Sweet Potatoes

‘Do you think children have dreams as strange as the adults? I wish I remembered the dreams I had when I was a little child’

‘Its a windy eve, even your hair are moving’

‘In my university days at Jamshoro my mates used to take me out in the lawn at night and bet on whether the wind blew my hair or not, you know how windy that place is’

‘The other night I had a strange dream; I saw that you were grazing in a field like a deer, you looked up while chewing your food and looked around carelessly like deer look just before they are shot by a hunter’

‘So I was a deer to you’

‘I’m ashamed of that dream, I saw you as an insignificant little creature who might have been at a hunter’s crosshairs!’

‘I wish I could blame you for it’

‘The tea tastes bad here, I prefer our usual spot’

‘Yeah next time. I’ve to go do some work see you later’

I left Ramesh and walked towards the mosque. Jama’at was over. I stood at the gates to let crowd of people move out.  Many faces not at all alike yet strangely not different at all. It had been happening for a while now that whenever I looked at groups of living creatures, it filled me with awe.For some unknown reasons I was astonished. It didn’t matter humans or non-humans, anything living and breathing I saw in large quantities made me think of something as unimaginable as pain or pleasure to a man who has not sensed any of significance. Like a man who cannot imagine pains of birth. If imaginations could be categorized, I’d call these astronomical imaginations . I know it as a child knows an obscure name which has only been mentioned to it once. I looked at them, poor little creatures in crosshairs of a hunter.

I remember Maugham saying in one of his books that one can only say that ‘I was happy’. To some extent I thought it true but there are moments when you are happy, where you do not remember your happiness as an event down trodden by brutal hands of the clock. For many people such moments are found in prayers. After prayers I walked back to my flat.

From a stall near a barber shop I bought boiled sweet potatoes on a piece of newspaper. Steaming hot, I devoured their sweetness. A woman with her three children was sitting on the footpath with a bowl in her hand. I could see a solitary five-rupee coin in it. Out of the biryani shop a young man came out and said something to her. She smiled. It was not a smile of gratitude but of utter joy.  I know not what he told her. She grinned showing her perfect yellow teeth, the colour of her child’s whites of the eyes. A poor and a desperate man’s smile must be added to wonders of the world. The wind blew my hair as I walked, my friends would have been happy.

An old man walked slowly with two women at his side. The daughter looked like her mother except the wrinkleless skin. The man’s face was tightly closed and curved downwards, a dying crescent. A masseur jingled bottles of oil exclaiming an almost indecipherable: ‘Maalish! Maalish!’

I entered the apartments, took the elevator to my flat. Unfortunately, I had to ride up with Sehrish whose parents (and of course she too) had rejected my proposal of marriage. I stood there noticing her not and she stood facing the other way. The elevator creaked. She dashed out of the lift at fourth floor. I went up to my room and turned on the television. Two bomb blasts in Bannu, 32 killed, dozens injured. A statement by the Interior Minister that such acts of cowardice will not deter the people of Pakistan from fighting against the terrorism.

‘Cowardice?’ I asked the walls. Is suicide cowardice? I thought it took nerves of strongest metals to cut yourself off  from this spinning blue green heart. All hearts don’t beat. There are many which just tremble. I went to the bedroom. Horrible whispers of the wind shouted from the unclosed window. I lied down for a while and gazed at the clock which sang me to sleep.

 

 

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Ghulam Rasul

Like my little cousin Umar, it gave me immense pleasure to look at flocks of pigeons by the roadside. A woman wearing a black scarf took handfuls of seeds from a bag and threw them at the birds.  Their wings fluttered and they rushed at the grains. The sight of birds eating food gave me a feeling of utter happiness as if some one had found the location of buried treasure in a wildest of deserts. On the other side of the road was set a camp on the occasion of 12 Rabi-ul-Awal. The loudspeakers roared with passionate sentences calling Muslims to break free of the slavery of foreign forces. The roads all over the city were adorned with green flags with pictures of mosques in Mecca and Medina. I wanted to stay there and look at the hungry birds but I moved on towards my flat. I knew at that moment that the sight of the woman feeding hungry pigeons is one of the happiest moments of my life.

At the gate of the apartments I met my friend Ghulam Rasul. His brother was killed last year mistakenly because he was wearing black shalwar kameez and having tea with his friend who was a not sunni. He came smiling towards me and we hugged. He asked me how life was. I told him that it was like that of a round stone lying at a river bank. He said he didn’t understand and I remarked that it didn’t matter.

‘What will you do today?’, he asked as we walked towards a tea shop.

‘What do you mean ‘today’?

‘Today is the birthday of our prophet, won’t you do something to show your love?’

‘What did you do?’

‘I’ve decided that from now onwards I’ll keep my trousers above my ankles.’

‘Two years back you had decided on this day that you’ll keep beard forever’

‘Yeah every year I do one thing which he used to do’

‘I am impressed by your devotion. But why do you wait for this day? you can do it any other day,can’t you?’

‘It is a slow process’

‘I’ll do something but not today, I’ll do it tomorrow’

‘What will you do?’

‘I am selling my name and buying a new one’

‘You’re talking abstractions’

‘No, no listen, I’ll meet you tomorrow and I’ll present a deal. In fact, I’ll do it right now. Will you sell me your name?’

‘What are you talking about brother?’

‘Please give me your name, I’ll live up to it, I’ll die for it, just sell it to me,name your price’

He smiled and kept smiling for a while till the servant boy brought us tea. ‘You’ve gone mad’,he said after the first sip of hot tea. ‘You can be a nameless Slave of the Messenger!’

I didn’t say anything and kept looking at his beard and his ankles while he smiled and probably thought me a fool. After tea he left and I walked to my flat and wept.

 

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