C H A P T E R   T E N

        Amidst a roar of slogans and a rain of bricks, he crossed the street and knocked at the closed, curtained door of the Shiraz. He knocked once, a second time, a third time. Abdul pulled the curtain slightly aside and looked out, then opened one panel of the door a little. "Zakir-ji, come in quick."
        Inside in the half-darkness, looking around at the empty tables and chairs, he made out the corner where Irfan was sitting alone, drinking tea.
        "Yar, that time has come again."
        "Even a worse one, for when a time comes back it's always grown worse. But how did you get here? I didn't think you'd be able to make it today."
        "Well, I did. In Delhi, among all the venerable elders of steadfast habits there was one who came to his friend's house every evening at the same time, knocked on the door, and visited for a while. When the Rebellion of '57 came, all the roads were closed. This man of steadfast habits left his house, crawled with great difficulty through trenches and gutters, and somehow managed to arrive at his friend's house at the regular time."
        "Yes, we too are among those who keep the steadfast habits of '57."
        "Although that time has not yet come."
        "Yes, it hasn't yet come."
        There was another knock on the door, and again Abdul dashed over to pull the curtain slightly aside and look out through the glass. Then, as before, he opened one panel of the door a little. "Afzal-ji, hurry." After letting Afzal in, he again closed the door.
        In the half-darkness, after glancing around at the empty tables and chairs, Afzal focused his attention on the table where the two were sitting. "Ai people! Do you see that the signs of mischief are again showing themselves?"
        "Yes, we've heard and we've seen and we've confirmed it," Irfan said with a light sarcasm in his tone.
        Afzal, pleased, patted him on the back. "You're a good man. It's only when you deny me that you're disgusting."
        "Yar, is something going to happen again?" Zakir asked, with a certain thought in his mind.
        "Yes, Salamat has come back," Irfan announced, ignoring his question.
        "What did you say? That mouse has come back again?" Afzal was startled. "And the other mouse?"
        "Both have come back, and they've turned into Muslims."
        "Not really?"
        "Absolutely.  Both revolutionaries stick pious caps on their heads and go to the mosque to offer prayers."
        "Really?" He was still astonished. "This is indeed a cause for anxiety!"
        Abdul brought the tea and set it down, then stood there. "What's all this, sir, that's happening?"
        "What you see," Irfan replied.
        "Well, sir, it started very suddenly. No one had the slightest suspicion that it might start again."
        "Abdul!" Afzal glared at him. "You too have become a mouse."
        Abdul asked Afzal an abrupt question. "Afzal Sahib-ji! You tell me, what will come of it? What's going to happen?"
        Afzal placed his finger on his lips. "Abdul, be silent. I have been commanded not to speak."
        From the distance came the Fire Brigade's siren.
        "There's a fire somewhere."
        Silence -- everyone was listening intently to the Fire Brigade's siren.
        "Friends! I want to ask your permission for one thing," Afzal said with such gravity that he, Irfan, and Abdul all three listened closely.
        "Do you know what Baba Farid said to the Khvajah of Kalyar? If you don't know, then listen. The Khvajah sent to the Baba an account of the disgusting people of the city. The Baba sent him a reply, 'Oh steadfast one, Kalyar is your goat. I give you full authority. If you wish, drink its milk; if you wish, eat its meat.' Then the Khvajah stood before the mosque and said, 'Ai mosque, bow down!' The mosque obeyed his order and bowed down so low that hundreds were crushed to death in its ruins. Then the plague spread. From all the houses, numerous funeral processions set out at the same time."
        Afzal, after telling this story, fell silent. He stared intently at all the three faces. Then he asked solemnly, "Friends, what do you say? What shall I do with this goat? Shall I drink its milk, or eat its meat?"
        Irfan ignored Afzal's whole speech and addressed Zakir: "Zakir, how is your father now?"
        "He's somewhat better, but he talks strangely, as if he had entirely given up on life."
        "It doesn't matter, that's simply the way people talk in old age."

