a loud knocking on the locked door.
Nine-year-old Salim went to open it, then shrieked. He had been roughly shoved back by a man with a black handkerchief tied across most of his face. With him were two others with the same half masks. The leader carried an ugly looking rifle.
"Get down on the floor, all of you! Down!" he shouted.
All the women and young girls quivering with terror, prostrated themselves on the carpet.
It is a good thing, thought Salim, Dadi Jan had just gone out of the room. She would not have been able to lie flat on the ground with her creaking joints.
"Take off your ornaments, all of you! Quick! You don't want me to have to use this!" and the man pointed his weapon threateningly at the female company.
The girls, petrified with fear, were struggling with their ornaments. Piece after piece of the sparkling jewellery lay on the ground, from where the two men were greedily snatching it up. Malika's perspiring hands were struggling clumsily with the two strings of her 'champakali'. "Can't you hurry?" the leader screamed at her, and then leaning his rifle against the nearby wall, he rushed towards Malika and catching at the front of the 'champakali' he tugged at it so violently that the string broke and he jerked off the necklace. Malika cried with a mixture of pain, fear, and rage. One of her young cousins started whimpering, which made the leader slap her across the face.
to be continued...