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An Eternal Void

A Balochi story by Munir Ahmed Badini translated by Fazal Baloch

Munir Ahmed Badani

A fortnight after my elder brother’s death, heavy rain deluged our town. For two consecutive days, violent winds blew across the town and the sky remained engulfed in dark clouds. It was so dark that days appeared like nights. Clouds hung so low that it appeared rain would burst forth at any minute. But it did not for two days.

Our house was in mourning. During the day my mother along with the womenfolk of the neighborhood, wailed and mourned the death of her beloved son, and at night she offered prayer for his departed soul. When we went to bed, she would stay for a while at our beds and intonate some sacred lines and blow her breath one by one upon us. Before retiring to her bed, she would walk over to have an eye on the Holy Quran again. But she could not get to sleep out of grief and constantly recalled her son who at a young age had fallen seriously ill and eventually would breath his last while in pain. I noticed that during his illness my mother showed a great amount of courage but as soon as he breathed his last, she almost collapsed. She wept incessantly.

I was quite young then, and often stayed awake late at night. I couldn’t fathom my mother’s grief which I wished to share. I hoped his memory would stay forever with us. At the same time, I solaced myself that one day life would return to its normal rhythm and happiness would make it back to our house. It seemed a far cry though.

I was quite hopeful that the heavy rain would wash off our grief and sorrows. My father too was shaken by the grief but unlike my mother, he held back his tears. Indeed, death of my brother hit our house like an earthquake and rendered everything meaningless for us.

At night, towns-elders came to see my father. They chattered and puffed at the hookah*. I noticed my father’s absentmindedness. I knew he was shaken by the grief. I heard anguished groans coming from his room in the late hours of the night. I couldn’t sleep properly. I desperately wished for something miraculous to turn our sorrows into happiness.

At times some unusual events dragged us back to life again. For example, at times our goatherd failed to return late in the evening. We anxiously waited for him to show up. And then my mother would dispatch our servant to trace him outside. My father himself went out to enquire of neighbors as well. Seeing him taking an interest in something after my brother’s death made me very happy. I assumed that he was finally managing to get over the grief of having lost a son.

Thus, after the heavy rain, I was hopeful that this torrent would wash off everything even our grief and sorrows.

Initially the clouds remained suspended in the sky for two days. First it drizzled lightly but soon the rain gained momentum and relentlessly poured down for seven days and nights at stretch. Water flooded the land.

My father along with other farmers went to the fields to protect the crops and yield from the flood while my mother held the Holy Quran in her hands and sought God’s mercy. I was happy to see that she too had finally succeeded to get over the shock. I thought life was finally back to its routine. At the same time, I feared that this heavy rain would lead to unimaginable losses. But, as of yet, I was not able to forget my brother. Despite this heavy rain and flood, his memory continued to haunt me.

Last time when it rained, he was with us, reduced to a skeleton though. Yet we hoped that he would recuperate sooner or later. We never thought he would leave us forever.

But nobody can avert life’s course. The worst had happened. My brother was dead. Now all I wanted to see was for life to return to its routine path. I pinned all hope on the rain and it partially helped us to divert our attention. His memory was making lesser inroads to our minds.

It was night and my father had not returned from the fields. My mother asked the helper to go after him. Carrying a lamp in hand, he went towards the fields. I sneaked out stealthily and followed him. I remember the sky was covered with dark clouds and it was still raining intermittently. We had left our homes behind and were on the way to our fields. By the graveyard, I noticed the servant stopped and talked to someone. It was my father. I heard his words clearly:

“No matter if the flood sweeps away my fields and crops, but all I want is to save the graveyard from the flood”.

I was shocked.

From that day I was convinced that there’s nothing that could wipe my brother’s grief off our hearts.

*Hookah — an oriental pipe that passes the smoke through an attached container of water before it is inhaled.

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Munir Ahmed Badini is known as the most prolific fiction writer ever appeared on the horizon of Balochi literature. So far he has authored over a hundred Balochi novels and three anthologies of short stories. Recently he was awarded the Kamal-e-Fun Award by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. It is the highest award for the recognition of lifetime achievements in the field of literature.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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Thus Spake the Vagabond

The First Tale*: Mother Mary and the Angel

by Dr. Haneef Shareef (Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch)

Dr Haneef Shareef

Almost after eleven long years he dreamed again. He saw his last dream when he was thirty-five and now, he was almost an old man at forty-six. Stretched on his bed in the nephrology department, as he shut his eyes, he saw the dream.

Mother Mary and the angel appeared like the fond memories of his bygone days. Dust and haze were gone and the days of thirst and scorching heat were over. Under the cloud covered sky, the two old familiar shadows emerged after a long wait. He recognised them. Even if he wished, he could not forget them. What he gained from his dreams in the last thirty-five years were the two kind faces; Mother Mary and the angel, whom he had since childhood been desperate to meet in every dream. And today, after eleven tedious years, they returned home.

As usual Mother Mary was standing a step ahead of the angel. She was silent. Moonlight had drenched her hair and a long journey towards her destination lingered in her eyes. He had etched her eyes in his heart and mind. Light was pouring forth from Mother Mary’s white robe. She seemed to have been encircled by cotton flowers and wax-moths. The entire ward was enveloped in the scent of camphor. Mother Marry looked at the dialysis machine which was making a gurgling sound. Blood coursing in a tube attached to his arm was passing through the machine and after being purified returning to his body through another tube. The machine was an alternative to his kidneys, enabling him to push his book cart forward.

