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


        I'm sitting in a cave. Outside stands the black night, with its jaws opened wide. Siren, whistles, the sound of dogs barking -- but human voices absent. As though there had been an Emigration, and people had gone somewhere else. The city held captive in the spell of war. From time to time all the neighborhood dogs bark so furiously that they seem to be entering my cave. Then they fall silent, but the sound of barking continues in the distance. At night, when you're traveling through the forest, that's how it is. From unseen, unknown towns, the barking of dogs comes, and keeps coming. It becomes a kind of encirclement, as though the traveler were moving within an enclosure of barking dogs. As though the dogs had surrounded the whole terrestrial sphere. I'm encircled by fear. Deep in the forest, far from my cave. Times and places are scrambled inside me. Where am I going? In what time? In what place? Every direction confused, every place disordered.

        . . . Emerging from the forest, I entered a town. But what kind of a town? Not a trace of any son of Adam. Empty streets, desolate lanes, the shops closed, the mansions locked up. My dear friends! For a long time I wandered around in amazement. Finally when I saw a mansion with big gates, I felt some hope that perhaps there might be people in it. I knocked and cried out, "Is anyone there?" No answer. I knocked again with force, and loudly cried out, "Is anyone there?" I heard nothing but the echo of my own voice. Terror overcame me. I said to myself that I should leave the town, for fear that some calamity would overtake me. As I was thinking this, I saw a lake. Its water was partly clear, partly muddy. In the midst of the lake, an elephant and a tortoise were fighting with each other, but neither of them won, and neither of them was defeated.
        I was standing there in astonishment, watching the fight, when a faqir appeared. He approached the lake. Pausing, he cast a sad glance at the elephant and tortoise, and sighed. Then he said, "If only they were devoid of knowledge, and their words were without power!"
        These words of the faqir's surprised me. I came and stood before him with my hands folded and petitioned, "Oh venerable sir, what have you known, and what have you seen, that you have brought such words to your lips?" He replied, "Oh dear son, three things debase a man: a woman when she is not faithful, a brother when he asks for more than his right, knowledge when it comes without hard labor. And three things deprive the earth of peace: an ignoble man when he rises to high rank, a learned man when he begins to worship gold, a master when he becomes cruel."
        When I had heard these words, I stared at the venerable man's face, and began to try to unravel the knot of his words with the fingernails of comprehension. When I failed to unravel it, I petitioned, "Oh venerable man, explain the point of these abstractions."
        Then he asked me, "Dear son, in what state have you seen this town?" I said, "Venerable sir, I have seen this town uninhabited."
        Then the faqir spoke as follows: "Dear son, the story of this town is that its chief was a man of pure heart and virtuous character. In addition to worldly wealth, he was also rich in the wealth of the spirit. When his life was drawing to a close, he sent for his sons, who were two in number, and embraced each of them. This relieved his soul. He said, 'Sons! I have divided my knowledge equally between you both, and, oh my sons! after I am gone divide the rest of my property between you in the same way, for I fear the day might come when you would seek for more than your right, and would bring down disaster on the Lord's creatures.'
        With these words, the virtuous man drew his last breath, and left this death-bound world, and set out for the world of life everlasting. Both sons mourned him very much, but when they sat down to divide the property, they forgot their father's injunction and began to demand more than their right. From this a quarrel resulted. In the course of their quarrel, they used the power of the knowledge bequeathed by their father, to curse each other. The elder looked at the younger with angry eyes, and said in the tone of a curse, 'You are a tortoise.' The younger looked with hatred at the elder and said in the tone of a curse, 'You are a rutting elephant.' So after that the younger became a tortoise, and the older took on the form of a rutting elephant. Ever since then they have both been mad with rage, and have been fighting."
        Hearing this moral tale, I inquired, "Oh venerable sir! What will be the outcome of this battle?" He replied, "The water of the lake will become muddy." I said, "That has already happened." He replied, "Even muddier." I asked, "How muddy?" He said, "So much so that the lake will become a swamp, and dust will blow through the town."

