Khaira, the Blind by Nadir Ali

Translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali

Why did I resent Khaira? Rivalry among equals makes sense, but he was just a poor, blind beggar. The first thing that got under my skin was his cry. “Seeing ones! Vision is indeed a blessing! Show sympathy for a blind man’s daughters! In the name of your eyes! In the name of your daughters! O seeing ones!” My wife glances at her purse and then the cash she needs to pay the school fees of our sons, daughters and granddaughters. She always keeps ten rupees for Khaira separately. Ten rupees is a decent amount, even in these days of sky-rocketing costs. And god forbid if one of our children is unwell! Fortune smiles on beggars then.

Our daughter’s daughter was unwell, and we were both worried. “Khair Din, listen carefully!” my wife entreated him.  She handed him a five hundred rupee note with an appeal: “You have to pray for my grand-daughter Khaireya,” as if Khaira were a specialist.

“Lady! God will shower you with blessings as vast as your generous heart!” he exclaimed.

I couldn’t stay quiet. “For heaven’s sake, stop bribing god!”

My wife reacted angrily to my words. “None of that now! The poor have a right to a portion of our earnings.”

“Sweetheart, I didn’t mean it that way. How about a kind glance my way too once in a while!” I said to appease her.

Truth be told, a wall of pious rituals grows between a husband and wife as they get older. Often things end in divorce. It matters little whether the man genuinely loves her or only pretends to do so. Once he is old, the woman makes sure he gets the treatment he deserves. But we were discussing Khaira. Since he irritated the hell out of me, I managed to discover his secret.

I followed his every move as if he were my enemy.

“I have a feeling he is not blind,” I said one day.

“Have some fear of God! He’s been frequenting this neighbourhood for five years,” my wife replied.

“Well, I have a suspicion,” I continued.

“Let’s see you trek through two neighbourhoods in the punishing afternoon heat,” she retorted. “His little girl is the one who suffers in the heat. He is built like a wrestler. Two of me could hide inside him!” I said.

As they say, great discoveries are often right around the corner. I spotted Khaira hopping over a drainage ditch during the rainy season. I announced my findings once I was home. “The scoundrel has been exposed! He is not blind!”

“It must be time to get your eyes tested! You are already hard of hearing. If you could tell the difference between a blind and a sighted person, Rahma would not be our son-in-law today.”

Once again, my wife changed the direction of the conversation. But I remained on the lookout for the enemy. The next day I dragged him inside. As soon as I produced a dagger, Khaira begged for mercy. “Forgive this miserable person. It is his livelihood. I don’t know how to drive or cook for a living. I would have become a servant at a young age if I did. No one takes to begging because he wants to.”

He attempted various explanations. I threatened to turn him in to the police at first, but then decided to present him at my wife’s court. “Appear before the Chaudhrani and confess,” I ordered. I felt vindicated.

But my wife left his fate to Allah. “He will answer to Allah for his deeds. And we will answer for ours,” she declared.

The story did not end here. Khaira left our neighbourhood only to take up begging in the streets of Garden Town. I entertained the thought of stopping the car one day and saying hello. Instead, I ended up forgiving him like my wife had.


An unplanned, ramshackle neighbourhood lay along the back of ours. It boasted a tiny market. Late one night, I went to buy cigarettes and Khaira emerged from one of the doorways, all smiles. He seemed like another person. His clothes were spic and span and he held a cigarette between his lips.

“Do you know that man?” I asked Hayata, the cigarette vendor, as I gestured towards the figure walking away from us.

“That is Khaira, the gambler, Chaudhry Saheb,” he replied.

“Gambler?” That persona of his was completely new to me.

“Why else would he hang out with Chabba Butt? To say his prayers?” Hayata asked with a laugh.

My wife would consider what happened next beneath us, but the story took a strange new turn. I didn’t know Chabba Butt personally, but he was a known goon of the area. I went up to him early one morning and asked, “Do you know someone named Khair Din?”

