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MUSHARRAF ALAM ZAUQUI
Munto and the Dream
I had been seeing him there for three or four days. When? Where?
It had rained heavily that morning. Frightened, we stayed secluded, self-imprisoned with in our own home. What like it is to feel alienated in one’s own home, you may imagine that. On that day we had an early supper. As none of us was interested in the telecast stories of false encounters. We went to bed early. I came into my room, closed the window and lay down quietly.
No. Oh! I must beg your pardon for that weird dream. But, that night, Munto was in my room once again. And this was not a whim of my eyes.
‘let us go for an outing.’
‘Have you gone crazy? There is a curfew like noiselessness on the out side.’
‘I known. The conditions are not good.’
‘Then? The police will arrest you.’
‘Won’t arrest,’ he said laughing,’ perform an encounter directly.’
‘You know all this…., yet a proposal of an outing!’
Suddenly he turned grave.
‘Nothing will happen. We shall get back after a round of a mile or two.’
‘A mile or two … on foot?’
‘Sssh, I’ve got a car, by stealth…,’ he was laughing. ‘it is known to a few only that I had chauffeured for Quayade-Azam-Mohammad Ali Jinnah too.’
‘ I know. You drove his car into a collision.’
Munto was laughing. ‘you needn’t worry. I shall be driving this time carefully.’
I looked at the clock. It was three at night.
The road was deserted. I opened the window. The ground was still wet. I couldn’t understand what an attraction was there in this 42-43 years old, lean and thin creative writer that I accompanied him, enchanted.
The road, wet because of the rain, the sounds of dogs barking and whining.’ We took seats in the car. It sped fast. Drowsing police vans at short intervals but Munto was lost in his own thoughts. It seemed as if he desired to fill up his eyes with the vision of the city its solitude. At one or two places the police stopped us and ashed him a question or two. What answer Munto gave them laughing is unknown to me. I only saw this much that in the dark Munto had put a holy sandal mark on his forehead. He would laugh over the fright that held me captive.
‘hadn’t I told you that nothing was happen to us?...let’s cover just a little more distance…’
And now Munto steered the car into such a direction as made me cry out.
‘Where are you going to?’
‘Sssh ! he put his finger on his lips. ‘History does not die in such a short span of time. No need to say anything. Just keep on moving.’
I wanted to say, ‘History never dies,’ but I don’t know what made me keep my silence.
It was over four now. Now we were in a poor colony inhabited by the minority, where there stood mud and thatched huts of laborers or those who kept draught horses.
Dogs were still barking. Morning was already there for some of those horses. In some house kitchen-fire was alive. Some children are also seen in front of a few houses…the women were seen doing something going in and coming out of their huts…and suddenly that accident occurred…a terrible accident. There happened to come in front of the car a little minority boy, and also a little calf, at one and the same moment. To Munto, who was driving in a carefree mood, it was the very time to take a decision with in a flash of time.
No, if you prefer you may leave the story here. I won’t ask you to continue reading..for what you are going to read now is impractical, loathsome and violating the human right as well.
In the last fraction of the second as I was shutting up my eyes in desperation I chanced to catch a glimpse of the young calf bolting away. Munto had steered the car towards the minority boy.
No. I repeat. Please separate the cruel words said here presently from the story.
We were back home.
Munto was standing near the window bars. His spectacles were soiled with dust. He was smoking cigarettes recklessly.
‘You could have saved the boy,’ I shrieked out.
‘Only one-either the boy or the calf.’ Munto shrieked out more vehemently. ‘The casualty of a minority boy will be forgotten with in two hours. But, do you know what the accidental death of a calf in that locality means?’
Munto turned. He tore the papers on the table into little bits and threw them into the dustbin.
Munto disappeared, but the chair on which he had been sitting was still rocking.
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THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 2010
the rain ,the forest and she
The rain, the forest and she………
“No love is not this”
“No love is not that either”
“Please stop. Anything that you will say at present about love will amount to have been said in a hurry. Have you seen love?” I said looking squarely into the eyes of my friends in the din of the coffee house table. Though, on my having said this, all my friends sitting there made a mistake in taking me to be the ghost of O’Henri’s famous story, “Ghost”. And, for that reason on of them smiled and said, “I wonder whether you will disappear having asked us “if we had seen love.”
‘Yes, I will, if you are not going to offer me a smoke.
My mind was alive with the vision of the train and its echoing whistles. I wondered if O’ Henry’s character, the ghost, was still present-in some vacant railway compartment that was resounding its own silence or amid the uproar of railway engine whistles-but the puff of an ordinary cigarette, the rings of smoke, the remembrance come alive, and the touch of cool, soothing, romantic wind incarnating some beauty face to face in the psychic world, was enough to transport me into a new land.
No. At that time it was not easy for me to think. I could not even think that love happens but once. And, on the second occasion? Does a satisfied person have just a desire for sex rather than love? Well, let us grant it. Now, let us suppose there is a man who has loved, gets married, and after the marriage if happens to find a different face reflected in the stream of fire?
‘ Tell me that you don’t love me.’
‘On oath of Alok?’
‘On oath of Alok, I mumbled, and instantly felt startled. In case there were some pleasant gusts of wind for Shakshi, then……? Why did I take an oath on Alok? O my God: What has possessed me?
Next morning, quarrelling with Alok, she looked at me and smiled.
‘Be emancipated from your oath. I’ve come back having made a propitiatory offering worth rupes one hundred in the name of Alok.’ As she laughed gleefully, her white teeth sparkled like pearls on a fine string.
‘What offering?’ Shanta had come out.
‘I’ve been to temple. Just praying for Alok’s long life, made an offering there.
Shakshi found me alone, once again.
‘ keep from speaking on oath. It is a sin. And money is required to make offerings. Will you give me- your second wife, your little wife-money for offerings again and again?’ Shakshi ran away, laughing.
Her peel of laughter still pursued me…….her concluding words in particular…. ‘He is a son of mine too…..How does it matter if he was not born of me……?’ So many glaciers within me were breaking and moving down the valley.
No, It was, perhaps, not easy at that time to think if one falls in love but for once. And on the second occasion? Does there still remain an indefinable longing even after one is divided, and shared by the wife and the family?
On that day, as a specialty of the occasion it continued raining heavily through the day, as if the setter of question-paper for life had set such question for me as were an ordeal for me to go through. I stood amazed. And just before this happening everything was either normal, or not so. But, yes, there were signs of the on coming rains.
A number of happenings occurred that day. Dhillon fixed the date of Shakshi’s marriage. It was to take place after two months. Arrangements were to be made at my house. Shakshi, sitting at some distance and biting her nails would cast a glance at me now and then. She looked pale. A phone call in the morning that day a phonic message told my wife that Shakshi’s only uncle died. Shanta’s tears ran unabated since the time. She, as well as Alok, was to catch the 3 p.m. train.
The third issue concerned me. I was in fever. Shanta felt worried. Who would look after me in her absence?
‘Brother, he knows nothing. He doesn’t know about anything in the house where it is placed. I will return tomorrow, but to-night…?’ she said.
In fond memory of her departed uncle Shanta was wiping her tears with an edge of her ‘saari’.
Dhillon turned to cast a glance.
This was the very moment when the thunder of the clouds, for the first times, made its presence manifest, as if it was a drum-beat declaring the opening of the war, the thunder rumbled on. The icy words of Shakshi dissolved themselves in the far off rumble.
‘Go sister. I am here. I’ll stay here tonight I’ll take full care of him.’
‘See. The very problem id solved…,’ Dhillon commented smiling.
Shanta smiled lovingly and said, ‘I needn’t worry when Shakshi is here. Shakshi will take care of him.’
Shakshi’s face betrayed no emotions. With her full sensitive lips, she sat there biting her finger nails…
And then a number of thunder claps sounded themselves seemingly all together.
The ocean waves at my heart that had been calm initially, were beginning to gain momentum, preparatory to some war.
Dhillon departed from our home. Shanta and Alok left the house at 2 O’clock. As I moved ahead, adjusting my situation to my blood-pressure, I heard the outer door being closed from the inside. It was Shakshi. And now only the two of us remained there in the house.
And this was the time when a fine drizzle had started.
I got into the room. My breathing was deeper, though for no opparent reason. My awareness of Shakshi’s presence there excited me. Perhaps the temperature had shot up. A burning sensation was there in my forehead. My temp[les seemed to be on fire. I was sensitive to every sound. One…two… but no Shakshi came in. where did she linger on? I got up and walked out. On the outside Shakshi was lying down facing downwards. She was crying. Her sobs hurt me deeply. It was raining. At quite short a distance water was dripping from the awning. I closed my eyes, controlled the tempest rising at heart. As I came closer to Shakshi I felt I could withhold no longer. As if there was a volcano, a dormant one. And no sooner did I touch Shakshi than it would burst open. The veranda near the awning was wet. I drew my self back, came to my bed and lay down. The clock on the wall struck three. The pendulum was in motion. Suddenly, my body felt like having been transformed into a pendulum. She was coming. I closed my eyes hurriedly.
She held tea in her hand. She put the tea-cup on the table nearby. Medical tables were there in her hand. She came closer to me with the tablets and some water in a glass. She touched my forehead gently and got started.
‘take the medicine. I know you haven’t had a wink. Now don’t play a part. Fever is high.’