He wished to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and there, he would see a dream. The overcast sky; gentle breeze; clad in an Arabic robe, he would lead Mother Mary’s camel along the high mountains and before the end of the dream, ahead of dusk they would cross the desert. And then by the fountains, under the shades of the blessings he would marvel at flowing streams of milk and trees laden with figs and mulberries. Yet he knew, at present, the pilgrimage was beyond his reach as both of his kidneys had given in. He could only drag his life on with the support of the dialysis machine. He knew that once a week, he had to endure the pain and solitude of the dialysis room. He had never thought that he would have the dream during his dialysis session.

He was quite astonished that the angel was still thirty-five. Exactly thirty-five. He looked the same as he appeared thirty-five years ago. As far as he could remember, they both grew up in the same period. Whenever in dreams they ran into another, they mulled over the same plans and played the same games.

They had travelled for thirty-five years and half at the same pace in the course of their life. They shared the same age. Hence, he always used to think that the angel was his twin brother who lived with the Virgin Mary. Sometimes in scorching afternoons he would come out and look for him. He didn’t look like the angel, but he believed that he was blessed with a heavenly age and sent on the Earth. He traced his lineage to angels, created from fire, far superior to these earthly folks. But the fact was otherwise. He spent his whole life in selling books at his book cart.

Kamal always tried to convince him that he was a liar.  He told him that he was destined to sell books at his book cart and to look eagerly at people was his need. In fact, while selling books he had sold himself as well. But he refused to believe.  He had a world of fake dreams around him.

He always argued with Kamal. He never wanted to see him. He never visited his house or walked past his clinic. If someone from his family fell ill, he would take him to the civil hospital and would stand there in the middle of the crowd in the scorching heat but would never seek Kamal’s help. He began to avoid him.

His dreams never left him alone. He never sought Kamal’s help nor yearned for another’s confidence. After losing faith in his own cousin Kamal, he never shared his dreams with anybody anymore. He took refuge in his dreams.

As heaven is not kind forever. At thirty five, while pushing his book cart down home, one evening he felt stabbing pain around his waist. He felt glowing ambers running down his sides. Thus, began the never-ending visits to hospitals. He couldn’t help but finally sought Kamal’s favour. If the nephrologist were not Kamal’s friend, they would have not offered him free dialysis for eleven years.

Death lurked nearer him with every step he took.  He thought that actually he was not one person. Rather his body housed two people. Both got up early in the morning, had their breakfasts and set out for their daily rounds. Gradually he felt heaviness on his shoulders. He told Kamal he felt as if he was carrying a dead body and his shoulders were weighing down by its burden. He also lamented that people around him would never share his burden. Kamal always invited him home and treated him to tea and saw him off at his clinic. People always noticed that he walked with uneasiness. As if he was dragging a funeral pyre on his shoulder. His family witnessed another change in his sleeping posture. He crouched on his bed in such a way that it seemed as if a baby slept beside him and he was afraid that he would roll over him in his sleep. He spent his nights in great agony.

And then came the sleepless nights. Sleep had forgotten the address of his eyes. In those days his relatives too had gradually begun to forget him. Mother Mary and the angel had forgotten him as well. Neither did the Virgin Mary send him a message nor was there any trace of the angel. Afternoons were as hot as fire and nights as cold as ice.

He waited for many months. At times, he deliberately attempted to catch a dream and planned to write a few letters. But there was not any trace of the dream. Again he desired to go for Haj. He bought an earthen piggy bank to start saving money. But he never shared his plan with his family. Eleven years went down the line, the dialysis machine had become an integral part of his life. Whenever Kamal and the nephrologist met, they always brooded over the reason that had kept him alive and determined.

Usually after two years of dialysis, patients caved into death. Rather they sought emancipation in death. But he dragged on to labour the years. The desire for Haj had kept him alive and healthy. He knew that he could not go out of this city. He could not leave Kamal. He knew that on each sacred day his family prayed for someone’s calm death. He felt as if they had been mourning someone for last two years. He didn’t know who was about to breathe his last at home. After all he was to go for Haj. He feared that someone might die like his dream while he would be performing Haj.

He narrated to Mother Mary what he felt during the last eleven years. He was about to address the angel when someone placed his hand on his cold forehead. He opened his eyes and saw the doctor was on the round. He was accompanied by the two-house jobbers, nurses and the registrar. The doctor asked him something, but he couldn’t hear anything. He looked at the doctor who appeared like a seventy-headed monster. A dream that had returned after eleven years was aborted by the doctor and his team. He closed his eyes to recapture the dream. But there was no sign of the dream. It vanished like a road lost in the fog.

Half-heartedly he opened his eyes again. Doctor was still standing by his bed. The ward boy was noting his blood pressure while the nurse was scrawling something on the history sheet. He found Kamal was sitting on the edge of his bed. He wanted to tell him that he had told a lie that he was alone in the world. That he had built a fake world for him. That Mother Mary had left him. That the angel was not his twin brother. That he had forgotten him.

At my home you called me a lunatic. You called me a dream digger. I didn’t say anything. My dreams had abandoned me. I had no witness to my dreams. But today again I received the tidings that I am blessed with an angelic age. I am the only living being from the land of angels. I have mistakenly landed on the earth. I carry fire in my eyes. I can reduce the whole world into ashes. You never believed me. You thought I was out of my senses. But today I announce in front of you that I am far superior to these earthly folks. I am a descendent of angels. You all are dependent on me. I am the architect of this universe. Without me nothing would exist in this world. Neither you, nor the doctor and
nor the dialysis machine. These colours and clouds all owe to me.