        Genealogies, crumbling manuscripts, termite-eaten books with yellowed pages, old notes and papers, all kinds of ancient prescriptions, prayers, amulets -- Abba Jan, with his spectacles on, read over every single sheet carefully, and confided them to him.
"Ai hai, what a packet of papers you've opened! You might at least have waited until you were a little better! Remember that in old age, when a man once falls down, he has trouble standing up again."
        "Zakir's mother, I'm putting my affairs in order. When a man rises to depart, he should first straighten his garments." He paused, then said, "Thanks be to God, my garments are not too dusty. No property, no money. If there was any, it was left behind back there. There are only these few ancient pages."
        "Oh, your mind is full of foolish notions. It's not good to be constantly talking about death."
        "Zakir's mother! What is there left now that's good to talk about? Don't you see what's happening in Pakistan?" As he spoke, he picked up a book stained with mould. He opened it and looked inside, then handed it to him and said, "It's a collection of Hazrat Sajjad's prayers. Keep it carefully." He stopped and thought for a moment, then said, "A questioner asked, 'Oh best of those who offer prayer! In what state did the morning find you?' He replied, 'I swear by the Provider, the morning found me tormented by the Umayyids.'" As he spoke, Abba Jan grew sad, and said, "Son, from then to now, that morning has continued." He fell silent, then said, "And it will continue until the Appearance." Then he again fell silent, and after a long moment added, "In fact, Hazrat Rabiah of Basra gave the same kind of answer. Someone asked, 'What have you done since you came into the world?' She replied, 'Lamented!' Yes, that pure lady duly honored the claim of lamentation, for she constantly wept. What claim have I honored? I only sighed a few times, and then fell silent. Perhaps I wasn't destined for any more lamentation than that. Anyone who remains alive now will honor the claim." He sighed, and again began to fumble through the papers. "Take this, this is a cure for colic pain, written by Hakim Nabina. One small dose works better than a hundred injections. Keep it carefully." And he gave him the fragile scrap of paper and again began going through his things.
        From an inner compartment of a cloth bag came a small tablet of earth, and a rosary. "Zakir's mother, you keep these. The tablet is made of the healing earth of Najaf, and the prayer-beads are made of clay from Karbala." He touched both things to his eyes, kissed them, and handed them over to Ammi Jan.
        From somewhere deep within the bag, under some papers, he brought out a bunch of keys. He looked at them closely, and said, "That day you were thinking about the keys to the mansion, and here they are."
        Her lined face brightened. "Truly?" She looked longingly at the bunch of keys. "Well, you wouldn't believe, that day when you said you didn't know where they were, my heart almost stopped beating. I thought my soul had left my body." She paused, then said, "And the rust hasn't gotten to them?"
        Abba Jan examined the keys once more. "No, I didn't let them get rusty. From now on, it's up to Zakir." Then he addressed him: "Son, these are the keys of a house to which we no longer have any right. And when did we ever have any right? The world, as Hazrat Ali has said, is a guest-house. We and our desires are guests in it. Guests have no rights. Whatever the earth deigns to bestow on us guests, it's a favor, and the earth has shown us great kindness indeed. These keys are a trust. Guard this trust, and remember the kindness shown by the earth we left, and this will be your greatest act of dutiful behavior." As he spoke, suddenly his breath choked. He closed his eyes with the pain, and pressed his hand to his chest. Ammi at once jumped up anxiously, "Why, what's happened?" She helped him to lie down. "Son, call the doctor!" Abba Jan opened his eyes. He made a sign to say no. Slowly, with the greatest difficulty, he said, "Hazrat Ali has come."
        Zakir was in a sort of trance; he stood watching, frozen in place like a statue. Abba Jan opened his eyes once more, looked toward him, and said as softly as a whisper, "Son, dawn is coming, recite the prayer for the Prophet." Just then he moved convulsively, and his head fell back onto the pillow. Ammi, who had been so distraught, suddenly stood motionless. Then she very slowly drew a sheet over the lifeless body. Then she collapsed on the floor, rested her head against the bed-frame, and began to sob.