I saw her eyes. They were swollen for weeping. She was in a sky-blue shalwar and jumper having sky-blue flower prints on it. Her hands looked extremely beautiful. Taking medicine hand, for the first time I saw her body having the enchanting curves of her youth. fair complexion. long hair. long slender neck. Very soft and full lips. She noticed me looking at her and eyes to the ground. She didn’t stay there any longer. Went out of the room. I was passing through my self-analysis-entangling and struggling with myself every moment. About two hours passed. I got out and found Shakshi asleep in the previous posture, the same as when she was crying. The fiery glow of the promine4nces of her body curves was conspicuous from under her salwar and kameez. Very beautiful feet. Her fingers-as if they had been chiseled out. The rain abated a bit but soon after the thunder began. But the thunder, this time, had vigour and enthusiasm. It appeared as if the rain would never come to an end if it started for once. At seven Shakshi was awake once again. She brought me my bread. I was aware that Shakshi must be under going a tremendous conflict internally, probably much more than I was. ‘ But why es she so silent,’ I thought ‘Has she compromised with her new situation? She is to stay here for the whole night to-night. Where will she put up? But, why is she so silent? Has she compromised with her new situation?’ the thought occurred again and again.
But, perhaps, she hadn’t. there came the time for the dormant volcano to arrupt. It was nine at night, when Shakshi had seen me finish up my meal and the last dose of medicine as well.
On the outside it was raining rather heavily. The falling rain drops played a strange music. I moved forward and opened the window. On the outside the forest flourished. A wet forest. Lightning flashed at that very moments, and despite the dark it momentarily brightened up the fearsome plants and trees. And them I heard the foot-steps Shakshi came in with a pillow in her hands. She puts the pillow beside mine on the bed. And before I could look at her with wonder, she rendered me unspeakable. ‘I’ll sleep with you. At my disposal I have this very night only.’
There was a strong flash.
On the outside the forest flourished. From time to time the lighting flashed.
‘I’ve got you only for one night. Do you know how I spent the last seven hours? I lived with you, I was alone though. Lying alone I felt your presence in every pore of my body and limbs.
She was quite familiar with the room. She reached Shanta’s wardrobe as if it were her own. She took out a blue nighty. ‘Must be a bit loose’ she said. ‘Why don’t you speak?’ she shouted. ‘Why are you dumb founded?’
With the nighty she covered her face and burst out crying.
‘I’ll get married in two months. I was not to go into the world of brushes and canvas. Why did you let me go? Couldn’t you keep me with you?’
Clad in the nighty, coming to me, Shakshi stood erect.
Once again the lighting glowed white.
Her vody was very hot. The prominences of her body were well consp[icuous. She bent forward and put the fire of her lips on to mine …..
Her body emitted heat.
‘Satiate me. I don’t want to remain incomplete. For God’s sake don’t bring between us the disparity of our ages. Satisfy me. Give me life…’
I couldn’t turn back to see through the open window the forest getting drenched in the rain. Perhaps there was a lighting. Perhaps it had struck the forest violently. The whole of the forest seemed to have been set on fire. I was very-very weak at the moment…..
Or, perhaps, I was born for this moment only.
Have you seen love? No, come out with the truth. Have you seen love?
Suddenly I got lost like the ghost of O’ Henry. The wet forest was animated, and the rain in the forest-in colours the features of Shakshi had replaced mine….
So many rainy seasons…..so many autumns have passed since then….or….they are passing away.
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MUSHARRAF ALAM ZAUQUI
It was a night before that night—a dark and ugly night. The day had been a long and weary one. And now the night…My wife, as was her wont, had gone off to sleep, turning on the ogher side. I think I had wished her goodnight in a whisper. So softly, that she couldn’t even hear it. So gently, that only I was witness to my words…Yes, I had whispered goodnight to her and probably even given her a goodnight kiss….I had even hugged my two year old sleeping nearby. Before that, that is before going to bed I had even thanked my wife, out of habit, for the grey shirt she had bought me. What a pity! I detest grey and my wife hasn’t discovered this in the five years we’ve been married. But she had bought the shirt nevertheless and I had to express my gratitude. I did, and resting my head on the pillow, I lay down.
“Thanks honey. You…at least thought of a new shirt for me. No matter how old a man gets, a new garment always gives him a new feeling. I’ll wear it tomorrow. Positively tomorrow…to the office.”
My wife got bored with this meaningless blabber, turned the other way and fell asleep. I had spoilt one whole day for this night. What all
Translated by Naila Anjum
I had planned! But the fault lies in planning. Once we make op our minds about something, we are crippled. Because words complete their lesson as they jump around within our minds. And when they are required to recall the lesson, they are unable to do so.
Today, I had spent whole morning in daydreaming. In speculation. And in thought which had long ceased to enter my mind….
“Good morning. Do you remember something?” Earlier, your sweet, melodious voice used to wake me up. Your tapering fingers would run through my hair. Suddenly, flowers of heaving breath bloomed on your face and a faint scent came riding on the breath… the bangles tinkled on your wrists and some of them, when they cracked in the beautiful moments of our lovemaking, reminded us of their presence.
A morning of this kind, some empty fragrant day, some such cheerful afternoon of evening drenched in melody, beautiful night… I had really forgotten.
My mood was ruined today early morning. A rat died near the bathroom. To expect any energy from my wife was useless. Even after removing the dead mouse away from the house, the terrible stench lingered in the air. And with the smell I began to brood. The train of ideas created a riot in my head and heart.
Just one mouse! Just one mouse is enough to spoil a day?
Probably. But what would you have talked to her about?
Oh I haven’t thought about it. Maybe about days past, all those moments which were lovely, beautiful, graceful, and sparkling.
I have locked them up in some attaché of suitcase and sunk them into oblivion.
Then go and open it.
It’s not that easy.
Then keep quiet. Make a compromise. Let the creeper of life grow unhindered. It’ll grow old and wither away, it’ll fall off.
No, it’s a painful experience. More hurtful and horrible than the announcement of the death of the mouse.
I haven’t laughed for days. Really, it has been ages since I laughed heartily.
Earlier you used to do a lot of thing, remember?
In front of the house there was a row of naked eucalyptus trees. The ground was brown, strewn with damp and dead leaves. If there were mountains around, if one could see the dazzling pearl. Like snow on the peaks. Foolish and sentimental. Sheer emotionalism.
Earlier I did many things that had to do with emotions. Then too this fragile girl existed. In an effort to make my eyes more and more attractive…. How stupid I used to look, only she can tell, but back then she didn’t speak. She only smiled gently.
“You’re looking great!”
The song of rivers filled my face became as fresh as a waterfall. There were many such occasions when we flowed without any rhyme of reason. We burst into laughter without any apparent cause, we became exuberant for nothing at all.
Back then, we were as excited and carefree as the mountains. We were as naïve and innocent as children, as stylish as flowers, and blooming like them too. Then we used to laugh genuinely. We ran like waterfalls.
Then we were in love.
Then the seasons were not as dry, the air was not so heavy, the nights were not so dark and ugly. The days were not so sad and hot. Then we did not argue, we did not get upset with serious talk. We were alive then, we made merry, we stayed happy, and our faces were always sunny.
And we used to smile with or without any reason. We used to laugh, whether there was an occasion for it or not.
I haven’t laughed for days. I must laugh. It has been ages since I have rejoiced.
Today the whole day, a day before the dark and ugly night, I kept doing this. That is, I spent the whole day looking for the happiness meant for me.
Today was eventful. For instance, early in the morning, I loudly called out to my wife on seeing the dead mouse.
“Look an elephant has died here.”
My wife came, holding her nose and looking anxious. Just then, the tumbler made of bone china dropped from Somi’s hands and the shards dispersed on the floor.
She looked at me accusingly, with anger. I picked up a stick and said jokingly, “I’ll bid farewell to it with arms.”
“Go and throw it away.” She was acting crazy. “look here, Somi is crying. For god’s sake console him. But no, first ….oh! I can’t stand the smell. For god’s sake…”
She repeated “for god’s sake” twice and slapping Somi angrily, she dragged him inside.
I concentrated. Somi was howling inside and her angry outbursts could be heard outside. I thought about myself-my languorous voice carried a sleepy laughter that was like the fading smell of a wilting flower.
No. Before leaving for office, I wasn’t pleased at all. Over the last two to three years I have been going out in silence, grief welling up inside me. As usual, I stepped out of the house.
The seat next to mine in the office is james’s. on reaching my desk, I got furious to see the file on the desk covered with millions of crawling ants.
“have you organized a feast for the ants?” james asked me with a smile.
“How did the ants come here?”
“You have invited them yourself,” james was laughing, “I didn’t ask the peon to clear your desk so that you could make full arrangement for the ants feast.”
Stupid james. I felt a pang of envy. How heartily he could laugh.
No, these moments are a gift to me…perhaps to laugh and feel happy. I must laugh. “Why james, don’t you think their party should be lavish?”
I poured some water into the glass from the jug kept on the table. Then I lifted the ants off the file with a pen and slowed started putting them in the glass.
“What are you doing?” james asked in astonishment.
“I’m helping them reach their destination. They are looking for some spiritual system, don’t you think? Why are you making a face james? Don’t you agree with me?” perhaps[s there was a smile on my face. “Don’t you think that the entire universe could be mere nothingness to them, and they could be moving towards that negation of existence, crawling on the files?”
