Joined: 18 March 2014
Some people, it is said, fall in love at first sight but that was not what happened to Zain Abdullah and Aaliya Haider . They hated each other from the moment they met.This mutual loathing commenced at the first tutorial of their freshmen terms. Both had come up in the early thirties with major scholarships to read English language and literature, Zain to Merton, Aaliya to Somerville. Each had been reliably assured by their schoolteachers that they would be the star pupil of their year.
Their tutor, Simon Jakes of New College, was both bemused and amused by the ferocious
competition that so quickly developed between his two brightest pupils, and he used their enmity skillfully to bring out the best in both of them without ever allowing either to indulge in outright abuse. Aaliya, an attractive, slim brunette with a rather high-pitched voice, was
almost of the same height as Zain so she conducted as many of her arguments as possible standing in newly acquired high-heeled shoes while Zain, whose deep voice had an air
of authority, would always try to expound his opinions from a sitting position. The more intense their rivalry became the harder the one tried to outdo the other. By the end of their first year they were far ahead of their contemporaries while remaining neck and neck with each other. Simon Jakes told the Merton Professor of Anglo Saxon Studies that he had
never had a brighter pair up in the same year and that it wouldn't be long before they were holding their own with him.
During the long vacation both worked to a grueling timetable, always imagining the other would be doing a little more. They stripped bare Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge,Shelley, Byron, and only went to bed with Keats. When they returned for the second year, they found that absence had made the heart grow even more hostile; and when they were bothawarded alpha plus for their essays on Beowulf, it didn't help. Simon Jakes remarked at New College high table one night that if Aaliya Haider had been born a boy some of his tutorials would
undoubtedly have ended in blows."Why don't you separate them?" asked the Dean, sleepily.
"What, and double my work-load?" said Jakes. "They teach each other most of the time: I merely act as referee."
Occasionally the adversaries would seek his adjudication as to who was ahead of whom, and so confident was each of being the favored pupil that one would always ask in the other's
hearing. Jakes was far too canny to be drawn; instead he would remind them
that the examiners would be the final arbiters. So they began their own subterfuge by referring to each other, just in earshot, as "that silly woman", and "that arrogant man". By the end of their second year they were almost unable to remain in the same room
In the long vacation Zain took a passing interest in Al Jolson and a girl called Ruby while Aaliya flirted with the Charleston and a young naval lieutenant from Dartmouth. But when
term started in earnest these interludes were never admitted and soon forgotten.
At the beginning of their third year they both, on Simon Jakes' advice, entered for the Charles Oldham Shakespeare prize along with every other student in the year who was
considered likely to gain a First. The Charles Oldham was awarded for an essay
on a set aspect of Shakespeare's work, and Aaliya and Zain both realised
that this would be the only time in their academic lives that they would be tested against each other in closed competition. Surreptitiously, they worked their separate ways through the
entire Old Loo Shakespearian canon, from Henry VI to Henry VIII, and kept Jakes well over his appointed tutorial hours, demanding more and more refined discussion of more and more obscure points.
The chosen theme for the prize essay that year was "Satire in Shakespeare".
Troilus and Cressida clearly called for the most attention but both found there
were nuances in virtually every one of the bard's thirty-seven plays. "Not to
mention a gross of sonnets," wrote Aaliya home to her father in a rare
moment of self-doubt. As the year drew to a close it became obvious to all concerned that either Zain or Aaliya had to win the prize while the other would undoubtedly come second.
Nevertheless no one was willing to venture an opinion as to who the victor would be. The New College porter, an expert in these matters, opening his usual book for the Charles Oldham, made them both evens, ten to one the rest of the field.
Before the prize essay submission date was due, they both had to sit their
final degree examinations. Aaliya and Zain confronted the examination papers every morning and afternoon for two weeks with an appetite that bordered on the vulgar. It came as no surprise to anyone that they both achieved first class degrees in the final honours
school. Rumour spread around the University that the two rivals had been awarded alphas in every one of their nine papers.
"I would be willing to believe that is the case," Aaliya told Zain. "But I feel I must point out to you that there is a considerable difference between an alpha plus and an
"I couldn't agree with you more," said Zain. "And when you discover who has
won the Charles Oldham, you will know who was awarded less."
With only three weeks left before the prize essay had to be handed in they
both worked twelve hours a day, falling asleep over open text books, dreaming that the other was still beavering away.
When the appointed hour came they met in the marble-floored entrance hall of the
Examination Schools, sombre in suffuse.
"Good morning, Zain, I do hope your efforts will manage to secure a place in the first six."
