The House

A non-Muslim woman goes to Pakistan in search of the house from which she was forced to leave during the 1947 partition of South Asia.

First published in Closure – Contemporary Black British Short Stories

I was waiting for a fare close to the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, watching a couple of bored policemen sitting under the shade of a tree, twiddling about with the barrels of their guns, when a bellboy from the hotel, followed by a tall thin woman, came towards me. The woman stopped, looked around at something and then followed the boy, who was already by my car.

Your lucky day, sir,’ the boy said to me.

I handed him a fifty rupee note. He brushed it away, saying, ‘It’s a big booking. Hundred.’

She’s a Pakistani madam,’ I said, pushing the note back towards him.

Foreigner,’ he said quickly, snatching the note whilst insisting with the index finger of his other hand for me to give him more money. I swore at him under my breath and handed him another fifty rupee note. He turned to the woman and opened the back door.

Yes, madam,’ I said to her in Urdu, ‘where would you like to go?’

She took a deep breath and replied, in Pothohari, ‘There is so much I would like to see, but can’t.’

I touched the key, my lucky charm, which dangled off the rear view mirror, and looked at her face in the mirror. She had long grey hair with streaks of silver, which fell down over her shoulders, and the way she held her head was just like the madams of Islamabad. By the way she talked and looked, she could have been someone from my village, but the black kameez, her top, with its embroidery of gold running down her front and the edges of the arms, meant she was not short of money.

I cursed the bellboy inside my head, You son of a donkey! I’ve waited for over two hours for a fare, and you dump me with this one.

Where can I take you?’ I asked in Urdu.

Do you not speak Pothohari?’ she asked, looking for something in her handbag.

Yes. Yes, madamjee,’ I said in Urdu with a taxi driver laugh. ‘It just doesn’t feel right talking in that language with a madam, especially someone from round here.’

I’m Indian,’ she said. ‘Talk to me in Pothohari.’

Thank you Allah, I thought inside my head.

As you wish, madam,’ I said in Pothohari. ‘I can take you anywhere. And get you whatever it is you desire,’ I added quickly.

She flicked her eyebrows disapprovingly and repeated, ‘There is so much I would like to see, but can’t.’

Oh yes, I thought, I know what your type wants.

I was just getting ready for the long game which would eventually mean me getting her what someone like her was really after but was finding it difficult to say, when she took a cigarette from her bag and lit it.

Do you mind if I smoke in your car?’ she asked, blowing smoke out of the window.

This car is at your service, madam,’ I said, thinking over what sort of a boy she was likely to be after.

Do you smoke?’ she asked, offering me a cigarette.

Which taxi driver doesn’t?’ I looked at her pack. It was one of the expensive foreign ones.

Keep the pack,’ she said. ‘I have more.’

I took it from her, and as I did this she said, ‘Drive.’

Where to, madam?’

Just drive.’

I put the cigarettes in the glove compartment, touched the dangling key and started the car. As I drove past the policemen, they looked at me and then chuckled to themselves, nodding towards the woman in the back of my car.

I turned left onto the main road and decided that she was the sort who would like to go to Taxila. Indians loved that, and they were good tippers. And if I was lucky, she might want to go to the ancient ruins of Katas. Then, I thought, maybe she is a Sikh. She would no doubt want to see Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal.

I had only gone a short distance when she asked, ‘Why did you touch that key?’

Just one of those things we drivers do, madam.’

Just one of those things we drivers do,’ she mimicked, and then said, ‘I was born in Gujarkhan and have dreamt of one day visiting the house of my birth.’

I detected great pain in her voice.

A traffic policeman, who was standing in the middle of the road directing traffic, flagged me to stop. I tried to sneak past him, but he blew on his whistle a few times. I stopped and snatched a look at the woman. She didn’t look like the madams of Islamabad anymore, but almost like a mother who was searching for a lost child.

Majee,’ I said, thinking of my own dead mother, ‘You can go to Gujarkhan right now. It’s not far. I can take you.’

She smiled a sad smile and said, ‘I’m Indian, not allowed. And besides, everyone in India warned me not to go to Pakistan; it’s not safe, especially for Sikhs.’

This is Pakistan, no one is safe and Allah decides,’ I said, hoping she would want to go to Gujarkhan.

I prayed inside my head, ya rabbah, oh god, make this my lucky day. I’ve never had one of these returning Sikhs. Especially someone as rich as this one. Oh Lord, let this day be my Eid!

She went silent for a while and then her eyes lit up. ‘I have dreamt a thousand dreams to see where I was born.’

As I turned onto the Islamabad Highway, going south towards Gujarkhan, she asked, ‘Are you married? Do you have children?’

I glanced at her in the mirror, trying to work out what she would most likely like to hear. She looked the motherly type. She could have grandchildren, and then she might feel sorry for me if she thought I should be married but had not managed to save enough money.