“No you are wrong,” james quickly lunged towards me. He snatched away the file and kept it aside. “ No, jokes apart, they will die.” There was an innocent anguish in his face. “You are terminating their lives, which you shouldn’t be doing.”
I noticed a hint of pensiveness in his voice. I thought for a while. Even I wasn’t too happy. Probably there was some terrible misunderstanding. For a while I kept quiet, head lowered.
“What’s the matter?” james interrupted my reverie.
“Nothing. I’m just feeling bored.”
“If you’re getting distracted, go home.”
“Yes, I’m going.”
While returning home, that stupid scene kept leaping on to my mind like flames. The ants floating in the glass, breathing their last.
Why did I do so?
I don’t know. Just watching the army of ants I felt they must be tired. They’d feel relaxed if released into water. They’d dance a little, whirl around a bit and then I’d bring them back on dry surface, their sojourn completed. And after drying themselves, they’d go home. But they died.
You are downright evil. Today you’ve committed too many murders.
The earth was spitting fire. The hot flames of the sun were baking the body like an oven. I reached home after spending a very hot heavy, listless day in the office. And of be honest, the whole rite of laughter was left incomplete. That day I couldn’t laugh. Lassitude clung to me even after my wife had returned home in the evening. But the train of thoughts was still moving on. Once again…after all it has been ages since we met. Even while having tea or eating dinner with my wife and son, I couldn’t laugh my share with them. My wife had bought the shirt on her way back from the office. The grey shirt.
Thus, one died early in the morning the next day, Somi did not drop a bone china tumbler. That day both of us had permission to go out. I tried several times to say something to her at every favourable opportunity, listen honey, today with you… after years…no! Do you remember the last time we laughed? In the zoo, no in the children’s park while eating ice creams. No, I have to rack y brains hard. It has been days. Nome of us laugh…let us try it some day for a change. Let us laugh a little.
She was perturbed, burdened with clothes and other things. Waving her bag, she disappeared with her problems.
Doesn’t matter, I consoled myself. She will come back in the evening. And before that, I have to ponder over the many reasons for laughter. What is it that can make me laugh and what is it that can make her happy-some lovely, ridiculous incident listening to which she’ll forget herself and burst into laughter? What is it that she likes? Something by looking at which she becomes happy? Bangles…no, she does not wear them now. Jewellery perhaps…no, now she does not even like jewellery. Since she has started earning her own money, she is not interested in any such thing.
What if I tidy the whole house…and when she comes back she finds the food already cooked….and the kitchen sparkling clean…no, these things are commonplace. Such acts pleased her earlier, but now…
What if I tell her a joke, some funny anecdote, an interesting event of some news of the neighbourhood…no, even these things will not elicit more than a nod from her.
The hot summer sun was hovering angrily over all the avenues of entertainment. No, I must tell her that we haven’t grown so old that even after belonging to each other we can’t be fellow travelers. Does it look good? What is it that has happened between us? So much harshness, bitterness, insipidity…so much silence. Can’t we bridge this gap? No, it’s all right….we have to stay alive. Everyone gone on like this… this truth comes before everyone at least once in a lifetime. But I have never ever thought about this truth in such a manner. No, never, I could never imagine…I only dreamt. In my dreams golden shadows had floated….I dreamt of myriad cities. I watched flying horses in dreams. On those horses two hands beckoned me. They made magic signs to me. I have always been a dreamer….always a dreamer…how could I become like this?
No, I must change. I have to make an effort to laugh. With Somi, with her. Let’s go out. No. she will not refuse right away but even if she consents, a sleepy heaviness will stay with her, then, we will return not nothing will happen. Nothing that would feel like a puff of exhilarating breeze.
This was the very night for which all these preparations had been made. She came back from the office. I had returned before her. She threw her bag on the bed and entered the kitchen as soon as arrived.
“What’s the matter?”
Before I could express my surprise, she remarked. “Nothing. There are ants in the sugar. These disgusting creatures have a way of settling down permanently on sweet things as if….”
“ A way of setting down…” The thought was amusing to me.
She was extremely serious. “In this season lots of ants come. Why? Because of the heat? No matter how tightly one keeps the lid closed, the ants…”
Someone was murmuring inside me. Whispering or laughing…this whole universe is nothingness to them, moving towards their destination of non-existence, sometimes in files, sometimes in cans of sugar…
“Did you say something?”
“No..” I murmured, trying to examine myself. She got up to change her clothes. The whole day passed with its dullness, and the night approached.
I heard her footfalls. She had come in after switching off the lights outside Somi had fallen asleep.
“You haven’t slept till now?” She was smiling.
I saw her smile and was taken aback. My face tried to put on different expressions but could not muster a single one.
“What’s the matter? Oh yes, I forgot to tell you” She gradually moved forward and sat on the bed. There was a special kind of glow on her face. My heart was beating aloud.
“Have you any idea what it could be? Guess.” She was testing me.
“No,” I said after thinking really hard. I couldn’t guess. “Why don’t you tell me?”
She got up to switch off the lights. Then she looked at me with a smile. “I forget to tell you. We’ve got the telephone connection…”
She switched off the lights. I couldn’t see her expression. But she was saying, “Now listen, you shouldn’t keep yourself hooked to the phone,” while turning on my side. There was a hint of disapproval in my voice too, “Why should I be hooked to it? There would be more calls for you.”
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Looking into the mirror as a kid was always an illusion, it was not her, somebody else. She screamed, ‘It’s not me, who is this? This is not my face, I can’t live with anybody else’s face.’
ssRunning after and getting drenched in the waves, waves of the past and present, she yelled, “Jimmy, Jimmy come back! Please for heaven’s sake!” Her words made her shiver- What is the need to go so far. Waves after all are waves, violent, mad, unstoppable and even deaf. “Come back Jimmy! I won’t be able to run now.”
Jimmy, with that twinkle in his eyes and large smile on his face came near her. “What happened, Mummy? Why do you get nervous?” “Nervous, why shouldn’t I be nervous? The world seems to be a playground for you. Why do you have to run so fast?”
“If, Papa would have been here……”
Jimmy was laughing. She just stared at the child. His words, his style, his style of looking down even before finishing the question. It was all so familiar. She knew him, it was not Jimmy. No, not at all, it was somebody else. She was seeing somebody else in Jimmy. “No Jimmy, please don’t look like this, don’t behave like this. It seemed somebody had thrown a stone inside the pond of her heart. Pond, no it wasn’t a pond. Rather a sea, a violent, mad, angry sea.
“No….No Jimmy don’t be like him”!
‘Him’ was his Father.
Time had stopped, the waves stood still, some footprints she had lost way behind ….some faces she had forgotten, but some came along with her.
“When father and I used to come here……..” She held his hand, “You still remember your father?”
“Yes, of course”.
The same way of talking, she stood there like a statue. Quite blank, quite void, lost in the oblivion. For a second, she took Jimmy to be ‘somebody’ else……then for a second lost in being a mother.
She laughed, laughed with no reason to laugh.
It seemed that laughter was the medicine bringing her back to the reality of being a mother. Its not rare when people resemble their father, but Jimmy was different…just after one year of his birth it seemed the whole of their conversation revolved around Jimmy, “Look at his hands……eyes….his feet, even the fingers…..they all are like yours…..isn’t it?”
With astonishment in her eyes, she asked-“How do you feel, seeing yourself in Jimmy, so small. Uhhh….. How do you feel?” He also started to swim with her on waves of amazement. Taking pride in his son he kissed Jimmy’s hands, his lashes….
“Jimmy….Jimmy my son.”
Eyes can cross the oceans of wonder within no time……
“Everybody says he is your son. He is not even near my shadow. You must be feeling proud. I am telling you, I will get a daughter, after all even a mother needs somebody to look like her. It doesn’t matter how she looks but there should be somebody like her. Somebody completely born out of her, as blooming…… as radiant as fresh milk. Why are you looking at me like that? Yes, I will get a sister for Jimmy, to make him feel jealous. Well, a daughter looking like me….will you love her or because of the wheatish complexion…?”
Sometimes how easily can you draw pictures wet sand, how suddenly, thinking of such things. And the emotions inside you break loose. She was looking at him, and he with those eyes, lips, with his whole body smiled at her. He bends down, on the wet sand waiting for the waves to soak them instead of the picture on the sand.
“Listen…. sometimes there is something else than the kid…. a moment belonging to us….are you listening? Where there is nobody, no wet sand, no waves, just us and only a spell of half closed, half opened eyes.”
“And if the spell suddenly breaks, then….
Jimmy jumped out of the bed onto her shoulder. She giggled. He also smiled at Jimmy.
“Just like you…….stay away form me” she scolds Jimmy playfully, and Jimmy like an unstoppable, violent storm plasters her with kisses. He is laughing……..
She is soaked with the kisses, just like the wet sand-“Leave me –Stupid”
“That was when Jimmy was an year old and it seemed that ‘he’ also along with me and Jimmy had to face the dense forests of life ……..”
She changed the date in the diary.
Jimmy was growing holding his father’s finger. Days became months and months became an year and it seemed that his father’s fingers merged into his.
Just like him. It seemed they were identical. His laughter….his habits.
“Were you like this……?”
“I don’t know”.
“No, you wouldn’t have been as beautiful… like Jimmy……. like cotton…so soft.”
She is reading his lips. His lips are very near…… near to her eyes-Losing themselves into each other, waiting to get lost……. there is a hint of impatience in his behaviour. How was I like….the way Jimmy dances, does his naughty things, makes noise…. his likes, his dislikes.