Kamal saw he was pointing at the dialysis machine and trying to say something. He assumed that Hussain was lamenting over his delayed visit. Kamal addressed him by his name and told him that he was busy and belatedly learnt that the doctor had called him on the telephone. He tried to convince Hussain through excuses. To him Kamal’s voice was wafting from afar. As if he was speaking beyond a wall amid a tumultuous and bustling crowd. His voice evaporated before reaching his ears. He hardly managed to tell him that he was unable to hear his words. Kamal spoke louder but half-conscious Husain had already drifted off to sleep.

After eleven years, he had seen Mother Mary and the angel back in a dream again. Mother Mary looked as usual, but the angel seemed to have aged. Though he was about forty-six, he had grown old like Hussain. He looked for Kamal in the alleyways of his mind. But to no avail. All doors were locked off and darkness had descended upon the lanes of his mind. Before he could slip into contemplation, the angel moved forward. He was carrying some freshly blossomed jasmine flowers. He placed them on the side table. The fragrance of the fresh jasmine filled the suffocating room and Hussain’s heart with freshness. The angel sat beside him, caressed his hair and wiped the froth off his mouth. He held his hand against his bosom. Hussain opened his eyes and saw Mother Mary was standing at the foot of his bed. She was in tears.

The angel was looking down with downcast eyes. His long tufts hung loose across his neck and wings were at rest. Wax-moths were melting down and cotton flowers had caught fire. But the fragrance of camphor was in full bloom. Dust and haze was thickening. It was the first dream in the last forty six years wherein he craved for the companionship of a man. He called the name of a kind acquaintance but in the shower of jasmine flowers his voice diminished. He found it hard to breathe. But flowers kept showering and his breath stuck in his nostrils.

The dialysis machine was running, and the tick tock of wall clock had gain momentum. The fan was running fast. Amid tumult and clamour nurses and ward boys were in hurry. He saw the doctor’s sombre face for the last time. A thick fog appeared before his eyes. A fog that was no less than a deadly monster. He was abruptly put under the oxygen by the doctor. But his heart had ceased to beat. His eyes had stopped blinking. He was no more.

The doctor looked around with great gloom. Everybody was in a state of grief. The doctor placed his hand on Kamal’s shoulder. He was in tears. His enemy had departed. But he left him in tears. He closed Husain’s eyes and blew out the candles that had been lit for forty-six years. He covered his face with a piece of cloth. This scene made the elderly woman who was the attendant of the boy lying on the bed beside, wail in great grief. The boy too began weeping with her. Kamal, the doctor and the entire staff, everybody was startled. How come the old lady knew Hussain?

She remembered that today before going towards the dialysis machine, Hussain strolled to the old woman and enquired her about the boy’s health. The doctor and Kamal tried to solace her but she was inconsolable.

It was a long time since Kamal had left the room. Neither did he return nor did anyone else come to the hospital. The dead body was lying there and the old woman was sobbing unrelentingly. The dialysis machine was silent. All tubes and pipes had been removed from his body. The wall clock was ticking down. And the fan had scattered the jasmine flowers in the room.

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* The author plans to write a series of stories in the future under ‘Thus Spake the Vagabond’.

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Dr. Haneef Shareef, a trained medical professional, is one of the most cherished contemporary Balochi fiction writers and film directors. So far, he has published two collections of short stories and one novel. His peculiar mode of narration has rendered him a distinguished place among the Balochi fiction writers. He has also directed four Balochi movies.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Nazuk

By Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi translated by Fazal Baloch

This is a chapter from Nazuk, the first novel written in Balochi language. It was first published in 1976 and has been translated into Urdu and Persian. It depicts everyday life and experiences of the people living around the coastal area of Makkuran especially Gwadar and its surroundings.

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The old man fell ill and stayed in bed for around eight days. He recuperated later, but remained quite frail and weak for a few more days. Nazuk looked after him like her father. Whenever she did him a favour, she would recall her father. But she was surprised to notice that sometimes the old man would slide into deep thoughts, and tears stream down from his eyes.

When he finally regained his strength, he expressed his desire to leave for his home but Nazuk did not let him go. She said: “Look uncle! I am a woman and alone with my two children. I don’t have anybody to chat with to while away the night. Ever since you have arrived, I feel like my father has returned. I would rather be glad to see you here. We would live like father and daughter and share our grief and sorrows with each other. From today onward you are my father and I am your daughter”.

The old man’s eyes welled up. He held and kissed Nazuk’s hand and broke out crying madly. Nazuk was astonished. After having consoled and comforted him she said: “Father! I am going to ask you something but don’t mince your words.”

“Come on my daughter. If I wouldn’t tell you the truth, then who would you think I am going to?”

“It’s alright. Whenever I speak to you, all of a sudden, your eyes well up. Why?”

“Yes my daughter. It is a long tale. I had a daughter whose name too was Nazuk. But she was pitilessly forced to die.”

“How did it happen?”

“Ah! I don’t know how to begin the story, daughter. Whenever, I look at you, I recall my poor daughter and can’t hold back my tears. I had never been as poor as I am now. Once I owned three boats. One I rowed myself and for the remaining two I hired two sailors. I was in fine fettle then. One night I was asleep when the anguished cries of a woman joggled me awake. It was coming from my neighbor’s house. I knew her husband had gone to fishing at sea. I jumped over the wall and found someone trying to make advances at her. It was dark and I couldn’t see his face clearly.

“I grabbed him from his waist and lifted him up and slammed him on the ground. He held his breath right there and I assumed he was dead but a moment later he beguiled me and sprinted out of the door. Some receding footfalls followed him. I knew he was not alone. I lit the lamp. The woman’s shirt was in tatters. I asked her about the man but she feigned ignorance. She also pleaded with me not to mention this incident to her husband otherwise he would divorce her. I assumed she knew the man but was afraid to disclose his identity. Till this day I haven’t shared her story with anybody.