Well, is it that a difficult question to answer?’

No, madam…’

She turned her head towards me. ‘Either call me majee or auntiejee, but not madam.’ Before I could answer, she added, ‘Majee.’

Jee, Majee.’ I stroked the dashboard next to the steering wheel, pointed to the black ribbons I had tied to the side mirrors and said, ‘This is my wife and my mother.’

She laughed, and then sat silently with her hand up to her mouth. Every now and again, when she saw a child or an animal, she would let out a deep sigh.

When we crossed Mandra, just as we went past a village, she asked me to stop. She pointed her thin finger at a house where a woman was rolling dung in her hands and then putting it on the side of the wall of a house.

People here still dry dung and use it for fuel to cook with,’ I said.

That little girl near the tandoor, the oven. When I was young, I used to light our tandoor just like her. See those twigs sticking out from the top of the tandoor, just above the flames? I can hear them crackling, even from here, and I can smell the wood burning, just like that little girl can. I would stand close to my tandoor, especially at night, and watch the flames going up and the twigs falling down, and the sparks flying about. Maybe they are still the same last sparks I saw when they told us to leave.’

How could those be the same sparks, I thought, and said, ‘Maybe, Majee, maybe.’ And then I asked her, ‘Why did you come to Pakistan?’

I am a poet. I came to recite.’

A poet, I thought. At least she is not like all the ones I know. Broke!

She started humming to the tune of Saif-al-Maluk. She stopped, let out a strange little laugh and said, without taking her eyes off the little girl by the tandoor, ‘It was the middle of the day in that year, 1947. I had lit our tandoor and then went to hang the washing on the walls. Mother had made the flour into dough, and I went and sat next to her and helped her make paeras, small balls from the dough. Mine were always either too small or too big, but mother never once told me off. She would just pick them up, smile and make them up again into the right size. My father was out somewhere, doing whatever he did, always turning up just as the rotis came out of the tandoor.

A few other women, four neighbours, came with their dough. They always did. Ours was a big tandoor. Mother placed our flour, all neatly rolled into perfect balls, on a silver tray and put it on my head; then she went to greet the women. I followed her and we all went to the tandoor. She began chatting with the women about how bad the times were getting. All the Sikhs in Choha Khalsa were dead, they said. And Sukho was in flames. No one knew who was alive and who was dead. All the Sikhs from Domeli had left.

Ours was a big tandoor …’ she stopped, looked at me and asked, ‘Did I tell you that already?’

I nodded.

Mother had built our tandoor with her own hands. It was big enough for lots of rotis to cook in. She usually let the other women make theirs first but that day, for some reason, she started on ours. She had just put four or five rotis into the tandoor when our door smashed open and soldiers with guns burst in. There were so many of them. The women screamed. I ran behind mother.

You are leaving for India, right now,” they said.

Mother held my hand tightly. Her hand was hot and she was trembling.

Before anyone could say anything, the soldiers pushed us out of our house. Mother kept looking back at the tandoor, saying, “My roti will burn. My roti will burn.” But the soldiers just pushed us out of the house. Outside, there were more soldiers and so many terrified people. I called out for father, but how could he hear me amongst all those others who were calling out names?

We walked to the railway station. Mother never let go of my hand. I kept calling out for father all the way. Even as they made us get onto a train, I kept calling him. I had been on a train before, but this was not like any other. It was so full of people; some bleeding, others crying. I remember the eyes! The eyes – they were all bloodshot. And as the train pulled away, I heard a raging river of screams, screams I have never stopped hearing.

Mother never did talk much after that and when she did, she would say, “My roti will burn.’”

And what happened to your father?’ I asked.

I never did see him again.’

She didn’t say anything else all the way to Gujarkhan. When we got there, I parked my car behind the courts. She remembered the banyan tree, and she led the way as if she had never left. We walked around some narrow streets for a while.

As we did this, she would suddenly stop and say, ‘My house was here,’ and then shake her head, walk this way and that, and then stop again and say the same thing.

After a little while of doing this, she said, ‘It’s been too long.’

We headed back to my car. She walked much slower this time, lost deep in thought.

Just as we got into the bazaar, she said, ‘When I was young, there was a Christian called Khaled who used to sell little sweets on a raeree, a little wooden cart, which had a broken wheel.’

Maybe someone remembers him,’ I said.

She shook her head, ‘After all this time?’

I looked around till I saw an old shopkeeper. He was a big fat man who was looking at us whilst picking up fistfuls of daal, lentils, from a sack close to him and letting it fall through his fingers. I went up to him and asked, ‘Uncle, do remember a Christian who sold sweets around here before the partition?’

He looked at me for a while, then looked the woman up and down, and said, ‘The Christian is still here, still selling things on a raeree.’ He then told his son, a small round spitting image of himself, ‘Take them to Khaled Masih.’

