by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

handwritten Urdu text by the author, early 1980's: *page 1*; *page 2*; *page 3*; *page 4*; *page 5*

Weeping and wailing is my task. For I am fully aware:
nothing can come of weeping and wailing.

It happened long ago, almost in my childhood.
ome people saw a thick long blackish thing in a leafy tree.
They thought it might be someone's black shawl, tangled in the branches, swaying in the wind.
"If somebody has a long bamboo, we can drag it down, and use it for something."

A gentleman said, "Why, it's nothing at all! It's an optical illusion.
Don't you know the sort of shady things light can do?"

It's a snake, it's a snake!", a child screamed. "Run, run, it's a huge snake!"
The child, calling out to his mother, ran helter-skelter home,
and the elder people said, "What if it should somehow be a snake?"
Then one after another veteran snake-trappers and snake-charmers were sent for,
each more experienced than the last:
"Catch it, tie it up, it's a very terrifying snake!
If it bites anyone, he's done for, his flesh will turn to water."
One elder said, "No, it's not poisonous--but if it seizes anyone in its coils,
it'll squeeze his bones to bits and eat him."

Now the huge snake was no longer swaying,
but the long black shawl was wrapped around a thick branch
as though after many lifetimes of yearning.
Anyone who caught a glimpse of the speckled, triangular head took fright and retreated.
Afterwards he imagined that a cold, thin, red, forked tongue was licking his back;
his whole body dripped with hot sweat, it was filled with a dirty wetness.

One by one all the snake-trappers, all the snake-charmers, acknowledged defeat.
No spell was successful.
The shadows of the snake and the tree merged into one.
The thick scent of the evening settled into their eyes.
Those whose nerve had not left them stood around in a circle, at some distance from the tree.
Their forms had begun to grow dim.
There was not a bird on the tree. Silence reigned.

Wrapped in the sweet smoke of evening cooking-fires, a snake-trapper suddenly appeared.
He said, "I'll catch this snake! You are all blind amateurs."
He placed a wide-mouthed, basket-like thing beneath the tree.
Right beneath the branch which seemed to be in the snake's embrace.
Then he called out, "Come on--come on--I won't kill you, I'll just catch you and take you away--"

"Come on--come on--come on--I won't kill you, I'll catch you and take you away."
The whole night long, this yogi played the same tune.
"Come on--come--I won't kill you, I'll just catch you and take you away."
The moments passed silently, stealing the night away.
And the tree too seemed to be under the spell of the snake: not a leaf stirred.
The yogi's shouts and cries echoed to the roofs of the houses, with a sound like roaring.
"Come--come--come--I'll take you away. Don't be afraid, I'll catch you and take you away."

A dirty soiled-looking dawn peeked out from afar.
Even the snake-tree looked like a stain, and the snake's muddy color was in the sky as well.
The snake-trapper's cries sounded from afar as though someone were mourning.
 "Come--come--come on--I'll take you away."

Then with a strangely slithery crisping dry sound, the snake dropped down with a thud.
It fell right into the basket the way a ripe breadfruit falls.

The yogi rushed forward and put the lid on the basket.
He put the basket on his head, and went off.
In a little while it seemed as though nothing had happened at all.
And seven babbler-birds chose that tree for their home. Perhaps you have seen babblers.
Khaki-colored, with yellow eyes, thin beaks, puffy bodies,
they have the most absurd voices. You cannot help but laugh.

It's true, weeping and wailing and sighing is my task.
But I know very well that nothing at all comes of weeping and wailing.
How can snake, yogi, babbler, and tree live in one house?

New Delhi
October 17, 1986

[na:zm -- ronaa aur chillaanaa meraa kaam hai]
translated by Frances W. Pritchett
 -- S. R. Faruqi index page -- FWP's main page --