C H A P T E R T H R
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.
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.
My brother came by the night flight."
left after the action started?"
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."
what will happen?"
may happen, the damned Bengalis have had the wind taken out of their sails!"
someone muttered to himself. "This will straighten them out!"
disgust, hatred, rage -- every emotion was expressed in whispers. He began
to feel suffocated. He wanted to escape from this stifling atmosphere.
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
yesterday there was so much turmoil here -- and today -- "
And today," Irfan muttered to himself, and began drinking his tea.
yesterday I was really afraid. It seemed that toda-" He himself didn't
know what he wanted to say.
it was for the best," Irfan said ironically.
one respect, it was for the best."
say this every time, but later we find out that it wasn't for the best."
I don't understand any of this."
don't understand any of it either, but it seems to me that something's
isn't clear. But what's the good of clarity? What I feel obscurely is everything."
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.
where are Salamat and Ajmal 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."
that crackpot has come," Irfan said, seeing the door opening.
that white-haired man," he whispered, as the white-haired man entered and
came straight toward them.
I sit down? I'll only take a few minutes."
course, of course." As he spoke he glanced at Irfan, whose expression showed
that he didn't care for this interruption.
your opinion, was it for the best, or not?"
your opinion? It was very much for the best!" Irfan said bitterly.
don't know whether it was for the best or not, I only know that if Pakistan
can be saved this way -- "
way, this way?" Irfan grew angry.
white-haired man regarded Irfan, then said calmly, "You're looking at my
looking at your hair, it's all white. Do you want to base some appeal on
want to tell you how my hair became white."
difference will it make if you tell us?"
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.
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?"
what is it?"
Among the Mughals, were all the brothers step-brothers?"
down. Out of this whole history, is that the only question you've found
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 --
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