We followed the boy through the bazaar up towards the GT road. After a short while, he stopped and pointed, ‘That’s Khalid Masih,’ and disappeared into the bazaar

As soon as she saw Khalid Masih, she cried, ‘Ya rabbah, oh god.’

Khalid Masih was a small dark man with a deeply wrinkled face. On his raeree, he had combs, socks, locks, mirrors and other small things.

She walked up to him ever so slowly. When she got close, she asked, ‘Are you Khalid Masih?’

He looked up at her and nodded.

Do you remember Karamjit Singh, son of Harjit Singh Kataria?’

Khalid Masih’s small eyes became even smaller. A sad smile flashed across his toothless mouth. ‘Kamli Kaur. You? Here?’

She hugged him and cried, ‘Babajee, you are still alive and still have your raeree!’

I died a long time ago, daughter,’ he replied.

Pulling away from him, she examined the raeree. ‘At least this one doesn’t have a broken wheel.’

He shook his head.

Do you remember my house?’

He nodded, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

We have searched everywhere for my house. Nothing looks like what I remember. Is my house still here?’

He nodded.

He left the raeree and we followed him. He had taken only a few steps when she asked, ‘What about your raeree?’

He turned around, pointed at the bazaar and smiled. Everyone was looking at us.

For an old man, he walked fast. We went through countless narrow streets until we came to a big house. ‘That is where you were born.’ He turned to leave.

Come with me,’ she said to the old man.

He stepped away from us. ‘I am still an untouchable. They will think I have contaminated you.’

She watched Khalid Masih until he went out of sight and then said to me, ‘This is not my house; maybe he is mistaken.’

We’ve come all this way. Let’s knock.’

Maybe, if they find out I am a Sikh…’

I interrupted her, ‘I’m with you and, as the Almighty is my witness, I will let nothing happen to you.’

She knocked on the door.

After a little while, a woman from inside the house asked, ‘Who?’

I’ve come from India and I am looking for the house where I was born,’ Kamli Kaur replied hesitantly.

There was a little pause and then the door opened. A young woman with a child on her hip stood in front of us. Kamli Kaur’s face turned white. She pointed to the veranda. It was an old wooden one, with carved curving arches. It was painted blue. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Kamli Kaur pointed inside, saying, ‘My name is Kamli Kaur. This is the house where I was born. And the veranda is still blue.’

Beckoning us in, the young woman said, ‘It is still your house, Majee, and the veranda has always been blue.’

As we stepped inside, the young woman handed her baby to Kamli Kaur and ran towards a tandoor, saying, ‘My roti is burning.’

Whilst the young woman retrieved her rotis, Kamli Kaur walked around the veranda, holding the child close to her. I stood where I was.

A few moments later, a frail old woman, much older then Kamli Kaur, came out. ‘Kamli!’ she cried.

I went outside, stood by the door and lit a cigarette. A short while later, a door close to me opened and a young man asked me to come inside. He pointed to a tray of food on a small table and said, ‘Eat, Ustad,’ and walked back into the house.

On the way back to Islamabad, Kamli Kaur sat in the front passenger seat. She looked much younger now.

What’s your name?’ she asked, lighting a cigarette.

Iqbal. Raja Iqbal,’ I replied. ‘We are refugees from India.’

Do you know where from?’ And then she added quickly, ‘How could you, you were not born then.’

No Majee, I wasn’t born then,’ I said, ‘But my mother, may the Almighty grant her a place in heaven, never stopped talking about her house. She said we had a great big peepal tree in the middle of our yard. We had the biggest well in the whole area, which never went dry, and from which everyone filled their pitchers. It was close to the Pir-I-Dastgir shrine.’

Kamli Kaur threw her cigarette out of the window, touched my lucky key and went silent for the rest of the journey.

It was late at night and there was not much traffic, so we made good time. I pulled up outside the Marriot and said, ‘Majee, I want no fare from you. I will never forget this journey.’

She held my hand tightly in her trembling hands for a few moments and then left the car. As I withdrew my hand, I noticed there was a key in it, and there was a small pile of one thousand rupee notes on the passenger seat. I picked up the money and drove off, the key in my hand. I stopped a short distance from the hotel, put the interior light on, and stared at the key.

A chill ran down my spine. I held it next to my lucky key.

They were exactly the same. END

Read my new novel, Song Of Gulzarina –    a 77 year old Pakistani atheist sets off on a suicide bombing in Manchester.

Read my last novel, You’re Not Proper – two girls struggling with who they are in a town seething with Islamophobia.


Muslamic Infidels of England

I knew this day was coming. I had prepared for it. But now that it was here, I was at a loss for words.

You’ve brought shame on us, Mandy,’ dad hissed as soon as I walked into the living room.