“Six month later, one night, one of my sailors woke me up. He told me that he had docked my boat somewhere on the shore but it had disappeared. We went there and exhaustively searched for it but all our efforts ended up in smoke. Someone had stolen it. Six month later, they repeated the cycle and stole my second boat. Each time I went to village’s elder, Shugrullah. He was at a loss himself that nothing had been stolen from anybody but only me. His son Gazabek, who was sitting there, said: “You might have wronged someone and now they are paying you back.”

“I didn’t say a word. Nor I was offended by his remarks. But I lamented that I had been robbed of my two boats without any reason.

“A few months later Shugrullah’s brother invited all the sailors at the launching ceremony of his boat. One by one all the fishermen, were turning up at the seashore. Shugrullah’s son was lashing everybody with a whip to move quickly. He walked over to me and without any warning whipped me. And I without any delay lifted him up in the air and hurled him on the ground. For a moment he held his breath right there on the ground and a while later he sprinted off. I assumed he was the very man who had broken into our neighbor’s house on that distant night. When I grabbed him I felt the same plump body in my arms. His follow through further convinced me that he was the very man who had stolen my boats. Though I never accused him in public, between the lines I tried to throw hunches at Shugrullah. But as poor’s truth is always taken as a lie, everybody castigated me instead. Thus I kept quiet. It was followed by another tragedy. May God let nobody witnesses such doom. I wonder if you know, Gazabek enticed my young and innocent daughter Nazuk.”

“Father! Should I ask you something?”
“Yes daughter.”
“Well, what is your relationship with Zaruk?”
“Zaruk? Her aunt was my wife. But why are you asking this question?”
“It means your daughter Nazuk was Zaruk’s cousin who died at childbirth. It all happened because of Gazabek.”

“Yes, my daughter,” the old man broke into tears.

“Now I know it is the tragedy with your daughter that often makes you cry. From today onward I am your Nazuk, your daughter and you are in place of my father. No doubt God is great. Gazabek and his family will have to pay for the wrongs they have done to you.”

For a whole year the old man stayed with Nazuk. She looked after him like her late daughter. When the old man fell ill, he would anxiously grumble, “O God how long will it take your millstones to grind? The revenge you extract after I am dead will not bring me any relief.”

As luck would have it, the next day news spread that last night a thief broke into Gazabek’s house and cleverly left without leaving any trace behind. Next night everybody was on the alert yet he hoodwinked them and broke in again. When the old man received the news, he desperately called out Nazuk.

“Nazuk! Come on Nazal! Come on my mother!”

Nazuk hurried towards the old man and asked him anxiously: “Yes Abba I am here. Tell me what’s the matter?”

“Nazuk my daughter! I wouldn’t lament at all if God takes my life at any moment now.”

“What are you talking of? What happened?”
“Hey! Don’t you know what happened?”
“No. Tell me what is the matter ?”
“Daughter! Gazabek’s family has been dishonoured. A woman in his house is having a secret affair with a man.”

“That’s not fair father. The man who forced himself must have been only a thief.”
“No my mother! He was not a thief but a shrewd man and Gazabek was well aware of everything but lacked the courage to reveal anything. Indeed your millstones grind late but they grind fine. Thank you, O Holy Lord!”

A few days later the old man was summoned by God’s glory.

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Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi (1926-78) is known as the pioneer of modern Balochi literature. He was simultaneously a poet, fiction writer, critic, linguist and a lexicographer par excellence. Though he left undeniable marks on various genres of Balochi literature, poetry remained his mainstay. With his enormous imagination and profound insight he laid the foundation of a new school of Balochi poetry especially Balochi ghazal which mainly emphasises on the purity of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts. This school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold. He also authored the first ever Balochi novel ‘Nazuk’ and compiled the first comprehensive Balochi-to-Balochi dictionary containing over twenty thousand words and hundreds of pictorial illustrations.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

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A Balochi Story: The Lost Coin

by Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi

Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch

It was a summer day. The sun was up in the sky. Early in the morning he left for the sea and sat on the shore. There was still a touch of coldness of the last night left in the sands. He cast a look at the tides generated by the wind that blew over the othernight.

The water was shallow and under the mud flat sea insects had dug their burrows. And if someone unmindfully stepped on the mud flat, he would sink knee-deep beneath the ground. Some sixty yards from the sea there stood a few trees, some date palms and a big neem tree. In the morning sun it would cast its shadow as far as to the sea-brink. But as the day began to unfold the friendship between its shadow and the sea would start to fade.

He came and sat by the very shadow. Later when he looked around he found the shadow had long left him. Beyond the neem tree there was a pyramid of sands. From one angle its top looked like the peak of a volcano. Like a dyke, it enclosed some date palms in its depth. Once a beautiful garden, now it lay in utter ruins. There was even no trace of the fence left there. It had become a sort of hideout from the surrounding world.

On the left, a narrow trail passed through the sand. As people continuously treaded on the sand, some of the grains attained cohesiveness and the others flew drifted in the wind. Thus it took the shape of a trail which appeared like the parting of a woman’s golden hair. On the left side of that trail there was a well where people would come to fill their empty pitchers and pots.

All of a sudden a whisper seized his attention. He lifted his eyes up and caught sight of a blind man emerging from the right side of the pyramid. He was led by a girl who held one end of his walking stick. He shifted his concentration to the blind man rather than to the girl. The girl led the blind man to the sea and an hour later they were back on their way home.