        . . . Full of fear, I left the deserted town. I went in search of an inhabited town. I wandered through forests and jungles. The Lord had so arranged it that I saw signs of habitation in the distance. I set out on that road. When I drew near, what did I see? A new land:  a beautiful city with a pleasing atmosphere. In the gardens were all kinds and species of fruit-bearing trees, all colors of roses and flowers, sweetly singing birds on every branch, young deer as swift as the wind on every path. Sweetly scented streets, perfumed lanes. The bazaars so crowded that shoulder rubs against shoulder, water vessels clink rhythmically together. The water-carriers, draped in red garments, go along with their water-skins on their shoulders, sprinkling the streets. The bearers of drinking water serve up overflowing cups drawn from the fountain of Paradise. The shops are clean and elegant, there is one goldsmith's shop after another. Balconies, mirror-walled rooms; a delicately beautiful woman swings in a swing, glancing at her lovely face in a tiny mirror-ring. Admiring herself, she says, Oh my, oh my Lord! One abode of beauty wears a robe of flowing-water fabric, so that the gaze travels clearly through it from one side to the other. One rose-faced woman has dark collyrium around her eyes, a dark red color-paste on her lips, a bosom in full flower, a veil slipping down from her shoulders, a belly like a tablet of sandalwood, a navel like a golden cup, below it a place like a juicy sweet. Beyond this the curtain is drawn, modesty holds sway. 'Guess from my garden what my springtime is like.'/4/
 He who has Fortune for a helper, and courage by his side, let him dive in and bathe in the Ganges of accomplishment: swimming is auspicious for the courageous.

        . . . One time I became Abul Hasan of the Thousand and One Nights. I wandered in streets and lanes, and was amazed. But gradually my eyes opened, and a strange scene was before them. I was stupefied. Whenever I looked at a head, I found it gone. The man healthy and well, the head gone. I was inwardly astonished: is this a dream, or the waking world? I rubbed my eyes and looked; still the same scene. Oh God, where have these people's heads gone? For a long time I remained silent. Finally the hem of self-restraint slipped from my grasp. I inquired of a passerby, an old man who had a reliable face, "Oh sir, don't men have heads in your city?" This aged man looked me over from head to foot with wonder, and said, "Oh young man! It seems that you're a stranger in this city, that you ask such a question. So if you don't know, be silent, and if you do know, even then be silent, for the walls have ears." Then the old man took me to his own house, and entertained me lavishly, and said, "Oh dear friend! Hear my words: our heads have become food for our king's serpents." Hearing this, I was much amazed. Then the old man explained, "Oh my dear friend! Hear my words: on our king's shoulders, right and left, two serpents are always hissing. Men's heads are their food. Every day in this city lots are cast, every day two men are seized and their heads are cut off and fed to the Glorious King's serpents./5/ And now in this city the people who still have their heads are so few that you can count them on your fingers. But for how long? If someone's head wasn't cut off yesterday, it will be today; and if it isn't today, it will be tomorrow. And hear my words: tomorrow at the crack of dawn the drum will sound, and after that the lots will be cast."
        Hearing this stunning story, I was drowned in the whirlpool of amazement. As I gradually came to my senses, my inquiring curiosity awoke, and at first dawn I prepared to go to the appointed place. The old man tried to detain me: "Oh rash and shortsighted one, have pity on your youth, and abandon this intention! We are the king's people, so we are forced to witness this scene. You are endangering yourself for nothing. The king's men will see you, and write your name down too, and include you in the casting of lots!" At this opposition, the flames of my curiosity leaped up higher. I paid absolutely no heed to the old man's advice. My mind was obsessed with the desire to see what events Nature would bring to fruition that day, and with whose head Death would play.
        When I approached the palace, what did I see but a big crowd, including both the great and the small. Rich and poor, noble and base-born, needy and wealthy, beggars and benefactors, grain-sellers and grocers, aristocrats and vazirs all stood together and awaited the result of the casting of lots.
        When the names emerged, the people were stupefied. They all stared at each other, they began to wring their hands in grief, to sigh and lament. I asked the old man, "What unfortunate ones has Death selected, that the people are grieving so much?" At which he sighed and spoke as follows: "Oh dear friend! The two upon whom the lot has fallen today are the choicest pearls of wisdom of the pearl-showering court. They are men of elevated thought and radiant intelligence, whose minds have a far reach. In knowledge and learning they are peerless. They are divers in the ocean of wisdom. The fame of their wisdom reaches from Rome to Syria. They understand the mysteries of sovereignty. They unravel the largest possible knots with the fingernail of strategy. Now when they are deprived of their heads, the lamp of knowledge will be extinguished, the city will be left without wisdom."
        Sighing and mourning were of no avail, the casting of lots was the handwriting of fate. Who could evade it? Both wise men's heads were cut off and placed before the serpents on a platter. But the serpents struck once with their jaws, then turned away and began to hiss with rage. The king looked angrily at his retinue and asked, "Traitors! What did you mix into this delicate food, that the serpents aren't eating it and are hissing with rage?" Those around him petitioned with folded hands, "Refuge of the World, how could we ever presume to mix anything into the food of the exalted serpents? But in fact, what is there for the serpents to dine on at all? The skulls of those choicest wise men of the age were empty of brains."

