C H A P T E R   S E V E N   (first half)

        Cars, taxis, scooter-cabs, horse-carts, all the vehicles were in a hurry and were trying to crawl over each other. It looked as though he'd have trouble crossing the street. He watched the vehicles. It happened that one car, with 'Crush India' written on its bumper, full of passengers, loaded with luggage, rushed rapidly past him. The slogan written on the car's bumper was before his eyes for a little while, then was obscured in a cloud of dust. The car was in such a great hurry that it left the paved road for the dusty shoulder and kept moving, kicking up clouds of dust. Now he examined the passing traffic with care. The cars and taxis had lost their shine. Their bodies were smeared with dirt. Every car, every taxi was full of passengers, loaded with luggage. In the horse-carts the luggage and the passengers were all jumbled in together. Oh God! Where were these people going? When he reached the Shiraz, he told Irfan of his astonishment. "Yar, today there was heavy traffic on our street -- it was hard even to get across. After all, where are people going?"
        "You've only seen the traffic on the road. I've just come from the scene at the train station."
        "What's it like there?"
        "Don't ask! There are so many passengers on the platform that it's hard to breathe, and not a single train coming. It's like Doomsday."
        "And here's the Shiraz empty," he said, casting a glance around. Today the Shiraz was absolutely empty. He and Irfan, two souls, sat at one table. "Yar, today not even our friend the white-haired man has come."
        Suddenly the door opened, and Afzal entered. He cast a glance around: "Empty?"
        "Empty," Zakir answered bleakly.
        "Where have the mice gone off to?"
        "They got tired of waiting for your flute. They were so frustrated that they set off all by themselves and headed for the ocean," Irfan answered sarcastically.
        Afzal looked steadily at Irfan. As he slid out a chair and sat down, he said, "Disgusting man! Order tea."
        "Abdul!" Irfan called out.
        Abdul came instantly, as though he had only been waiting for an order. "Yes sir!"
        Afzal said thoughtfully, "Yar, the birds are very worried. I've just come from the Ravi. When the planes come, the birds from all the neighboring gardens fly up in a state of utter confusion, circle around wildly in the air, and then the poor things hide in the trees again." He paused, and muttered, "The birds in this town are worried."
        "And you?" Irfan looked steadily at him.
        "I'm worried too."
        "Don't you know that those who are worried are leaving the city?"
        Afzal fell into thought. Then he said, "A traveler, passing through a forest, saw that a sandalwood tree was on fire. The birds who had been sitting on its branches had already flown away, but one wild goose still clung to a branch. The traveler asked, 'Oh wild goose! Don't you see that the sandalwood tree is on fire? Why don't you fly away? Don't you value your life?' The wild goose replied, 'Oh traveler! I've been very happy in the shade of this sandalwood tree. Is it right for me to run off and leave it in its time of trouble?'" Afzal fell silent, then said, "Do you know who it was?  --The Buddha told this story, then looked around at the monks, and said, 'Oh monks! Do you know who that wild goose was? I myself was that wild goose.'"
        "Good!" said Irfan sarcastically. "I was hoping to hear you make that very announcement!"
        Afzal stared at Irfan's face, then said, "You're right. Absolutely right. I myself was that wild goose." He stood up and went to the door, but then something occurred to him and he turned back again. He approached Irfan, and said, "The Buddha was truthful, I too am truthful. In fact, in an earlier birth we two were one."
        Afzal had turned and begun to leave, when Abdul brought the tea. Irfan said, "The tea has come."
        Afzal looked benevolently at Irfan. "Irfan, you're a good man."
        Afzal sat down. Irfan poured out the tea. Afzal, drinking tea, said, "Yar, whatever has happened has been for the best."
        "What has been for the best?"
        "That the disgusting people are leaving the city. How pure the Shiraz looks today!" He paused, then said, "Yar, I've thought about it a lot. Finally I've reached the conclusion that virtuous people can save this country."
        "And where are they?" Irfan asked in his special sarcastic tone.
        "Where are they? Fellow, don't you see them? You and I are two. Yar, three are a great many." Then he pulled out a notebook from his pocket, unscrewed the cap of his pen, opened the notebook, and said while writing something, "Irfan, I've forgiven you. I've entered your name on the list of virtuous people." Then he murmured, "In my notebook the list of virtuous people keeps getting shorter and shorter from day to day."
        Suddenly a siren began to wail. Along with it, shrill piercing whistles were being blown. Afzal stood up: "I ought to go."
        "It's the air-raid siren. Don't go out, stay right here."