"Thank you, Aaliya. If they don't I shall look for the names C. S. Lewis,Nichol Smith, Nevil Coghill, Edmund Blunden, R. W. Chambers and H. W. Garrard ahead of me. There's certainly no one else in the field to worr about."
"I am only pleased," said Aaliya, as if she had not heard his reply, "that you were not seated next to me when I wrote my essay, thus ensuring for the first time in three years that
you weren't able to crib from my notes."
"The only item I have ever cribbed from you, Aaliya, was the Oxford to London timetable, and that I discovered later to be out-of-date, which was in keeping with the rest of your efforts."
They both handed in their twenty-five thousand word essays to the collector's office in the Examination Schools and left without a further word, returning
to their respective colleges impatiently to await the result.Zain tried to relax the weekend
after submitting his essay, and for the first time in three years he played
some tennis, against a girl from St. Anne's, failing to win a game, let alone a set. He nearly sank when he went swimming, and actually did so when punting. He was only relieved that
Aaliya had not been witness to any of his feeble physical efforts.
On Monday night after a resplendent dinner with the Master of Merton, he decided to take a walk along the banks of the Cherwell to clear his head before going to bed. The May evening
was still light as he made his way down through the narrow confines of Merton Wall, across the meadows to the banks of the Cherwell. As he strolled along the winding path, he thought he spied his rival ahead of him under a tree reading. He considered turning back but
decided she might already have spotted him, so he kept on walking.
He had not seen Aaliya for three days although she had rarely been out of his thoughts: once he had won the Charles Oldham, the silly woman would have to climb down from that high horse of hers. He smiled at the thought and decided to walk nonchalantly past her.
As he drew nearer, he lifted his eyes from the path in front of him to steal a quick glance in her direction, and could feel himself reddening in anticipation of her inevitable
well-timed insult. Nothing happened so he looked more carefully, only todiscover on closer inspection that she was not reading: her head was bowed in her hands and she appeared to be
sobbing quietly. He slowed his progress to observe, not the formidable rival who had for three years dogged his every step, but a forlorn and lonely creature who looked somewhat helpless.
Zain's first reaction was to think that the winner of the prize essay competition had been leaked to her and that he had indeed achieved his victory. On rejection, he realised that
could not be the case: the examiners would only have received the essays that morning and as all the assessor read each submission the results could not possibly be forthcoming until at
least the end of the week. Aaliya did not look up when he reached her side -
he was even unsure whether she was aware of his presence. As he stopped to
gaze at his adversary Zain could not help noticing how her long brown hair curled just as it touched the shoulder.
He sat down beside her but still she still did not stir.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Is there anything I can do?"
She raised her head, revealing a face blushed from crying.
"No, nothing Zain, except leave me alone. You deprive me of solitude without affording me company."
Zain was pleased that he immediately recognised the little literary allusion. "What's the matter, Madame de Sevigne?" he asked, more out of curiosity than concern, torn between
sympathy and catching her with her guard down.
It seemed a long time before she replied.
"My father died this morning," she said finally, as if speaking to herself.
It struck Zain as strange that after three years of seeing Aaliya almost every day he knew nothing about her home life.
"And your mother?" he said.
"She died when I was three. I don't even remember her. My father is-." She
paused. "Was a preacher and brought me up, sacrificing everything he had to get me to Oxford, even the family silver. I wanted so much to win the Charles Oldham for him."
Zain put his arm tentatively on Aaliya's shoulder.
"Don't be absurd. When you win the prize, they'll pronounce you the star pupil of the decade. After all, you will have had to beat me to achieve the distinction."
She tried to laugh. "Of course I wanted to beat you, Zain, but only for my father."
"How did he die?"
"Cancer, only he never let me know.
He asked me not to go home before the summer term as he felt the break might
interfere with my finals and the Charles Oldham. While all the time he must have been keeping me away because he knew if I saw the state he was in that would have been the end of m completing any serious work."
"Where do you live?" asked Zain, again surprised that he did not know.
"Brockenhurst. In Hampshire. I'm going back there tomorrow morning. The
funeral's on Wednesday."
"May I take you?" asked .
Aaliya looked up and was aware of a softness in her adversary's eyes
that she had not seen before. "That would be kind, Zain."
"Come on then, you silly woman," he said. "I'll walk you back to your
"Last time you called me 'silly woman' you meant it."
Zain found it natural that they should hold hands as they walked along the river bank.
Neither spoke until they reached Somerville.
"What time shall I pick you up?" he asked, not letting go of her hand.
"I didn't know you had a car."