She was getting jealous.
“…Yes, as a kid, just like him, was always lost in clothes, used to take out a whole lot. I also didn’t like new clothes, it was always the old and dirty ones I use to like. I don’t know why. I liked rain. I liked the way earth flew with the air, I liked getting wet, sitting near the window, sketching. I used to enjoy it a lot. I didn’t like bad faces, I didn’t like oranges, didn’t like ‘Karela’. Are you listening to me?”
Her voice was lost somewhere in clamor of the waves. She just looked at them plainly. It seemed that somebody had cut his flesh and made an exact replica of him, as if somebody had given him a small mirror. Hey look, look at your childhood’s photograph.
Jimmy’s small childish palms were growing bigger. The father was filled with joy excitement and a feeling of pride.
But who was jealous….Is Jimmy….?”
That day Jimmy suddenly stretched on the bed. There was a feeling of displeasure in his eyes. The displeasure, he had for her….. for a mother…
“Stay away….stay away from me mother……”
Darkness was spreading its wings, it seemed that the night was getting drawn into some lake. She wore her nightdress, woke up to switch on the blue night bulb. Jimmy eyes watched her every move…..her every action.
“Lights……Don’t turn off the lights”
“I won’t be able to sleep. I will sleep in Papa’s arms”
He tilted his head a bit and nested it on his father’s shoulder. She smiled with meaningful eyes. She was shocked for a moment, their hands….their legs…their bodies…the only difference was that one was big and the other small. She came on to the bed after switching on the bulb.
Jimmy jumped onto her body, and she suddenly burst out laughing…I was getting jealous. Jimmy was loving her the same way as……
He was laughing.
Jimmy kissed her eyes, her forehead, he took her cheeks in his small hands and caressed them and….. bringing his small lips to hers………
She jumped like a fish in water, then laughed, released herself from his hold.
He was still smiling at Jimmy
She stammered, “See…how does he behaves….this…are you seeing this?”
“Yes” he laughed again, would you believe, Frayad said….have you read Frayad?” She felt insulted like scattered waves. “Everybody has read him…don’t act…but Jimmy…..he is just like you…..the wet sand was getting wetter and he was laughing.
That was when Jimmy was two years old and it seemed that He also, along with me and Jimmy had to face the dense forests of life…….
The dates in the diary were changed.
All of a sudden it seemed that Jimmy was growing. His eyes…...his lips and it seemed all of it was sinking in his father…no he was slowly disappearing. His eyes went first.
Jimmy came before her eyes……Mummy!
Then his lips…..then………
She used to check his father’s presence persistently in the dark- Are you there?
Sometimes Jimmy got surprised by it. Even while sleeping Jimmy’s hand used to remove hers from his father’s chest and suddenly changed position to come between them, followed by his usual laugh.
“Jimmy is growing.”
“We should be more careful with Jimmy, he has started observing things, and he repeats them too. You know his observation. Frayad once said sometimes a child becomes a man. No don’t get angry like foolish people, and don’t show me your eyes like that. It happens sometimes…..but a child will remain a child, like our Jimmy.”
Then, suddenly the days and night were lost somewhere.
And then it seemed as if she had lost a large part of her life somewhere, and then like the fog of ‘Sogwari’ in her eyes, she started looking for something in that four year child, Jimmy.
An accident, that was what it was, the same time in evening when the birds are retiring and the stars are starting to announce their arrival.
And then a star got lost somewhere.
She thought it to be the dense forest of life but it was nothing, only a thick cover of fog. A cover of haze, of darkness….a shadow. She just came to know about the accident, he didn’t return that evening, he never returned…….
She read Jimmy’s eyes.
“Papa didn’t come...?”
“No he will not come now!” she was crying.
Even after such accidents there is a life hidden somewhere, that life has to be found, has to be lived for those like Jimmy. And there is ‘something’ for oneself too, other that the accident. There is something other than the memories.
“Jimmy, are you listening? Dirty clothes, no, remove them Jimmy you have so many clothes, ‘Karela’ has vitamins Jimmy. Green vegetables, oranges make blood –you should eat them Jimmy….” Her voice was feeble, maybe Jimmy was not listening. She could see Jimmy in the darkness of night, Jimmy’s hand came over her eyes. Soft as a cushion. “Don’t cry Mummy, don’t cry….Papa…he will come, look I will become….” Even in the darkness she could feel the smile. Jimmy’s lips came to her forehead, he then kissed her eyes lovingly….He is loving her.
She got stunned like the waves. “Jimmy” Jimmy was frightened. She hugged Jimmy close to her heart……My son, my son, she is looking Jimmy’s father is smiling, she is telling him tales about Jimmy. Are you listening, after you have gone he becomes you, says, “I am Papa, are you listening?”
And then, like trees in Autumn, waiting to be decorated with new leaves, waiting for flowers and fruits to bloom-she saw that she was alone. Jimmy had started going to school, he has started wearing his school uniform. Maybe time flies like a ‘plane’. The morning and the evenings have changed. She woke up fast, went to Jimmy and said smilingly –“Listen, from today I will drop you to school. Is it alright, seasons change, Jimmy. She thought that Jimmy kept looking at her to his way to school. No, he is not ‘Him’, he is Jimmy.
That day with a new resolve, a new spirit she tore the diary. But before tearing it she wrote. “Now I will live for Jimmy, what right do I have to still carry something which no longer exists. I should look at Jimmy as Jimmy. Maybe, that is what is right for Jimmy….that he never faces any kind of inferiority complex.”
She tore that page too.
“Jimmy….Jimmy come back.”
“Why do you get so scared, Mummy?”
Jimmy’s small feet came running towards her. Jimmy was laughing, why you get so scared. Run, catch me.
He ran away, she is panting, he is running fast. She manages to catch him.
“No Jimmy, Jimmy stop…. Stop it Jimmy.”
Jimmy looks at her quite perplexed-as if asking why. And then suddenly she forgets everything….just stares at Jimmy. At Jimmy, his eyes….his lips…..
There is a feeling of amazement in his eyes, she holds Jimmy’s hand. She still stares at him.
How did it happen…how did it get into Jimmy? Her eyes,….her lips. “What happened Mummy?”
“No” she just giggled lightly.
one plus one
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The Rain, Darkness and….
(This story is absolutely imaginary. It bears no relationship with any writer, publisher or dispute.)
It is not proper to link the whole sequence of happenings—that you will try to know, hereafter, through this story—with any unbelievable or dramatic occurrence, though there are, perhaps, some truths that are strange and alarming. It is difficult to imagine whether you have come across any such situations in your life when oral communication is lost and, instead of that. Extreme silence or cognizance of some presence remains that touches you, 9in the deep of silence, and says. ‘There is some one….’ This story was, all of a sudden, born of such an extra-ordinary moment.
The atmosphere was calm and lifeless. It can be said with confidence that you can’t hope of raising any sounds or movements in such a calm and lifeless atmosphere. At this moment everything was in accordance with expectations, that is, such as Shantanu had thought of. A day with bright but indifferent sun. a heavy autumnal morning and, in my garden, the rows of odorless flower plants—Sune, Gilbahri, and Tili—that I had brought from my Alsatian free publisher a few days ago. Your sense of self esteem about the great achievement of having been born a Homosapien may suffer a rude shock if you have been, like Bernard Shaw. Fondly upholding the conviction that a man may be transformed into a superman, when you read the epithet ‘Alsatian free’ for the English publisher I must apologize for that yet assert that he deserved no better compliment per Shantanu’s reckoning. After unexpected and exceptional success of ‘Vaasanaa Hai Do Raste’ this English publisher, having come to Shantanu are passing through some sadness—some deep agony said,
‘Excuse me. For some astrological considerate I had to choose an ill-omened day to visit you.’
‘An ill-omened day?’
‘I sold off my old and faithful Alsatian on this day. But I did not suffer any loss Shasnanu.’
He had all the particulars of expenditure, with regard to the Alsatian, on his busy finger tips. A separate room for him. So much on his diet. There was no mention of his faithfulness and love among the accounts. So, if observed minutely, this English publisher (who was an Indian but, since he published English books and with the impression formed by the way of his way of living, to Shantanu’s mind this very name for him seemed to be quite appropriate), the sale of Alsatians was in no way a deal incurring a loss in any way. And accordingly, to the mind of Marget Alior, of all the books he had published, this ‘dog’ pleased so well that she made up her mind to buy him at any cost. In this way, with one percent emotion and ninety-nine percent of economic considerations the bargain was settled and Miss Marget with the dog pressed to he fleshy bosom, felt emotional relations with the dog for a while. Then accompanied by the dog, she took her flight to the land of Mahashweta or the village of Nazarul,
So, to be short, ‘Seine’,’Gilbahri’ and ‘Tili’ flowers were under our consideration. It was this very ‘Alsatian Free’ who had brought them for him. And in response to this act of his Shantanu asked him some questions that were, more or less, of the following character,
‘where do these flowers grow?’
‘Do Italian ladies also like these flowers?’
The candid answer should have been a ‘No’; for they were beautiful sans sweetness of smell could it mean that beautiful ladies also lack brilliance and fragrance? In the publisher’s opinion the answer was a definite ‘No’, but so far as literary environment is concerned, there are chances that it will cast its effect in the future. And that too, when a man quite familiar with these flowers is a publisher also, who should come to your door and take greater interest in these flowers than in your literary creations.
