A Profound Picture
That day, rather that day's beginning started on a happy note. After sleeping a full and sound night's sleep. I felt my body, why body alone, my entire being light. During the dark night, I do not know how all my fears and terrors of
last night dissolved and I felt my inner self as clear as the firmament above.
In the morning itself, the whole day's programme was engraved carefully and in beautiful words on my mind. During the day, I had to take rice at a certain place. Taking rice is a daily routine affair... it was rather a feast at a special place. I had to read out a paper after participating in a seminar. The paper in question took me two days to write, but I gave it out that had taken me two complete months to write it. In the evening, I had to take part in a cultural fair. This was a day among those special days which happen seldom in life now; the days that give me a feeling that I do really matter, that what I say is esteem and my opinions are valued, or that my life has a meaning.
As soon as I woke up, I switched on my transistor set, the news was about to be broadcast. I thought there would be many pieces of good and harmless news to listen to which was not necessary, and which when heard, would not be harmful to forget. The news would probably be like that some African leader of some country had said that India is the largest democracy, or some minister or deputy minister might have said that the prices of some essential commodities were falling; or in some remote corner of America one hundred or so of people might have lost their lives in an air crash, among whom there would be no acquaintance or any relation of mine.
But that day, on that pleasantly begun day, the radio did not broadcast these or these sort of good news, it broadcast a single news, the only one news which made the ground under my feet slip away.
I never knew! But the radio broadcast that arrangement had been made for my being killed and everything had been settler( to this effect. Had my well-wishers not waken up, there would have been at my home my truncated limbless corpse exuding murder. This house, why this house only, in fact the entire country would have been set ablaze. It would be so because it was said here that all the aliens and akin had together in complicity gatherers gun-powder and other explosives which might catch fire by a mere breath of mouth and exterminate everything instantly. Thus an ordinance had been issued that people should not open their mouth: because words are accompanied by breath and might set the gunpowder aflame. And I was not aware of this for having fallen so soundly asleep! But those solicitous for me got awakened at mid night for keeping me safe from harm.
This was Aakaashvani. Call it an unseen voice or a bolt from the blue. It made my pleasantly begun day, my feeling of being a man that mattered, my estimable talks and valued opinions all vanish into thin air. All those small and big fears and terrors which my sound sleep had dissolved, rose up again and weighed on my chest as a mammoth terror, leaving me choked and speechless. I did not go to the invitation. How could I go? They might have poisoned my meals to kill me. True, I slid go to participate in the seminar, but there was no one; not even those who had arranged it. Only a few persons came to ask me for their whereabouts. But what help could I rendered them when I had lost myself? In fairness to them, they did not pester me at all. But I got anxious... anxious and perplexed also. I recollected that it was time for the news paper. Going through the news paper would not mitigate my anxiety, but it would, sure enough take away some of my perplexity; I would come to know, who that well-wisher of mine was who woke up at the dead of night and who my adversaries were who, to kill me, had whetted their knives and amassed gunpowder to set my house to fire. But that day there was no news paper, so my anxiety and perplexity did not abate.
The cultural fair commenced well in time in the evening. Probably because the hoteliers had been given an order in advance and also the earnest money. I am sure if this were not so, the fair rni7Iit have got cancelled. The people were still assembling in the fair that the tea was served. There was no speech, nor any kind of talk, silence reigned all around. The tea, because of the sipping sounds and crunching of dal mongra, seemed all the more hideous. An hour or so passed like this. All the people remained tongue-tied and ate away all they could with the tea. I put up with all this for long remaining speechless. After that, I could bear that no longer. I felt constrained and told them, "O, you eunuchs! Do talk of something, say at least that the tea is good if nothing else, the samosas have adequate salt. But do talk".
Late in the night, I left for my home. I was not really walking, but my legs, only through share habit, carried my body. On all sides, or it is possible it seemed to me so, there was an air of desolation. During the few hours, people had forgotten to talk aloud, to laugh and what is still more astonishing, to weep even. The road which I had taken, joined a little further with another road. It did not take me long to reach there. I saw, and it got me all the more bewildered, a big gathering of people on the second road. Why only one, but very many, giving utterance to uproarious crying. (What is meant, they did talk as they were wont to till yesterday). Among the multitudes of people, my eyes fell on that man also, wearing that very shirt and pajama he wore daily. (One never knows why). He was smiling with himself and he progressed straight in the direction of his nose. He probably did not catch sight of me. I caught 'hold of him and asked him, "How is it that you are smiling with yourself?" Why? Is smiling a taboo? he asked me laughingly. "Did you not listen to the radio in the morning", I asked him in addition. "Yes, I did, they just played the old item records and the new on".
