C H A P T E R   T H R E E

        Today he found Mall Road peaceful, and he was melancholy. What a terrifying scene it had offered yesterday! Cars with their windows smashed, and a half-burned double-decker that lay all day in the middle of the road, had proclaimed the devastation that had happened here. After the brick-hurling, slogan-shouting procession, the nervous pedestrians, the closing shops with their rapidly falling shutters, there had been only the occasional timid bus or scooter-cab, picking its way through scattered bricks and glass. Now there was peace, and the road was clean from one end to the other. No scattered bricks, no fragments of glass. The flow of traffic moved evenly. Cars traveling at their ease, a second after the first, a third after the second. None of their windows seemed to be broken. He was amazed: yesterday it seemed that all the cars in the city had had their windows broken, but now all the cars in the city were in fine condition. And the double-decker that as late as yesterday evening had been lying half-burned in the middle of the road -- where had it gone? Yes, the overturned car near the petrol pump was still lying there on its back. But now the pedestrians' eyes showed no anxiety or astonishment, as though the car had been overturned in some other age and by now, with the passage of time, had lost its power to surprise.
        Passing by the Metro Wines shop, he looked carefully at the broken glass both inside and outside. The shattered panes were testifying to all that had happened here yesterday. Today nothing had happened, but still something had come over Mall Road. However strange yesterday's tumult had seemed, today's silence seemed even stranger. It also seemed strange that on the College verandahs all the potted plants that yesterday had been overturned were now nicely arranged. Order and organization had returned to the College. The classes were being held in the proper way. Outside, in the grounds, groups of students were walking around. Overnight, how peaceful the students had become. As late as yesterday, what a state they were in! At every little thing their faces would redden, the veins of their necks would stand out, they would put their throats to the fullest use. Insults, slogans.  And the slogans were extraordinarily powerful, for in a single moment such a large procession would spring forth that the college compound was too narrow for it and it spilled over outside. And now? Now it was so peaceful that no one even raised his voice. People were talking, but in whispers.
        "Yar! My brother came by the night flight."
        "He left after the action started?"
        "It started just at that moment. He said it was difficult to get from the Intercontinental to the airport. Nothing but tanks on the streets. He says that as they were going toward the plane there was a roar as though a cannon had been fired, and then there were constant gunshots, as if a war had begun. And when the plane took off and he looked out, far into the distance there was nothing but clouds of smoke."
        "But what will happen?"
        "Whatever may happen, the damned Bengalis have had the wind taken out of their sails!"
        "Bastards!" someone muttered to himself. "This will straighten them out!"
        Joy, disgust, hatred, rage -- every emotion was expressed in whispers. He began to feel suffocated. He wanted to escape from this stifling atmosphere.
        'The Mulla goes only as far as the mosque.'/1/ He went of course to the Shiraz, but there too the atmosphere was stifling. No noise, no confusion, no bursts of laughter, no loud voices. Only the expressions on people's faces showed that some serious matter was being discussed.
        "Yar, yesterday there was so much turmoil here -- and today -- "
        "Yes! And today," Irfan muttered to himself, and began drinking his tea.
        "Yar, yesterday I was really afraid. It seemed that toda-" He himself didn't know what he wanted to say.
        "So it was for the best," Irfan said ironically.
        "In one respect, it was for the best."
        "We say this every time, but later we find out that it wasn't for the best."
        "Yar, I don't understand any of this."
        "I don't understand any of it either, but it seems to me that something's happened."
        "What has happened?
        "It isn't clear. But what's the good of clarity? What I feel obscurely is everything."
        What was it that Irfan felt obscurely? What was the fear creeping through him? Zakir didn't understand any of it. Then he changed the subject.
        "Yar, where are Salamat and Ajmal today?"
        "Today they're in their holes. They come out of their holes when it's the right weather for coming out of holes. Today the weather has changed."
        "Look, that crackpot has come," Irfan said, seeing the door opening.
        "What crackpot?"
        "Yar, that white-haired man," he whispered, as the white-haired man entered and came straight toward them.
        "May I sit down? I'll only take a few minutes."
        "Of course, of course." As he spoke he glanced at Irfan, whose expression showed that he didn't care for this interruption.
        "What's your opinion, was it for the best, or not?"
        "What's your opinion? It was very much for the best!" Irfan said bitterly.
        "I don't know whether it was for the best or not, I only know that if Pakistan can be saved this way -- "
        "Which way, this way?" Irfan grew angry.
        The white-haired man regarded Irfan, then said calmly, "You're looking at my hair?"
        "I'm looking at your hair, it's all white. Do you want to base some appeal on it?"
        "I want to tell you how my hair became white."
        "What difference will it make if you tell us?"
        "A big difference." He paused, then said, "When I set out from my home, my hair was all black. And I wasn't any age at all, I was only twenty or twenty-one. When I reached Pakistan and washed myself and looked in the mirror, my hair had turned entirely white. That was my first day in Pakistan. I left my home with black hair and my family, when I reached Pakistan my hair was white and I was alone." He fell silent and went away, without waiting to see the effect of his words, as though he had said what he had to say. Now he sat down calmly in his corner, and gave Abdul an order for tea.

        He glanced out the window, where after so many nights the rally-ground was now empty and silent. Well, maybe it was for the best. A procession one day, a procession the next day. With a sigh of satisfaction he leaned back against the cushion. Tonight he'd be able to sleep in peace. He tried one position, then a second, then a third. Sleep was miles away from his eyes tonight. Controlling his desire to toss and turn, he lay silently with his eyes closed for a long time, as though any moment he might go off to sleep. But his mind went on talking, telling stories from different times and places, some new ones and some ages old. Today I somehow managed to finish the Mughal period. Teaching history is a bore. And studying history? The boys ask absurd questions. And the mind? A boy stood up: "Sir?"
        "Yes, what is it?"
        "Sir! Among the Mughals, were all the brothers step-brothers?"
        "Sit down. Out of this whole history, is that the only question you've found to ask?"
        I scolded him and made him sit down. A meaningless question. It's meaningless to distinguish full brothers from step-brothers. Cain and Abel weren't step-brothers. In history, and before history. Myths, tales, fables, stories of brothers. Those who while their father was alive -- those who after their father's death -- it's time to go to sleep. After all, in the morning I have to go to the College. Again the same wretched history. How boring it is teaching history to boys. And studying history? Other people's history can be read comfortably, the way a novel can be read comfortably. But my own history? I'm on the run from my own history, and catching my breath in the present. Escapist. But the merciless present pushes us back again toward our history. The mind keeps talking. Are you looking at my hair? I'm looking, it's all white. Irfan answered that poor man's straightforward question in such a bitter tone. I want to tell you how it became white -- when I reached Pakistan my hair was white and I was alone. His first day in Pakistan. The white-haired man swam before Zakir's eyes. And my own first day. My first day in Pakistan --


/1/ A well-known proverb, applied to someone who is a creature of habit and has a limited, predictable range of activity. It also suggests a measure of helplessness.



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