He too got up and made his way home behind them. Midway through he exchanged greetings with the duo. At last he was out of the sands. He found it quite difficult to move forward because the trail was littered with grains of sands.

When he walked past the well, his heart skipped a beat. It was the second old stone-walled well located at the farthest end or you can say at the beginning of the sands. He recalled something but soon jerked his head to cast that old memory off his mind but it refused to budge. He felt burning sensation in his head and eyes. He touched his body to determine if he had fever. He was not sick at all. He quickened his steps so that he could reach his destination at the earliest. Suddenly, he whispered to himself:

“It is nice that you go home but nobody lives there. You will be all alone there as well.”

He was right. Nobody lived at his house save himself. He had a good friend but he spent the whole day working outside. At night he would come and they talked together but he too couldn’t give him company for a longer time because he had to look after his family. Again he said to himself: “Loneliness is beautiful but only when one needs it. Likewise it is nice to have someone’s company when one grows sick of loneliness. Today I feel as if I’ve grown sick of my loneliness. I think I should feel such weariness only after the sunset but today it has happened otherwise. My mind has been stormed in the morning.”

He kept moving ahead, wondering. Midway through, an acquaintance ran into him and greeted him. He couldn’t recognise him. He moved fast as if someone had been waiting him for quite some time and any sort of delay would lead to a huge loss.

He slowed his pace and even halted for a while but soon resumed to move forward with quick steps. He was some hundred steps away from his house when his eyes caught someone standing at the corner of the boundary wall that enclosed his house. He bowed his head and began to move with rather slow steps. As he drew nearer, he raised his head and found a woman was looking for something by the wall. He recognised her. Every day she would walk past that way to fetch water. He thought she might have lost her nose pin or ring. He asked her:

“What are you looking for?”
“A rupee.”
“A note?”
“No, a coin.”
“So what?”
“I’ve lost it.”

He also began to look for it. A moment later he raised his head up and found instead of searching for her lost coin she was gazing at him. He ran his hand into his pocket but couldn’t found any coin there. He turned to her: “I’ve no coin on me. Wait I’ll get you one from my house.”
He opened the gate and she followed her in. He searched his coat pocket. She said: “Is there any water at your house?”
“What do you mean by water?”
“I mean drinking water.”
“Yes, there is.”
He picked up the glass to fetch her water, but she took it from his hand and said: “I’ll get it myself.”
She filled the glass, came back, stood right before him and said: “Please drink.”
“I haven’t taken any fatty food in the morning. So, I do not have the urge to drink water.”
“It is summer. And in summer days it feels refreshing to drink water. By the way what did you take in the morning?”
“A cup of tea.”
“What else?”
“Nothing else.”
“Alright. I’ll bring you some eggs.”
“When?”
“Tomorrow.”
He was about to drink water when she said: “Don’t stand and drink.”
He sat on the edge of the cot and said, “But you are standing yourself.”
“I’ll sit down.”
“May I know your name?”
“Mahal.”
“Mahal?”
“Actually my name is Mahatoon but out of affection my mother used to call me Mahal.”
“Are you married?”
“Yes.”
“Any children?”
“I’ve three children but it has been the fifth year since my husband went on a journey.”
“Is he angry with you?”
“No he is not. But once left he never turned back. Occasionally he sends us money but…”
“But what?”
“Nothing.”
“You didn’t ask me my name.”

“I know you since the day you came to live in our neighbourhood. I also noticed your friend who visited you and you kept talking to each other till the midnight. After midnight, you would go out. I wondered where you went at those late hours of the night and when you would return home.”

“But I think you don’t have to do anything with my routines.”

“One night I kept waiting for you and saw you come back at dawn.”

“So, you have been keeping a watch over me!”

“Do you enjoy being alone?”
“Why?”
“Just asking.”
“What do you think?”
After a brief silent she said: “You are not alone anymore.”
“Yes not at least at this very moment.”
One and half hour later she got up to leave. He said: “You didn’t even drink water.”
“You drank and I got my thirst slaked.”
She was about to strolled out of the door when he turned to her:
“But you didn’t take your coin.”
“Which coin?”
“The one I said to give you in recompense.”
“Oh you mean that lost coin?”
“Yes.”
“I got it.”
She scurried forward and at the door she turned back and said: “I’ll bring you some eggs at sunset.”
After she left he was amazed. He began to ponder and whispered to himself: “She found the coin? When? Where? In this house?”
A while later something struck to his mind and he smiled and spoke loudly: “Hmm! The lost coin!”

Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi (1926-78) is known as the pioneer of modern Balochi literature. He was simultaneously a poet, fiction writer, critic, linguist and a lexicographer par excellence. Though he left undeniable marks on various genres of Balochi literature, poetry remained his mainstay. With his enormous imagination and profound insight he laid the foundation of a new school of Balochi poetry especially Balochi ghazal which mainly emphasises on the purity of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts. This school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold. He also authored the first ever Balochi novel ‘Nazuk’ and compiled the first comprehensive Balochi-to-Balochi dictionary containing over twenty thousand words and hundreds of pictorial illustrations.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

Categories
Stories

Too Much Light, Too Much Trouble

A Balochi Short story by Ghani Parwaz

( Translated by Fazal Baloch)

The moment he stepped into the office he was astonished to see the distorted features of his colleagues. Someone’s eyes were bulging out of their sockets. Someone’s ears were stretched out. Someone’s tongue was sticking out. Someone’s lips had swollen. He stared at them with bewilderment.