        "Zakir, you're very fearful." He paused, and said, "Fellow, don't be afraid. Today I've arranged things with Data Ganj Bakhsh. I said, 'Data, shall I take your city under my protection?' He said, 'Take it.' So this city is now under my protection. Nothing will happen to it." With these words, he rose and went out.
        And so, night and day alike, at frequent intervals the siren wailed, and with the siren, the whistles blew. Traffic police and civil defense volunteers appeared in the streets, blowing their whistles, gesturing, and issuing instructions. Traffic on the streets suddenly speeded up, then slowed down, as vehicles left the road and found shelter under trees. Gradually the streets emptied, leaving only the traffic police, and volunteers with whistles clenched in their teeth. The street was empty from one end to the other. On both sides of it long lines of cars, scooter-cabs, taxis, and motorbikes were standing. All the traffic noise, all the sounds of the city were suspended. Everywhere all was motionless and silent. Sometimes a swiftly passing jeep tried to break the silence and immobility, but then it vanished in the space of a breath. In its wake the silence welled up again, the immobility became even more profound. And he sometimes sat with his back against a tree beside the road, sometimes lay in a trench behind the trees among unknown travelers, sometimes crouched in a corner of the Shiraz with his ears pricked up. At every moment he expected some extraordinary noise to disrupt the peace of the atmosphere. But no noise came. No big explosion, no loud voices. Only a low drone in the distance. After it, perfect silence. And then the siren wailed, and this time its sound brought the hidden people out of their holes and corners, and scooter-cabs, motorbikes, cars, taxis instantly set off again with all their noise. Now the air was full of noise, and the traffic was moving at full speed, and again the siren began to wail. Again the whistles blew, again the people hid and the traffic stopped and silence spread all around. How many times this pattern was repeated each day! But when evening fell, the siren wailed in a different tone, so that the movement of traffic and the gait of pedestrians were suddenly disrupted. Instead of stopping, every vehicle dashed madly ahead, and every pedestrian hurried off at top speed. But gradually the noise faded into the distance. Silence spread with the evening haze, and joined with the lengthening shadow of night to fill the whole city. Taking advantage of this silence, the dogs began to bark at nightfall. Then it seemed that much of the night had already passed. So much of the night had passed, and so quickly! But after that the night did fall, and wouldn't even dream of passing. Then suddenly the siren wailed. Again the whistles. At the same time the dogs began to bark with a new enthusiasm. It seemed that all the dogs in the city had suddenly jumped up with a start. The sound of whistles and the dogs' barking saturated his senses. As he lay in bed, it seemed to him that the whole atmosphere was full of that disgusting noise. Lying on a cot nearby, Abba Jan slowly sat up, and began to recite something under his breath. Then Ammi turned over, and sat up.
        "Zakir, son! Are you awake?"
        "Yes, Ammi." And he sat up.
        And after that Ammi raised both hands in prayer: "God protect us!" Abba Jan recited something in Arabic under his breath. Sometimes a prayer in the name of Ali, sometimes the Verse of the Throne. Ammi prayed in a high, quavering voice. Since the war began, at Ammi's wish we sleep in one room. In the darkness of night, three shadows sitting on their cots. Abba Jan is reciting verses from the Quran. Ammi is praying. And at such times I'm unable, even after so many nights of danger, to find any way to occupy my mind.
        In the stillness our ears are trying to make out something. Welling up from the layers of silence, a droning sound. In the day, how low this sound is, but in the night, how sharp and awe-inspiring. Suddenly, from somewhere far off, an explosion.
        "Son! That sounded like a bomb."
        "Where did it fall?"
        Where did the bomb fall? The various lanes of the city rise up in my imagination. I try to guess from which direction the sound of the explosion came, and which neighborhoods are located in that direction. Abba Jan is entirely absorbed in reciting from the Quran, and my mind is wandering through the various lanes of the city. In Shamnagar I suddenly pause. That house in Shamnagar where we camped when we first came to Pakistan rises up in my imagination. Has the bomb fallen there? No, it shouldn't fall there. I have no emotional relationship with that house. The moment we left it, the house slipped out of my memory without leaving any imprint on my heart or mind. But suddenly now that house rises up in my imagination. Before my eyes I see the room in which I spent my first night after coming to Pakistan. No, the bomb shouldn't fall on that neighborhood. The house ought to stay safe, the whole house and the room which holds in trust the tears of my first night in Pakistan.


