C H A P T E R F O U
R (second half)
days when the whole population seemed to be homeless, we knew we had a
home -- as if we had been sitting in the Shiraz through many births, like
faithful priests sitting smeared with ashes, and would sit there for many
births to come. As claims were approved and houses were given to the homeless
and work to the unemployed, we Shiraz-dwellers began to look unsettled,
as though we were the only ones in the city without a house. It was in
those days, when we were going through all this, that Afzal became a restless
spirit and a lover of alcohol, and the acid etched its way into Irfan's
voice. In those days Salamat and Ajmal had not yet known the taste of drinking
and revolution. They were still only "intellectuals," and sat in the Shiraz
arguing merely about literature and art; but the one who made the greatest
name for himself in these intellectual discussions was Zavvar.
was the youngest of us all, but he established himself among us as a learned
scholar, and his brilliance and maturity of mind fully made up for his
youthfully downy cheeks. At such an early age, after reading books of all
types and descriptions, he announced that wisdom doesn't come from books,
but from passing through the experiences of life. Thus, in search of wisdom,
he sat for a few days with Afzal, trying out liquor. Then, believing it
inadequate, he tried marijuana, hashish, and opium. Taking baths, changing
clothes, and shaving he considered to be a waste of time, and insofar as
possible he avoided such extravagances. Partly because his shoes were rather
old, and partly because they were unpolished and covered with dust and
dirt, they looked ancient. He himself took out and threw away their inner
soles, and contrived to leave the nails protruding. He used to walk for
miles, and come back to the Shiraz with his heels covered with blood.
why don't you get a shoemaker to fix your shoes?"
become a man, one ought to have the experience of torment; and great art
is born only through suffering."
always looking for new experiences of torment, he took the Civil Service
exam and passed it.
So now you're going to become an officer in the Civil Service."
a Civil Service officer! I take refuge in God against such a horror!"
all, you took the test of your own free will, and passed it."
man ought to pass through that experience too."
new experience of torment!" Irfan laughed his sarcastic laugh.
it was late at night, and we were walking silently along Mall Road, absorbed
in our situation.
do you know what time it is?"
words displeased Zavvar. "Even if we find out, what difference will it
mean," I said, "at some point a man ought to sleep, too."
he has a place to sleep," Irfan put in.
words too displeased Zavvar. "Irfan, you stay awake out of necessity. For
me staying awake isn't a necessity, it's a choice."
awake, and taking the Civil Service exam," Irfan said with a sarcastic
face grew red. I at once turned toward Salamat. "Salamat, you have a fine
big house. Why do you wander around in the streets with us?"
house isn't mine, it belongs to some Sikh."
the Sikhs have gone."
makes no difference. My father has taken their place."
suddenly remembered that Afzal's house was nearby. "Yar, if you really
need a place to sleep, Afzal's house is right nearby."
on, let's go wake him up."
went a little way, then turned and entered a lane, then knocked at a door.
The door opened, Afzal came out and scrutinized us. "Mice! Why have you
come at this hour?"
sleep," I said.
I don't have any extra cots."
from the pre-cot era."
I don't even have any extra bedding."
have a bare floor?"
that I have, though even that's a bit chewed up."
entered the room. A rickety cot, with dirty worn-out bedding, and a massive
book lying at one end. In one corner, a mat spread on the floor, with books
scattered all over it.
up the heavy book from the bed. "What's this?"
the complete works of Nazir, and it's my pillow."
still need a pillow when you sleep," Zavvar said.
it's like this: awake or asleep, I want to keep my head high."
out on the mat, I ran my eye over the whole room. "Yar, the room's not
bad." I was seeing Afzal's place for the first time.
one room's still good, but the whole rest of the house has been ruined,
and in fact the whole neighborhood. When I came here the lanes were clean
and the houses spotless. Now the lanes are filthy and the houses soiled."
my opinion," Salamat said, "a Muslim can't tolerate very much cleanliness."
house was quite large," Afzal told us, "and all furnished and equipped.
The mice seized all the furniture. They left me as my total share this
image of Lord Krishan."
they did you a favor," Zavvar said.