Aftab, the clerk, raised his head and bulged out his eyes a bit further and said: “You are looking at us in such a way as if we are creatures from some other planets.”

Imdad, the assistant, raised his ears a little more and asked him: “Why are you looking at us with such wonder”?

Zaheer, the cashier, stuck out his tongue and remarked: “I think he is not feeling well today.”

Muzzamil, the clerk, puffed his already swollen lips and said: “We need to bring him back on the track.”

He strolled ahead, stood right in their midst and said: “But why do you all look so strange today?”

First they looked at each other and then directed their gaze at him and asked him: “What is wrong with us, by the way?”

He smiled acerbically and retorted: “Someone’s eyes are bulging out. Someone’s ears are unusually raised. Someone’s tongue is sticking out. Someone’s lips are swollen.” 

Aftab, the clerk, instantly pulled out a small mirror from his pocket and looked into it.

“You damn liar,” he mumbled.

One by one they all looked their features in the mirror.

Someone lashed out at him, “Why do you fashion such big lie?”

“Is this the way to make fun of your colleagues?” Someone else expressed his displeasure.

Muzamil was not satisfied yet. He strolled over to the bathroom and thoroughly scanned his face in front of a giant mirror.

“Lies wouldn’t last long.”

Azhar sat on his chair and looked around and said: “Truth and lies apart, but your faces do not look as usual.”

Ms. Farhat, the secretary to the Chairman, stepped in.

“What happened? Why are you looking so flummoxed?” she asked them.

“Azhar says our features look distorted.” Muzzamal said while looking at Ms. Farhat.

She looked at their faces and said: “No. Everything seems to be as usual.”

“Look at yourself, madam,” Azhar said.

“What has happened to me?” Farhat was puzzled a bit.

“Your cheeks are swollen.”

“O my God!” She covered her face with her hands and scurried to the bathroom. She returned in a moment and blasted at Azhar: “You are a duffer. You don’t even deserve the slot of a watchman.”

“He thrashed at us and even didn’t spare you.”

Someone suggested, “We must take up the matter with the boss.”

“Don’t worry. Let the boss come. I will do the rest,” Farhat assured them.

A while later the door turned open and Zahir Ali, the Chairman, stepped in. He cast a cursory look at the staff and made it to his office. Farhat followed him.

“What is the problem, today you all look anxious?” The Chairman placed his sunglasses on the table.

“Today Azhar has lost his mind,” Farhat replied.

“How?”

“He is talking nonsense.”

“Just relax yourself I will see him.”

The Chairman pressed the bell and asked the peon to call Azhar in.

“Sir! Have you called me?” Azhar looked at him anxiously.

“Yes. Why are you misbehaving with your colleagues?”

“No, Sir, I haven’t done anything wrong. I just told them whatever I saw with my eyes.”

“By the way what did you see?”

“They all have distorted faces.”

“How? Any example.”

“Bulging eyes. Elongated ears. Puffed lips. Swollen cheeks.”

The Chairman asked him, “And you are also staring at me with amazement. Do you see any change in my features?”

“Sorry Sir! I wouldn’t be that rude. After all you are my boss.”

“Go ahead and tell me if you see something unusual in me.”

“As you wish Sir — you have a protruding paunch today,” he revealed in a somewhat trembling tone.

The Chairman walked over to the bathroom. He returned in a while and blasted at Azhar: “You rascal!”

Azhar trembled with fear and pleaded: “I am sorry Sir.”

“You don’t deserve any relaxation.” He looked at him with anger and pressed the bell.

The peon rushed in: “Yes Sir!”

“Call the staff in,” he commanded.

All the staff gathered in the Chairman’s office.

“Do you see any change in your own features?” The Chairman asked them with great concern.”

“No Sir,” was their answer.

“And something unusual in mine?”

“Not at all.” They replied.

“Then why on earth, is this knucklehead insisting that we have distorted features?” He was furious.

“Sir something must be wrong with his eyes.” Muzammil pointed towards Azhar’s eyes.

“Muzzamil is right; you must have an eye problem.” The Chairman looked at Azhar.

“Yes, indeed I had an eye-problem, but I have had them treated recently.”

“The treatment has further ruined your eyes,” the Chairman looked deep into his eyes.

“Anyway, what was the problem with your eyes?”

“My eyes used to twinkle,” he replied.

“What? Do eyes ever twinkle?” The Chairman was amazed.

“Yes, they used to twinkle and I felt new and brighter eyes were growing inside my eyes.”

“What was the nature of the treatment?” The Chairman asked him.

“I had an eye surgery.”

“I feel the surgery went terribly wrong.”

“It went wrong?” Azhar was confused a bit.

“Yes, it did,” the Chairman affirmed his statement.

“But now I have a much better and brighter vision than ever, Sir. Now even I can see the invisible things.”

“What do you mean by the invisible things,” the Chairman shot back.

“I mean that I can see what the bulging eyes are looking for. I can hear what the elongated ears desire to hear. I know what the swollen lips want to say. I know what the puffed out cheeks seek. And what the protruding paunch…”

“Shut your nonsense!” The Chairman cut into the middle of his speech. “Had you not been an old employee, I would have kicked you out of the office.”

“Have mercy on me Sir,” Azhar pleaded.

“I accept your apology but only on one condition.” The Chairman dragged his chair a bit forward and pointed his index finger towards Azhar.

“I accept whatever condition you set.” Azhar bowed his head in respect.

“I will get your eyes operated again and its expense will be deducted from your salary in nominal installments,” the Chairman gave the verdict.

“What do you think now?” Muzammil quipped with a sardonic smile.

