C H A P T E R F O U
R (first half)
and looked in the mirror, and he realized that his hair, which when he
left home had been entirely black, was now entirely white. It was his first
day in this land. And my own first day? Days from the past crowded into
his imagination. But I'm looking for my first day in this land. Pushing
and shoving, he forced his way through the encircling crowd of days and
went on. Where's my first day? As he steadily forced his way through the
crowd, a day in the form of a dim, misty memory came and stood before him.
Bazaar partly closed, partly open. A few shops here and there open, the
rest shut up and locked. The bazaar crowded, but no one buying. He went
out and came to a big road. Mall Road, horse-carts, bicycles, an occasional
car, a few buses passing from time to time. A tall man, stout and broadly
built, with a crested turban on his head and very wide trousers, passed
by him, taking long strides. He watched him with wonder. Then he saw so
many men of the same stature and build, with the same outfits on, walking
nearby. These shapes were new to him. Everything around was new to him.
As he went on, it seemed to him that he was walking on a new earth. He
was enjoying this new earth very much. From one street to another, from
the second to a third, he lost track of time as he walked on, but he never
felt the least bit tired. It had been so long since he had walked around
freely, without the fear that at any moment someone passing by would slip
a knife into his ribs.
dear boy! Where were you all day?"
I was looking at Pakistan."
that there's no longer anything else to look at, we have to look at Pakistan!
What's the hurry? You could at least have come in the afternoon and had
Hakim-ji again immersed himself in conversation with Abba Jan. Zakir ate
his dinner, and went and lay down in the room where he was to sleep. He
examined the room. What a clean, neat, and open room it was, and how filled
with light! There was a light-fixture in each of its four corners. It occurred
to him to wonder who might have lived here before. That thought reminded
him of his own room, a small room with discolored walls, a cot, a table
full of books, and among the books a lamp that shed a dim light by which
he studied far into the night. My room must be empty tonight. As he lay
in the large, well-lit room, he poignantly remembered the shabby room he
had left behind. The sleep that had come into his eyes vanished. He tossed
and turned for a long time. Hearing the sound of Abba Jan coughing, he
stopped in the midst of his tossing and turning. Oh, so Abba Jan has had
enough of the Hakim Sahib's company, and has come to bed -- but when did
he come? He hadn't been at all aware of Abba Jan's coming. Anyway, he lay
for a long time without moving, as though he were asleep, but sleep didn't
come. The image of his own room was fixed in his brain. Then he covered
his face with the sheet and wept.
are you awake?"
He tried to keep his mood from showing in his voice.
he lay for a long time without moving, as though he were asleep. He couldn't
tell how long he'd been lying like that. Finally he turned over. In a little
while he shifted his position again. Then he got up, had a drink of water,
and lay down again.
Jan?" He had thought Abba Jan was asleep, but he was awake.
the matter, can't you sleep? You were awake all last night. Go to sleep."
can't get to sleep."
it's a new place, and the first night," Abba Jan said hesitantly. He fell
silent, then said, "It's happened to me like this before too, that I went
to some new place and the first night I couldn't sleep at all."
covered his face with the sheet; his eyes had again filled with tears.
night with its sleeplessness glowed more and more brightly in his imagination.
That day, with its night, was within his grasp. So that was my first day
in this land. The whole day I walked on a fresh earth under a fresh sky,
suffused with happiness. Then night came, and my sleepless eyes were wet
day seemed very pure to him, with its night, with the tears of its night.
I had forgotten that day. He was surprised -- such a luminous day! After
that, the days gradually grew soiled and dirty. Perhaps it's always like
this. The days go on passing, and the purity of the first day is gradually
lost as the days revolve. How quickly the purity of our days was lost,
how quickly the coolness fled from our nights! But still that one day,
my first day in this land, should always shine in my memory. But with this
thought some neighboring days were illumined too, and gathered around that
one day. A constellation of illumined days came together. When Pakistan
was still all new, when the sky of Pakistan was fresh like the sky of Rupnagar,
and the earth was not yet soiled. In those days how the caravans arrived
from their long long journeys! Every day caravans entered the city and
dispersed among the streets and neighborhoods. Wherever people could find
a place to lay their heads, they flopped down. Whoever got hold of a spacious
house found himself giving shelter, at first by free choice and then out
of compassion, to new arrivals, until the spacious house began to seem
narrow. The refugees told whole long epics about how much suffering they
had endured on the journey, and how many difficulties they had overcome
in order to reach the city. They told about those whom they had left behind.