        "Fellow! Your father was a virtuous man," Afzal said emotionally, embracing him. "When I looked at him I always thought he was a babe in arms who had grown a beard. He was really a child, absolutely innocent."
        "He truly was was a good and noble man." Irfan, who had been sitting silently for a long time, spoke soberly.
        Afzal looked hard at Irfan. "Thank God you agree with me. There's at least one man in the world of whom you have a good opinion!"
        Then the silence spread. Then Afzal, thinking about something, said, "Zakir, you remember my grandmother, don't you? The one who's kept on saying, ever since she came here, 'My child, the flood must have gone down, let's go home.'"
        "Yes, yes, what's become of her?"
        "She died."
        "Really? I'm very sorry -- but how?"
        "Just the way your father did. There's no 'how' or 'why' about it. A person just dies, that's all."
        "You're right."
        "One day she said to me so pleadingly, 'My child, so much time has passed. By now the flood must have gone down. Take me home.'  I said, 'My dear granny, the flood has gone down over there, but it's risen on this side.' She looked at me with her wide-open eyes and said 'All right,' and died."

        "Son, last night I saw the Maulana Sahib in a dream. He was somewhat disturbed. I was concerned about the reason. Early in the morning I went to the cemetery. I read the Fatihah over his grave. The earth around his grave has subsided, you must arrange to have it filled up."
        "Yes sir, of course."
        "I told the watchman that for forty days there should be a candle lit every night by the grave. I left a packet of candles with him. Please check on it yourself too."
        "Yes sir, of course."
        "The Maulana Sahib was a man fit for Paradise, he never caused pain to anyone. He gave me so much strength. When my heart was restless at the separation from Karamat, I always came to him. He told me such stories, and such sayings of the Prophet, that my heart found peace."
        "Khvajah Sahib, Salamat has come back."
        "Who asked that ill-bred wretch to come back? The one I wait for doesn't come. The one who caused me to thank God when he left, is back again, grinding my heart into powder. Son, he's still just the way he was!"
        "But I've heard that now he's started offering his prayers."
        "Yes, son," Khvajah Sahib sighed. "Formerly he used to teach us socialism, now he's preaching Islam. Today he was giving his mother a lecture on Islam. She began to say something. I stopped her: 'Count your blessings -- you have sons. Right now your son is drunk. When he comes to his senses, then you can talk to him.' She said, 'When does he ever come to his senses?' I said, 'My good woman, are people ever in their senses nowadays? They've lost half the country, and haven't come to their senses. He's lost only a brother.' Son, wasn't I right?"
        "Sir, what you said was true."
        "Son! What's happened to people?" Khvajah Sahib's tone abruptly changed.
        "What do you mean?"
        "You see what's happening. There's no telling what will come in the future! People's blood is up, there's no knowing what they'll do. I've heard that marks have begun to appear on people's houses."
        "Marks? What kind of marks?"
        "Son, what world are you living in? Preparations are being made for war. Both sides have gathered so much ammunition that it only needs a fuse attached to it. This city will blaze up like dry fuel when a match is lit. May God have mercy." Then he slid over toward me and said in a whisper, "Son, there's one thing."
        "I know that Pakistan is under the protection of the holy ones, but sometimes I feel afraid. There won't be any damage to Pakistan?"
        He was taken aback by this question. Khvajah Sahib saw his confusion. He said, "Son, I asked this very question of the Maulana Sahib. He answered every question from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. At this question, he fell silent. Silent in such a way that afterwards he fell silent forever."

        Among the letters of condolence, a letter from India. Are, it's a letter from Surendar. He hurriedly slit the envelope open.

        New Delhi
        "Dear Zakir,
        If I haven't answered your letters, the reason is that I wasn't in the country. I was traveling in Europe for a long time. When I came back, I found your letters.
        Your mother must be eager to have news of Sabirah's family. But Sabirah hasn't been able to get any word of them either. I mentioned your letters to her. She said nothing, she burst into tears. I was astonished. During those days when the worst news kept coming from Dhaka, I always found her calm. But today she burst into tears. I didn't understand. But it made me sad to see her. My friend! May I say one thing? Don't take it amiss. You're a cruel person, or perhaps now that you're in Pakistan you've become so."