As ever, he had a can of beer in hand and was enveloped in a Golden Virginia smoke-cloud.

Jack aimed a finger between my eyes and smiled cheerfully, saying, ‘Before I go to Iraq, I’ll put a bullet in that boyfriend of yours.’

I looked over at mum for support, but she just lowered her eyes and brushed invisible specks of dust off her long black skirt.

My stomach knotted, and I felt tears burning in my eyes.

I had always told myself that on this day I would say: it’s my life, my choice who I love. And I would tell them that I didn’t believe in their God anymore. And I would tell them that I hated their hate-filled lives. And I had told myself, Amanda Townsend, you will shed no tears. So much for that!

You know nothing about him, Jack.’ I said, clenching my teeth.

He’s a Muslim,’ Dad said. ‘That’s enough.’

They want to make England a Muslamic country,’ Jack announced.

That’s news to me,’ I smiled at this half-wit for a brother.

They’re going to make you wear mijabs,’ Jack added.

Christ, can’t you even get your racism right, I thought.

Are they, Jack?’ I couldn’t resist a little suggestion for self-improvement. ‘If you’d learned to read and write more than your name, you might have been able to find yourself a real job.’

He’s doing his bit for Queen and country,’ Dad snapped.

Mum looked at me with pleading eyes and implored, ‘Go on, pet, make it up with your brother.’

Jack and I glared at each other, each waiting for the other to blink first.

I may not be any good with fancy words,’ Jack said, ‘but no Muslim’s getting their hands on me little sis.’

I’m me own woman, Jack,’ I said. ‘Besides, you’re only just older than me.’

‘Two hours is two hours,’ Mum laughed.

Ignoring Mum, I asked Jack, ‘So you going to call out the army, then?’

Might do,’ he replied. shrugging his shoulders.

Me knight in shining armour, eh?’ I sniggered. ‘Going save me on a Sherman tank, then?’

Dad stood up and said, ‘We’re having a family drink and then going out together for Jack.’

Come on, sis,’ Jack said, ‘It’s me last night.’

At least there’s some good news, I thought, and then felt sorry because he was leaving and I would miss him.

‘OK, soldier boy, you have nothing up there, but you’re still me brother,’ I said, tapping his head. Mum and dad looked at each other and beamed a proud parental smile.

All of a sudden, I became aware of the smell of my clothes. They smelt of Asda, where I work. I sighed with the thought, well Mandy, think how lucky you are to have met Khalil. I felt all warm inside as I remembered him coming to my checkout, everyday, with just one bottle of milk. I knew something inside me liked him doing this, but why I liked him I didn’t know. One day, after I had had enough of the canteen chatter of my not-so-secret milk bottle lover, I asked Khalil, ‘You like milk then?’

No,’ he had replied, ‘I like coming to your till.’

I almost fell off my chair. I hadn’t expected this as an answer. And then one of the girls made an announcement on the P.A. system, ‘Could customers purchasing just one bottle of milk a day please refrain from going to counter 15.’ Counter 15 being mine. Khalil didn’t have a clue what was happening.

All the cashiers laughed. All my colleagues’ eyes were on me. And I was blushing to the other side of heaven.

An irate customer, a muscular lady with flaming blond hair and sharp blue eyes, who was immediately behind Khalil, said to him, ‘I haven’t got all day you know. Why don’t you ask her out?’

Khalil turned around and asked the lady, ‘Out where?’

It was the second time in a few seconds that I nearly fell of my seat. Before the lady could say anything more to Khalil, I said, ‘I finish work at six.’

I start work at eight,’ he replied.

And those became the most precious two hours of my life; spent with a curly-haired poet with dark dreamy eyes, which seemed to cut right through me when they met mine.

You love him, really, don’t you pet?’ Mum’s words chased Khalil’s memory out of my head. Mum was smiling at Jack.

No,’ I laughed. For a moment I thought she had read my mind, ‘I hate him.’

I hate you too,’ Jack muttered.

I left the living to get changed.

As I was walking up the stairs, I heard them talking about Khalil. It was the same old, same old. So many good English lads and look what she picks! What could she possibly find in someone like him? I wanted to shout at them today and tell them, in Khalil’s words, Love cannot be found, it finds you. But I kept quiet and ran upstairs, thinking, there’s no point Mandy, just forget them.

After a few drinks at home, we went out to The George and Dragon. As soon as Jack walked into the pub, everyone started clapping and cheering.

The pub was well past its heyday. The tables wobbled, and most of the chairs creaked and pinched your behind when you sat on them. The cushioned seating in the alcoves that ran around the walls of the pub had long since stiffened, or had been ripped out in places. A large portrait of Queen Victoria hung from the wall above the bar. All around the pub, on either side of the bar, were fading black and white framed photographs of British soldiers posing in faraway lands.