Then the refuge-givers and the refugees together remembered those who had
clung to the earth, refusing to leave their homes and their ancestors'
graves. They told about those who had set out with them but had become
separated on the road, and about those whom they had left on unknown roads,
unshrouded and unburied. They all shared their grief, remembering those
left behind. Their hearts overflowed, and their eyes filled with tears.
Then they dried their eyes and began to think about the future here, and
how they would manage.
reunions took place, how variously people met! Sometimes, walking
through the bazaar, two people would encounter each other.
God, how did you come here?"
I just couldn't live a good life there any more, so I said to myself, 'Come
on, let's get out of here.' So I just tied up my bedding and got a seat
on one of the Specials."
there would be an unexpected knock on the door. When the door opened, sometimes
there would be a horse-cart crammed with passengers and luggage standing
outside; and sometimes a man alone, unshaven, covered with dust, his clothes
torn and stained, without any baggage at all. At first glance his face
was unrecognizable. When recognition came, with it came amazement: "Why,
it's you!" Then he was urgently embraced, and asked question after question.
"How did you come? Was it all right on the road? Where's everybody else?
Did you travel alone? Where are your things?"
could it be all right on the road? The train was attacked."
God protect us all! Then?"
did protect us, we escaped with our life and honor; otherwise we wouldn't
have had a chance."
be to God! Where's everybody else?"
this house is here, why are you staying in a camp?"
thought I should find out first whether there was space in the house or
ought to be space in people's hearts!"
in houses, there was no shortage of space. In Shamnagar, there were so
many empty houses. So many houses lying open! The doors and windows were
all open, and through the open windows the whole house, full of furnishings
and utensils, could be seen. It seemed that the owners had suddenly stood
up, shaken the dust from their feet, and walked out. There were also houses
with big heavy locks on them, and all the ground-floor windows carefully
closed. It seemed that the owners had locked up their houses and gone on
a long journey, with the thought of coming back. In some houses an occasional
window in an upper floor had carelessly been left unfastened, and now when
the wind was strong the window blew open and shut, banging and banging.
Some houses stood half-finished, some were left all but complete. The owners
of the houses must be searching in far-away cities for any place to lay
their heads; while people who had come from far-away cities were striving
to find a place to live in these houses. There was lots of space in the
houses. There was even more space in people's hearts. In the two-story
house he had occupied, Hakim Bande Ali had given shelter to so many families.
Nanua arrived after both floors were already full.
I'll stay, sir, on this outside verandah."
yes, I'm very willing. Why not, when it's right here?"
and his family made their camp in the outer verandah.
were good days, good and sincere. I ought to remember those days, or in
fact I ought to write them down, for fear I should forget them again. And
the days afterward? Them too, so I can know how the goodness and sincerity
gradually died out from the days, how the days came to be filled with misfortune
and the nights with ill-omen. How before our eyes the houses of Shamnagar
went from being spacious to being narrow, and the space in people's hearts
kept diminishing. The string of caravans had been broken off. Now only
an occasional person came along, and sometimes a family or so, and wandered
around in Shamnagar. They couldn't find a place to lay their heads. All
the houses in Shamnagar were already full, the open ones, and the locked
ones, and the half-finished ones too. The locked house with that unfastened
upper-floor window that banged open and shut with a terrifying noise when
the afternoon and night winds blew, now had children and young people coming
and going through its doors, and a bamboo shade over its upper-floor window.