"My father presented me with an old MG when I was awarded a first. I have been
longing to End some excuse to show the damn thing off to you. It has a press
button start, you know."
"Obviously he didn't want to risk waiting to give you the car on the Charles Oldham results." Zain laughed more heartily than the little dig merited.
"Sorry," she said. "Put it down to habit. I shall look forward to seeing if you drive as appallingly as you write, in which case the journey may never come to any conclusion. I'll be
ready for you at ten."
On the journey down to Hampshire, Aaliya talked about her father's work and inquired after
Zain's family. They stopped for lunch at a pub in Winchester. Chicken stew and mashed potatoes.
"The first meal we've had together,"said Zain.
No sardonic reply came flying back; Aaliya simply smiled.
After lunch they travelled on to the village of Brockenhurst. Zain brought his car to an uncertain halt on the gravel outside the house. An elderly maid, dressed in black, answered the door, surprised to see Miss Aaliyaa with a man. Aaliya introduced Annie to Zain and asked her to make up the spare room.
"I'm so glad you've found yourself such a nice young man," remarked Annie
"Have you known him long?"
Aaliya smiled. "No, we met for the first time yesterday."
Aaliya cooked Zain dinner, which they ate by a fire he had made up in the front room. Although hardly a word passed between them for three hours,neither was bored. Aaliya began to notice the way Zain's untidy black hair fell over his forehead and thought how
distinguished he would look in old age.
The next morning, she walked into the hall on Zain's arm and sat
bravely through the Qu'ran Khwaani . When the service was over William took her back
to the vicarage, crowded with the many friends the preacher had made.
"You mustn't think ill of us," said Mr. Ahmed , to Aaliya. "You were everything to your
father and we were all under strict instructions not to let you know about his illness in case it should interfere with the Charles Oldham.That is the name of the prize, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Aaliya. "But that all seems so unimportant now."
"She will win the prize in her father's memory," said Zain. Aaliya turned and looked at him,
realising for the first time that he actually wanted her to win the Charles Oldham.
They stayed that night in the house and drove back to Oxford on the Thursday. On the Friday morning at ten o'clock Zain returned to Aaliya's college and asked the
porter if he could speak to Miss Haider.
"Would you be kind enough to wait in the Horsebox, sir," said the porter as
he showed Aaliya into a little room at the back of the lodge and then scurried off to find Miss Haider. They returned together a few minutes later. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"Come to take you to Stratford."
"But I haven't even had time to unpack the things I brought back from
"Just do as you are told for once; I'll give you fifteen minutes."
"Of course," she said. "Who am I to disobey the next winner of the Charles Oldham? I shall even allow you to come up to my room for one minute and help me unpack." The porter's eyebrows nudged the edge of his cap but he remained silent, in deference to Miss Haider's recent bereavement. Again it surprised William to think that he had never been to Aaliya's room during their three years. He had climbed walls of all the women's colleges to be
with a variety of girls of varying stupidity but never with Aaliya. He sat down on the end of the bed.
"Not there, you thoughtless creature.The maid has only just made it. Men are all the same, you never sit in chairs."
"I shall one day," said William. "The chair of English Language and
"Not as long as I'm at this University, you won't," she said, as she disappeared into the bathroom.
"Good intentions are one thing but talent is quite another," he shouted at her retreating back, privately pleased that her competitive streak seemed to be returning.
Fifteen minutes later she came out of the bathroom in a yellow flowered dress
with a neat white collar and matching cuffs. William thought she might even be wearing a touch of make-up.
"It will do our reputations no good to be seen together," she said.
"I've thought about that," said Zain. "I asked, I shall say you're my charity.""Your charity?"
"Yes, this year I'm supporting distressed orphans." Aaliya signed out of college until midnight and the two scholars travelled down to Stratford, stopping off at Broadway for lunch. In the afternoon they rowed on the River Avon. William warned Aaliya of his last disastrous outing in a punt. She admitted that she had already heard of the exhibition he
had made of himself, but they arrivedsafely back at the shore: perhaps because Aaliya took over the rowing .They went to see John Gielgud playing Romeo and dined at the Dirty Duck.Aaliya was even quite rude to Zain during the meal.
They started their journey home just after eleven and Aaliya fell into a half sleep as they could hardly hear each other above the noise of the car engine. It must have been about twenty-five miles outside of Oxford that the MG came to a halt.
"I thought," said Zain, "that when the petrol gauge showed empty there was at least another gallon left in the tank.'