A special table in an alcove had been reserved for us. It had two bottles of Champagne on it. Jack opened a bottle with a loud pop, spraying cheering faces.

The pub was full of Jack look-alikes. Some of them had seen me with my lover. I could feel the burning venom of their thoughts.

Chill, sis,Jack said, pouring champagne into a glass and pushing it to me.

You know I don’t like crowds,’ I protested. ‘Especially this bunch of EDLers; this bunch of racists.’

Loosen up, lassie,’ dad said, tickling my nose with his tobacco-stained joiner’s finger.

And then, as ever, dad’s teddy bear face, with its missing front teeth, took all my bitterness away.

Come on, Mandy, join the party,’ Mum said, snuggling up to me, her worn out, night shift eyes suddenly coming to life.

I sighed heavily. We clinked glasses, drank, and I lost track of time.

Someone started singing Rule Britannia. The whole pub joined in.

Sing, sis,’ Jack said, grabbing my arm.

Let me go, you barmy git,’ I complained.

Jack sang, whilst I struggled to be free of him.

After the singing stopped, the pub resonated to the chant of Jack, Jack, Jack!

Jack stood up. Someone passed him a cordless microphone. He raised his fist in the air and said, ‘The Muslamic Infidels, they’re trying to get their laws in our country. I mean you got the Iraqi Law they’ve put in London. They’re trying to put their law on us, we won’t stand for it.’

The pub roared, Jack, Jack, Jack!

Jack continued, ‘No Sharamic law. No muslims in our country telling us what to do. We don’t tell em how to run their country, no we don’t do that, and no Allah headbanger tells us how to run England. And when I get to Iraq, I’m going to say, Up the Khyber of Arabs. Yeh!’

Jack sat down to cheering and whistling.

I couldn’t help hugging my brother, and said to him, ‘You just can’t get anything right, can you?’

Someone sent a pint beer for Jack. He downed it in a few gulps and burped, saying, ‘Love you, little sis.’

I’m hungry,’ I said, pinching my nose in disgust.

Let’s hurry for a curry,’ Jack burped again, this time blowing his bad breath at me.

I covered my nose with my hands.

Dad laughed and said, ‘I could eat a horse and chase the jockey.’

I could murder an onion bhaji,’ Mum added.

Let’s go to The Indian,’ dad suggested.

A shiver ran down my spine at the mention of ‘The Indian’, and I said, ‘I fancy The Lebanese.’

‘I hate that humus thing, it doesn’t have a kick like a curry,’ dad said. ‘Don’t half make me bloat.’

But it don’t half blow you away, ‘ Jack snorted.

Mum curled her nose up, and said, ‘Let’s do King Curry,’

Jack said. ‘Champion.’

Can’t beat The Indian,’ dad insisted.

It’s Pakistani,’ I said.

What is?’ Mum asked, getting up to leave.

The Indian,’ I replied. ‘It’s not Indian, it’s Pakistani; it’s just called The Indian. Let’s do what Jack wants.’

The Indian’s a Pakistani?’ Mum asked, all puzzled.

What a shower for a family, I thought, as we left the pub

On the way to East Boarhead, I walked quietly, as mum, dad and Jack sang Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more, whilst instinctively avoiding the broken pavement stones. They continued singing, oblivious to car alarms, police sirens, or the barking of the dogs in the alleys along the way. Passing some freshly painted graffiti, Sharia Free Boarhead, EDL, they sang even louder.

The closer we got to The Indian, the more fearful I became.

When they stopped singing, I said to dad, ‘I fancy a Chinese.’

Dad ignored me and carried on walking, arm in arm with mum. Jack was on the other side of dad, towering over him.

I stopped and shouted, ‘I’m not eating in The Indian!’

Jack turned around and slurred, ‘Does your Muslim work there, sis?’

Have you been spying on me, you bastard?’

Jack was about to say something when he slipped off the pavement and fell into the path of an oncoming van. It screeched to a halt. The driver leaned out of the window and shouted, ‘You trying to kill yourself, or what?’

Jack shoved his middle finger up at the driver, who returned the gesture and drove off.

I ran to my brother, calling, ‘All right, Jack!?’

Jack stood up, lifted me off the ground and swung me in a full circle.

As he put me down, mum nodded towards us and said to dad, ‘You could do that to me once in a while.’

How can I? You’re bacon butty fit, lass,’ dad said.

Mum burst into tears and sat down on the pavement, saying, ‘You think I’m fat and ugly, don’t you?’

Jack protested, ‘Can’t you two fight after we’ve had a curry, like?’

Dad bent down, kissed mum on the lips and said, ‘But I still love you.’

You’re so corny, dad, I thought.

Mum stood up, looking years younger.

