C H A P T E R   N I N E

        Khvajah Sahib had just that moment arrived and sat down. "Have you heard anything?"
        "Yes, I did find out something." Today there was a glimmer of hope in Khvajah Sahib's voice.
        "Really? What did you find out?"
        "Somebody has come from over there. He says that he saw Karamat in Bangkok."
        "In Bangkok?"
        "Maulana Sahib, what's surprising about that? From such a Doomsday, everyone slipped out however he could. So many of them are hiding in India, so many have gone through India to Nepal. Many of them crossed the eastern border and came out in Burma. Some went to Rangoon, others reached Bangkok. So this man told me that he had come by way of Bangkok. There he met Karamat."
        "Who is this man?"
        "Oh, you know Muhammad Din from my Amritsar, don't you? It's someone he knows. I got this man's address from him. He's in Sialkot. So today I'm going to Sialkot."
        "Go, God will help you."
        "Maulana Sahib! What's your opinion? I'm convinced that Karamat is alive and will come back."
        Abba Jan reflected, then said, "It's not beyond the power of His mercy. It's even happened that a man has been ordered hanged, and then has been saved. Firm faith is necessary."
        "Maulana Sahib, by God's grace, my faith is very firm. It's true that I don't place much trust in holy men and faqirs. But there was one faqir who impressed me. It was Muhammad Din who took me to visit him. He looked at my face. He said, 'You're worried.' I said, 'I'm indeed worried.' He said, 'Don't be worried -- pray. He's alive, but in trouble.' Then, sir, he told me a prayer to say forty times every day after the sunset prayers. Maulana Sahib! Believe me, after I had been saying it for only a week, I heard about this Sialkot man."
        "God's Word is very powerful."
        "Well, sir, I'm going today to Sialkot."
        Zakir stared at Khvajah Sahib. He remembered what had happened last month. Last month too, Khvajah Sahib had come like this one morning, full of hope. That time he had heard of a man who had come back to Karachi, who had, in escaping from the conflagration, seen Karamat at the Burmese border. And Khvajah Sahib had wandered all over Karachi searching for him.
        "Maulana Sahib!" Khvajah Sahib spoke thoughtfully. "I must be under a curse. Just look, sir, I had two sons. One turned bad. One was lost -- the obedient one. Only the Lord can bring him back. While the worthless one is grinding my heart into powder. That wretch Salamat, do you know what he says? He says, 'The Bengalis have won freedom.' I said, 'Bastard son! Get out of my house.'  He said, 'I'm going to America.' I said, 'Go to hell.'"
        Once he had mentioned Salamat, Khvajah Sahib usually went on and on, but soon he remembered that he had to go to Sialkot, and rose to take his leave. The moment he went out, Ammi entered. "Well, what was Khvajah Sahib saying? Has he had some news of Karamat?"
        Abba Jan answered with a certain hesitation, "He says that a man has come from over there, and has seen Karamat in Bangkok."
        "What else does the man say?"
        "He won't find out any more until he sees him in person. The man is in Sialkot. Today Khvajah Sahib is going to Sialkot. We'll see."
        "But surely, the man is a stranger. Why would he tell a lie? He must have seen Karamat, since he says so."
        "Yes. But how can we tell?" Abba Jan fell silent. Then he said, "In any case, we ought to hope for His favor, no matter what."
        "Yes! I pray that the poor boy comes back, no matter how. Otherwise, poor Khvajah Sahib will be more dead than alive." As she spoke, Ammi sighed. "And then, my own heart is in the same state. My heart is so full of suffering! Khvajah Sahib is worried about one of his loved ones. I have a whole family, and no news of them." She stopped, then said, "Oh, what a dream I had last night, about Batul! She was in a wretched state, with her hair dirty and matted. I was combing her hair, and saying, 'Why your hair is full of lice.'" Her voice trailed off, then she covered her face with the end of her dupattah. Her eyes filled.
        Abba Jan bowed his head. Then he sighed, and said, "Now it's time for me to die."
        "Abba Jan?" He looked at him with a start.
        "Yes, son! Now it's time for me to die. I've seen a lot. And what  I should never have seen -- I've seen that too. I don't have the strength to see any more."
        "Conditions are improving. In the future they'll improve even more."
        "But for how long?" Abba Jan paused, then said, "Son, if conditions improve, it means nothing. People's deeds have to improve." Ammi seemed not to have heard. Her mind was busy elsewhere. "Son, what were you saying that day, that Sabirah has gotten a job in the radio?"
        "Sabirah? I don't know, Surendar wrote me about it." At the sudden mention of Sabirah he was somewhat rattled.
        "Then, son, write her a letter."
        "A letter! To Sabirah?" He couldn't understand what Ammi was saying.
        "Why, I've heard that those who had family in India have secretly gone to join them."
        "What are you talking about, Zakir's mother!" Abba Jan said with a touch of anger.
        "Ai hai, what do I know? I've heard it."
        "Those who told you are as good at telling as you are at listening!"
        "Ai hai, after all, when their houses are destroyed they must surely go somewhere! When people feel oppressed in a land, they rise up and leave it. They don't stop to ask where they're going."
        "But that land had already grown oppressive before."
        "Yes, once that land was oppressive, now this land has grown oppressive!"
        Abba Jan, hearing this, fell into thought. Then he said, "God the Most High made the land wide and open, but in the hands of man it grows narrow and oppressive."
        "Well, what I was saying" -- Ammi came back again to her subject -- "was that Sabirah must have some news. While we're sitting here with no news at all! People in India have more news than we do. So please just write a letter to Sabirah."
        Should I write a letter to Sabirah? Now, after so long? He fell into perplexity. But very soon he realized that he couldn't write a letter. "Ammi, the mail service to India is shut down. How can I write a letter?"
"Ai, yes, I didn't even think of that." She paused. Then she said, "But son, those who want to write letters are still writing them. They say that the letters are reaching India through London. Ai, son! Don't you have some friend in London? Send a letter to him. He'll send it on from there to India."
        He again fell into perplexity.