"You're obviously wrong, and not for the first time, and because of such foresight you'll have to walk to the nearest garage all by yourself- you needn't imagine that I'm going to keep you company. I intend to stay put, right here in the warmth."
"But there isn't a garage between here and Oxford," protested Zain.
"Then you'll have to carry me. I am far too fragile to walk."
"I wouldn't be able to manage fifty yards after that sumptuous dinner and all that wine."
"It is no small mystery to me, Zain, how you could have managed a
first class honours degree in English when you can't even read a petrol gauge."
"There's only one thing for it," said Zain. "We'll have to wait for the first bus in the morning."
Aaliya clambered into the back seat and did not speak to him again before falling asleep. Zain donned his hat, scarf and gloves, crossed his arms for warmth, and touched the
tangled mane of Aaliya's hair as she slept. He then took off his coat and placed it so that it covered her.
Aaliya woke first, a little after six, and groaned as she tried to stretch her aching limbs. She then shook Zain awake to ask him why his father hadn't been considerate enough to buy him a car with a comfortable back seat.
"But this is the niftiest thing going," said Zain, gingerly kneading his neck muscles before
putting his coat back on.
"But it isn't going, and won't without petrol," she replied getting out of the car to stretch her legs.
"But I only let it run out for one reason," said Zain following her to
the front of the car.
Aaliya waited for a feeble punch line and was not disappointed.
"My father told me if I spent the night with a barmaid then I should simply order an extra pint of beer, but if I spent the night with the Maulvis 's daughter, I would have to marry her."
Aaliya laughed. Zain, tired,unshaven, and encumbered by his heavy coat, struggled to get down on one knee.
"What are you doing, Zain?"
"What do you think I'm doing, you silly woman. I am going to ask you to
"An invitation I am happy to decline, Zain. If I accepted such a proposal I might end up spending the rest of my life stranded on the road between Oxford
"Will you marry me if I win the Charles Oldham?"
"As there is absolutely no fear of that happening I can safely say, yes. Now do get off your knee, Zain, before someone mistakes you for a straying stork."The first bus arrived at
five-past-seven that Saturday morning and took Aaliya and Zain back to Oxford. Aaliya went to her rooms for a long hot bath while Zain filled a petrol can and returned to his deserted
MG. Having completed the task, he drove straight to Somerville and once again asked if he could see Miss Haider. She came down a few minutes later.
"What you again?" she said. "Am I not in enough trouble already?"
"Because I was out after midnight, unaccompanied."
"You were accompanied."
"Yes, and that's what's worrying them."
"Did you tell them we spent the night
"No, I did not. I don't mind our contemporaries thinking I'm promiscuous, but I have strong objections to their believing that I have no taste. Now kindly go away, as I am contemplating
the horror of your winning the Charles Old ham and my having to spend the rest of
my life with you."
"You know I'm bound to win, so why don't you come live with me now?"
"I realise that it has become fashionable to sleep with just anyone nowadays, Zain, but if this is to be my last weekend of freedom I intend to savour it, especially as I may have to consider committing suicide."
"I love you."
"For the last time, Zain, go away.
And if you haven't won the Charles Oldham don't ever show your face in Somerville again."
Zain left, desperate to know the result of the prize essay competition.
Had he realised how much Aaliya wanted him to win he might have slept
On Monday morning they both arrived early - in the Examination Schools and stood waiting impatiently without speaking to each other, jostled by the other undergraduates of their year who had also been entered for the prize.
On the stroke of ten the chairman of the examiners, in full academic dress,
walking at tortoise-like pace, arrived in the great hall and with a considerable presence at indifference pinned a notice to the board. All the undergraduates who had entered for the
prize rushed forward except for Zain and Aaliya who stood alone,aware that it was now too late to influence a result they were both dreading.
A girl shot out from the melee around the notice board and ran over to Aaliya.
"Well done, Aalu. You've won."
Tears came to Aaliya's eyes as she turned towards Zain.
"May I add my congratulations," he said quickly, "you obviously deserved
"I wanted to say something to you on Saturday."
"You did, you said if I lost I must never show my face in Somerville
"No, I wanted to say: I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?"
He looked at her silently for a long moment. It was impossible to improve
upon Beatrices's reply.
"As strange as the thing I know not," he said softly.
A college friend slapped him on the shoulder, took his hand and shook it vigorously. Proxime accessit was obviously impressive in some people's eyes, if not in William's.
"Well done, William."
"Second place is not worthy of praise," said Zain disdainfully.
"But you won, boy."
Aaliya and Zain stared at each other.
"What do you mean?" said Zain.
"Exactly what I said. You've won the Charles Oldham."