Me and your mum are popping into the Huntsmen for a quick ‘un. Order us a Chicken Tikka Masala,’ dad said, walking towards a pub next to The Indian.

As if you ever have anything else, I thought.

Jack stepped towards The Indian.

‘If I go there, will you promise to behave, Jack?’ I asked, nodding to The Indian.

‘Cross my heart and hope to die,’ Jack laughed.

With a headbanger for a brother, bad idea, Amanda Townsend, I thought, but followed him into the restaurant anyway. We sat down at a table which, like all the others, had a new white plastic tablecloth, a folded red napkin, and a plastic rose in an empty wine bottle. Our table was next to a window. Whilst Jack fidgeted about for something in his pocket, I stared outside at a bus shelter, with its smashed glass side panels, and thought, love you Boarhead.

An Asian man, dressed in traditional Asian clothes, was sat at a table near to us. He had finished his meal and a waiter was clearing his table. I looked nervously around, and then sighed with relief, thinking, at least Khalil works in the kitchen.

The Asian customer pointed to the loudspeaker hanging above him under a multi-coloured globe, and said something in his language to the waiter.

Speak in English,’ Jack shouted over to the Asian man.

Leave it Jack,’ I pleaded. ‘You said you’d behave.’

The volume of the music was turned louder. The word Allah, being repeated by the singer, rang through the restaurant.

Jack slammed his hand on the table and shouted, ‘Turn that Paki crap off, now!’

‘It’s my music and it’s beautiful, ‘ the Asian customer said.

Jack stood up, pulled the rose out of the bottle, grabbed it by the neck, smashed it on the side of a table, and rushed at the Asian man and stabbed him in the face with the jagged edge. The man fell back screaming.

I went after Jack, beseeching him to stop. He pushed me away. I stumbled backwards into the kitchen swing doors. As they opened, I saw Khalil. He was chopping onions with a kitchen knife. He ran towards me, knife in hand, and stopped me falling.

‘Thank you, my love,’ I said to Khalil, ‘now go, please go.’

Pushing tables out of his way, Jack charged towards me, bottle in hand, swearing, ‘That’s the bastard, isn’t it?’

A terrifying rage burned in his eyes.

I begged, ‘Stop, Jack, Stop.’

Jack went past me and shoved the bottle into my lover’s neck. Khalil fell bleeding across some tables, still holding the knife. Jack rushed at him and tried to hit him again.

No, Jack,’ I shouted. I ran and jumped on my brother’s back, and bit him on the shoulder. He shook his shoulders and I fell off. Just then, Jack went down on one knee, placed his big hand on Khalil’s throat and raised the bottle to strike him, but instead of hitting Khalil, he stood up holding his stomach, cursing, ‘The bastard’s stabbed me.’

Oh God, someone please call an ambulance,’ I cried.

Jack slumped onto a chair, one hand on his stomach, blood oozing out of his fingers. I grabbed some tissues and pressed on his wound.

A short while later, police officers rushed into the restaurant. Paramedics followed, and before I knew what was happening Jack was on his way to the hospital.

I went to the hospital in a police car with my lover, who cried, ‘I don’t know what happened.’

As soon as I reached the hospital, a nurse called out, ‘Anyone with Jack Townsend?’

He’s my brother,’ I replied.

Come with me,’ the nurse said.

I kissed Khalil on the cheek and followed the nurse.

Is the doctor a Muslim?’ I asked.

He’s a doctor,’ the nurse replied without turning to look at me.

I am Doctor Kapil Shah,’ a doctor said to me as soon as I got into the emergency room. Nodding towards Jack, the doctor added, ‘he’s lost a lot of blood.’

‘Let the doctor help you, Jack,’ I pleaded, getting closer to him.

Jack lifted himself up, shook his head and then slumped back. He held my hand and kissed it, saying, ‘You could have any man.’

Caressing his cold hand, I replied, ‘His name is Khalil Masih. He’s Christian…’

In a last laboured breath, before closing his eyes for ever, Jack whispered, ‘Save me.’ 


My new novel, Song Of Gulzarina


Tariq Mehmood’s Song of Gulzarina  is a highly involving novel which looks at the life of Saleem Khan, who migrates from Pakistan to Bradford in the 1960s full of expectation and ends up contemplating suicide bombing in 21stcentury Manchester – Lindsey German, Counterfire

The Song of Gulzarina is multi-layered and beautifully written, covering the period from 1940 to 2006 to the present and is set in Pakistan, Afghanistan and England- Helen Goodway, Telegraph & Argus.