        I've thought of a means for keeping my mind occupied during the wartime nights, and I've put it into practice. That is, while outside dogs are barking somewhere in the distance, I'm sitting wrapped in a quilt, with a lantern before me, writing a diary.
        The winter nights are long, and wartime nights are even longer. Now the seasons of war and winter have come together. The wartime day passes in listening to good news of victories and rumors of defeats, and in racing the horses of conjecture. How can the night pass? I come home well before curfew time. Ammi Jan tries to arrange it so that we finish eating before the blackout. This is how it works. We eat dinner before the blackout. Then Ammi closes up the kitchen and comes and sits at her ease in the room. At the same time, the sounds of footsteps cease in the lane outside. No sounds of footsteps, no noise and commotion of children, no cries of mothers calling to their children. Complete silence falls. The sound of the volunteers' whistles ceases too. Suddenly the neighborhood dogs begin to bark in chorus. They receive encouragement and support from the dogs in distant neighborhoods. At nightfall, they create the effect of midnight. Silence, then siren and whistles, then the quiet, low drone of planes flying somewhere far off, then siren, then silence. The night stretched and stretched. It simply couldn't be ended. Abba Jan has thought of a good means for passing the long wartime nights. He spreads out his prayer carpet and seats himself, and stays there far into the night. Following his example, Ammi Jan too has begun to prolong her late evening prayer.
        I couldn't find a way to pass those nights. I couldn't read a book for very long by lantern-light. Ammi Jan didn't allow the lights to be turned on. And she was right. The bright electric light always manages to find its way through the cracks somehow or other, and shows outside. Then the volunteers make a commotion, 'Turn off the light,' 'Turn off the light.' And somehow I like the lantern. How lovingly I remember the lantern era, when electricity hadn't yet come to our Rupnagar, and inside in the house and outside in the lane there was only lantern light. When I was older, I passed through all the stages of my education by lantern light alone. But now things are such that I can only remember the lantern era. I can't read a book by lantern light. But I've found out today: I can write.
        The primary point of writing this diary is that during the long wartime nights it will help me discipline my distracted mind, which suffers from insomnia and wanders restlessly all over; it will help me put my mind on a single track and protect myself from confusion of thought. But now I see another advantage of it as well. I'll be writing my wartime autobiography. After the war is over, provided I'm alive, I'll know how many lies I heard and how many lies I uttered and how afraid I was during the wartime nights, how often I trembled. I ought to preserve the record of my lies and my cowardice.


        My patriotic fellow citizens are happy, and most of all our patriotic newspapers are happy. Suddenly their circulation has doubled and tripled. Every day comes news of another victory. Every day people fall on the newspapers and snatch them up, and read the news of victory and are happy.  But,

'London is victorious and the Germans are advancing.'/1/
        Still, today there's news of a powerful, victorious advance onto their soil. Amritsar too has been taken. Khvajah Sahib told us this news so confidently, and ascribed it to such reliable sources, that Abba Jan was forced to believe it. But Abba Jan listens to defeats and victories, both kinds of news, with equanimity. After Khvajah Sahib had told us the news, I watched him carefully. On his serene face I caught a glimpse of satisfaction. When I left the house, from Nazira's shop to the Shiraz I heard the news everywhere that Amritsar had been taken.