Aaliya and Zain ran to the board and studied the notice.
Charles Oldham Memorial Price The examiners felt unable on this occasion to award the prize to one person and have therefore decided that it should be shared by They gazed at the notice board in silence for some moments.
Finally, Aaliya bit her lip and said in a small voice:
"Well, you didn't do too badly, considering the competition. I'm prepared to honour my undertaking but by this light I take thee for pity." Zain needed no prompting. "I would not deny you, but by this good day I
yield upon great persuasion, for I was told you were in a consumption."
And to the delight of their peers and the amazement of the retreating don, they embraced under the notice board.
Rumour had it that from that moment on they were never apart for more than a few hours.
The marriage took place a month later
in a masjid in Aaliya's hometown Brockenhurst. "Well, when you think about it," said Zain's room-mate, "who else could she have married?" The contentious couple started their honeymoon in Athens arguing about the relative significance of Doric and Ionic architecture of which neither knew any more than they had covertly conned from a half-crown tourist guide. They sailed on to Istanbul, where Zain prostrated himself at the front of every mosque he could find while Aaliya stood on her own at the back fuming at the Turks' treatment of women.
"The Turks are a shrewd race," declared Zain, "so quick to appreciate real worth."
"Then why don't you practice Islam , Zain, and I need only be in your presence once a year."
"The misfortune of birth, a misplaced loyalty and the signing of an unfortunate contract dictate that I spend the rest of my life with you."
Back at Oxford, with junior research fellowships at their respective colleges, they settled down to serious creative work. Zain- embarked upon a massive study of word usage in Marlowe and, in his spare moments, taught himself statistics to assist his findings. Aaliya chose as her subject the influence of theReformation on seventeenth-century English writers and was soon drawn beyond literature into art and music.
She bought herself a spinet and took to playing Dowland and Gibbons in the
"For Christ's sake," said Zain, exasperated by the tinny sound, "you won't deduce their religious convictions from their key signatures."
"More informative than if s and ends, my dear," she said, imperturbably, "and at night so much more relaxing than pots and pans."
Three years later, with well-received D. Phils, they moved on, inexorably in
tandem, to college teaching fellowships. As the long shadow of fascism fell across Europe, they read, wrote, criticised and coached by quiet firesides in unchanging quadrangles.
"A rather dull Schools year for me," said Zain, "but I still managed five firsts from a field of eleven."
"An even duller one for me," said Aaliya, "but somehow I squeezed
three firsts out of six, and you won't have to invoke the trinomial theorem, Zain, to work out that it's an arithmetical victory for me."
"The chairman of the examiners tells me," said Zain, "that a greater part of what your pupils say is no more than a recitation from memory."
"He told me," she retorted, "that yours have to make it up as they go
When they dined together in college the guest list was always quickly filled, and as soon as grace had been said, the sharpness of their dialogue would flash across the candelabra.
"I hear a rumour, Aaliya, that the college doesn't feel able to renew your
fellowship at the end of the year?"
"I fear you speak the truth, Zain," she replied. "They decided they
couldn't renew mine at the same time as offering me yours."
"Do you think they will ever make you a Fellow of the British Academy,
"I must say, with some considerable disappointment, never."
"I am sorry to hear that; why not?"
"Because when they did invite me, I informed the President that I would prefer to wait to be elected at the same time as my wife."
Some non-University guests sitting in high table for the first time took their verbal battles seriously; others could only be envious of such love.
One Fellow uncharitably suggested they rehearsed their lines before coming to
dinner for fear it might be thought they were getting on well together.
During their early years as young dons, they became acknowledged as the leaders
in their respective fields. Like magnets, they attracted the brightest undergraduates while apparently remaining poles apart themselves.
"Dr. Abdullah will be delivering half these lectures," Aaliya announced at the start of the Michaelmas Term of their joint lecture course on Arthurian
legend. "But I can assure you it will not be the better half. You would be wise always to check which Dr. Abdullah is lecturing."
When Aaliya was invited to give a series of lectures at Yale, Zain took a sabbatical so that he could be with her.
On the ship crossing the Atlantic, Aaliya said, "Let's at least be thankful the journey is by sea, my dear, so we can't run out of petrol."
"Rather let us thank God," replied Zain, "that the ship has an engine because you would even take the wind out of Cunard's sails."
The only sadness in their lives was that Aaliya could bear Zain no children, but if anything, it drew the two closer together. Aaliya lavished quasi-maternal affection on her tutorial pupils and allowed herself only the wry comment that she was
spared the probability of producing a child with Zain's looks and Zain's brains.