Some of the upper-floor windows had bamboo shades over them, some had colorful
curtains, some had screens of thick jute sacking. The high roof-parapets,
which so recently had been desolate, were now festooned with many colors
of wet clothes spread out to dry. The eggshell-colored house, with its
open doors showing the furnished rooms inside, now had water buffaloes
tied up in the left-hand verandah, and in the drawing room the furniture
was all piled up on one side, and the other side was covered with chaff
and with mounds of cow-dung cakes for fuel. Now there was no longer any
absolute poverty to be seen in Shamnagar. The conditions of life, which
at the time of Emigration had steadily narrowed until they were limited
to covering the body and filling the stomach, had again widened, and continued
to widen and extend themselves. The houses that had given shelter to a
number of families now shook the rest of the families off their necks and
were home to one family alone. But at the same time they seemed less adequate,
and the needs of those who lived in them had increased. In the houses that
were still crammed full of different families, every family was trying
to spread out as it widened its sense of the necessities of life. Some
residents gradually spread beyond their borders and were inclined to expand
into the territory of others. From the others came resistance. Then quarrels,
then men's hands were raised against each other. The combatants first fought
inside, then gradually their battle moved outside. The neighbors began
by watching the show. Then they intervened. Some smart operator would wheel
and deal and get the whole house allotted in his name alone. Then the rest
of the residents packed up all their goods and went out in search of a
new place to stay. Anyone who was reluctant to leave the house was drawn
into court cases and lawsuits.
Has Nanua gone away?" I saw with astonishment that there was nothing left
on the verandah but an abandoned cooking-stove, and went to ask Hakim Bande
Ali, where he had his dispensary in the adjoining room.
else could he do but go, when the police came and began throwing his pots
and pans out into the street?" He fell silent, then said, "I'm looking
for a house too."
I too. Rather than be humiliated at the hands of the police, it's better
to go voluntarily."
you came to this house before anyone else, you were the one who gave us
'the sleeper's female calf turns male.'/1/
Munshi Musayyab Husain managed to wheel and deal and get an order in his
name." He paused, then said, "He has no heart at all. He won't let anyone
stay on here."
inside and reported, "Abba Jan! Nanua has left."
Jan made no reply.
the Hakim-ji too is looking for a house."
Jan acted as though he hadn't heard at all, but Ammi said, "When will you
go look for a house?"
we have to leave too?"
do you think you've got some special charm to protect us?"
The Munshi wasn't like this there."
sighed. "Since they've come here, people have lost all feeling. You won't
remember it, but when your grandfather was alive, this Munshi Musayyab
Husain used to sit humbly at our doorstep. Behold the glory of God, that
now he looks down his nose at us!"
Jan regarded her with some displeasure, and said, "My late father in his
time treated everyone generously, but he never reminded them of it."
never remind people of it either, but when you're upset inside, it's hard
to keep your tongue quiet! There, he was nothing. And since we've come
here, 'the bald man has gotten fingernails'!"/2/
mother," Abba Jan said reprovingly, "God the Most High does not love the
but you were never arrogant. And how much the Lord has loved you! Today
you don't even have a place to lay your head!" Ammi said bitterly, and
up quietly and stole out. The thought of leaving that house didn't much
trouble me. The truth was that I'd never been able to become very attached
to the house, and for the room in which I spread out my bedding I felt
no affection at all. I found myself constantly remembering the room I'd
left behind. Such small, trivial things had suddenly become so significant!
While I was sitting, or as I walked along, some unimportant detail, some
small thing would come into my mind. Some scene would well up in my memory,
then some other scene related to it, then some third scene with no connection
to the other two. Memories surged along like waves, and I swam among them.
And the wave that was included in every other wave, and illumined the whole
series of waves -- Sabirah -- I had come so close to Sabirah in those last
days. And when I went to bring her to Rupnagar. My first and last journey
with her. We left Vyaspur before dawn, but when the lorry reached Bulandshahr
it was already afternoon. nd when our horse-cart passed by the bazaar,
on the way to the other bus-stand where the lorries left for Rupnagar,
Sugar-sellers' Lane was so full of smoke and wasps that I felt suffocated.
The neighborhoods of this city are known by their atmospheres. The atmosphere
here was so different from that of Vyaspur. Smoke, wasps, wrens, dust --
wherever the weekly markets were held, how many wrens there were! And the
lanes in which huge cauldrons of sugar bubbled on big cooking stoves were
so full of smoke and wasps that it was hard to walk through them. If you
go on beyond the bazaar, there are gravel roads, covered with dust, level
in some places and full of ruts in others. The lorry for Rupnagar left
sometime in the late afternoon. As we crossed over the Ganges on the bridge,
darkness fell. Somehow, at some point, her hand came into mine. From then
on I was unconcerned about the dust and ruts in the road, and about when
the lorry would arrive in Rupnagar, and even about whether it would arrive
along, I started. "Afzal, you? What are you doing here?"
around, and looked in all directions. There was no one there at all. There
were only trees, with their dry yellow leaves falling.
these trees are my friends. Today they're in difficulties, it looks as
though they'll be stripped quite naked." I sat down there on the grass
with Afzal, then inspected the surroundings.
the season has completely changed. When we came, the rains were just ending.
