C H A P T E R T E N
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."
in the half-darkness, looking around at the empty tables and chairs, he
made out the corner where Irfan was sitting alone, drinking tea.
that time has come again."
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."
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."
we too are among those who keep the steadfast habits of '57."
that time has not yet come."
it hasn't yet come."
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.
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?"
we've heard and we've seen and we've confirmed it," Irfan said with a light
sarcasm in his tone.
pleased, patted him on the back. "You're a good man. It's only when you
deny me that you're disgusting."
is something going to happen again?" Zakir asked, with a certain thought
in his mind.
Salamat has come back," Irfan announced, ignoring his question.
did you say? That mouse has come back again?" Afzal was startled. "And
the other mouse?"
have come back, and they've turned into Muslims."
Both revolutionaries stick pious caps on their heads and go to the mosque
to offer prayers."
He was still astonished. "This is indeed a cause for anxiety!"
brought the tea and set it down, then stood there. "What's all this, sir,
you see," Irfan replied.
sir, it started very suddenly. No one had the slightest suspicion that
it might start again."
Afzal glared at him. "You too have become a mouse."
asked Afzal an abrupt question. "Afzal Sahib-ji! You tell me, what will
come of it? What's going to happen?"
placed his finger on his lips. "Abdul, be silent. I have been commanded
not to speak."
the distance came the Fire Brigade's siren.
a fire somewhere."
-- everyone was listening intently to the Fire Brigade's siren.
I want to ask your permission for one thing," Afzal said with such gravity
that he, Irfan, and Abdul all three listened closely.
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
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?"
ignored Afzal's whole speech and addressed Zakir: "Zakir, how is your father
somewhat better, but he talks strangely, as if he had entirely given up
doesn't matter, that's simply the way people talk in old age."
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
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
your mind is full of foolish notions. It's not good to be constantly talking
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.
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
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."
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?"
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."
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.
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."
truly was was a good and noble man." Irfan, who had been sitting silently
for a long time, spoke soberly.
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!"
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
yes, what's become of her?"
I'm very sorry -- but how?"
the way your father did. There's no 'how' or 'why' about it. A person just
dies, that's all."
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."
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."
sir, of course."
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."
sir, of course."
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."
Sahib, Salamat has come back."
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!"
I've heard that now he's started offering his prayers."
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?"
what you said was true."
What's happened to people?" Khvajah Sahib's tone abruptly changed.
do you mean?"
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."
What kind of marks?"
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
know that Pakistan is under the protection of the holy ones, but sometimes
I feel afraid. There won't be any damage to Pakistan?"
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."
the letters of condolence, a letter from India. Are, it's a letter
from Surendar. He hurriedly slit the envelope open.
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
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
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."
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?
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."
amazing -- you've begun to believe in proper and improper times!"
not like that -- for me all times are one time; but you have your regular
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."
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."
I hear voices."
What kind of voices?"
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 are you saying? Are you crazy?" He looked closely at Afzal, who seemed
very much terrified.
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 -- "
he broke in. "It's other people who look disgusting to you."
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
right, stop this babbling. Here's a cot, lie down on it and go to sleep."
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.
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.
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?"
Bundu looked at Habib with astonishment.
came just a moment ago. Zakir! Didn't you hear it?"
Habib said, as though he was hearing the voice again.
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.
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?
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?"
me? Nothing's happened to me. But I can see that something's happened to
dear friend, nothing's happened to me. But I do see that your face -- "
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
A line from an elegy on *Karbala by Mir Anis (1802-74).
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.