        . . . I feared this populous city more than the empty desolate city. Somehow or other, keeping out of sight, I managed to steal away from it. I rendered thanks to the True Provider for allowing me to bring my head safely away. Abandoning all thought of villages, cities, towns, I wandered in the wilderness. I am wandering still. Sometimes in the desert with no grass or water, sometimes in dense forests. Towns pursue me with their barking dogs. In the forest I never saw a single dog. Dogs are in towns. When dogs bark, in towns and their outskirts, it sounds at night in the forest as though all the dogs in all the towns are facing toward the forest and barking. I'm surrounded. Towns seem to have encircled the forest on all sides. The dogs' voices come from all around, as though they have formed a giant ring and are facing me and barking. How long the nights are in the forest. How far I am from my cave -- the wail of the siren, whistles, silence --

        "Son! Put out the lantern, its light might be seen outside," Ammi Jan says in a frightened whisper, so that her voice won't reach up to the airplanes.
        "Yes, all right."
        I put out the lantern. There should be perfect darkness in the cave.


        All daytime affairs have passed away with the day, now here I am and here's the night. How long the wartime nights are! And there's just no real end to them. As though I'm walking in the forest, as though I've been traveling for centuries. The silence of the forest and the stillness of centuries. Dogs in the sleeping towns, jackals in the forest. Their voices don't disturb the world's sleep, they make it deep. Sleeping towns, sleeping centuries, the sleeping forest can all awaken at any moment.  As they've begun to awaken inside me --

        . . . I was tired from the long trip. I stumbled as I walked. Under a tree, on a leopard-skin, with his glorious long locks of hair twisted up together, his eyes closed, his breath controlled, he sat there like an old banyan tree with its branches intertwined in the midst of the forest. Before him stood Nandi the Bull, and in his twisted hair a dove had built a nest and was sitting on her eggs; she flew up with a whir of wings when she saw the raja coming. He lifted his radiant eyelashes and looked at the raja, and asked, "Oh raja, will you take or will you give?"
        "I'll fight. If I can take I'll take, if I'm forced to give I'll give."
        "How will you fight?"
        "As heroes always fight. I'll put an arrow in my bow, and fall upon the enemy."
        "What bow and what arrows?"
        "The bow of intelligence and the arrows of questions."
        "Then raise your bow, and shoot an arrow."
        "Speak: what never has its fill of what?"
        "Oh raja! Eight things never have their fill of eight things."
        "What eight things never have their fill of what eight things?"
        "The ocean, of water from the rivers; the fire, of fuel; the woman, of sexual pleasure; the raja, of dominion; the rich man, of wealth; the learned man, of knowledge; the foolish man, of folly; the tyrant, of oppression."
        Having heard this, the raja touched his feet. "Blessings upon you, great sage, I bestow upon you one hundred cows."
        "I accept the gift.  Ask something more."
        "Oh great sage, how shall I walk?"
        "Walk by the light of the sun."
        "And when the sun goes down?"
        "Then walk by the light of the moon."
        "And when the moon goes down?"
        "Then light a lamp, and walk by its light."
        "And when the lamp goes out?"
        "Then light the lamp of the inner self, and walk by its light."
        The raja again touched his feet. "Blessings upon you, great sage, I bestow upon you one hundred cows more."
        The raja again raised his bow. He had begun to shoot arrows, when the sage said, "Raja, stop now."
        "Why should I stop?"
        "Because in this world cows are few, and questions many."