        "Yar! I want to write a letter."
        "To whom?"
        "To Sabirah."
        "To Sabirah?" Irfan looked at him attentively.
        "Yes, to Sabirah."
        "Now, after so much time has passed?"
        "Yar, Ammi has got it into her head that Sabirah in India ought to have news about my Khalah Jan. So now she's demanding that I write a letter to Sabirah."
        "And this demand is just according to your desire." Irfan smiled.
        According to my desire? He fell into thought. What's my desire now? Now when so much time has passed and we've grown so far apart. Between her and me time and space have both interposed themselves. They've allied themselves against us. How much time has passed since we walked on the same land, since a single sky spread over both our heads.
        The days went on passing. Days, months, years. It seemed that the door back had been closed forever. Those who had been lost would remain lost forever. Once in a while somebody would suddenly appear, and people would look at him in astonishment: Really, so somebody can actually escape and come out of there? They they'd ask how he got out, and how he came to the city. And he'd tell how he hid for three days in a burned-out house, crouching in the ruins, hungry and thirsty, holding his breath. Then how he furtively crossed the border and reached Calcutta. "Then, sir, from there I boarded the Howrah Express. I thought that when I reached Aligarh, I'd surely find somebody I knew on the platform. I'd recognize someone, or someone would recognize me. Yar! When the train stopped at Aligarh, my compartment was right in front of the tea stall, and our same old Khan was sitting there."
        "You got down there?"
        "No, yar! How could I have gotten down? I was afraid someone would recognize me! I sat there holding my breath, hiding my face. When the train began to move and pulled out of the station, and Aligarh vanished from before my eyes, I felt restored to life! Well, sir, then I didn't stop for anything until I got to Delhi. I got down from the train and went straight to the Jama Masjid. When I reached there I was absolutely penniless. I said to myself, Well my dear fellow, now you'll be forced to tell someone or other of your plight. In the mosque I approached a number of people, but then drew back. At last I saw a fine-looking old gentleman. His face looked so sympathetic and kindly. I went and sat down near him. Quietly I told him where I was coming from, and then I burst into tears. He passed his hand over my head affectionately, and took me home. I thought I'd stay at his house for one night, then borrow the money for the fare and set out again the next morning. But, yar, my resolve faltered."
        "Why? Did you fall for someone?"
        "No, yar! The truth is that just then 'Pakizah' was showing there. I said to myself, My dear fellow, now that you've come to Delhi, you ought to see Meena Kumari before you go! So I stopped over for one day to see 'Pakizah.'"
        "Is it a good film?"
        "Absolutely first-class."
        "Did you see only the one film?"
        "As many days as I stayed in Delhi, I did nothing else but see films. Finally the old gentleman said, 'Young sir!  If the police get wind of this, they'll be here on the run. You'll be arrested, and we'll be dragged into it as well. It's time for you to make yourself scarce.' So the very next day I boarded the Frontier Mail and came straight to Amritsar. By hook or by crook I managed to cross the border, and here I am in Pakistan."
        Thus the occasional person, after making his way in secrecy through town after town, arrived by way of India. Others who emerged from the land of disaster set out for Nepal, and contrived to come from there to here. Others left through Burma, and endured hardship and pain on their way back. Many returned after suffering imprisonment in India. So they straggled back, one by one. The prisoners and the missing kept returning. It seemed that every single one had come back, or perhaps as though no one had gone, or was lost, or was lacking. How quickly wounds heal, and empty places are filled! Moving around in the city, who could imagine that some people had gone away and not come back, and some households were still waiting for them to return? Khvajah Sahib was still wandering in the mists of hope and despair. Even now he still came every day to see Abba Jan. They still asked each other the same question, "Is there any news?" As though this question had been asked for an eternity, and would be asked for an eternity to come.
        "Maulana Sahib! Is there any news of your relatives?"
        "No, my friend."
        "None of the new arrivals has brought any word?"
        "No letter from anywhere?"
        "It's astonishing! So many people have come, none of them has brought any word!"
        "Is there any news of your son?"
        "Yes, Maulana Sahib. Thanks to your good wishes, there's some news."
        "What news?"
        "Maulana Sahib, I had Maulana Sana'ullah read the omens./1/ He reads omens extremely well. The omens were that Karamat is well and will return. And sir, the astrologers say the same thing. That astrologer Nur Din, you know? I went to him. He drew a full-scale horoscope and showed it to me: 'Khvajah, sir, look with your own eyes. At this moment your son's star is in the house of Saturn. It's about to emerge. Just wait and see. Suddenly one day he'll arrive.'"
        God is the Causer of Causes. It could happen that way."
        "I'm confident that it'll be just that way. And furthermore, today I'm going to Lyallpur."
        "Well, one of my brother-in-law's brothers lives there. His son-in-law has arrived from over there. My brother-in-law told me that the boy has seen Karamat. In fact he even says that Karamat has given him some letter. So today I'm going to Lyallpur. Let's see what's written in the letter." He rose to leave.
        Khvajah Sahib went out, and Ammi entered: "Why, these omens which Khvajah Sahib is having read -- it occurs to me, why don't we too have the omens read?"
        "Zakir's mother! God the Most High commands, and then things happen. Place your trust in Him."
        "There's no telling when He'll give the command!" Ammi said angrily.
        "He keeps His own counsel. We sit waiting for His command.  When the command comes, we set out." He paused, sighed, "Now it's time for me to die."
        "Ai hai, do you always have to keep talking about death? Is this some new madness that's come over you?"
        "Zakir's mother! Remember Hazrat Ali's saying, that you and your desires are guests in this world. Zakir's mother, you ought to keep this saying in mind. Guests don't stay forever."
        Ammi listened indifferently to Abba Jan's words, and turned her attention toward Zakir. "Zakir! No answer to your letter has come from Delhi?"
        "Ammi, it'll come. The mail reaches there very slowly, and comes from there even more slowly."
        "Ai son! After all, how many days does a letter take to go and come? It's been quite a while since you wrote."
        "Ammi, between India and Pakistan the mails are very much disrupted. Some letters arrive, some don't arrive."
        "Why son, then write another letter to your friend."
        "I've written, Ammi. I expect the answer to my letter will be coming soon."