At the outbreak of war Zain's expertise with handling words made a move into cipher-breaking inevitable.
He was recruited by an anonymous gentleman who visited them at home with a briefcase chained to his wrist.
Aaliya listened shamelessly at the keyhole while they discussed the problems
they had come up against and burst into the room and demanded to be
recruited as well.
"Do you realise that I can complete The Times crossword puzzle in half the
time my husband can?"
The anonymous man was only thankful that he wasn't chained to Aaliya. He
drafted them both to the Admiralty section to deal with enciphered
wireless messages to and from German submarines.
The German signal manual was a four-letter code book and each messag was reciphered, the substitution table changing daily. Zain taught Aaliya how to evaluate letter frequencies and she applied her new knowledge to modern German texts, coming up with a frequency analysis that was soon used by every code-breaking department in the Commonwealth. Even so breaking the ciphers and
building up the master signal book was a colossal task which took them the best part of two years.
"I never knew your if s and ends could be so informative," she said admiringly
of her own work.
When the allies invaded Europe husband and wife could together, often break
ciphers with no more than half a dozen lines of encoded text to go on.
"They're an illiterate lot," grumbled Zain. "They don't encipher their
umlauts. They deserve to be misunderstood.,'
"How can you give an opinion when you never dot your i's Zain?"
"Because, I consider the dot is redundant and I hope to be responsible
for removing it from the English language."
"Is that to be your major contribution to the scholarship, Zain, if so I am
bound to ask how anyone reading the work of most of our undergraduates'
essays would be able to tell the difference between and I and an i."
"A feeble argument my dear, that if it had any conviction would demand that
you put a dot on top of an n so as to be sure it wasn't mistaken for an h."
"Keep working away at your theories, Zain, because I intend to spend my
energy removing more than the dot and the I from Hitler."
In May 1945 they dined privately with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Churchil at Number Ten Downing Street.
"What did the Prime Minister mean when he said to me he could never understand
what you were up to?" asked Aaliya in the taxi to Paddington Station.
"The same as when he said to me he knew exactly what you were capable of,
I suppose," said Aaliya.
When the Merton Professor of English retired in the early nineteen-fifties
the whole University waited to see which Doctor Abdullah would be appointed to the chair.
"If Council invite you to take the chair," said Zain, putting his hand through his greying hair, "it will be because they are going to make me Vice-Chancellor."
"The only way you could ever be invited to hold a position so far beyond your ability would be nepotism, which would mean I was already Vice-Chancellor."
The General Board, after several hours' discussion of the problem, offered two chairs and appointed William and Philippa full professors
on the same day.
When the Vice-Chancellor was asked why precedent had been broken he
replied: "Simple; if I hadn't given them both a chair, one of them would have been after my job."
That night, after a celebration dinner when they were walking home together along the banks of the Isis across Christ Church Meadows, in the midst of a particularly heated argument about the quality of the last volume of Proust's monumental works, a policeman, noticing the affray, ran over to them and asked:
"Is everything all right, madam?"
"No, it is not," Zain interjected, "this woman has been attacking me for
over thirty years and to date the police have done deplorably little to protect me."
In the late fifties Harold Macmillan invited Aaliya to join the board of
"I suppose you'll become what's known as a telly don," said Zain, "and as the average mental age of those who watch the box is seven you should feel quite at home."
"Agreed," said Aaliya. "Twenty years of living with you has made me fully qualified to deal with infants."
The chairman of the BBC wrote to Zain a few weeks later inviting him to join the Board of Governors.
"Are you to replace 'Hancock's Half Hour' or 'Dick Barton, Special Agent'?" Aaliya inquired.
"I am to give a series of twelve lectures."
"On what subject, pray?"
Aaliya flicked through the Radio Times. "I see that 'Genius' is to be
viewed at two o'clock on a Sunday morning, which is understandable, as it's when
you are at your most brilliant."
When Zain was awarded an honorary doctorate at Princeton, Aaliya attended the ceremony and sat proudly in the front row.
"I tried to secure a place at the back," she explained, "but it was filled with sleeping students who had obviously never heard of you."
"If that's the case, Aaliy, I am only surprised you didn't mistake them for one of your tutorial lectures."
As the years passed many anecdotes, only some of which were apocryphal,
passed into the Oxford fabric. Everyone in the English school knew the stories
about the "fighting Abdullahs". How they spent their first night together. How
they jointly won the Charles Oldham. How Aaliya would complete The Times crossword before Zain had finished shaving. Ho they were both appointed to professorial chairs on the same day, and worked longer hours than any of their
contemporaries as if they still had something to prove, if only to each other. It seemed almost required by the laws of symmetry that they should always be judged equals. Until it was announced in the New Year's Honours that Aaliya
had been made a Dame of the British Empire.