        . . . I looked at him, he looked at me: "What do you want?"
        "Peace?" He looked at me in surprise. "In this ocean of existence, peace?" I went on staring. The dove's nest was empty. He jerked his head, so that the eggs fell and broke. Siren -- then the dogs will wake up -- 


        "Is it news, or a rumor?"
        "Sir! It's confirmed news. The Seventh Fleet has set out."
        "Really. It's about to enter the Bay of Bengal. Now the tide of the war is going to turn."
        In the Shiraz, at Nazira's shop, in our house where Khvajah Sahib brings the news moment by moment to Abba Jan, everywhere people are discussing America's Seventh Fleet. It's as though dried-up shoots of rice are feeling the rain. I remember that I saw a poster somewhere on this theme. Where? On what wall? I call to mind the various walls of the city. Which wall was it? I wander around, looking at wall after wall -- so it was this wall!

        . . . The wall of the Jama Masjid, there's a biggish poster on it with a picture of a sword and shield. It gives the news that the Persian Army has set out, and has almost reached Jahanabad. The people are gathered, as though the whole of Jahanabad has congregated there.
        "Friend, what kind of newspaper is that? What news does it give?"
        "Well, sir, the news is clear -- the Persian Army is coming at full speed. You can consider them as already here; the days of the English are numbered."
        "No, really?"
        "Well, sir, you can read it for yourself."
        "Really? Then there'll be a lot of fighting."
        "Indeed, sir, there certainly will."
        "But my dear friend! The English aren't just an easy morsel. The Ganges flows under their feet!"
        "True, sir! But then, Persia doesn't piss a thin stream either! The English will be ready to cry for their mothers' milk!"
        A wave of happiness ran through Jahanabad, rain fell on the dried-up fields. People can hardly contain their joy, they strut when they walk.
        "Well, you clod, you've dressed up like a soldier today! Bastard, you think so much of yourself, have you got a girl?"
        "You babbler, you don't know enough to come in out of the rain!"
        "If I don't know, then tell me. Have you cooked up some tall tale again?"
        "Why you dolt, the Persians are coming!"
        "If you don't believe me then go to the Jama Masjid, there's a bulletin posted there."
        "What would the Persians come here for, man?"
        "Man, you must have dropped something on your head! Why, they're coming to have a bout with the English!"
        "Swear by my head."
        "I swear by your head. Now those bastard English will get what's coming to them!"
        "Then we're in luck."
        "We're in luck and more luck."
        "Hey, Otter! Will you have a chance to use your binot?
        "If the chance comes -- you just keep a cube of copper ready for me! I'll dislocate those bastard Britishers' wrists for them!"

        But I couldn't linger too long here. It was almost curfew time. I stopped a scooter-cab driver.
        He said, "Sir, I'll have to come back in the blackout."
        "Yar, I'll give you more than the meter says."
        "All right, get in."
        The moment he started the scooter-cab, he began. "Sir, what news of the war?"
        "No fresh news."
        "Then I'll tell it to you! The Chinese Army has come."
        "Who says?"
        "A gentleman was riding in my scooter-cab, he told me. It's certain news, sir. The Chinese Army fights all the night-battles."
        "What's so special about the night ones?"
        "In the day, they'd be recognized. At night, they fight in disguise."