There were many more other questions. For example, ‘Will the climate here suit them?
A month passed like a swift blowing wind. He couldn’t come in contact with Mandira—neither had he phoned her nor did she. The controversy with the Royal Publishing House, of course, was there on the head lines.
The truth is it is not proper to consider the whole the reference or happening by linking it to any definite date. The world is changing fast—and Shantanu had an awareness of it. Society, the ways of living, Clothing’s, ways of entertainment, preferences in food and eating, films, heroes and heroines…they all are under the process of change. From miracles to science and psychology, from other girls come in contact to Mandira…the touch, the feel of it, seemed to have stayed in his senses and body. Oral communication was lost. The touch remained the shricking touch as the hissing flames of a stove, burning hot, making a sound. If the whole of it is visualized, there remains the close reaction of Mandira only---the frightened Mandira who is clasping to her chest and whose hips, pressed closely to him seem to beat like the pulse Shantanu has fresh in his memory, that mysterious night, when he was standing on the balcony of his house and innumerable stars were flowing away in the sky. He had seen something more too. No. it was mot a delusion, nor a story or fiction. The scene had enlivened the dense that we are not the only being in the universe. Shantanu had suddenly witnessed an ET in the blue carpet of the sky that was spread far and wide-extra terrestrial or aliens—a life, an intelligence from for beyond the earth, a new being. Not a flying saucer, rather so many stars together had formed an alien body. And suddenly mandira’s face replaced the ET. And if, that seemingly impossible happening when Mandira, possessed by fear and dismay, had taken him into her embrace, be necessary to be connected with any definite date, it was that very night when he had seen that alien body in the galaxy…and as he gazed on, it changed into Mandira. How and why about it can’t be dressed with an answer—from science to psychology. But why had that happened? And after that, for a month, there was nothing but rumours.
The angry letters of Mandira against the Royal Publishing House and Desai also found wide circulation. Mandira said all the accounts of royalty given to Shimal Sharma by Mr. Desai, the proprietor of the Royal Publishing House were fictitious. During the lat few months of his life Shimal had asked Desai repeatedly to give him the account of his books but Desai had no intentions to give him any. And seen it, he would have detached himself from the Royal Publishing House, that very moment.
Papers and magazines were fulkl of the matter of dispute between Mandira and Desai. Mandira had leveled against him some still graver accusations too. Some of them were hard and sharp. What were the sources of income of the Royal? What is the secret of the manson worth crores in junagarh? Mandira wanted to know, in straight forward words—what type of business it was in which the writer ix the loser—and on some day begs for his own money and dies—and the publisher went no founding mansons worth crores of rupees?
In her letter Mandira registered her anger and resentment in a piercing language with the implication that if there was still operative such establishments as the department of income tax and CBI, why they did not come forward to expose the scandal low activities of publishers. Giving a record of Shimali’s books she asked if the royalty of Shimal books amount to one lakh till 1995 how it came down to zero today. If the readers had disappeared. But the publisher was creating property in this business of his.
The dispute had begun, assertions and claims of writers had begun to pour in on such a day Saghun Chakraborty arrived sniffing his tobacco snuff and wiping his nose with his lion cloth.
‘now publishers don’t rely on the sale of books…’ he was in a serious mood. ‘Publishers rely on government purchases. How a purchase is settled is not known to the authors even. And that is the reason publishers do not care for writers. The problem will continue to exist till the purchase of books is not made public.’
Shantanu looked up.
Safghan was turning the pages of the book lying in front of him, but he was mumbling too. ‘what to say of us! Wrote a book and the whole of the books is there contained in a floppy. How much this little floppy earns for the publisher in the market you can’t even imagine. The truth is, Shantanu, no publisher maintains transparency in the matter of books. There are some writers who don’t want the royalty. Sitting in high chairs they help publishers sell their books. You will see how long Mandira’s controversy continues.’
BUT Mandira’s struggle continued. Such was the time when another letter of Mandira got published in papers.
‘it is regretfully declared that the Royal publishing House, hereby remain no more the authorized publishers of my husband, late Shimal Sharma. The account they sent us about the sale of books has been found to be dubious.’
Shantanu felt that the dispute is not to come to an end in near future. it must get aggravated. The trumpet was to be blown by this person or that, today or on another day. This war is begun by Mandira and, perhaps, she will emerge victorious….
But, perhaps, it is an ever recurring thing. We live in a disconcerting world of ET or the dreams of aliens even today. Even today, at some tender moment in the night a innumerable stars shine only to transform themselves into a flying saucer or an ET. Some Mandira, bating in the condescending rays of the seen cries out, ‘there is some one.’
Once again he was in all the likeness of his own father that night. On the outside the night was flowing freely. Moon-light was bleaching the objects…he had kept. The window opens conscientiously. The Scotch bottle was emptied.
Perhaps an intoxicated person thinks more deeply than he otherwise would. The details of his previous royalties were there in front of him. He went through them again and again. He was becoming more and angrier on Desai and say to him. ‘ssaaley, for this very reason I thought, time and again, that it was better for me to start my own publication than to suffer the fraud by the likes of you…should publish my own books.’
The previous accounts of the vouchers of his two books were missing. The account of the last five years also looked doubtful. Casting off the dead scales of a writer from his body he was in the shoes of his father, an unadulterated businessman, only.
Shantnua put the vouchers aside. He came to the terrace, walking. For a little while he kept looking at the constellations in the sky. Next, he pulled out his mobile and began to dial Desai’s number. Desai was there at the other end.
Shantanu roared. ‘it is twelve at night saaley. My fun of Scotch got grated because of you Saaley,’ Shantanu was speaking abusively. ‘I’ll come to your house to thrash you.’
‘ha….ha…,’ Desai was trying to laugh. ‘Do come. You do. Why are you getting cross? If there is any mistake in the vouchers we shall see to it. Take from me ten Scotch bottles for one my dear….’
Hearing him laugh Shatanu also laughed, ‘My fraternity is a different one, firangee. I belong to your Alsatian breed. I would bite rather than barks.’
By the time he restored himself to his room in the quiet of the brightly moon-light , some very dark comments that had been made during his conversation at Mandira’s came to his memory. Shantanu had deliberately kept preserved the memory of them.
‘Have you ever considered why the books by a writer like Shimal are printed in so very small a number?’
‘every one cannot digest them, is it?’
‘but he fights for all.’
‘Then, why did he not fight his own battle?...i mean against his own publisher?’
It seemed as if some one like Dushyanta had tossed a piece of rock in the dead quietness. For a moment Mandira’s whole body trembled.
‘I am not an author but I can analyses the whole matter,’ Shananu shot an unerring arrow. ‘Being given to the business of writing your author becomes a sky creative. In fact he becomes unable to fight any war, not even his own.’
Just on the next day, as I opened the main gate of desai’s bungalow, I once again heard the barking of an Alsatian.
‘so Mallika Bengal has returned you your Alsatain.’
‘no Shantanu….’ Desai laughed. ‘one Alsatian is out, another is in. one has only to be a lover of a good breed dog.’
Sipping his tea he asked in a murmur, ‘and what about the matter concerning Mandira?’ Dasai was laughing. ‘don’t you know? There has been a compromise. Such matters begin and got closed too….’
He tossed a big piece of bread towards the Alsatain which was caught by the Alasatian in the mid air.
In front of him the sun made two shadows of them on the lawn. Suddenly there came to his vision the face of Mandira, ‘there is some one….’
The Asatian barked for the second time and in response to it another piece of fresh bread was tossed to him.
Shanftanu felt very sad. By the time he returned home a strange quiet or a load over burdened his whole being. The atmosphere was once again very quiet and lifeless. As he returned to his room seeing the flowers of ‘Scine’, Gilbehri’ and ‘Tili. He was started. Though he was in the habit of living alone, an explosion had gone off somewhere. He switched on the lights. The window was closed, but the curtain fluttered. He retured to look at the bed. Innumerable furrows were there visible on the bed sheet. While departing he had forgotten to extinguish the piece of cigarette in the ash tray. Smoke was still rising there. The rows of paintings on the wall seemed to have become alive and moving even. Suddenly he felt a shiver. His frightened eyes once again turned to look at the window. He saw the curtain waving and a low shriek escaped from him. ‘There is some one, there is.’ But there was none. It was just a delusion on his part. And, this was the time when he made up his mind that he would try to visit mandira once again, breaking all the limits of decency.
And this was just a chance occurrence, or what, that the answer from the other end, without any observance of formality or extending any questions, was, ‘please come, better in the evening.’
When Shantanu reached the beautiful colony of late Shimal, all of a sudden the music of falling rain drops heralded some new mischance…..
She was alone in the house, in a sky-blue night-wear. When he got in, she was sitting on a chair, extending out her hand to fill up her palm with the falling rain drops. She looked up, then said in a murmur, ‘come in. I am collecting diamonds on my palm.’
It was difficult to say whether the tender fair palm had really turned themselves into diamonds or into fire. It was a rare sight. Rarer than the sight of a rainbow in the rainy season sky. But Shantanu had not come to watch the rarity of such a sight at this time. On the level of thoughts that he composed to picturize himself, he seemed to have turned into a dog at one time, and a toad at another. This was the first time that he was bitten by the fangs of words that made him think if he had made a mistake in closing pen-man-ship as his main occupation. I couldn’t restrain myself.