        Today's fresh news: The airport at Agra has been totally destroyed. How? In the darkness of the blackout the marble Taj Mahal glimmered. This revealed the location of Agra, and of its airport, which was then destroyed by bombing.
        When people read this news, and heard it with full details from their friends who had contact with informed sources, how happy they were! With this news a fallen reputation was suddenly restored; otherwise, we had already decided that the Taj Mahal, and the history which gave birth to the Taj Mahal, had no connection with Pakistan.
        In this city too there's a building as white as marble. Today when we were sitting in the Shiraz, Irfan said in his sarcastic voice, "Yar, we knocked down the Imperial Hotel and built that pseudo-Taj Mahal,/2/ and now I'm afraid it might take us all with it."
        "Yar, coming back from the office I passed through that street and I really felt afraid. That building can be seen so clearly in the darkness of the blackout, it even looks softly lighted! Enemy planes can easily make it out."
        Even in peacetime, I had always objected to the building's white color. If along with being white a building becomes the Taj Mahal, that's different; otherwise, whiteness usually detracts from a building's dignity. Sun, storms, rain, bird-droppings: these four things combine to bestow venerability and grandeur on a building. But our city's white building is so new and so clean that it will be a long time before it can attain the dignity of buildings that have endured the heat and cold of the seasons.
        In any case, now that the Imperial has been erased like a redundant letter from the city's slate, and Dolly and her admirers are only a legend, and the tawny cat has vanished, this building ought to be preserved. The time will come when its roofs will be black with bird-droppings, and birds will sit tranquilly amidst the immemorial black and white stains.
        In this age one harmful effect of war is that it doesn't allow buildings to acquire dignity. Tall, grand buildings don't have time to become old before some war breaks out, and the bombers destroy them. After the war the cities are planned all over again, starting afresh, and even taller buildings are constructed. But while they're still new, another war starts, and before an air of grandeur and mystery comes to surround them, they fall into heaps of rubble.


        Last night was the limit. After writing my diary I lay down and immediately my eyes closed, but only a little while later Ammi shook me awake. "Son, the siren is sounding."
        The same thing kept happening all night. I don't know how many times the siren wailed. I was very much afraid. I was afraid for this city where I had endured so many sorrows, where I had sat and remembered Rupnagar so vividly, where I kept it alive even now in my imagination. If something happened to this city, how could I bear it? I want to remember my sorrows. If a city is destroyed, the sufferings of those who lived there are forgotten at the same time. The tragedy of this war-stricken time is that our sufferings don't manage to turn into memories. The buildings, the places which hold our sorrows in trust, are reduced to nothingness in a moment by one single bomb.
        I can do nothing else for this city, but I can pray, and I do pray. In my mind is a prayer for Rupnagar and its people as well, for I can no longer imagine Rupnagar apart from this city. Rupnagar and this city have merged together inside me, and become one town.