The winter was about to begin, and what a cold winter, my God!"
Pakistan has seen one season pass. Now another season is passing over her.
And this season is crueler, the trees are being stripped."
I asked casually, "aren't there any neem trees here?"
not? Come on, I'll show you."
took me around the park. Then he brought me beneath a tree and stopped
me: "Here's your neem."
at it closely. "Yar, this is a Persian lilac."
was a little embarrassed. "Well, it doesn't matter, there's nothing wrong
with the Persian lilac. He too is a friend of mine. There's a neem here,
I'll have to search for it."
we never had to search for neem trees! In the afternoons when the desert
wind blew, and in the rainy July days, their greenness always proclaimed
stayed silent. He went over to a leafy banyan tree, and announced his intention
of camping there. "Sit down and rest a little. This is the coolest spot
it?" I laughed.
Afzal said seriously, "In fact the banyan is my closest friend. The neem
is an effeminate tree, its branches are only good for hanging swings on.
Or for old ladies who sit in its shade and spin. But the bliss of Nirvana
can be found only in the shade of the banyan."
say anything against the banyan just then would have been the height of
ingratitude. Its shade was thick and cool. The grass spread out beneath
it, all green and soft. I took off my shoes and put them to one side, unbuttoned
my collar, stretched out on my back, and closed my eyes. I was remembering
my lost trees. Lost trees, lost birds, lost faces. The swing suspended
from the thick branch of the neem, Sabirah, the long swings back and forth,
'Ripe neem seed, when will spring come?' -- damp hair fallen forward on
cheeks wet with raindrops. 'Long live my brother, he'll send a palanquin
for me!' From a distant tree, the voice of the koyal bird.
discovered the neem tree; and I had already heard the voice of the koyal.
Oh, when I heard the koyal for the very first time in this land! I thought,
'Where is my friend's voice coming from?'/3/
It happened when we had left Shamnagar and settled into a rented house.
No houses in that area had been abandoned, so there were no new Emigrants
among the neighbors. It was an open area. Nearby there were a good number
of trees to be seen, and from hearing the koyal's voice I suspected that
there must be mango and jamun trees among them.
Ammi heard the koyal's voice, she was extraordinarily moved: "Ai
hai! The koyal is calling." Then she fell absolutely silent, with her
ears alert for the koyal's voice. And then I saw that her eyes were wet.
me the koyal's voice became a kind of license from the Rehabilitation Department,
for after hearing it I gradually came to feel comfortable in this city.
But the voice had a different effect on Ammi. It awakened sleeping
memories. And to top it all off, Auntie Sharifan suddenly descended
Auntie Sharifan! When did you arrive?" And Ammi rose and impulsively embraced
Bi, I came a month ago. I wanted so much to see you! I asked your whereabouts
until I reached the house in Shamnagar. Munshi Musayyab Husain told me
you'd left there." As she spoke, she took in the house in a single glance:
"Dulhan Bi, I've just come from Munshi Musayyab Husain's house. It's a
real mansion! While they've allotted you this house no bigger than the
palm of your hand!"
you think we had it allotted? We're having to live in a rented house!"
a rented house? Dulhan Bi! Come to your senses! Worthless wretches who
had no homes have had mansions allotted to them, those who had mansions
have to live in rented houses!" Then in a changed voice she said, "Dulhan
Bi, don't take it amiss, but your Pakistan is topsy-turvy. Everybody's
lost all fellow-feeling, it's hard to believe it." Then in a moment she
directed her attention to me: "Dulhan Bi, this is Zakir? Ai hai,
I didn't even recognize him!" She rose and made the gesture of taking my
misfortunes onto herself. "Son, don't you recognize me? I used to wash
your diapers! And when you had typhoid, Bi Amma and I sat up night after
night by your bedside. Dulhan Bi, do you remember?"
I remember. It was a miracle that he lived through it."
Amma never stopped praying. She was on her prayer-carpet night and day.
So, son, what are you doing?"