‘Why did you do this?’
Mandira stood there partially soaked. The rain drops on her face partly expressed the heat and partly her perplexity. She turned. There was an expression of wonder on her face.
‘What did I do?’
‘Why did you compromise?’ Shantanu was looking fixedly into her eyes.
There was a sharp clap of thunder.
‘Come in. had I an apprehension of the rain, I wouldn’t have asked you to come this evening.’ Her voice was heavy.
Having come in, suddenly he was perplexed. Shimal’s photograph was missing from the table. The room it self had an air of change. The sofa-set also was rearranged. She sat down on a chair, as if they intended to shut and then to open alternately. And then her lips moved.
‘Some times a struggle is that of a person faced by him all alone. Sometimes we are defeated by ourselves. Sometimes we lose words that should define ourselves—quite apart from our being authors or painters. The canvas stands blank, the brush sans colors, pen silent and the words making literature unconvincing…’
Turning, she cast a look, got up from the sofa and then came to me.
‘Listen to me Shantanu…every person wants another one, a little smaller than himself. Every important person in the market wants a less important person. Big words sometimes seek the li9ghter and smaller words. My flight was high but there was some other one with a higher flight. I felt, compromise was a part of business that one had to make regardless of any feelings of victory or defeat….’
There was thunder-clap.
She mumbled, ‘I had nothing to lose, and nothing to gain even. Entertaining the feeling of ourselves being great we lose everything, perhaps,…so many inborn desires too…’
She moved ahead. Rain drops came in through the window. Closing the window she said in a whisper.
‘The maid servant has gone home. Her child is sick. Will you stay here tonight...For me…?’
She was looking across the window…despite the flashes and the thunder, Shantanu was still lost in the current of her works spoken awhile ago. ‘Every person wants a smaller one.’
There was a fresh flash. Having closed the window, Mandira came in and stood in front of frog cane to his mind, the one he had seen near the rows of odorless Tile and Gilbari plants.
He felt Mandira’s palms move close to his eyes. Perhaps the blinding flash of the lightning had settled itself in his eyes. Despite the heavy rain, flashes of lightning and thunder of the cloud, Shantanu had scanned what explosive results the situation might bring in.
‘Won’t you stay?...please speak.’ At the moment Mandira’s eyes seemed to converse with the vapour laden clouds, on equal terms.
Shantanu said something very quietly—or tried to say something. But, at that very moment a forceful gust of wind spend the shut panels of the window and Shantanu’s answer was lost in the thunder of the cloud.
3 plus ones
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Saying Farewell to this Century….
--- musharraf alam zauqui
“So what’s the solution for this?”
There was a hint of perplexity in papa’s eyes. The tone was devoid of emotions, the face had turned a bit pale.
There was a hollow grimness in Mom’s demeanor. “Why not prevent the guest from coming at all… I mean…”
There was an air of finality to that decision.
“But would Riya agree?”
Papa’s modernity was still under trial,
The suddenly evolving tense situation had, at different levels, taken all three of them in its grip- Papa, Mummy, Riya!
Riya was not among those sort of girls who could, till not very long ago, be found even in the stories of ismat chughtai….Naive, impish, playing with dolls, pricking her fingers with her needle-and thread, prancing and soaring on the wings of wind, sitting between the mirasans andsinging songs to the beat of the dholak at weddings, lunging to take some teeny-weepy baby in her arms, at which the older women couldn’t help remarking, “Hey, you are still a child yourself, what if the baby drops from your hands…”
But there’s another aspect to all this too. We can as well say that Riya is one amongst those girls who used to inhabit our short stories. Even the stories of Ismat Chaghtai. Now shyly clutching a bit of aanchal between the teeth, now going capering like a deer, as tender as a rabbit and just as vivacious, bringing tears in her eyes at the slightest provocation, entangling kites on the roof in the kite-flying season, flinging herself, heart and soul, over any boy that she fell in love with, secretly writing letters to him when she was alone..And getting frightened at the slightest sound of someone approaching…
Riya was a child then. She had a dream. There are many horses and a dark tunnel. The horses and a dark tunnel. The horses are blindfolded. They are galloping away at full speed.
“Why did I see that the horses were blindfolded. There were questions in Riya’s eyes.
“Were those horses flying?”
“Yes, they were flying in the air.”
“Were they sturdy and young?” Papa turned towards her with a smile. “Because it was you, Riya. Don’t run so fast. The horses were blindfolded so that they would not crash against the walls of the tunnel.”
They had been born in colonies and had brought their own cultures with them. They belonged to the world of “Brands,” Or they would themselves turn into a “Brand” as soon as they were born. They were enclosed within their own walls- or we should rather say bedrooms- or their drawing rooms. They were beginning their journey with the MTV culture.
Suppose someone says.. (In the words of the German writer, Herman Hesse) a bird is going to be born from an egg. The egg is a cosmos that wants to be born; it will have to destroy and obliterate a world to do so.
Readers! My apologies. This story isn’t written in the same way as other stories. It couldn’t have been. Just as we can’t be content with the mere statement that the world is changing. Simply stating that the world is changing doesn’t bring out the full force of this image of a bird and an egg. Because, the bird is struggling to break who is being born would have to shatter the existing world first.
And just like Hesse had told Sinclair in ‘Damein’, the demise of the old world is at the hand. This world would take a new shape. The stench of death is emanating from it. Nothing new can come about without death. There will be war. You will see what great turmoil there is all around. People will enjoy it. Tired of their boredom, they are waiting for the massacre to begin. In fact, the New World has begun, and this is going to be terrible for those who are still clinging to the old one.
So readers! This news isn’t going ot bring any happiness. The night of 31st December, when such a thick fog was enveloping the sky that you couldn’t see each other’s hand, the people, locked up in their rooms, hotels, bars and discotheques were preparing fo9r the celebrations to welcome the New Year. And the thick fog at the conclusion of the Twentieth Century had brought this news for Mr. Arjun Daitya Kar and his modern wife, Reema Kar, that their fourteen-year old daughter was going to become the mother of a child.
This ‘world’ wasn’t like this earlier. Arjun Daitya kar, the father of our heroine, Riya, had to wage a struggle for the sake of this world. Earlier, he had very little piece of earth and a little patch of sky, a little bit of religion and a little bit of socialism. He had few dreams in the beginning. Then, all of a sudden, they started his business with small bits of computer parts. And yes, perhaps, whatever data was stored before that in the ‘floppy’ of the past had been ‘deleted’ by then. But new seasons and new circumstances had brought in a pile of fresh data that too was stored in ‘floppies’ after it had been saved by Mr. Daitya Kar in his mind.
Mr. Nilambar was also stored on one such floppy. The same Mr. Nilamber who was a senior executive in a company that sold PCLF 486 computers at monthly installments. Seeing Riya at some party, he had extended his hand in friendship towards her, (This was Mr. Daitya Kar’s own conjecture.) or, we should say, he had even started visiting their house, which something that Mr. Daitya Kar had initially disapproved. He had only countenanced such things because friendship with Mr. Nilambar held the prospect of some benefits for his business.
Anyhow, Nilambar’s friendship may or may not have done anything else, but it had put a small burning matchstick to the firework of his dreams, dreams that had been lying dormant in him.
Nilambar was friendly with people who had acquired new wealth. After meeting such people, he would give out all the news about the latest fads and in-things, like…one must go on a tour to Egypt, take a boat-ride on the Nile, climb the Pyramids of Jebel Seina. It was through him that he came to know that smoking ‘Havana’ cigars had a taste of its own, than if you drank brands like ‘Kohba’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Bolivia and Punch’, it would draw the attention of any wealthy man towards you, just like having lunch and dinner at ‘Balthazaro’s’ in New York, or eating your favorite things at Manhattam’s fomous Moroccan restaurant, ‘Che Zaiqaa’, or if you had an old bottle of ‘Spring Buck’ whisky that would be appreciated by any wealthy connhoisseur, and if you had Tom Ford’s designer bags, shoes, clothes or belt.. To make an impression on the people of your community, you could send your children to spend their holidays at the summer camps in Switzerland that were run by Leslie’s, and if possible, your wife too, and then enjoy your life with your favorite mistress, speeding around with her in BMW or LUXES, or in some high-speed TARGA CARRIER, PROCHE or XS4XSUTTON.
Daiyta Kar had a suspicion those days. ‘Have you sent your wife with the children too…’
“Ha…ha… ha….! Nilambar had laughed at that, but his voice had seemed so wretched and doleful, as if, in his own words, the CBI had got wind of the secret accounts in Swiss or Bangkok Banks of one of his newly- rich friends. In other words, the game had slipped away at crystal Baccarat, the game of cards played by gamblers.
“What’s the problem with you….? Riya would smile at him like a psychiatrist. Her every word seemed measured. “You shouln’t have any misgivings about me. If he is making a fool of himself, then you shouldn’t be foolish enough to stop him. The sort of life that you have now was missing before. You understand what I am saying, don’t you, and there’s some contribution of that son of a bitch Nilambar too in this change. He always gives something or the other every time he comes. Diamonds, jewelry.. and if, in return, he tells your wife how beautiful she is then listen to him Daitya Kar! Become a complete businessman…if you want to achieve something in life, and then learn to overlook a few things…..
Good or bad, righty or wrong, whatever conjectures were being made regarding this incident, it had its beginning in just this sort of ‘logic’, or, in Nilambar’s words, driving rashly through the rush hour on a street in New York, his car had suddenly careened into many other cars.