        Crossing the street in this city is no longer at all difficult. On the first morning of the war, what trouble I had, crossing the street! But then how quickly the rush of the traffic was diminished. As the days passed, the traffic kept lessening. How much the noise of the scooter-cabs diminished, and people's calls and shouts. Sometimes it seems that the only transport left in the city is the bus, which moves along from street to street as regularly as before -- the only difference being that passengers no longer ride perched on the footboards or standing in the aisles. Few passengers, many seats. There aren't even any crowds at the bus stands. When the air-raid siren wails and the traffic police, blowing their whistles, move into the middle of the road, then lines of vehicles form on both sides of the road. At such times it seems that only scooter-cabs and taxis are still running in the city.
        When evening falls, when I return home as the whistles announce the curfew, Ammi asks me for news of the city, and tells me how things are in the neighborhood: today the people of such-and-such a house went off to such-and-such a city. Every morning Khvajah Sahib knocks at the door, and sits at his ease in the drawing room, smoking the huqqah and telling the rumored reports of some new victory; and every day another house in the neighborhood is locked up. Every day Ammi comments on those who have gone.
        Today Ammi seemed especially anxious.  "Ai hai, will we be the only ones left in the neighborhood?"
        "Zakir's mother," Abba Jan said gravely, "Death is everywhere. Where can a man go to flee from it? It is a saying of the Prophet's that those who run from death, run toward death instead."
        I gazed at Abba Jan with wonder. This was the very thing that Abba Jan had said to Bi Amma when the plague spread in Rupnagar and people were closing their houses and leaving the town.
        Two residents have taken leave of our house too. In our courtyard is a guava tree. During the good weather, a pair of bulbuls sniffed out its scent and found it, and settled in and made themselves at home. Ammi was very cross with the bulbuls. "Oh the wretches, they ruin the guavas! As soon as they start to ripen, the wretches stick their beaks in. They might at least let one guava ripen properly!"
        "Ammi, birds too have a right to share in food that comes from the trees."
        Ammi stared at me. "That's a fine idea, that we should do the work and the birds should do the eating!"
        But where are those bulbuls now? On the first morning of the war, both bulbuls came flying along and settled on the guava tree. With zeal and enthusiasm, their beaks were exploring the ripening guavas -- when a plane passed overhead with a tremendous roar. Both birds, frightened out of their wits, left the guavas and flew off. Now a lot of guavas have ripened on our tree. Every day Ammi picks them and makes guava salad. Now no guava is ever marked by a beak. Those guests of our house, those sharers in our food, have gone.
        Today as I left the Shiraz, evening was falling. When I finished my last sip of tea and came out, there was only a little time left until the curfew. Outside everybody was hurrying along. The vehicles were rushing at full speed. Cars, horse-carts, motorbikes, taxis, scooter-cabs. A sort of tumult had broken out, as if a film were just over. I was very much astonished. All day the streets were empty. Where had this flood of vehicles come from? On what invisible streets had these vehicles been traveling, that suddenly they were drawn to Mall Road?
        I called to so many scooter-cab drivers, but no one heard me, no one stopped, although the scooter-cabs were empty. Caught in the traffic, one scooter-cab paused near me. When I pleaded with the driver, he said, "Man, if you want to go to Baghbanpura, I'll take you."
        "Why Baghbanpura?"
        "Because I have to go home, and the siren's about to sound."
        Then I reflected that it would be useless to waste more time searching for transport. At that hour everyone was looking out for himself. It would be better to set out on foot, and perhaps on the way I'd find some scooter-cab going in that direction, or some kind person in a car would generously give me a lift.
        In the twilight, the shutters of the shops were all hastily banging closed. The shopkeepers hurried to fasten the locks, and instantly disappeared, some in cars, some on motorbikes, some on foot. Day and night, no longer owing anything to the favors of electric light, were merging together. Darkness was slowly spreading through the streets and lanes. Somehow the thought occurred to me that in the past, every evening used to come like this. The lampless time of the forest, when hunters, after hunting all day, tried to reach their caves with their prey before evening fell. Then the time when a few towns were settled and lamps began to glow, when the townspeople, after working all through the daylight, headed homeward with long strides as twilight fell, hoping to arrive before the lamps were lit. Then the time when big cities were settled, and walls built around the cities, when caravans endured the hardships of traveling day after day on hot, desolate routes under the fiery sun, and tried to enter the city before nightfall. The caravan that moved too slowly found the gates of the city closed, and spent the whole dark night in the shelter of the walls, unprotected.
        The war threw the life of the city into confusion. Inside me, times and places are topsy-turvy. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea where I am, in what place. The day declines, evening is coming, the forest paths are growing silent. I'm heading, with long strides, toward my cave.


        In the College, classes and such are not being held; so I put in a brief appearance and then come to sit in the Shiraz. Then Irfan comes. Sometimes Afzal too inflicts himself on us. Salamat and Ajmal are nowhere to be seen, but I've heard that after being revolutionaries they've now become ardent patriots, and go around collecting gifts for the soldiers. That's more than we're doing.

'What was I good for when it came to love?'/3/
        We sit in the Shiraz and talk. Our talk too is desultory and goes nowhere. Today I said to Irfan, "Yar! I don't get any benefit out of your newspaper work."
        "What benefit do you want?"
        "Yar, you have a curfew pass, there's the newspaper car, can't you show me the city in the blackout?"
        "I can show you. But it takes courage to see a flourishing city reduced to a desolate condition."
        "I've seen so many curfews in this city! By now, surely I've acquired the courage."
        "The experience of seeing the city under curfew is one thing. This is an absolutely different experience."
        Afzal interrupted: "Irfan is right. Don't look.         You'll be scared."
"Have you seen it, or are you speaking without having seen it?"
        "Fellow! When I talk about it, I've seen it." He paused, then spoke as a frightened man speaks. "Two nights ago when Irfan sent me home in his office car, we passed through dark silent streets, and I looked at the houses to the right and left with terror. Every house was silent and still, as though there were no one inside. It seemed to me that these weren't people's homes, but mouse-holes. The mice sat fearful and shrinking. I was frightened."
        Afzal has gone me one better. To me, when I go out alone at night into the lane for a look around, the houses in my neighborhood seem like voiceless, noiseless caves, enveloped in darkness.

(on to Chapter Seven, second half)


/1/ A line from a cynical World War II poem by Zafar Ali Khan (1873-1956).

/2/ The reference is to WAPDA House, headquarters of the Water and Power Development Authority, a promiment Lahore landmark.

/3/ A line from a ghazal by Firaq Gorakhpuri (1896-1982).



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