Sharifan, your Zakir is a Professor in the College."
to God's grace! May the Lord bless you." Then she said hesitantly, "Dulhan
Bi, when I saw Musayyab Husain's son, I couldn't believe it. There, he
used to loaf around in the street. Here, the worthless wretch has been
earning money hand over fist!"
everyone who can earn, earns money hand over fist."
Sharifan again addressed me. "In Pakistan people have all kinds of big
jobs. Why are you wasting your time teaching those useless boys?"
didn't encourage Auntie Sharifan to pursue the matter. She changed the
subject completely. "Auntie Sharifan, tell us something of how things are
things are back there?" Auntie Sharifan sighed. "You want to know how things
are back there. Who's there at all any more? The Big Mansion is full of
refugees. Khan Sahib's house is locked up. The Small Mansion is a complete
ruin. Last summer, when the dust storms came, one of its walls fell in.
Since then, inside and outside are all one. Poor Turab Ali, whose house
was so crowded and bustling, has stayed on in it all by himself. His whole
family has come here, and he's completely alone there."
now he must be quite old?"
a dried-up stick. He lies on a cot in the empty house, coughing."
sighed. "There was a time when families were expanding, and even big houses
began to seem small. Now this time has come, when all the families are
scattered. Now even small houses seem big. Just think about your house
back there! But now who's left? Batul Bi and her younger daughter, two
people and such a big house."
Tahirah has gone?"
her husband came last month from Dhaka and took her away. Now she's sending
letter after letter saying 'You come too.'"
something being arranged for Sabirah?"
have come from a number of places, and I told Batul Bi, 'Look, whatever
boy you can get, marry her off to him and be done with it. It's not as
though there are that many boys around, for you to worry about whether
the match is good or bad! The boys have all gone off to Pakistan.'"
Bi, it was my duty to give advice, and I gave it. Beyond that, people follow
their own notions of what's good for them." Then she said in a low voice,
"I've heard that Sabirah has refused."
has refused?" Ammi said with surprise. "She wasn't that kind of a girl."
says she'll get a job. When I heard that I beat my breast -- that the daughter
of a family of Maulvis should go and work in offices!"
Ammi looked pensive.
of this talk of Sabirah I heard, some of it I didn't hear. As Auntie Sharifan
embarked on this topic, her raised voice had grown softer and softer, until
it assumed the form of a whisper. And just then Irfan arrived, and knocked
at the door.
the matter, aren't you going to the Shiraz today?"
Of course I'm going. Let's go." And I immediately set out with Irfan for
with me also, things left behind were slipping further away. But the things
all around absorbed me more and more. This city with its bustling restaurants,
leafy trees, and and well-developed girls was becoming a part of me, and
moreover its shape was changing before my eyes. Those lanes with collapsed,
burned-out houses testifying to the terrible events that had happened there,
were now fragrant with new houses and new residents, and the streets were
full of a new hustle and bustle. The shopkeepers sitting in the abandoned
shops no longer looked uprooted, the way they had before. Now they looked
as though they'd been sitting there forever. The old and new parts and
elements of the bazaar had already blended together. Shops, shopkeepers,
goods and merchandise in the shops, customers who came and went, passersby
strolling along, all had merged to form a whole. I had started out in this
city as a wanderer, and had made the Shiraz my camp. Friends came by various
roads and with various excuses, and gathered in this camp. One friend's
whole family had been forced to live in one room, or one verandah, of an
abandoned house. When the crowded atmosphere oppressed his nerves, he wandered
through the wide spaces of the city. In his wanderings some auspicious
moment brought him to the Shiraz, and from then on he belonged there. Another
friend had been allotted a big house; fearful of its expanses, he left
it, and roamed through the city. In the course of his roaming he discovered
the Shiraz. Another friend had lived comfortably and securely here in his
own ancestral home since long before Partition. But in this new atmosphere
of houselessness and homelessness, his heart was alienated from his ancestral
home and he chose to be homeless, he came and camped in the Shiraz.
Chapter Four, second half*)
A proverbial warning against inattention: the heedless cow-owner finds
that his newborn female calf has been stealthily replaced by a (much less
valuable) male calf.
This common proverb suggests that someone has obtained what is not suited
A line of Persian verse from the Masnavi of Rumi (1207-73).