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.