"At least our dear Queen has worked out which one of us is truly worthy of
recognition," she said over the college dessert.
"Our dear Queen," said Zain selecting the Madeira, "knows only too well how little competition there is in the women's colleges: sometimes one must encourage weaker candidates in the hope that it might inspire some real talent lower down."
After that, whenever they attended a public function together, Aaliya would have the M.C. announce them as Professor Zain and Dame Aaliya Abdullah. She looked forward to many happy years of starting every official occasion one upon her husband, but her triumph lasted for only six months as Zain received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Aaliya feigned surprise at the dear Queen's uncharacteristic lapse of judgment and forthwith insisted on their being introduced in public as Sir Zain and Dame Aaliya Abdullah.
"Understandable," said Zain. "The Queen had to make you a Dame first in
order that no one should mistake you for a lady. When I married you, Aaliya, you were a young fellow, and now I find I'm living with an old Dame."
"It's no wonder," said Aaliya, "that your poor pupils can't make up their minds whether you're homosexual or you simply have a mother fixation. Be thankful that I did not accept Girton's invitation: then you would have been married to a mistress." "I always have been, you silly woman."
As the years passed, they never let up their pretended belief in the other's mental feebleness. Aaliya's books, "works of considerable distinction" she insisted, were published by Oxford University Press while Zain's "works of monumental
significance" he declared, were printed at the presses of Cambridge University.
The tally of newly appointed professors of English they had taught as undergraduates soon reached double figures.
"If you will count polytechnics, I shall have to throw in Maguire's readership in Kenya," said Zain.
"You did not teach the Professor of English at Nairobi," said Aaliya. "I did. You taught the Head of State, which may well account for why the University is so highly thought of while the country is in such disarray."
In the early sixties they conducted a battle of letters in the T.L.S. on the
works of Philip Sidney without ever discussing the subject in each other's
presence. In the end the editor said the correspondence must stop and adjudicated a draw.
They both declared him an idiot.
If there was one act that annoyed Zain in old age about Aaliya, it was her continued determination each morning to complete The Times crossword before he arrived at the breakfast table. For a time, Zain ordered two copies of the paper
until Aaliya filled them both in while explaining to him it was a waste of money.
One particular morning in June at the end of their final academic year before
retirement, Zain came down to breakfast to find only one space in the crossword left for him to complete. He studied the clue: "Skelton reported
that this landed in the soup." He immediately filled in the eight little boxes.
Aaliya looked over his shoulder. "There's no such word, you arrogant man," she said firmly. "You made it up to annoy me." She placed in front of him a very hard boiled egg.
"Of course there is, you silly woman; look whym-wham up in the dictionary."
Aaliya checked in the Oxford Shorter among the cookery books in the kitchen, and trumpeted her delight that it was nowhere to be found.
"My dear Dame Aaliya," said Zain, as if he were addressing a particularly
stupid pupil, "you surely cannot imagine because you are old and your
hair has become very white that you are a sage. You must understand that the
Shorter Oxford Dictionary was cobbled together for simpletons whose command of the English language stretches to no more than one hundred thousand words.
When I go to college this morning I shall confirm the existence of the word in the O.E.D. on my desk. Need I remind you that the O.E.D. is a serious work
which, with over five hundred thousand words, was designed for scholars like
"Rubbish," said Aaliya. "When I am proved right, you will repeat this story word for word, including your offensive non-word, at Somerville's Gaudy Feast."
"And you, my dear, will read the Collected Works of John Skelton and eat humble pie as your first course."
"We'll ask old Onions along to adjudicate."
With that, Sir Zain picked up his paper, kissed his wife on the cheek and said with an exaggerated sigh, "It's at times like this that I wished I'd lost the Charles Oldham." "You did, my dear. It was in the days when it wasn't fashionable to admit a woman had won anything."
"You won me."
"Yes, you arrogant man, but I was led to believe you were one of those
prizes one could return at the end of the year. And now I find I shall have to keep you, even in retirement."
"Let us leave it to the Oxford English Dictionary, my dear, to decide
the issue the Charles Oldham examiners were unable to determine," and with
that he departed for his college.
"There's no such word," Aaliya muttered as he closed the front door.