Afzal looked at Zavvar with innocent wonder.
all, what would you have done with furniture? They've left you the really
exactly right. This is just what I thought myself. Yar, they're good people.
They left the good thing for me. It's the reason that this room is clean,
while the whole rest of the house is soiled."
out on the mat, I was turning over the books. "Afzal, you were sleeping;
you're a big bore."
what were you doing?"
was conversing with the image."
we've come to sleep," Ajmal said.
you go to sleep, when you wake up you'll see that you've turned into mice."
quite right." Zavvar, who had sat down on the cot, stood up. "Come on,
Afzal with us, we went out. "Yar, where are we going?" I asked, as we walked
down a long road.
a very meaningless question," Zavvar said. "Don't ask where and why. The
real point is that we're going."
on, we're going to the Imperial!"
Imperial was the final stopping-place in our night journey. The city was
still unacquainted with air-conditioning, so the Imperial took great advantage
of its expansive courtyard and open-air dance floor. Romantic couples loved
to dance there, holding each other elegantly and decorously under the star-filled
summer night sky. This decorum was endangered when the night grew late
and all the lights suddenly went out and Miss Dolly's appearance was announced.
Then there was darkness all around, with only a spotlight on Miss Dolly.
But Miss Dolly herself, wearing only the most nominal costume, was like
a flash of lightning in the darkness. There was one other living creature
who could sometimes be seen with Miss Dolly in this circle of light: a
tawny cat. But a waiter always came swiftly from the back, and either picked
up the tawny cat or chased her away.
tawny cat was the manager's darling; she habitually lay tucked under his
chair. She contented herself with whatever she got from his table; she
was never seen prowling over toward any of the other tables. But when it
was time for the cabaret, she yawned and arose and went over to the dance
floor, sometimes right near Miss Dolly. A waiter coaxed her away and brought
her back, and she came without a fuss and sat down again by the manager's
chair, or tucked herself underneath it. Dolly and Tawny were the Imperial's
two chief characters.
evening at the Shiraz is enshrined in my memory, set apart from all other
evenings. When the Shiraz, despite being full, was silent, and there was
a sign in the middle of the room, "Please refrain from political conversation."
Even the night before, the Shiraz had been noisy, for at every table and
in every group there had been only one topic of conversation: the coming
elections. The discussants had been loudly and energetically predicting
the downfall of Sikandar Mirza. But today the whole discussion had been
suspended. The people sitting in the room were only drinking tea. They
exchanged a few words among themselves, but in whispers.
the tea was cold," Zavvar said disgustedly, as he drank the last sip.
yar, it was no good, let's order more." With these words Salamat called
tea came and it was hot, but even then they didn't like it. That time it
was Irfan who announced his displeasure: "Yar, what's happened to the Shiraz's
all the friends began to suffer from the feeling that something had happened
to the Shiraz's tea. Then they passed beyond this feeling and began to
think that something had happened to the Shiraz itself.
the Shiraz is deserted now."
yar, how noisy it used to be!"
has everybody gone?"
everyone is as idle as we are."
glared at Zavvar. "Meaning?"
I mean," Zavvar said, "is that we waste a lot of time in the Shiraz."
else should we waste it?" Afzal said promptly.
we have to waste it?"
looked angrily at Zavvar. "Mouse! Time can't be carefully preserved. Time
is wasted no matter what."
fact we had now begun to feel uprooted in the Shiraz. We tried very hard
to stick to the place. Forgetting all our differences, we talked sometimes
about literature, especially modern literature, and sometimes about abstract
art, but somehow or other someone would wander off the topic and end up
in forbidden territory. The conversation shifted from literature to the
situation. But very soon someone would look with a start at the neighboring
table, and fall silent. The man at the next table was looking elsewhere,
but listening to us. It seemed as if his ear were right in our midst. Ears
loomed larger and larger in our imaginations, they came and pressed themselves
against our lips; we fell silent.
we were uprooted from the Shiraz, and uprooted in such a way that our group
was broken up. Only Irfan and I were left, having emigrated from the Shiraz,
sitting in the Imperial. But now the Imperial didn't seem so lively either.