        . . . "Friend, who is this Lady in Green?"
        "A Lady in Green. I've heard of her. 'This is a new flower blooming!'"/6/
        "Friend, you say you've heard of her. There are people who have seen her. She falls on the enemy like a bombshell from the Unseen. She dices the Khakis up like carrots and radishes! When the field is won, she vanishes. After that, not even the hem of her garment can be seen."
        "Indeed, sir! It's a strange affair."
        "Oh sir! You're speaking of the Green Lady. Let me tell you about it. Your humble servant has seen her with his own eyes."
        "Really, my friend?"
        "Sir, anyone who tells lies is an infidel. When the fighting was going on at the Kabuli Gate post, then, sir, I too prepared for death and leaped into the battle. I swear by Ali the Chosen One, the Lion of God, I reduced the bastard Khakis to wrecks! As we're fighting, what do I see but a lady dressed from head to foot in green, with a veil over her face, a sword in her hand, mounted on a horse, falling upon the Khakis' ranks! I was amazed: who can this lady be! Sir, she did wonders. She cut such a swath with her sword, that heads flew like ripe grain! She sliced the bastards in pieces like bread. The Khakis fled with their tails between their legs  When the battle was over, and I turned to look -- well, sir, she had vanished. I searched with my eyes here and there, but there wasn't the slightest trace of her."


        . . . Today I'm wandering in the city. Things don't look so good. The city is in bad shape. The posts are deserted. I see more soldiers in the bazaars than at their posts. The Easterners who came out of Meerut like a blazing flame seem now to have grown cold. They eat different kinds of sweets, they take marijuana, they have a special taste for jalebis. From every snack-seller, they demand jalebis along with their snacks. The city's snack-sellers are tired of the Easterners. As for Bakht Khan's holy warriors, the chance to show their mettle in the battlefield has slipped out of their hands.
        The Royal Court, which once showered pearls, is now shadowed by misfortune. A web of conspiracy has been spread there, the trustworthy have become untrustworthy. The Court beauties are still there, but they bat their eyelashes at strangers. Bakht Khan, a man of the battlefield, has come to Court and been checkmated. The generalship has been divided and shared out. Now even Mirza Mughal has a share in it. Too many cooks spoil the broth. And indeed Mirza Ghaus has leaped into the midst of it. The Timurid blood is no longer hot enough for anything but boasting and blustering. Sometimes it's hot enough to suffice for the ladies who have fallen into their hands. Mirza Ghaus boasts too much about his fighting, and fights too little; but even more than his boasting, this verse by His Majesty echoes in the air:

'The cannons cannot; so look out for your life
Ai Zafar! the sword of India is done for!'/7/
           May the Lord have mercy on this city. I have seen the walls of the Red Fort turn pale.
           The simple-hearted people of Delhi are still waiting for the Persian Army.


           . . . The moment I stepped outside the door, there was such an explosion that all the doors and walls trembled. It seemed as though someone had exploded gunpowder right in the street. When I went on, in Chauri Bazaar I saw a lively crowd of Easterners around a snack-seller's shop. Some were shouting for snacks, others clamoring for jalebis. I asked them what had caused the explosion.
           "What did you say, you there?" one asked, cramming a handful of sweets into his mouth.
           "Just now there was an explosion, as if a cannon had been fired right nearby."
           "Some son of a bitch must have set off some gunpowder," another said carelessly.
           "Look, you!" a third said angrily. "All this war stuff can go take a flying leap. You leave us alone to tend to our bellies. Go on, get the hell out of here!"
           I went on, feeling abashed. Are these the men who will protect the Throne of Delhi?
           I stand between the tomb of Hare-bhare Shah and the Jama Masjid, and look toward the sky. Oh my Lord! While His Majesty the Emperor, the Shadow of God, is here, what shadow is it that I see trembling on the minarets of the mosque and the turrets of the Fort?
           A naked faqir, with a grey beard, long dirty tangled hair, and eyes like glowing coals, screamed wildly, "Get away, don't you see that there are corpses here?"
           "Corpses? What corpses? Where are they?" I cast a glance around.
           The faqir fell silent. He muttered, as though talking to himself, "Keep your mouth closed. Who told you to reveal the mysteries of the Lord?" Then he went off toward Hare-bhare Shah's tomb. As he neared the tomb, he vanished from my sight.