        She burst into tears? He thought about it. It's not strange she should weep, when she thinks about her mother and sister; and especially in such a situation of total ignorance about them. Whether they're alive or dead. This explanation seemed very plausible to him, but immediately he felt a kind of restlessness, as though the explanation was not enough. When she heard about my letters she burst into tears! Why? Am I cruel? On what grounds?
        Outside there was a knock on the door. He went to see. Afzal was standing there. "Friend, pardon me for coming at such an inconvenient time."
        "It's amazing -- you've begun to believe in proper and improper times!"
        "I'm not like that -- for me all times are one time; but you have your regular hours."
        "I have no choice; since I'm a slave to my job, I have to pay at least some attention to the time. Anyway, let's drop the subject."
        "You want to ask why I've come at such an hour. Yar, I was alone and I began to feel uneasy, so I went out. Today I feel very fearful."
        "Fearful? Why?"
        "Yar! I hear voices."
        "Voices? What kind of voices?"
        "That's what I don't understand. Suddenly I was afraid there might be a hurricane, and a loud cry might come and carry me away."/1/
        "What? What are you saying? Are you crazy?" He looked closely at Afzal, who seemed very much terrified.
        Afzal paid no attention to his words. He said, "In the morning when I got up, I was frightened and went to the mirror and looked at my face, for fear I -- "
        "Afzal!" he broke in. "It's other people who look disgusting to you."
        "Yar, it happens sometimes that a man, finding others disgusting -- well, some morning he discovers that his own face has changed. For the last couple of days I've somehow been fearful that I too might -- that my face might -- ?"
        "All right, stop this babbling. Here's a cot, lie down on it and go to sleep."
        "Yes, yar." He went at once and lay down on the cot. "I want to sleep." As he spoke, he looked around, and said with surprise, "Yar! Your room seems like a cave to me." He paused, thought, then said slowly, "All right, I've been awake for a long time. I'll sleep for seven hundred years." And his eyes gradually closed.
        Voices, what kind of voices? he muttered. It's just that Afzal's ears ring. He finally grew quiet, but deep inside he was speaking. He's a man who lives by delusions. Every day a new delusion. He hasn't yet grown up. He thinks he's a child, living with his granny in the atmosphere of his old town, where there were trees like those in my Rupnagar. Rupnagar, where the trees were such that when you looked at them you felt delusions arising, willy-nilly. And in his imagination he went back to Rupnagar.

        In the full heat of the afternoon, they passed by the Black Temple, went on beyond Karbala, approached the Fort. Then they went on, and kept going on. They entered the Ravan Wood. Walking along, they hesitated. In the distance they could see the banyan tree. A solitary tree in the midst of the Ravan Wood, as though Ravan himself were standing there. They thought they could see something in the tree. Then Habib said fearfully, "Yar! What kind of voice was that?"
        "Voice?" Bundu looked at Habib with astonishment.
        "It came just a moment ago.  Zakir! Didn't you hear it?"
        "Listen!" Habib said, as though he was hearing the voice again.
        They all three pricked up their ears. They stood obliviously in the blazing sun, listening for some far-off, unknown, mysterious voice. He himself didn't hear anything. But the wonder and terror that spread over Habib and Bundu's faces told him that they had heard something. Watching them, he too was gripped by wonder and terror.
        "Run!" Habib said, as though the voice was coming close, ready to pounce on them. They ran away; he ran with them. He ran and ran. The distance back from the Ravan Wood became a long, perilous journey. The voice seemed to be following right behind him, and the town, his home, seemed to be miles away. He hadn't even sighted the Black Temple yet! When he saw it, it seemed to be beyond the horizon. Habib and Bundu had gotten ahead of him. He was left behind alone, and kept on running. It was as though an age had passed, and he was still running. How long can I go on running? I'm winded, and my legs are already tired. And with my panting breath and tired legs I'm running all alone in this uninhabited forest. But for how long? How far away is my house? There's no one to be seen anywhere around. As he ran, his gaze fell on the hillock. A man, is it a man? A wave of panic ran through him, and his feet weighed hundreds of pounds. Is it a man?