If he ever got angry with Riya when she was a child, Rama would always silence him… “Children need a world in which they can be free. “A world under this roof.”
Daitya Kar kept his silence. But he was repeatedly assailed by the feeling that behind the unfettered world that was being provided for Riya, his own world was being snatched away from him, or, as if different worlds were being created for each of them. His, Riya’s and Rama’s. Sometimes he would see his tiny Riya performing aerobic with the music system blaring in the background, or he would come across Nilamber, explaining something in whispers to Rama in some room. And like a shrewd wife, Rama would stop him and get up from the chair.
When we move ahead in life, our desires run farther ahead of us…
Here was a boundless world that had filled Rama’s eyes. She was so bewitched with glamour that whenever he found her face to face with Riya, Daitya Kar would be filled with dread that she was either inducing her to dreams, or that she was lost in them herself. A dark, tunnel had descended into the depths of her eyes and neighing, blindfolded, galloping horses…..
Daitya Kar was never able to forget that dream of Riya’s…Yes! Just by those horses, he would be compelled to compare them with the horses of Jonathan Swift…What are you, a mere human. You have such thin, slender arms and legs…Look at me…I’m the Chariot of the Gods… the horse was standing proud and erect, like some king before man, its enslaved subject. Daitya Kar realizes that man is nothing in comparison to the horses. Nothing but a helpless, ill-fated creature, surviving only on dreams.
Nilambar would say withy a laugh, “We are people of the Remote Culture. If there are many people living together, each one wants to view the programs on different channels. If the program on Sony isn’t interesting, switch over to Zee with the click of the remote button. If Zee too fail to grip, then MTV, or Sports, or VTV. After all, the remote is there.. If you don’t like your husband change your husband, if you don’t like your wife then..” “What about the children…You can’t change children by the remote.”
Daitya Kar asks. Nilambar falls silent all of a sudden.
But no, what renders Daitya Kar’s situation so helpless is that, on the one hand, he goes along with the system, and yet, on the other, he keeps on rejecting it at every step. If he doesn’t go along with the system, there is darkness, and the neighing horses in the dream loose their way in the dark tunnel. And when he goes along helplessly with the system, something gnaws at his insides that is, it gnaws at him on one level, the level at which he has to strangle the opposition that his conscience puts up when he gives acceptance to the system. At least he tries to do so. Any how, the fact is that he is compelled to live a life (we won’t call it wretched) he doesn’t have the strength to struggle.
Daitya Kar had imagined a world even during the days of his struggle, a world full of romance, a life full of beauty. And he had imagined and thought about it even in those days of a hemmed in, small-town milieu, because there used to be an enchanting realm of love that had existed then, in spite of all the constraints and hardships of those days. His parents, an amalgam of joy and sorrow, then their own parents, the neighbors, aunts and uncles. The poetry of love speckled the valley of life like the stars in the sky.
Then, the sun was simply the sun. the earth was simply the earth, and the sky, just the sky. The moonlight sprinkled through the night then, and the stars were full of enchanting stories. Nature took you in the roofs… Those cots were coated with the grime of tales and fables….
Daitya Kar felt that it was not just nature, or the environment that has been snatched away from the children, they have been robbed of life itself. They were children and so they used to think like children, looked like children, but would you… would you call Riya a child? Does Riya still appear to be a child? The lotuses blooming in Rama’s eyes have wilted. She is like a child because she is a child, but observing the 12 years old Riya, Daitya Kar would be filled with dread…No, Riya has become a young woman.
“No”, there was a harshness in Rama’s voice… “that’s what I am saying…She shouldn’t look like a child anymore…”
“But Why? Daitya Kar’s voice was suffused with fear. “Because, if she looks like a child anymore, it would be a disadvantage to her. It would hurt her career, her future…”
The father hidden inside Daitya Kar come to hold the front.
“Twenty-year old children go to school. Where does the future come the mestakes that we made… because this is the age when…”
Daitya Kar was frightened.
“Don’t fear…What ever I’ll do, it will be for Riya’s benefit.”
“But What will you do? Will you turn her into a woman…In the name of her future…”
Daitya Kar felt that Rama should have laughed at his sarcasm, instead, Rama had turned serious.
“Yes, I’ll turn her into a woman…”
“Have you gone mad….?”
“No… I have decided. I’ll get Riya to have hormone injections.”
Daitya Kar had been jolted even then, when Rama had talked about the world of glamour. Modeling the bold and brazen life of young actress… Nilabmbaer had asked with a laugh once. “Why do laughing. Nilambar had cited the latest example of Mamta Kulkarni. Daitya Kar thinks that the father’s forbearance must have been put to test. Moreover, here there was body fitness, ingenuity and frankness, and all of these led to the world of glamour. Beauty Quiz’s, Miss India, Miss world, Miss universe….watching their daughter’s body exposed before the worked, watching her bared legs would certainly make the parents feel so proud.
This incident took place during the days when the high-flying Nilamber had suddenly tripped….
Nilamber’s company was getting disturbed about the declining demand for its products. An decision was taken, why not wind up the company that was incurring so much loss. Suddenly, executives like Nilamber, who were being given such fat paychecks, were out of job.
Nilambar’s lips were trenbling that day… just like someone falling to the earth from a great height.
“Stop her…She is flying too fast….”
“But now…Perhaps, it was too late now.” It wasn’t Daitya Kar, it was the voice of a utterly helpless father.
“Do something…” Nilamber’s voice betrayed how frightened he was. “The girl has unknowingly chosen a gas chamber for herself, she’ll suffocate. First, it was the discotheque, and then bars, hormone injections…Her next stop could well be the condom…stop her!”
Daitya Kar was in a state of such wretched misery that even the word “condom” wasn’t able to join him out of it... He could see that this Liberalism, this Consumerism, had turned Riya into a woman even before she took these hormone injections.
He was compelled to see all this with his closed eyes. He could see the old world dying too. The bird was struggling to break out of the egg…He could fee4l the stench of death...Nothing new could happen without death…People need the hysteria that was the gift of war and mayhem…Hysteria…Sensation….Perhaps, the New World had begun…And this beginning was terrible for people like them…People who were still clinging to the Old World….
In the meantime, many small incidents went on happening… Like Rama plugging for ‘Modeling’ with all the force she could muster…Like the gradual stopping of Nilamber’s visits to their house…Like Riya beginning to keep glum and silent. A deep, drown-out-sadness, like a melancholy that is born of some searing tragedy, or which is common with victims of depression. And he could see how Rama was being steadily crushed and beaten underneath this deep drawn-out-sadness. He was certain that the world was round. But he wasn’t sure that Rama could ever again return in the form of a woman. Either this was total defeat, or, it was the last page of that incident when Riya had attempted suicide by swallowing those sleeping pills…
Had the bird broken out to the egg?
For Arjun Daitya Kar, it was a mystical moment of self-realization… but a horrible scene was still left to unfold. Riya had regained consciousness, but her Medical Report was still to come. But whatever was going to be revealed in the Report could be read in Riya’s eyes even now. It was as if a chill had suddenly descended on the whole house. A haze of mist that separated them from each other like strangers... A shriek reverberated, a sound of something crashing to pieces. Daitya Kar and Rama came running only to see Riya standing in front of them at the door of her house. Her clothes in tatters, her eyes burning like coals. She held a half-broken bottle of soda in her hand, and there was a strange sort of tautness on her face that had been born out of sheer anger. “What do you people want to know…If you pester me too much then…?”
Daitya Kar knew. Films and the violence that was portrayed in films naturally had their effect on the minds of children. His emotions too had c hilled in the cold haze of the mist. And then, there was just one day left for a new day to begin, or, he was going to hear some news that was going to shock him out of his senses on the last day of the old year. Or….the bird of a new beginning was going to break out of the egg.
How did all this happen? Daitya Kar would stand still amongst the crowed of questions. Is all of this just a truth of the darkness of these times? The idealism of the days of Independence, Lohia’s Socialism… and then all these ‘isms’ were broken into so many grouping of class and creeds. Materialism, Consumerism, the ideology of Scams… Even if a single brick of liberalism was put anywhere, then what would we call this generation …captive of a sense of insecurity, tense, wretched, as if they were leaving themselves open to attack…but from whom….these children who had grown up in an émigré or fugitive culture. They find refuge from their tension to be confronted at the next step with a route to crime. Those bloodshot eyes of Riya…they are not brave or strong, they are weak. Deciding to commit suicide in a moment, and then trying to find the meaning of life in such decisions...Victims of personal, internalized violence…with fury in their eyes, a generation ready to sacrifice itself in the name of any form of hysteria...but who is responsible for bringing this generation to this situation? Every generation is compelled to accept some sort of influence from the generation that precedes it. So that secular, liberal person dwelling inside Daitya Kar was nothing but a symbol, a myth and it was because of that person’s influence that Riya has been forced to write these pages. The horses are neighing. The blindfolds over their eyes are coming loose… the on the whole house. A haze of mist that separated them from each other like strangers… a shriek reverberated, a sound of something crashing to piedes. Daitya Kar and Rama came running only to see Riya standing in front of them at the door of her house. Her clothes in tatters, her eyes burning like coals. She held a half-broken bottle of soda in her hand, and there was a strange sort of tautness on her face that had been born out of sheer anger. “What do you people want to know…it you pester me too much then…”
Daitya Kar all this happen? Daitya Kar would stand still amonst the crowed of question. Is all of this just a truth of the days of independence, Lohia’s Socialism…and them all these isms were broken into so many grouping of class and creeds? Materialism, Consumerism, the ideology of Scams... even if a single brick of liberalism was put anywhere, then what would we call this generation…the MTV condom generation…Captive of a sense of insecurity, tense, wretched, as if they were the victims of some terrinle deceit, or as if they were leaving themselves open to attack…but from home…these children who had grown up in an émigré or fugitive culture. They find refuge from their tension only to be confronted at the next step with a route to crime. Those bloodshot eyes of Riya…they are not brave or strong, they are weak, deciding to commit suicide in a moment, and then trying to find the meaning of life in such decisions…victims of personal, internalized violence...With fury in their eyes, a generation ready to sacrifice itself in the name of any form of hysterias..But who is responsible for bringing this generation to this situation? Every generation is compelled to accept some sort of influence from the generation that precedes it. So that secular, liberal person dwelling inside Daitya Kar was nothing but a symbol, a myth and it was because of that person’s influence that Riya has been forced to write these pages. The horses are neighing. The blindfolds over their eyes are coming loose…the horses can now smash into the walls of the long, dark tunnel….