“What can I say,” Azhar replied in a state of utter helplessness.

A few days after the operation Azhar resumed his routine in the office. Now everybody looked normal to him. He didn’t notice anything unusual in their features. He was standing by the door when the Chairman burst in.

The Chairman asked him sarcastically, “How are your eyes now?”

“As usual, Sir,” Azhar replied.

“Remember, too much brightness of vision is always disastrous. It can land you in deep trouble.”

“I will never forget your advice Sir.” A meaningful smile appeared on Azhar’s lips, “because I cannot endure too much suffering.”

Ghani Parwaz is one of the most celebrated Balochi writers. He has been writing Balochi fiction for the past five decades. So far he has published seven anthologies of short stories and five novels.  Apart from fiction, he also writes poetry and literary criticism. He received several awards for his literary contributions including “the Presidential Award for the Pride of Performance”. He lives in Turbat Balochistan.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

Categories
Stories

The Wooden Horse

Short Story by Naguman

Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch

It was his first flight. The first flight in twenty crawling years. He sat at the Departure Lounge of the Quetta airport waiting for the final boarding announcement. He was delighted but at the same time a bit nervous too. He feared that the plane would crash. He sat impatiently on the sofa.

In extreme poverty, where he could hardly bear the expenses of his studies, air travel seemed a distant dream to him. He always traveled by bus. On the Quetta-Turbat dirt road, he covered a distance of eight hundred miles in forty hours. Amid the dust of the road, smoke of cigarettes, earsplitting music, cacophonic rattling of the old bus, coughing, sneezing and vomiting passengers, the tedious journey was no less than a nightmare. His head almost exploded from a headache, his feet were swollen, and his bottom ached from sitting too long in the bus but there was no trace of his destination as yet.

Whenever he was on the bus, he felt like a worm crawling ahead. At times when he happened to see plane tags on the bags of his friends, his heart quivered like a caged bird. He wanted to ask them how it felt to fly in the air. But he never mustered up the courage to ask. “Such senseless questions! Everybody would mock me. Poverty does not mean you get yourself ridiculed.”

At such times he would often curse his poverty. After all, for how long was he supposed to crawl like a worm? Was he not destined to soar in the air like an eagle? Voiceless poverty had no answer. Rather silence was its answer.

One day destiny favored him. The government announced scholarships for deserving students. He too was awarded a sum of five thousand rupees. He used half of the money to pay his college fee and, with the other half, he bought an air ticket.

He looked at the clock. There was still some time to left for the flight. He picked up the newspaper and began to read. The headlines read:

‘An American plane crashed killing all passengers on board.’

He froze with fear and couldn’t read a word more. If the planes of the world’s superpower could crash, then how would these old Pakistani planes survive?

He put the paper back on the table.

“Thank you, Holy Lord.” He turned around. A white bearded man clad in white, was telling his rosary on a nearby sofa.

“I reckon, like me, he also fears that the plane may crash.” He felt a little relieved and with sympathetic eyes looked at the old man. But there were no ripples of fear or anxiety on his face. He sat relaxed flicking his rosary. He was not afraid. He thanked the Holy Lord by way of habit. Just to while away the time.

The shades of sympathy he felt for the old man evaporated. For a moment, he wanted to tell him to thank God when He stopped taking lives. In a moment, He took lives of millions in the world. And yet the old man extended his thanks to Him. And to the One who ceases life in the living. Mullah you are supposed to know that submission before a brute isn’t a sort of worship. Rather its sycophancy; its fear.

“Thank you, Holy Lord. You’ve blessed me with everything.” The old man reiterated.

“He is showing too much gratitude! As if God has promised him that He would never take his life. And he affirms you have blessed me with everything. The best of all blessings is life. If He snatches it from you then what would you do with the ‘everything’ you have been blessed with.”

Again, he was alone and anxious. In an attempt to divert his attention, he unintentionally picked up the newspaper but the moment his eyes fell on the headlines he dropped it. Then he took out the ticket from his pocket and began to scan it. When he was done with it, he turned around and glanced at his co-passengers. They were so calm and composed as if they were sure that the plane would never crash. For a moment he decided to read aloud the news about the crashed plane; so that everyone would tremble with fear and panic and resolve not to fly again.

A few minutes later the final announcement was made, and the passengers began to proceed towards the plane. He had his eyes fixed on the plane. What the eyes see, the heart at times refuses to believe! The thing that appears like a bird in the sky looked like a mountain on the ground. If this giant took off, wouldn’t it crash? Again, fear overwhelmed him but now he had set his foot on the stairs. As he stepped into the plane, he heard a woman voice:

“Assalam o Alaikum!”

The beautiful air hostess standing by the door was greeting all passengers smilingly. He was reminded of the untidy and messy conductors and crew members of the bus who never show any sort of respect towards the passengers. On the other hand, the beautiful air hostess warmly greeted the passengers on board. Even though her smile didn’t spring from her heart and it was just lip-deep, but to steal a look at her lips was something enchanting unto itself. Her voice was a melody. The fake respect he got in the plane was much coveted than the genuine disrespect in the bus.

When the plane was picking up speed up on the runway, he felt that he was running to prepare himself to soar in the sky. Suddenly, it dawned on him that once the God of heaven also lived on the Earth. And one day running on the Earth, he soared into the sky and never returned.

The plane was moving away from the Earth. Astounded, he looked at the sky as of it was the first time he was seeing it. It was the first time, it occurred to him that the sky was more beautiful than the Earth. He wondered whether it was due to the distance between the Earth and heaven or was it just an illusion of the eyes? He couldn’t make up his mind, but he assumed that it was beautiful because God lived there. It also had an ambience of eternity. The Earth, despite all its colours and shades, was unbearable because it housed graveyards. He realised why God wouldn’t return to the Earth.