Mehmood’s novel is polemical and full of black humour. … Terror, both state-sponsored and the work of violent extremists, exists and has to be confronted. This is one of the most textured novels I have read about such violence. Claire Chambers, Huffington Post

Saleem’s mission, then, can be simultaneously understood as a broken man’s final attempt to violently confront the systems that have failed him, and a regretful man’s hopeful attempt at redemption for his shortcomings by orchestrating his own end. Abeera Khan, Kohl Journal for Body and Gender Research

 You may not realize it while reading, but at the end you are gripped.. . and left wondering, “what the hell just hit me?” Lema Abeng-Nsah, Dunia, The Reader’s Magazine

Tariq Mehmood has written a powerful tale and his voice in the current political climate is important. Through a strong sense of the spoken word, an under-heard narrative gains momentum. This book is pure entertainment but it is also a cautionary tale. A question embedded in a Song. What happens when people are ignored and suppressed for too long? Where does that energy go? It is the reader’s gain that this particular writer has put his own spark into Song of Gulzarina. —J Rose, Muscat Tales

Political novels that are entertaining as well as thought provoking are a real rarity, but Tariq Mehmood has managed the trick here.- Melvn Burgess. Novelist 

The author says he took 10 years to write this and I read it in under two days … I just couldn’t put it down….Now that I’ve put it down I’m troubled by it and will want to pick it up and read again. – Yvonne Ridley, Writer

A Phoenician in America

So this tall blond haired woman walks into a bar in Atlanta, and sits down at a table opposite a brown haired young man. He looks up from the book he is reading and smiles at her. She ignores him and says to a waiter, ‘The usual, Sam.’

The brown haired man goes back to his reading, but flicks his eyebrows and smiles at her again when the waiter returns with her drink.

She ignores the brown haired man and runs her index finger up the tall smoked glass, and picks a cherry off from the top of a small decorative umbrella that is perched in the middle of a stick on the rims of the glass.

That is a colourful drink, what it is called?’ the man asks her.

She looks across at him, for a moment and pops the cherry into her mouth without replying.

The man goes back to reading and then looks up again and says to her, ‘I’m new in America, I don’t know anyone here.’

She nods her head and smiles.

I’m from Lebanon,’ he says.

The smile disappears and she asks, ‘You’re Muzlem, right?’

No, I am a Christian, actually,’ he replies. He leans over towards her and offers her his right hand saying, ‘My name is Rami, and I am a Phd student here.’

She  takes the umbrella off the top, takes a sip from her glass, and asks, ‘So  your country is near I-raq, right?’

No, not really, ’ he laughs nervously withdrawing his hand, ‘it is next to Syria,  but I am a Phoenictian.’ 

She looks puzzled and shakes her head.

He continues, ‘We trace ourselves back to Canaanites, even before 1200 B.C, and we created the alphabet, you know, and we helped to create modern day mathematics, Pythagoras, he  was from Tyre, and that’s in Lebanon, and as is the oldest continuous inhabited city on the planet, and…’

She stands up, glass in hand, looks down at him and says, ‘For a phonetician darling, you sure  as hell speak like  a fucking A-rab.’  


My new novel, Song Of Gulzaraina

A highly recommended novella by Dr. Steiner Shaeuinsland  The Maid, The Madam and The Minister

Writers, how not to behave with commissioning editors.

How Not To Kill A Character

song-of-gOn the way home, on the number 50 bus in Manchester, I was trying to find a way of killing Yasmin a character in my forthcoming novel, Song Of Gulzarina.

I had thought of all sorts of scenarios, and texted Peter Kalukovich, my co-writer friend, with what I thought was a good way of getting rid of the character.

She’s the lover who got betrayed, right?Peter texted back.

Me: Yes.

Peter:You can’t kill Yasmin off with cancer. Cliché, boring!!!,

He was clearly sitting in front of a computer, otherwise he would have just sent a one word message back, something along the lines of, crap.

I was a bit tired and didn’t want to get into a texting duel, especially as I was on my mobile, and rang him.

Peter is partially deaf, and over the years I have worked out which sounds to avoid and how to speak to him, especially on the telephone. To clarify this point, let me transgress. There is a pub on Oxford Road, the Ford Madox Brown, named after the famous painter. One day Peter texted me, Where are we meeting?

It was raining so I phoned him back and said, ‘Ford Madox Brown.’

Lord Mayduck Groan!’ the poor man replied, clearly finding it difficult working out what I was saying.

Ever since, we have referred to the pub, by this name.

Now, back to my story.

You are supposed to be a writer, Mister Mehmood,’ Peter snapped at me as soon as he answered. ‘Can’t you think of something more imaginative, like throwing her out of an aircraft?’

I have.’

Come on then, lets have it,’ Peter sniggered, ‘I have a deadline, don’t have all day.’

I knew he was procrastinating on the writing front, otherwise he would not have answered my call. I was about to tell him so, but instead, I raised my voice and said, ‘I thought of slitting her throat, but it would be too messy.’


She has a daughter, who is really bitchy at times, and as you well know, there are too many implications for me, if I do this.’

Innit,’ he replied.