        "Yar, I've already written two letters. Surendar hasn't answered. I don't know what's the matter."
        "Then write to her directly."
        "To her?" He fell into thought.
        The door of the Shiraz opened and Afzal entered. "Yar! I've heard that that mouse has come back."
        "You've just heard? He's been here for ages. He's been posted here, and promoted." There was a little sarcasm in Irfan's tone.
        "Yar, forgive him. Among us all, he's the man most to be pitied."
        "Most to be pitied?" Irfan eyed Afzal with exasperation.
        "Yes, yar! I feel very sorry for him. He deserves pity."
        "Because he's joined the Civil Service, and is rising through the ranks."
        "In truth, he's very much to be pitied," Irfan said bitterly.
        "Yar, can't you give me some liquor? I'm very thirsty."
        "We can only give you tea."
        "Tea? Tea is useless. Only liquor washes out the filth inside." With these words, he pulled some notes from his pocket and counted them. "Yar, I'm only short ten rupees. Irfan! Get out a five." Looking toward Zakir, he said, "My fellow here will give five."
        He and Irfan took five-rupee notes from their pockets and handed them over to Afzal. Afzal at once stood up. But then he remembered something. Sitting down again, he said, "Yar! Those two mice who always stood up on their tails -- I want to say a prayer for them."
        "That they'll stay in America and not come back!"
        "No, yar. Don't ask me to call down curses. Salamat and Ajmal weren't that bad. After they'd been drinking, they said good things. Yar, why did they go off to America? I was making arrangements for them here. I'm about to have some acres allotted to me. One acre will be given over to beds of roses. One acre will be only for rain-bugs."
        "Rain-bugs?" Irfan looked at him sarcastically.
        "Fellow! Be quiet! You won't be able to understand this. In the rainy season I roam around very anxiously. There don't seem to be any rain-bugs here. There ought to be rain-bugs. We have to make Pakistan beautiful." Then, changing his tone, he addressed them both: "Listen! You two will stay with me. This is my command. I, and you two."
        "And the rain-bugs," Irfan interrupted.
        "Yes, and the rain-bugs. In beautiful Pakistan there will be only beautiful people."


/1/ One common method is to open the works of the great Persian poet Hafiz (1320-1390), read a line at random, and draw conclusions from it.



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