Our Little Secret

Due to some unavoidable circumstances after Shams and Samina Hamdani’s untimely death, the resources of the Hamdani family became sparse. The family used to summer in Switzerland, now they had to settle for Kashmir. Safiya Hamdani used to go to London for her back, now she had to share a room at a local hospital. Sara Hamdani used to drive around Lahore in her Mercedes to socialise, now she had to make do with a Toyota. Shehbaz Hamdani used to lord over their 850 acres of land, now they only had 120 acres to their name. But the hardest hit of the children of Shams and Samina Hamdani was Sheila Hamdani. Sheila was a generous spirit, famous amongst all her siblings’ children for giving thick envelopes of eidi every year.

Shams and Samina Hamdani had prided themselves over their massive landholdings in the South. This is why they had never bothered with setting up careers for their children. Old money need never bother with the trifles of the middle class like working hard for an education or struggling for a career. Their career was being rich and their education was having taste (which, as the Hamdanis were to find out after Bhutto’s nationalisation, was a side effect of being rich and having basic common sense).

But poor Sheila! How was she to continue spoiling her nieces and nephews with more cash than their driver earned in his whole year? This thought bothered Sheila day and night. After all she couldn’t just send away the children with what her income now afforded her. They wouldn’t even be able to buy a single Dior with that.

Soon, however, a solution presented itself. Sheila heard from one of her friends who had eavesdropped on one of the parties (from which the Hamdanis had been disinvited due to their Gulberg-famous reduction in fortune), that the socialites of the canal had a masterplan to pay their household staff even less than the minimum wage they were being paid. The socialites would gather at each other’s houses whenever their friend was about to hire a new maid. Then they would impress upon the applicant that their own maids worked for even lesser than what was being offered to her. One of the socialites, whose only role was to play the bad cop, would even make up the case of a desperate maid she had just remembered existed who was willing to take up the post the applicant at present was applying for at lower rates. Immediately, the applicant would agree to be paid much less than what she had asked for.

So, Sheila applied this technique on the family’s children. She was perched on the couch in the sitting room as she called the children. They all gathered in front of her, doing their best impression of looking bored but actually scanning Sheila like an X-Ray to snuff out any trace of the thick wads they were used to. Sheila raised her hands to quiet the children, never mind the fact that none had spoken since entering the room.

“Little Hamdanis, from now on I will not indulge in the abhorrent display of wealth that was our tradition of me doling out eidi in public. Eidi is charity and the Holy Quran says that one ought to be so discreet while doing charity that even one’s left hand should never find out the charity one does with one’s right hand. And so, following the example of our Prophet Muhaiman—”

“Muhammad,” corrected one of the children.

“—Yes, him. Following his example, I will now be giving out eidi privately. You shall enter alone, the youngest followed by their immediate elder and so on. Agreed? Splendid. You, follow me to my room.”

Reseating herself on her bed, Sheila took out an embarrassingly thin sliver of a note and held it up. The child looked at her in disbelief, furrowing his brow.

“Now, beta, this might not seem as much as what I used to give out before. But you are still getting more than any of your cousins and that’s why I’m giving the money in private. Can’t have the others know you’re my favourite.” With that, Sheila would stretch her arm outward as the child reluctantly accepted the money. Then Sheila would put a finger on her lips and say, “And don’t go about telling everyone how much you got. This is our little secret.”

The child would be crestfallen, sure, over not being able to afford Dior anymore. But the silver lining of him getting preferential treatment would hoist his spirits and he would exit with a big smile on his face.

This routine followed up till the eldest child. Then Sheila excused herself and joined the family in the sitting room. She was heartened to see her trick having worked. All the children discreetly passed her smiles which she acknowledged with a wink. Sheila felt like her pre-nationalisation self again.

She had been winking at one of the children when her maid told her that her brother Shahbaz was on the phone. Sheila placed herself in the quiet of the foyer and attended to her brother’s call. It was probably something to do with her being given her share of their annual profits from their landholdings, thought Sheila. This is how their conversation went:

“Hello, Sheila, it’s Shahbaz.”

“Hi, Shahbaz.”

“I wanted to let you know that I have wired your share to your account. The profits were lesser this year, we all took a hit. But don’t worry, Sheila. You’re my favourite sister so I wired you some extra money that I could squeeze out.”

“Thank you so much. You take such good care of our inheritance, Shahbaz.”

“That’s my duty as your brother, Sheila. Also remember, don’t tell Safiya or Sara about how much money you got. This is our little secret.”

Sheila let out a chuckle and went back inside, winking at another smiling child.

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