31st December… A thick blanket of fog was spread till far into the distance outside the house…There was very little time left for the New Year to arrive…But the sound of bursting crackers could still be heard outside. These were sounds of the farewell to the departing Twentieth Century..or preparations to welcome the New Year. A century was being envelope in mist. A new century was being born from the thick fog. The Medical Report had come, bringing the story of a new birth.
“She…is still a child.”
“You made her take those hormone injections….”
“But…She still a child…”
The cold was making the teeth chatter….it was bitterly cold outside. And a spite of the coming New Year, there was an eerie desolation.
“What can happen now? Rama’s lips had started trembling.
“Even earlier it was you who always decided for her…And so…”
“Don’t you have the strength to take a decision….”
“Or…I would never have allowed my girl to take hormone injections.”
“Dreams were blossoming in my eyes. Like others , I too wished to see my daughter on the TV screen.”
“Then why did you discard it….”
“Because…” Rama’s voice was like ice. “He didn’t seem to be a man to me…”
“No. He was human like you and me…” Datiya Kar was saddened by a thought…He was like a computer that had become obsolete and worthless because another new and better produced had come into the market.
The crackers had started bursting outside…Perhaps the time for the New Year’s arrival was near…He knew that in spite of the bitter cold outside, children and the young crowd would have come out on the streets, full of excitement and happiness…or they would be sitting in their homes, waiting for the needles of their clocks to join together. Rama is silent...They can hear a strange whispering. There are still more revolutions to come. The revolutions that are expected in the years to come, in the fields of biotechnology and genetics…Perhaps, at our next station, we would be entering the era of Nino-Technology. A new ara would begin, more horrible than the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park..Your would be able to make and keep a copy of every living and natural thing, like the biotech cloning of plants, microscopic trees, or creating atmospheric and climatic conditions inside your room
He heaves a sad sigh….These ceaseless revolutions have made a ‘bonsai’ of us….
“But what is the solution for this?”
Rama’s eyes are fixed on his face. “What have you decided about Riya?”
But perhaps, he isn’t in a condition to think about any thing. The needles of the clock have fused with each other. The bursting of crackers outside has gathered pace. Getting up from his place, he walks like a robot towards the gate and opens the door. Perhaps to welcome in the New Year or to bid a lasting farewell to the Twentieth Century. The bitter cold outside, the fog spread like a sheet…the haze till far in the distance…The sounds of laughter of some children can be heard. Perhaps they would be dancing and singing with each other and bursting crackers.
But Daitya dar…it was as if the cold had frozen him to the spot…the bird has come out breaking the egg….or…
The horse, galloping inside the tunnel without a blindfold, was lying spattered with blood after colliding against the walls of the tunnel.
one plus one
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A Dinner Party after the Riot
------ by musharraf alam zauqui
Coming to the aquarium he stopped. A magnificent world was illuminated with in the glass walls—a spray of twinkling tiny bubbles and in between them the fish with their gold-like sheen, dancing and trying to make him forget all the stories of the past. He saw carefully. A tiny fish lay inert on the sandy bottom of the aquarium , quiet, like a dead one, unlike the others moving and dancing, it lay completely exhausted by the shining little babbles at the bottom.
‘it is dead.’
‘no, it isn’t dead , no. it’s simply posing …after a short while it will wake up to action and begin to dance with the others.’
‘Who cares.’ He was annoyed with the fish. ‘Who cares…How does it matter if it dies…?’
‘just touch and see. One.. two….three….’ he was advancing his finger slowly towards the aquarium glass.
In a corner on the right there stood men, four of them in all, with wine glasses in their hands. One of them happened to look at the aquarium. He drew the others’ attention to the glass-box.
‘See, see what he is doing.’
‘Not the fish, he….see him.’
‘Oh, how romantic…!’
‘You find romantic in every thing.'
‘Romance itself is a thing like that.’
‘But what is romantic there in it?’
‘See, in his eyes, Oh, an endless curiosity. And what he is curious about you can see for yourselves….these moving and dancing fairies of water in the thin glass castle…How romantic!’
‘Oh no. they are not fairies. And , even if they were….. I don’t like confusion, to create ramp by bringing two things together. The fish…dancing carelessly in their glass castle….a dreamland ….a dream island…’
‘But see him. He is the object to look at. That is, the way he is trying to touch it, or see it closely. Did you mark his body language? See his eyes are small but having a fine curve in them. The body is supple. He is curious to touch it with his hand but has patience too…. And let there be tied a string of small bells round his ankle, the melody produced by them would equal the notes of a nightingale….’
‘But, a string of small bells…’
‘That makes no difference…’
‘No, there is a difference….see. he has drawn his hand back.’
‘I tell you, he will advance his hand once again…’
‘I say he won’t.’
‘Bet on it.’
‘Don’t meddle with the issue now…’
‘The wine glass is almost empty…’
‘Don’t change the subject.’
‘All the music is in wine. It is wine that speaks.’
‘Don’t alter the stand.’
‘The bet is done.’
‘No. No bet. Suppose you suggested something unmentionable….’
‘Or, for example an accommodation in the enclave under construction?
‘Be sure. I shall not ask you for that even.’
‘For example….when the time comes….’
‘You contemptible wretch.’
One of them dashed the wine glass against the floor violently. The rest of them tried to check him.
Despite the clang nothing changed. The scene remained the same as it had been earlier. There were very many people in the party lost in their own affairs. None cared for the crash in the least, for the glass or for the splinters. None turned to look at him.
‘Ha…ha….ha….’ all the four were laughing now.
The person standing by the aquarium squatted down.
‘It is, as they say-neither head nor tail. The tossed coin descended upright….’
‘Why not. Ssaley, spoiled my pleasant mood.
‘Why can’t you ask for shabnam, why? Is she mine only? She…’
The other one breathed in heavily.
‘And Ssaaly, you in that enclave…’
‘In a little space…What’s that?- the verse by ghalib?’
‘Not by ghalib. By Mir…’
‘Abey saaley, not Mir. bahadur shah zafar.’
He recited the lines.
‘Kitna hai badnaseeb zafar dafer ke liye,
Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein.’
[ So hard of luck is Zafar about his eternal rest/ that he could not have even two yard length of land in the alley of his beloved ones.]
‘What a verse is it, dear? I am swayed by it whenever I listen to it.’
‘But saaley, I am angry over the accusation. Is the land mine?’
‘Is it this person’s?’
‘Then?...Every body knows whose it is, then, why couldn’t you ask for a piece of it?’
‘I made a mistake…’
‘No, not a mistake because you are not out of that devilish way of thinking in which our shades of skin…our possessions…I mean, that much-you all must understand, what the more can I say?’
He was not concerned with the party. He was carefree now. He had been so many parties like that one. Or, it may be safely said, he had not only heard but seen also so many tales of happenings- particularly, stories about the parties celebrating the victories after a war, major, general, high ranking officials, wives of military men, avoiding political talk and just enjoying the fun of pleasant talk among themselves. Once it so happened that he was assigned the jab of looking after the canteen arrangements.
‘But these parties…?’
‘War and riot?’
‘No, he doesn’t want to think. Thinking puts him under strain. The brain feels like splitting up.’
‘want to go home?’
Sattar had made up his mind. He had to go home..his home. None can check him from his going home..and why anyone should?’
‘Enjoyed yourself?’ kittoo nangdeya was asking.
‘Why? You liked it well! Or, you didn’t sattar?’
‘Why should he not?’ were eyeing our wives surrepticiously…kyon be?’
Satish bandya smiled broadly.
‘So? Your intentions now?’
‘Shall go home.’
‘Shall go home.’ A child-like smile played on his lips. ‘ Will you let me?’
‘Yes, yes. Why not?’
‘ I shall go home,’ he repeated for the third time.
‘Yes…In now way we wish you not to go at your pleasure. But going just now…? Do you follow me? No ?’
Like a child out of wits he played the same old tape, ‘ I have to go home. Won’t you let me?’
Once again he came and stopped by the aquarium where the tiny fish lay dead on the sandy bottom of the glass house. He was looking at the fish intently. He had no interest left in him for the playfulness of the other fish.
no plus ones
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