When the plane soared above the clouds, he found them more enchanting from the sky than from the Earth. Patches of clouds lay scattered in the sky and appeared like cracked crusts of soil in a dried out plain. In essence, the heaven and the Earth were no different. It was all just an illusion of the eyes. He knew that his eyes were telling lies. But he was amazed to see how the heart often believed in the lies of the eyes.

Now the plane had soared to the required altitude. The thought that he was flying above the clouds sent ripples of fear in his heart. Caught between belief and incredulity, he fancied he was the prince of the old legends and the plane was the magical wooden horse. When you twisted its right ear, it took off and when you twisted its left ear it landed on the ground.

“Excuse me”!

The voice of the airhostess juggled him out of his thoughts. The beautiful lady with the platter of the food stood smiling beside him. The fairy of the Mount Qaf was kind to the prince and the Wooden Horse was soaring high in the air. He looked at the fairy-like airhostess and smiled over his prince-like-thoughts.

When he put the first morsel in his mouth it occurred to him that if Earthly foods were taken in the sky, they would taste like the forbidden fruit of the paradise for which Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command and became mortal.

After the meal, the air hostess served him cold drinks. He picked a glass of his favourite drink. It reminded him of the elixir of life. A silent prayer sprung out of his heart. He wished he could forever stay in heaven. The gorgeous lady would remain at his service with ambrosial food. But there shouldn’t be the Forbidden Fruit among them and nor the transgression of Adam and Eve.

After having done with the meal, he took out the booklet from the seat pocket and began to read it. It carried guidelines about emergency situations and about how to put on the life jacket. Again, he was reminded of the plane crash.

Before he took the flight, he had been overwhelmed with such fear and thoughts. But now in those moments of delight and fancy when he was flying in the sky, he thought about the plane crash — the heavenly end of the Earthly life. It was more beautiful than all forms of death. Much desired than illness, bullets, road accident, water, fire, poison and hanging. Better than all.

In the meantime, the plane shook. Something ran down his spine. It was a wave of fear. He looked at the other passengers. Everybody’s face was pale with anxiety. At the very moment, it was announced that the plane flew over a mountain. There is nothing to be worried about. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief.

With this single turbulence that shook the plane, his desire for a heavenly death disappeared. He thought that death in any form was frightening — be it in heaven or on Earth. Death was just death. Heavenly end of the Earthly life, these are mere words. Words placed in a beautiful order. Glorification of death wouldn’t make the road easy.

“Thank you, Holy Lord, the Creator.” The voice of the old man jolted him out of his thoughts. He turned back. Seated nearby, the old man was looking for something in his hand bag. He pulled out two strips of pills and took one from each strip with a glass of water. He drew a large breath and wiped out the driblets of water from his beards. Again, he thanked God and began to tell his rosary.

“This old man is afraid of illness.” He felt sympathy towards the old man. Whether it’s the fear of illness or plane crash both have the same upshot. Both roads led to the same destination. The destination of death and everybody ran away from it. Everybody sought life. A life that has no end. An eternal life — that is the hallmark of God — but everybody longed for it. They all want to remain eternal like God. They all want to become God.

A sudden thought flashed like lightning on the horizon of his mind. “God is a horse man has carved out of the wood. Yesterday’s wooden horse is today’s plane and today’s God is tomorrow’s man.”

He trembled and quivered. He was so excited as if he had run into a treasure. For a moment he felt like calling out at the top of his voice:

“O, people of the world! I’m very familiar with God. The kind and compassionate God. God is a dream man’s heart has dreamt with its wakeful eyes. One day this dream will come true. How beautiful is this moment of my life. This moment seems eternal. How enchanting it is to understand God! If I cease to exist now, I wouldn’t lament. I’ve discovered my God—my companion.”

He was all excited and delighted. He felt an ocean of delight in his heart where his fear of death had capsized like a shipwreck. Happiness. Absolute heavenly happiness. No fear at all. Only God could experience such happiness because he had no fear of death. He felt the storm of happiness would burst out of his chest and sweep away the entire world.

“Do you know what is God?”

All of a sudden, his voice resonated in the plane. He was standing on his feet. Everybody was looking at him with surprise.

“I’m going to tell you who actually God is,” he touched the zenith of excitement. “God is a horse man has carved out of the wood!”

People were all ears. Wrinkles of their hearts had appeared on their faces. But indifferent to all, he was speaking without a pause.

“Man has made this wooden horse just because he wants to reach out to the Mount Qaf. He desires for the most beautiful fairy of the Qaf. Do you know what does Qaf mean? Qaf means absolute power. Once you reach the Qaf you would overcome on each and everything in the world. Qaf is the land of miracles. Nothing is impossible there. Whatever you wish for, you can do. Moses’ rod, Solomon’s flying throne, Aladdin’s djin, all are found there. You may not know but this plane is heading for the Mount Qaf.

The travelling prince was narrating the legend of the Mount Qaf to the bewildered Earthly folks and the wooden horse was flying high in the air.

But it had a big flaw. Its left ear was missing. And neither the excited speaker knew about it nor the bewildered audience.

Naguman is an eminent name in the world of Balochi fiction. So far, he has published one collection of his short stories under the title Dar ay Aps (The Wooden Horse). Most of his short stories are based on human aspirations, their relationship with fellow human beings and various elements of the nature. His lucid and flowing prose stands him out in the realm of Balochi short story.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).