"I mean did you not listen to the news?"
"I do not listen to the news".
I simply laughed with myself, that is I opened my mouth an inch and a half which aroused no suspicion as I told him.
"If you had listened to the news, you would have been appraised of many things that took place. What you were yesterday, you are no longer the same".
I began to be overtaken by worry now, he ruminated over what I said for a moment and said then, "Yesterday also I listened the tape records till nine, and today also I heard them, yesterday also I left with utensil of bath for my work from nine to six and today I will do so as well. Yes, with one difference that yesterday I saw the third show (of film) besides and today I shall go to the circus".
"You had been to see the circus today?" This seemed to be an impossible thing.
"Why we alone? All these people are returning from there". In case a glance on those, all sorts of people, some had taken a liking for one feet and the others for a different one. All happy; well if not so, worrylessly wrapped up in their own affairs.
"You also should see if", he suggested. "The new joker is, in particular, worth seeing; what he, in fact, tried was to take a spring from one swing to the other, but the trousers slipped off his legs while doing so". He was smiling because the joker's trousers had slipped off his legs! To laugh like this and that too on this very day pointed to his idiocy. This idiocy of his moved me to tears, but I did not shed any.
"Now are you not to walk down to your home?" he nudged me. I had to go home, no doubt, but I did not accompany him. Whom to go with? With one who makes so much of joker's trousers slipping off his legs, but quite dead to how many things he had been denuded of at the dead of night, the previous day!
God, or whoever that being really is, is really hard of hearing or takes time to hear, but deaf he is by no means. For nineteen months people did not muster courage to talk, could not utter a word, but countless sighs got let nut on their own accord without so much as wishing or willing them out of the mouths. Why is it that these sighs did not set aflame the gunpowder and explosives? Perhaps there was no gunpowder or explosives anywhere. It is said and not without basis that sighs have an effect. For full nineteen months, the dread that had bound our minds, consciousness, our hearts, desires and aspirations, enthusiasm and our
dexterous movement of our hands, the warmth of our speech, got smashed into smithereens. There was 'Askaashwani' or 'farman' on high through the radio to us that we were free, that we attained freedom for the second time.
Call it a day of salvation or celebration of freedom, whatever you will. Or you can put it this way, all and everybody had to assemble in a ground and having assembled, had to pledge that henceforth we would not let anybody toy with our freedom.
On the cross roads, I perceived that man also wearing the same shirt and pajama. He and many others of his sort were witnessing a juggler's show. As he witnessed the juggler's tricks, he also clapped his hands forcefully like children; that is he had not come of age even after these nineteen months. Seeing his plight, I smiled. Since, fear and fright had taken leave of me, I did not content myself with opening my lips by an inch and a half, I laughed a full laugh as it is natural and told him, "All your life you have been witnessing a juggler's show. What did you get in bargain?"
I do not know why he did not swallow this talk of mine and said, "What on earth should I get anything out of it? Do we ever get a goose out of a bread-cake? Well we get pleasure out of the show. See, how he has bound himself with the cord! He will not move his body or hands, only utter a chant and the cord will come loose of itself. He will set himself free and somebody else will get bound up with the cords!"
I left him there and went my way. I was late. May be the festival was commenced. May be the people had taken their pledge to guard their freedom. Then I reflected again. How is one to rely on these jugglers; they might set themselves loose and the cords might tighten round me. Granted that was not a real cord, it might be only an illusion; but how does it matter with the people. They will only laugh a mindless laugh and I will be put to shame for nothing.
A man's, an individual's destiny is in his own hands. This has a double meaning, first, that every man can make or mar his destiny with his own hands, second, that a man's destiny is in his own hands, that is in the lines of his hand.