        One of Afzal's loud snores had woken him, or startled him. Had he been asleep? He glanced at Afzal, who was deep in sleep and snoring loudly. This man is really going to sleep for seven hundred years, he mumbled, sitting there and yawning. Then he fell into thought. Afzal was right. This was indeed the time to have a long sleep. A man should go into a cave, apart from everyone, and sleep. And go on sleeping for seven hundred years. When he wakes up and comes out of the cave, then he'll see that the times have changed. And he has not changed. It's a good idea, it's better than getting up every morning and looking in the mirror, suspecting that his face has changed, and being tormented all day by the thought that his face is changing! When a man sees people changing all around him, such suspicions arise. Or it also happens that no suspicions arise, and then a man changes. How? How have they gone on changing? Those people, every one of whom believed that the others were changing, while he himself looked the same as before. Everyone looked at everyone else and was stupefied. "My dear friend! What's happened to you?"
        "To me? Nothing's happened to me. But I can see that something's happened to you."
        "My dear friend, nothing's happened to me. But I do see that your face -- "
        One tangled with another, the second tangled with a third. One clawed at another, the second clawed at a third. They all clawed at each other and were injured and deformed. I was afraid that I too -- I came away. I should go into my cave and sleep. And keep sleeping until the times have changed.

        . . . I'm in a forest. The forest keeps getting denser. How dense, how deep. And this town? No words of piety and peace, no rain of virtuous deeds. The sweet song of the flute has been broken off. No feeling of devotion anywhere. Land and water muddied and mingled. Men and women distraught. People have left their houses. 'The way they'd flee from their houses during an earthquake.'/2/ The virtuous were oppressed. Women as pure as Savitri had their saris torn to shreds. Happy wives were turned into widows. Laps that had held babies were emptied. Children were at the point of death, with drooping heads and eyes rolled back. I was aghast: where was the protector of this town? A yogi with matted hair roared at me, "Fool! The protector of this town was the savior of all the world. But he has left this place and gone to the forest."
        "For what reason?"
        "Don't ask the reason. Look around, and understand. It happened that a horse with reins hanging loose, neighing, went into the forest. When he saw this, he lost all hope. Getting down from his chariot, he placed his flute on a pitcher and broke it, smashed the pitcher into pieces, and went into the forest, searching for his brother."
        When I heard this tale of disaster, I left the town. Traveling far, I came to a forest. An uninhabited forest. Unfathomable silence. Under a tree I saw his brother sitting, with ash-smeared limbs, on a deer-skin. His hair was knotted and tangled, his eyes closed, his mouth open -- and from within his mouth a white snake thrust out its head. It came out hissing, and began to grow long, and kept growing longer and longer. It grew so long that its hood touched the waves of the distant, surging ocean. I saw with fear that the long white snake's body kept emerging from the wise man's mouth, and vanishing into the ocean. Then I saw that the snake's tail had emerged from his mouth, and the breath had left the wise man's body.
        Seeing this, I marveled: Oh Ram, what mystery is this? With this worry I turned back, so I could say, Oh people of Dwarka! Here, you are fighting to the death; there, the snake has gone down into the ocean. But before I could get to the town, the ocean waves had already reached it. The town, which had been a light of peace in the ocean of existence, now looked like a bubble in the churning ocean waves./3/ Thus as he was dying in the midst of the field of Kurukshetra, Bhisham said to Yudhishtir, 'Oh Yudhishtir, in the beginning there was water, for everything is made only of water. And now I've realized that in the end too there's only water. The source is water, the end is water.  Om, shanti, shanti, shanti -- '

        . . . He shook himself, and looked at his sleeping companion -- who seemed to have been sleeping through many births, oblivious to the world and everything in it, snoring long and loudly. He glanced out of the cave and at once pulled his head back in, for it was very dark outside and a hurricane had begun to blow. He muttered, There's still a lot of the night left. The nights of mischief are so long -- he looked at his sleeping companion. How restfully he's sleeping, while outside a hurricane is raging. And how long he's slept, though he meant to sleep for only seven hundred years! But now his own eyelids too began to feel heavy. Yawning hugely, he muttered, Now it's time to go to sleep.


/1/ In Quran 46:24-25, a hurricane sent by God sweeps down and devastates the sinful tribe of Ad.  In Quran 79:13-14, a single loud cry announces the onset of Judgment Day.

/2/ A line from an elegy on *Karbala by Mir Anis (1802-74).

/3/ Based on a folk account of the death of *Krishan, who spent much of his adult life in Dwarka, a town on the west coast of Gujarat.



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