        . . . Today is September 14, Doomsday./9/ The cruelest day of the year '57. When I left the house, I saw the city in utter disarray. I stood there astonished -- when suddenly there was a loud explosion, as though a hundred rifles had been fired together. I was bewildered. I didn't know where I should go. My feet of their own volition took me toward the Red Fort.
        When I reached the gate of the Fort, what do I see but the gate closed, the lock fastened, no doorkeeper, no watchman. Near the gate a cannon has been mounted, but there's no one to fire it. My mind is confused; it's stranger than strange. The Fort of Shah Jahan locked up -- ? Finally someone appeared. I recognized him. It's the doorkeeper of the Pearl-showering Court. Where is he running off to? I stopped him. He kept on running, and said, "If you know what's good for you, you'll get away from here. A platoon of Khakis are coming."
        "And His Majesty the Shadow of God?"
        "His Majesty the Shadow of God is at Humayun's Tomb. The princes and princesses are scattered here and there. They've taken refuge wherever they can. The Fort is empty, it rings like a hollow pot."
        I turned back. The streets were dead silent, but from the distance came the sound of cannons being fired. Sometimes one way, sometimes another. Sometimes by covered paths, sometimes on the open road. Sometimes the street was empty from one end to the other. Sometimes terrified people, with small bundles clutched under their arms, followed by their families, were running away. In Chauri Bazaar I saw a different scene. People stood with sticks and bamboo rods. One man left his house carrying a slat from a bed-frame, and came and joined the ranks. Another came from his house armed with a blow-pipe, and took up a firm position in the middle of the street, flexing his biceps.
        I approached them and asked confidentially, "Dear friends, what is your intention?" The one with the blow-pipe thundered, "To fight!"
        I looked with amazement at the one with the blow-pipe, then at the one with the bed-frame slat, and then went on. Then my amazement somehow subsided. All right, fighters can fight even with blow-pipes and tongs and bed-frame slats. Those who won't fight will abandon charged cannons and loaded rifles and run off.
        Passing by the Jama Masjid, I paused. I couldn't move. A carpet of corpses had been spread. From the direction of Hare-bhare Shah's Tomb a furious voice came: "Who told you to linger here? Go away!" I looked that way. It was that same naked, mad faqir. A fit of shivering came over me. Walking swiftly, I went on. From then on I didn't look to one side or the other. I went running home.

        At home, Ammi Jan sat weeping floods of tears. When she saw me, her grief was intensified. "Son, what will become of Batul?"
        Abba Jan sat there, patient and serious. He looked at me, hesitated, then said, "Is this news true?"
        What answer could I give? I knew exactly as much as everybody else knew. I thought, then said, "I'm going to Irfan's office. I'll find out there what's the real news."
        "Then go, and come back and bring us word."
        Everyone I ran into on the road, everyone I asked, everyone was just as informed and just as uninformed as I was myself. No one had any confirmed news. And everyone knew that it had happened, and no one believed it. Torn between belief and disbelief, on the way from home to the Shiraz I decided a thousand times that this news was only a rumor, and decided a thousand times that this rumor was real news.
        My guess was that Irfan would be in the Shiraz at that hour. He was there.
        "Irfan! Have you come from your office?"
        "Yes. Do you want the news?"
        "Don't ask. No one knows the real state of affairs. We tried very hard to make contact with Dhaka, but we didn't succeed."
        "There's no telling what shape poor Zavvar will be in."
        "Those people were moved from the Governor's House to the Intercontinental."
        "And my mother is worried about her sister."
        "She has good cause to worry, but what can we do?"
        "You're right." I fell silent.
        The Shiraz was full then, but no one was drinking tea. They were all asking each other questions. They were asking about what they already knew. They had already accepted what they were refusing to accept.


/4/ A famous line of Persian verse, used like a proverb.

/5/ An echo of the story of Zahhak from the *Shah namah.

/6/ This Persian proverb implies skepticism or contempt.

/7/ It is also said that this sarcastic verse was composed by someone else, and that when *Bahadur Shah 'Zafar' heard it he replied with another verse expressing undaunted fighting spirit.

/8/ December 16, 1971, was the day the Indian Army entered Dhaka, and the birth of an independent Bangladesh was assured.

/9/ September 14, 1857, was the day the British succeeded in retaking Delhi from the rebels.



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