No white faces, no young couples dancing together, no chinking and rattling
of cups and plates, no waiters bustling efficiently back and forth. Many
of the tables remained empty. One or two tables were filled. On the open-air
dance floor, some middle-aged Anglo-Pakistani couples wearily danced. The
band too played in a tired-out way. The tawny cat sat next to the manager's
chair, with her eyes closed. Only rarely did she rise and go onto the dance
floor, and meekly say 'Meow,' and voluntarily turn back. Why should she
stay on the dance floor? Miss Dolly's cabaret no longer took place. Some
high-spirited admirer had whisked her away. When she went, the Imperial's
vitality went with her.
today I won't be coming here."
gotten a job on the newspaper, and I have night duty."
at Irfan with surprise. "You're going to work?"
have to." He sighed.
right, so you won't come here tomorrow." I fell into thought. "Why should
I come here either, all by myself -- "
She left me and went away. She was preparing to do an M.A. in History.
She first came to me bearing a letter of recommendation, and asked my help
in her preparation. She appeared regularly, sat with her notebook open,
jotted down notes with great earnestness, and left. She wouldn't by any
means start any casual conversation. Not that I wanted to chat with her,
anyway. She seemed a very plain, colorless girl. Why would I chat with
her? But that day she appealed to me. It was morning. I had just had a
bath and changed my clothes before leaving home, and she too looked shining
clean. In that full bus, after making myself a place to stand among the
ladies' seats, I saw that she was standing in front of me. So close that
her white neck and pink earlobes were within the reach of my breath. I
found myself breathing a little faster.
she got down from the bus, I got down too. It took me a little while to
force my way through the crowd and get to the door. In this small amount
of time, she vanished. Well, it didn't matter. I thought she'd be coming
to study that evening, but that evening she didn't come. Well, tomorrow
evening for sure, I consoled myself. But she didn't come that evening either.
Her not coming made me even more eager.
next day I phoned her and, as her teacher, asked why she hadn't come. She
gave some meaningless answer, and hesitantly said, "I'll come today."
day passed with the weight of a mountain, as I waited for the evening.
But finally the evening came, and she too came. When she came, she sat
down in silence. The concentration with which she used to ask questions
and jot down notes was no longer in evidence. Today my heart wasn't in
the teaching, either. I wrapped up the lesson quickly. Then she was silent,
and I was silent.
I finally opened my mouth.
response, she lifted her eyes to me, but I didn't know what I'd wanted
to say to her. I was lost, dissolved, as though I didn't exist at all.
she rose. I too rose, confused and flustered. I escorted her to the door.
As I was leaving the room I said softly, "Tasnim!"
paused, but I was struck dumb. Then with the speed of lightning she left
the room. I was left standing there.
didn't come again.
had gone. My evening's occupation was over. Empty inside, indifferent outside,
I wander in the city. For no reason my footsteps turn toward the Shiraz.
Abdul is astonished. "Zakir Sahib! Where have you been?"
here. Where are the others?"
has been coming. Shall I bring tea?"
sitting alone in a corner, drinking tea. Around me all the faces are new
and strange. Oh, so the white-haired man still keeps coming. He's a man
of fixed principles. But where are my friends? How strange it is. In the
Shiraz we were once the main group. Now we're gone as completely as though
we'd never been here at all.
suddenly enters. "Yar, where is everybody? I've worn myself out looking
for you. I didn't find a single mouse. I'd heard that you and Irfan had
taken to sitting in the Imperial."
I went there with the idea that I'd find you there. Yar, that place is
in terrible shape. The cabaret show was going on, the lights were out.
Well, I sat down. I said to myself that when the lights came on I'd search
out those mice. When I look at the floor, no Miss Dolly. A disgusting woman
was dancing. The people who praised her sounded just as disgusting. When
the lights came on and I looked around, it was all boorish rustic types.
I cursed you both and came away."
was telling the truth. This was the Imperial's new style. I too had gone
there one evening. When I saw how things were, I left again.
where have the good people gone?" As he spoke, Afzal was looking all around.
He muttered, "Who are these people? Where has everybody gone?"
has joined the Civil Service and left the city."
can go jump in the lake. Tell me about the others."
might go off to America, he's running around trying to get a scholarship.
