By Amatullah Zakir

22 Jun, 2017

And love, what of love? Does the girl in the rida love? Is she allowed to love, desperately, wildly, caution-to-the-wind? Put her heart on the line, dream of more than brothers and sisters and loving parents? You wouldn't think it from the solemn things that are being said of Bohra girls these days, the heavy pronouncements of the harsh ways in which we girls are 'kept in line.'

But that doesn't square with the life I know. The one I lived, and all my Bohra friends, the one in which I love and have loved, have had my heart broken and then mended, picked up and tenderly restored, made to flutter and made to pound. Can you believe that the girl in the burkha can also have "wild nights - wild nights!" Will we all have to tell our love stories, all 18,000 of us, to be believed?

Well, our stories are ones just like those of many young women all over the world who grow up one day and suddenly find that they are awfully distracted by the young men who show up opportunely, everywhere. Older folks murmur and vanish and leave you to fend for yourself. Some days you do splendidly and shine radiant and witty, and other days you stumble and are awkward and hope that the earth opens up and swallows you because you are too embarrassed to see them all again.  

In the meantime, community life is rich and there are always opportunities to gather, classes and camps and events and weddings and dinner parties, and the boys, and then one boy, is there frequently. Masjids are beautiful and heavily perfumed, on special nights flowers fill the corners, crystal chandeliers sparkle and a night breeze cools the courtyards, the marble glows softly, there may be a fountain, and more likely than not, moonlight, in which introductions are made, you talk softly, but your head is giddy with your dreams for the future. Nights are made for lovers, yes, indeed.

The boy at the masjid is then the boy who takes you out to dinner and for movies, you inch closer together and think of how you could touch his hand. If this is the story of every urban couple in the world, do our pulses quicken differently? When I tell you that what follows is as tender and as urgent as any other couple first discovering love and life together, will you believe me? Then love matures and deepens, for a few years there may even be hate, until you find it again. Love's older soft glances are sometimes weary and battle-scarred, but still carry a memory of love's heady youth and exuberance and wrap it up in aching, precious depth, the one thing that eludes the young.

Can not our love stories be the same as yours?