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The Broken Arch

Written by Mahmood Shahid in Urdu
Transformed into English by Faheem Jawaid

"Sir, I have a lady here, willing to see you. Her name is Mrs. Ashraf." Lily informed me on intercom.

Mrs. Ashraf? The name was new to me. "Maybe, she is a prospective client." I thought, and told Lily, "All right! Ask her to wait for a while, please."

At that time, I was busy discussing with a client who was the owner of a Five Star hotels. We were on a finalizing stage of his hotels' interior decoration.

I am a professional interior designer and own a decoration company. With regard to performance, ours is an established company in the city. Five Star hotels, spectacular business complexes, beautiful houses, and flats of the city are the testimony of our achievements.

My profession is much fragile, sensitive, and tactful. We have to study our customers' class, taste, liking, etc, from various psychological and social points of view. One discrepancy or inconsistency in any project might incur losses in the form of earning a bad name for the company. Monetary loss is another supplementary.

Having done with the owner of the Five Star hotels, I told Lily on intercom, "Lily, please send Mrs. Ashraf in.," and picked a file up.

Suddenly, a wave of a lovely smell rushed in my cabin, as if, a window of my cabin opened to a garden of various flowers. I looked at the door with a pleasant surprise. Mrs. Ashraf was entering into my cabin ----- a beautiful, attractive, and charming woman! Unknowingly, my eyes fixed on her pretty face. I knew that staring the lady-customers was a disgraceful act, and hence, I lowered my eyes, while standing a bit from my seat, showing the opposite chair, I asked her, "Please have a seat."

"Thanks." She said, in a very classy and refined manner. I felt, as though, somebody touched a musical instrument slowly, and the atmosphere filled in, with a melodic note.

"Yes. Madam, what can I do for you?" I asked her in a sheer professional way. "I like to have your company's services to decorate my bungalow." Mrs. Ashraf said, with absolute confidence.

"This is the plan." She added with casual dignity, and forwarded the roll to me. I spread over the sheet on the face of my glass-desk.

The construction was on a big plinth area. The position and the arrangement of all rooms and halls were fabulous. While inspecting the plan, I was stealing a glance of her beauty. A well shimmering necklace in her delicate neckline; certainly was of genuine diamonds. This is by virtue of our profession that makes us capable to discriminate between the real and the false. Simple and austere make-up, well-cut silky hairs on gentle shoulders, expensive and fine-looking attire on youthful body, a modest and plain bracelet of gold, hanging on her right wrist ----- her very existence provided with a boost to my already well-decorated cabin.

"Your bungalow is splendid." I commented. A smile, with a sparkling cluster of fireflies appeared her red lips, and a galaxy of stars twinkled on the corners of her thick-shadowy eyelids, as if; my affirmation was of her beauty and not of her bungalow. Although, my statement was, of a total professional approach, but in reality, the bungalow, from every angle was incredibly wonderful.

"Mrs. Ashraf, I intend to visit your bungalow." I showed my inclination. "Sure!" Her small answer expressed that Mrs. Ashraf herself wanted me to visit her bungalow, to understand her requirements well.

Before leaving, Mrs. Ashraf explained me about the location of her bungalow, and I promised to see her the next day.

I never saw such a confident, sober, and beautiful woman before. Her magnetic and charismatic personality impressed me in such a way that I wanted to take her project at any price. Moreover, such a prestigious project would elevate the status of our company in the field of interior decoration.

Next day, I reached my office as usual, instructed the staff about various projects, and left for Mrs. Ashraf's bungalow. Until yesterday, a thick coat of dust covered my car, but today I got it washed, and I did not forget to put on my favorite suit. Lily smiled when she looked at me. I was determined to impress Mrs. Ashraf, at any cost.

The region where the bungalow situated was the most posh and expensive locale. The land value of that sector was costlier than gold. The locality comprised of celebrities, renowned aristocratic, eminent industrialists, and famous businesspersons.

A grand and magnificent building was before me. Despite the fact that the whole structure was devoid of any paintwork, the bungalow looked distinct from other neighboring buildings.

I parked my car near the heavy gate of the bungalow and got down. A young gatekeeper, with thick mustaches came forward and opened the door for me. He saluted me in a military way. I answered him by waving my head, and walked through the gate.

I saw Mrs. Ashraf near the porch, instructing laborers to do the cleaning of her bungalow. She looked at me with a light sociable smile, and said, "I was waiting for you. Please come in."

I entered in the bungalow with her. I could notice a delightful musty smell coming out from her body, was also walking through with us.

"This is our drawing room." She said. I became attentive and took out my small book and a pen. A minor point left out in understanding the needs of the client, results in putting both of us, in great difficulties.