Both the meanings are correct or we can say after more reflection that the second meaning is more to the point. But destiny of human beings, that is that of the populace, rests in the hands of a few. This expression lends itself to only one meaning admitting of no further elaboration. That day, or the day in question I am expatiating these very men or a few among them, had in the speech to be delivered to us to thrash out what was written in our destiny. We were waiting in the ground, but they were nowhere to be seen. In all probability, they might have been in another ground making another gathering witnessing the writ of their destiny. The people assembled were eager. They got unwittingly, craning their necks forward to look if somebody carne. The necks stretched and stretched to their utmost and shrunk back to their shoulders. Nobody among those who had to come came. Only a man was sent after a long time, a man like us, who soon began giving homily to us.
"Why are you so much in haste? Why so impatient? You should have patience. You should wait. Do not get tired so soon. This not like a thing like baking a bread; this is a question of reaching our destination and to reach there, we have to wait for long, to walk for a long tune".
To move for a long time!' The pain in my legs grew more intense. My backache worsened. The truth is that I am no good at walking; walling seems to me an anguish. I might ascribe this to my age. In my youth, I was as good a walker as a 'peez' (a legendary bird). It is a different matter that the 'peez' flies rather than walks. I remember even today that in my youth, I would walk miles together with my father. Not only walk, but run even, to the Devi's shrine and returned home. My father was wise, well, I cannot say whether he was wise or clever. He was essentially a pauper and helpless in his penury. He had never money enough for boarding in the bus. It was for this that as soon as he perceived that I got tired, he would tell me, "O, the Devi's temple is just behind that chinar tree". I would feel happy as the chinar tree was within my sight and, despite my being tired, I would walk swiftly and run to reach the chinar. But there, there I could come by no temple. My father, whether a pauper or a jester, or the jester of a father posing to be wise and clever, would cheat. "Oh, I did not mean this chinar, but that one". He would point out to a new chinar, a hundred or so yards thence. I would rather feel exasperated, but sensing a new challenge, quicken my pace to reach the new chinar. But there, too, the temple would not be seen. My father would again brazenly laugh and tell me, "Not behind this chinar, but that one". I would cry out weepingly and reach the new one and catching up many more after that in a bid to reach the Devi's asthapan. But that was in my youth and everything becomes one in youth, to walk while weeping and weep while walking. This is not so now. I have grown and growing got in years. I have wearied out myself waiting, exhausted myself by walking interminably. I cannot now trot from the chinar to the chinar in installments. Why am I not told where to reach? How long have I to walk? If I have the grit, I shall wait and walk, or else stop and have a nap.
It is now past my bearing, insufferable feeling, or howsoever the feeling is expressed. I cannot now suffer any more weariness, pain in my legs or backache. Oh, I feel choked, although there is no longer any dread weighing on my chest. It is with great difficulty that I got free of the crowd.
Outside there were hundreds, may be even more of them waiting in a queue, for a cinema ticket. In this very queue and among these very people, my eyes began to search for him. I found him soon. He was in his white, or to be more exact, in his colourless shirt and pajama waiting for a ticket in he queue. He also caught sight of me. He felt that I too, had come to see the film and was much happy. Flinging an abuse to the cinema people, he said.
"These brothers-in-law (wife's brothers) today issue only one ticket to each, or else I would have arranged one for you as well. Now enter the queue and sit down. I will leave some room for you in front of me".
The queue now seemed to me longer than it was before. Many among those who had come for the speech, had been weary of waiting, though more were to find entertainment in the picture than to find their destiny delineated in the speech. I say, we might locate some other cause to their joining the queue.
"Hey, what are you thinking? Why don't you sit"? His voice aroused me. He was saying, "It is a good picture. I am seeing it for the third time".
"For the third tune"? I asked.
"It is not for nothing that I see it. By God, it is a profound picture. One does not make out who the villain is. The hero's father, or his friend's or the maternal uncle of the heroine. Now join the queue and tell me who the villain is in your opinion". He left room for me.
I thought if he could not make out who the villain was, how could I. Agreed that he understood, how would it benefit him? What harm could I do him if I did so. But, despite all this, I joined the queue in front of him sitting in the dust and filth of the road, caring little that my clothes would get soiled and my pants would be out at that knees and my coat get crumpled and wrinkled. I was very, very tired.
Source: A Book of Kashmiri Short Stories
Introduction and Translation from the Kashmiri by M. Siddiq Beig
PEN productions, Srinagar, 1997