He mistook me for a police officer given how well-dressed I was. “Why the investigation, officer?” he asked.

“Butt Saheb, I am no police officer, just an oppressed citizen. He tricked me out of a large sum of money over the years,” I replied.

“Sir, he is not a behrupiya[1],” Butt went on, “but he is a wonderful actor. He can act deaf, blind, just about anything, it is none of our business. When it comes to gambling, he often loses.”

“Butt Saheb, I too play poker,” I shared. “If I happen to pay you a visit, you won’t have me thrown out would you?”

He tried to dissuade me. “Sir, you belong with your kind at the clubs. Only kanjars and dregs visit this place.”

“Tell me, is this Khaira from the kanjar caste?” I asked.

“No sir, he is a Rajput. He does visit the brothels often though.”

“Ah, he belongs to my fraternity then . . . I didn’t ask out of any enmity . . .  it’s just that he is an interesting fellow. He is a virtuoso, as if he were a behrupiya. Looking at him now, who would guess that he roams the next neighbourhood dressed as a beggar?”

My introduction to Chabba came about thanks to my quest for Khaira. Chabba seemed to be a goon from the bygone days, not the current brand connected with the land mafia or arms smugglers. He was a gambler and gamblers need their den. I was not one of them, but who doesn’t enjoy some wagering and betting now and then. Add the lure of money and the habit can turn deadly. I avoided the club scene. Old age seemed to usher in a kind of boredom. Upscale neighbourhoods like Gulberg and Cantonment reminded me of a graveyard. What is an old man like me supposed to do if he is forbidden alcohol and a second marriage. The tiny market reminded me of the old city. Poverty bothers those who lack spirit, otherwise, the company of the poor is superior to that of the rich. It offers a refuge for those who have endured a beating, a helping hand when one is in a fix. I visited a couple of times and overcame my self-consciousness. The gamblers also shed their discomfort. “Come, respected elder! What do you make of the situation? Will Nawaz Sharif win the election?” What other news was there to mull over . . .The short rounds of poker, rummy and blackjack, with small bets would continue till evening. I would get up and head home once the gambling really gathered steam.

In that company, Khaira was no blind man. He was a loud and loquacious character. Still, he showed some diffidence around me. In any case, he had the strange habit of avoiding eye-contact. Instead of looking at one directly, he would focus on the ground or high above one’s head. His gaze left me feeling strangely uneasy.

Then came the calamity that can finish off an old man. My wife caught me red-handed with Kulsoom. Luckily, I survived. Nothing happened. My class status shielded me. I remained deeply affected. Khaira somehow sensed it. I opened up to him. “I have been exposed. I am very worried!”

“Choose a different neighbourhood!” he suggested mirthfully. “That is a man’s basic nature. He is a deceitful being. There is no choice but to be a blind behrupiya. Now ask yourself: Is Khaira the blind one or me?”


“Khaira, the Blind” is a translation of the Punjabi story Khaira Annha. It is from Nadir Ali’s short story collection titled Kahani Paraga , published by Suchet Kitab Ghar in 2004 in Lahore. Photo provided by Amna Ali.

[1] A professional pretender who earns money by entertaining people, especially at weddings. Once widespread in South Asia, this profession is now in decline.


Nadir Ali (1936-2020) was a Punjabi poet and short story writer. In 2006, he was awarded the Waris Shah Award for his collection Kahani Praga. Coming late to writing, particularly fiction, Nadir Ali is credited with spearheading a unique style, blurring the boundaries between significant and petty, artistic and ordinary, primarily due to his preference for and command over the chaste central dialect understood by the majority of Punjabi speakers. He is also noted for writing and speaking about his experiences as an army officer posted in East Pakistan at the height of the 1971 war.

Amna Ali is Nadir Ali’s daughter.  She translated a selection of Nadir Ali’s short stories into English in collaboration with Moazzam Sheikh. The translations were published by Weavers Press in USA in a book titled Hero and Other Stories in 2022. She is a librarian and lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.


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