"The decoration of this room has to be exemplary ….." She continued, but a voice of a thud brought her to a halt. She hurried to the spot. I too was with her. While cleaning, something heavy slipped from the hands of the laborer, breaking the corner of the half-circled step of the front-door staircase. After seeing the damage, she became mad with anger. Her eyes blazed with fury. The veins of her face and neck came into sight, and I felt, a stream of red blood would flood-out at any time. For sometime, she was totally out of breath. A dignified, soft-spoken, and kind woman like her would ever be annoyed and irritated, I did not know. Mrs. Ashraf's obscure attitude and mind-set were being unveiled slowly.

We came back to the drawing room, and Mrs. Ashraf was explaining me about various aspects of decoration she intended to have in that room. Her knowledge about interior decoration was extensive and latest.

She was detailing me her requisites one by one, of drawing room, living room, dining hall, kitchen, children's room, dressing room etc., etc. When we reached the bedroom, I noticed a drastic change in her face expression. She managed to recover immediately and continued with her specific requirements of bedroom. "Bedroom has got to be heaven-like. Please make sure to maintain immaculate finery in every item. A sort of relationship must be maintained, despite the fact that the decoration of the rooms would be different from one another."

She added, "Please do remember, I detest ugliness." Mrs. Ashraf was becoming more casual. "Mrs. Ashraf, please be rest assured. Everything will be executed as per your desire." I said with confidence, looking in her eyes.

Much time passed in finalizing the specifics of decoration and designs. Mrs. Ashraf was hard to be satisfied. She changed her mind over and over again. It was arduous giving shape and coloring to her thoughts.

At last, we started the project after her final approval. The work went on smoothly for 2-3 months. Then, Mrs. Ashraf's arbitrary interference in our job created many problems. Her day-to-day complaints made me worn out. She had apparently, a never-ending list of her complaints and grievances …. the tiles of kitchen floor is uneven, the chairs of dining table do not look majestic, the color combination of living room is not attractive, the wall-paper of children's room does not match their state of mind, the false ceiling of drawing room seems a bit high, the shelves and the wardrobes of dressing room are not appealing, the glasses fixed in bed room are at incorrect angles, the sequence of lights in swimming pool are not well-arranged etc., etc., …. I tried to make her understand that the work was going on as per her needs and approved designs, and her time to time intervention would only affect the momentum of our job.

Every work does have its own technique and method, but she did not care much. Her attitude was becoming discourteous and inflexible. At times, she was shouting at the technicians.

Having got tired of her attitude, I tried to contact her husband, Mr. Ashraf Shaikh. I never met him before. I just heard his name. He was one of the most successful businesspersons in the city. Undoubtedly, he was a busy man. I happened to have seen his signature, which seemed, was done in a hurry, on the cheque we received against advance. Many a times, I tried to contact him, but in vain, and I had no other choice but to be submissive to the desires of Mrs. Ashraf. Although, I did not doubt her distinguished taste, grown-up mindset, and her eye-for-details, but her, repeated obstructions in my work became a constant headache for me. Technicians and other workers were much upset of her. However, it took one year to complete the project.

The inauguration ceremony of the bungalow was spectacular. I too was invited. I reached the party with an expensive gift in my hand. The attendees were city's renowned celebrities, prominent industrialists, well-known social and political figures, and eminent businesspersons. Mrs. Ashraf gave me a friendly reception. She looked very happy and fresh. Smilingly, I handed over the gift to her. She thanked and introduced me to her husband, whom I was meeting for the first time. "Please meet my husband, Mr. Ashraf Shaikh," She added, "And this is the owner of Shahzad Decoration, an interior designer Mr. Shahzad." His smile was warm and friendly. While shaking my hand, he said, "You have done a great job Mr. Shahzad." "That's very kind of you Mr. Ashraf." I said. Throughout our conversation, I was looking at him surprisingly. I could not bring myself to believe that such an ugly man could be the husband of Mrs. Ashraf …. black complexioned baldy man, with wide half-dead eyes, thick and broad nose, upper front teeth ready to come out of big strong jaws …. Well-tailored precious suit hanging on her tall hefty body looked weird.

I threw a meaningful glance at Mrs. Ashraf. Her face flared up for a second, as if, she did not know where to look at. Suddenly, she got herself busy with a guest. She knew that she was not able to look into my eyes, as my eyes could see the wrecked ruin of her soul, concurrently trying to decorate and give a face-lift; Mrs. Ashraf herself became a broken arch of the ruin.

About Mahmood Shahid:

Mohamood Shahid is a distinctive poet, an incomparable storywriter and marvellous critic of Urdu language. His various eminent contributions in the world of Urdu literature know no bounds. His recent short stories collection "Dhancha," means, "Skeleton," is one of them.

Note: This story deals with a unique treatment of cynical pragmatism. While transforming into English, I tried to sustain some rare quality of Urdu's artful compositions and forms, without modifying the spirit of English language, which the writer used on different appropriate places.

--------- Faheem Jawaid

Special to YaHind

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