Heart attacks are known to be rarer among women than men. When Aaliya suffered hers in the kitchen that morning she collapsed on the floor calling hoarsely for Zain, but he was already out of earshot. It was the cleaning woman who found Aaliya on the kitchen floor and ran to fetch someone in authority. The Bursar's first reaction was that she was probably pretending that Sir
Zain had hit her with a frying pan but nevertheless she hurried over to the Abdullahs' house in Little Jericho just in case. The Bursar checked Dame
Aaliya's pulse and called for the college doctor and then the Principal.
Both arrived within minutes.
The Principal and the Bursar stood waiting by the side of their illustrious academic colleague but they already knew what the doctor was going to say.
"She's dead," he confirmed. "It must have been very sudden and with the minimum of pain." He checked his watch; the time was nine-forty-seven.
He covered his patient with a blanket and called for an ambulance. He had
taken care of Dame Aaliya for over thirty years and he had told her so often to slow down that he might as well have made a gramophone record of it for all the notice she took.
"Who will tell Sir Zain?" asked the Principal. The three of them looked at each other.
"I will," said the doctor.
It's a short walk from Little Jericho to Radcliffe Square. It was a long walk from Little Jericho to Radcliffe Square for the doctor that day. He never relished telling anyone of the death of a spouse but this one was going to be the unhappiest of his career.
When he knocked on the professor's door, Sir Zain bade him enter. The great man was sitting at his desk poring over the Oxford Dictionary, humming to
"I told her, but she wouldn't listen, the silly woman," he was saying to himself and then he turned and saw the doctor standing silently in the doorway.
"Doctor, you must be my guest at Somerville's Gaudy next Thursday week
where Dame Aaliya will be eating humble pie. It will be nothing less than
game, set, match and championship for me. A vindication of thirty years'
The doctor did not smile, nor did he stir. Sir Zain walked over to him and
gazed at his old friend intently. No words were necessary. The doctor said only, "I'm more sorry than I am able to express," and he left Sir Zain to his private grief.
Sir Zain's colleagues all knew within the hour. College lunch that day was spent in a silence broken only by the Senior Tutor inquiring of the Maste if some food should be taken up to the Merton professor.
"I think not," said the Master. Nothing more was said.
Professors, Fellows and students alike crossed the front quadrangle in silence and when they gathered for dinner that evening still no one felt like conversation. At the end of the meal the Senior Tutor suggested once again that something should be taken up to Sir Zain. This time the Master nodded his agreement and a light meal was prepared by the college chef. The Master and the Senior Tutor climbed the worn stone steps to Sir Zain's room and while one held the tray the other gently knocked on the door. There was no reply, so the Master, used to Zain's ways, pushed the door ajar and looked in.
The old man lay motionless on the wooden floor in a pool of blood, a small pistol by his side. The two men walked in and stared down. In his right hand, William was holding the Collected Works of John Skelton. The book was opened at The Tunnyngof Elynour Rummyug, and the word "whym wham" was underlined. a 1529, Skelton, E. Rummyag 75
After the Sarasyns gyse, Woth a whym
wham, Knyt with a trym tram, Upon
her brayne pan.
Sir Zain, in his neat hand, had written a note in the margin: "Forgive me, but I had to let her know."
"Know what, I wonder?" said the Master softly to himself as he attempted to remove the book from Sir Zain's hand, but the fingers were already stiff and cold around it.
Legend has it that they were never
apart for more than a few hours.
This story is a part of the ISC English Curriculum..so and has got a strange resenblence to ZaYa so thought of sharing it with you guys! MErry christmas :*
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Golden Moment Of ZAYA #34 ZAYA ne kiya 2014 ka Aagman
Author: DeepKaur12 Replies: 13 Views: 2169
|DeepKaur12||13||2169||26 December 2014 at 12:13am by Ana_rockz|
zaya zaya ....and zaya u have are best
Author: katmaan Replies: 6 Views: 3181
|katmaan||6||3181||04 December 2014 at 11:26am by riakhan364|
Zaya zaya and only zaya.. :)
Author: zaya-lover20 Replies: 5 Views: 2445
|zaya-lover20||5||2445||12 August 2014 at 12:47pm by zayalove|
Author: -Sadiaa- Replies: 17 Views: 8373
|-Sadiaa-||17||8373||04 August 2014 at 12:09am by sanulove|
ZaYa ZaYa ZaYa <3 <3 <3
Author: BigBoss11. Replies: 19 Views: 7678
|BigBoss11.||19||7678||29 March 2014 at 1:21pm by -S.S-|
She is indeed her mother's little girl forever.
Yes it looks both of Jenny's roles are big hits and the actress seems ...
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