You can usually find him in the U.S.I.S. Ajmal has been swallowed up by
his Basic Democracy job."
got a job with a newspaper."
Afzal grumbled, "What are you doing?"
Afzal looked me over judiciously from head to foot. "Well, you're a good
in the Shiraz chewing over literature and art and politics isn't everything."
listened gravely to my words. "You're right. Love is a bigger task than
that. But, fellow, to make love, a man ought to be virtuous."
you're certainly virtuous yourself."
I'm virtuous, but I'm very much occupied here."
Don't you know how much of my time is spent in the company of birds and
trees? I don't have time for love. You make love, I'll pray for you."
what good will prayer do me now? She was here, but now she's gone away."
I heaved a long sigh.
regarded me very sympathetically, and advised me, "Fellow! Keep the door
open, and stay awake."
door that had been closed for so long, she opened as she left. Now I couldn't
close it. The door stayed open, and I kept waiting. She didn't come, someone
else came. I ran into Anisah at a music conference. I was surprised to
see her: "What, you! When did you get back from London?"
fact, what surprised me wasn't that she had suddenly come back from London.
What surprised me was that she had come back with a new elegance. When
I had seen her in the Imperial, I hadn't been struck by her at all at the
time. She had even shown a bit of interest in me, but I didn't give her
the smallest chance. How could I have? The door was closed inside me. And
furthermore, at that time she wasn't exactly eye-catching. Her figure seemed
utterly flat. But now her body was full of curves, and her breasts were
very apparent. Her plump, rounded arms were bare, her waist and hips swayed
attractively, her full breasts seemed to quiver when she moved. With wonder
and joy, I looked her over from head to foot. "Anisah! London has transformed
accepted my words as a compliment. She laughed, then said, "It's getting
on into the night -- when will this conference be over?"
we have to wait for it to be over?"
immediately went out. When I opened the car door, she looked at me with
surprise. "Why, you've gotten a car! That means I'm not the only one who's
changed, you've changed too."
ones run more smoothly." She burst out laughing.
we go somewhere and have tea?"
course. Why else did we leave the conference? How is the Imperial nowadays?
In London I only missed one single thing here -- the Imperial."
Imperial has changed too. But it's changed differently. When you see it
now, you'll be dismayed."
I certainly ought to go and see it."
the car toward the Imperial.
the Imperial had gone even further downhill. No cabaret, no band playing.
The tables were mostly empty. Here and there a customer or two sat drinking
tea, in silence. The tawny cat lay next to the manager's chair, her eyes
closed. Then she rose with a kind of lassitude. She yawned, and straightened
out her body. Then, moving wearily, she passed under various empty tables
until she paused by a customer eating shami kabobs and gave a meek 'Meow.'
But when she saw his indifference she went on. She reached the dirty, dusty
dance floor, sat down in the middle of it, and closed her eyes.
watched this whole scene with sadness. She said, "The Imperial has gone
into a total decline. How did it happen? When I left, the Imperial was
really at its peak. Who could have imagined then that such a fate would
the trouble with peaks. Those who are on them never even imagine that they
could be brought down from such a height! And when the decline starts,
it can't be stopped halfway. The decline doesn't stop even for a moment,
until it reaches its limit."
started talking about the decline of nations. I was talking about the Imperial."
and wherever decline begins, it works in exactly the same way."
gave me a meaningful look. "Meanwhile you seem to have become a real intellectual.
Come on, let's not stay here."
we got in the ear, I made a suggestion: "The Lorraine will be open now.
We can get good tea there."
we sat in the Lorraine she said mischievously, "So I've changed since I've
been in London?"
looked her over from head to foot and was delighted. "You've absolutely
I see that you've stayed right here and changed."
that now you can talk to a girl, and drink tea with her in a hotel late
at night." She paused, then said, "Since I left, haven't you made some
experiments in love?"
haven't, but I want to."
tell lies. Your behavior shows that you've made the attempt. If it didn't
succeed, that's another matter. It's not so important. The first attempt
usually turns out that way. Have another try, success will crown your efforts."
not over-age for it?"