This is a particularly loaded phrase we northern writers use, when listening to each others problems. In this instance it means, You’re stuck, and you ain’t getting naff all out of me.

I continued, ‘I thought of throwing her in front of a bus, but around where she lives, there’s too much traffic. She would almost certainly live. And can you imagine the story, I would have to invent and the issues I would have to deal?’

‘Innit,’ he laughed. This time it meant, I don’t got no problems like that.

I thought of poisoning her…’ I said.

Cheap,’ he interrupted. I couldn’t work out whether he really thought this was the case, or maybe he was thinking of using it in his own novel, and as we had the same publisher for a series of connected novels we are publishing, one of us would in that case, have to have another scenario.

I thought of getting a sword and having her head chopped off…’

Too gruesome,’ Peter sighed, and then continued in know-it-all type of a tone, ‘besides, where would the sword come from?’ He went into a rubbing-salt-into-your-wounds sort of a silence and then continued in a voice pregnant with a self-righteous, but refrained laugh, ‘Of course, you can get a ceremonial one from the pawn shop in Levi,’ and then quickly added, ‘ now, hurry up, I got to get back to work.’

He was lying. I heard his kettle click and then water being poured into a cup.

I was about to continue with my next idea, when I felt a little hot tingle on the tips of my ears, like someone close by was watching me. I was sitting on the lower deck of the bus. I turned around. Every one in the bus was staring at me. No one was talking. A woman clutched her baby. Her unblinking eyes fixed on me.

I told Peter to hold on and looked out of the window. The Birchfields Park was on my left. I pressed the stop button and stood up, still holding the phone next to my ear, with Peter repeating his question, ‘What was the last word of her dialogue?’

I thought for a moment, and remembered, ‘Allah,’ I replied loudly walking towards the front of the bus.

Bella!’ Pete exclaimed.’

No,’ I said.

I went to the front of the bus. The driver pulled over at the next bus stop, which was at the corner of Birch Fields Road and Dickinson Road. He checked the safety screen, which protects drivers from the public, to see if it was locked, but didn’t open the exit doors.

This is my stop,’ I said said to the driver.

He stared at me, whilst fidgeting with something with his right hand.

Then it dawned on me why he was not opening the door.

It’s not what you think, mate,’ I said apologetically, ‘I’m a writer. I was talking to a deaf writer.’

He was a big man, with a reddening face. He pursed his lips and nodded. His unblinking eyes fixed on me.

I thought quickly. I really didn’t want to spend a day, or maybe more in a police station.

Someone screamed at the back of the bus. I turned around. All the passengers were huddled together at the furthest end of the bus.

I pulled on the doors. They hissed open. I stepped off the bus. As it went past me, everyone in it was on their mobile phones, looking at me.

Writers! London Book Fair Is White

As this year’s London Book Fair approaches, let me share an experience.

Last year, Peter Kalu and I were invited to a panel at the London Book Fair. We had produced leaflets, with the aim of selling some of our about-to-be best sellers, but ditched the idea when we saw the suits, snoots and high heels, and instead decided to see if we could have a good time.

In the evenings, publishers and distributors host lots of parties. Rich ones, lay out expensive champagne, not so rich are also generous. Alas, we were a little depressed as neither Peter or I had any invitation for any party.

‘Gate crash,’ advised Susan-Dolorous Smithfield [REAL NAME WITHHELD], as she is well respected literary agent.

Peter and I perked up.

‘No one will know,’ she added.

Apart from the cleaners and other staff, we were the only two non-white faces. When we pointed this out to Susan-Dolorous Smithfield, she said, ‘I never thought of that,’ and then asked, ‘do you always notice this?’

Not keen on engaging in this line of discussion, I thank her, and while Peter talked to her about getting a seven digit advance for his next sure to god best best seller, I ran off for a quick recky.

There were loads of parties; there was one in a music specialist book store – not a single cover had a black face on it, and there were no black faces among the suits; There was a huge party in the center, not a single black face on any book cover, but there was a black face in the crowd.

I went back to Peter and Susan-Dolorous Smithfield. Peter was still making his impassioned pitch, but he had reduced his asking amount to six digits. When I gave my report, he ignored me and said to Susan-Dolorous Smithfield, ‘OK. I’ll accept any offer.’

She smiled, a smile at Peter that said, there is no offer, and said to me, ‘They will be too busy praising each other, they won’t notice you. Do not act like a gatecrasher and nervous. Just drink. ’ She turned to Peter, pointed to his ID badge and said, ‘But don’t you talk to any editor, Peter,’ then turning to me and she added, ‘but you’re OK.’

Before we could ask the obvious question she explained, ‘Because Tariq’s badge says Speaker, but yours, Peter, says, Author, and no editor wants to meet a writer.

My new novel, out now: Song Of Gulzarina