Over there, in matters of love the real period starts after forty. And
the man who has white hair at his temples has the girls swarming around
him like flies."
I ran a finger over the hair at my temples. "When will that fashion arrive
already arrived. Enter the field. Start an affair with some girl soon.
Tell me, who will you start with?"
shouldn't I start with you."
me!" She looked at me with some surprise and then laughed indifferently.
"You really have got nerve!"
what's the harm?"
harm," she said composedly. "But I'm a difficult girl. You won't be able
to keep up with me." She thought, then said, "Listen! If you were fixed
up with Raziyah, how would that be?"
don't care for her."
who do you care for?"
see!" She smiled. "You really are filled with manly courage! That's a fine
route from the Lorraine to her house, I made a further display of manly
courage. While driving, I took one hand away from the wheel and put it
on her bare arm. She neither praised me for this manly courage, nor did
anything to dampen my enthusiasm. My hand slid along her arm and reached
her shoulder. Traversing her shoulder, it began to move toward her breast;
then she instructed me, "No further."
can't expect reasons for everything. I've told you, and that's enough."
I want to." As I spoke, I pulled the car a little off the road and braked
to a stop. It was very late at night, and the road was empty from one end
to the other. I slid over near Anisah, so near that I could feel with my
body the warmth and softness of her hips. I slowly ran my hand over her
hair, my fingers came along with her loose curls and slid down to her soft
shoulders, from her shoulders to her smooth arms. Then I slowly and gently
put my hand on her swelling breast. She lifted her eyes and looked at me
seriously. "What did I tell you?"
hand stayed in place, amidst the warmth and softness. She went on looking
at me. She had given an order, and was waiting for it to be carried out.
I slowly removed my hand. But we went on staring at each other. I slid
nearer to her. My lips moved toward her moist lips.
a tone of finality she said, "No."
a difficult girl. You're a simple type."
not simple any longer."
She looked at me archly.
suddenly laughed, the way people laugh at the innocent words of a child.
"All right, let's go, it's very late. I have to get some sleep."
her house, as she got out of the car she said, "Come on, I'll make you
surely not polite to disturb your family so late at night."
my room is off by itself. I can make coffee right in my room."
why should you go to all that trouble so late at night? I don't want to
smiled and said, "All right, good night!"
night," I said, and started the car.
I had gone some distance, I hesitated. Why had she detained me? I braked
to a stop in the middle of the road, and fell into thought. Then I swiftly
started the car, turned around, and headed back at full speed toward her
my car into the driveway. I stopped, and examined the room which Anisah
had said was hers, and which was indeed off by itself. And she had also
told me that she stayed up till late at night, reading. But her room was
submerged in darkness. Not the slightest ray of light showed through any
window, any pane. I turned the car around, feeling very downcast, and went
As I was walking along, I came to a stop. The Imperial lay in utter ruin.
The whole structure had collapsed. The dance floor was deeply buried in
there staring. I had to go on, but my feet wouldn't move. I turned back
instead. As I turned back, my eye fell on the tawny cat. It was dusk, and
she was wandering around near the dirt-covered dance floor like a shadow.
How dirty and scrawny she looked!
Are you back again?" Afzal saw the group together again, and was astonished.
didn't go anywhere," Salamat and Ajmal said together.
Afzal addressed himself to Salamat: "That scholarship you were going to
get for America, what happened to it? I thought you'd be there by now."
Salamat said scornfully. "You know I'm anti-American! They offered me the
scholarship, but I rejected it."
watching Salamat, smiled without saying a word.
Why are you laughing?"
nothing. I won't say a word. Irfan brought his smile under control,
and assumed a grave expression. Salamat looked at him angrily, but remained
Ajmal announced with extreme seriousness, "I couldn't reconcile myself
with the Ayub dictatorship. I quit."
were thrown out?" Afzal again looked meaningfully at Irfan.
lips are sealed," Irfan said, with a small smile.
too had begun to be seen again in the Shiraz. After slaving away all day
and all night on the newspaper, he had eventually found ways to wrap up
his work and escape from the office.
by one all my friends came back, but the vanished days never came back.