Original story in Marathi by Dr. Sukanya Agashe

The red hot ball of the sun started descending the faraway hills and the bus climbed on the concrete road- with a big bang and a jerk.  The drowsy passengers who were fed up with the dust woke up with a start.  They opened their eyes in disgust –‘oh, we are nearing our village’- with this thought the cramped bodies were stretched and relaxed.  The faces were wiped with  handkerchiefs.  The luggage items were checked – tin trunks, bags, loth bags, cloth bundles…..

Iqbal was awake all the time.  He is never able to sleep while travelling.  A number of thoughts which keep rushing in his mind while travelling do not allow him to sleep.  In the last one and a half hour his mind had remembered many things.  It had even witnessed events which had never taken place in real life.  Altaf who was sitting beside him and half asleep was resting his head on his shoulder.  His shoulder had become stiff but Iqbal had not moved even a little bit.  How is Altaf able to sleep like this- he wondered.

The touch of Altaf’s head was pleasing though.  Iqbal knew how much his elder brother loved him. He had seen the affection for him in Altaf’s eyes a number of times and became emotional, though Altaf had never expressed his love in words. In the last event of Hindu-Muslim riots-when Iqbal did not return home till late night, his elder brother had gone out to look for him, risking his own life.  His elder brother- composed and tough.  Then he remembered Altaf of their childhood. He would readily accept and give den when it was someone else’s turn and yet would prove to be very energetic.  Those games – and the close friendship of these four children.  Iqbal and Altaf and the two daughters of Lachchuramji- Kusum and Kamali.  And recently when Iqbal thought of Kamali …. He felt as if he was slowly awakening from sleep and suddenly realized that the entire surroundings have turned beautiful.  When he was sitting idle here in the bus he had played with this emotion which was blooming in his mind like the tender tendrils of the vines swinging in the breeze effortlessly.  Her eyes would follow him.  If she came across him, adjusting her chunni in the narrow lane of their community, both of them would slow down for a moment.  Her lips, which smiled a little bit, would tell him something which was beyond words, the tender expression in her eyes…. And then all of a sudden her legs would carry her away quickly.  If those tender yarns of childhood could be knitted in a strong fabric -!

Now they were somewhat settled in their business.  His father, Abbajan says, ‘this is our hereditary business of many generations?  Both Abba and Ammi had toiled day and night for this purpose.  They have got their shop painted recently.  A brand new name board has been fixed on it – ‘Khadau ki famous dukan’.  One can find no match for the khadaus made in Abbajan’s shop, in the whole Babu Bazar.  Every devotee coming to this place of pilgrimage for the Darshan of Ramprabhu will not return home without buying sweet Battasas, a small sindurdani and a pair of Khadaus.

Abbajan had a friend Murari,living in a faraway village near the jungle.  Murari was a Hindu.  He and his entire household was engaged in that work.  They used to make pegs for the Khadus from the best quality wood obtained from Khair or Sal trees.  They often visited timber depots to buy small pieces of Khair or Sal wood by weight.    Making beautiful, delicate pegs with various types of zigzagged designs was their family business.   Such beautiful pegs were not available anywhere else in this whole province.  Abba always used pegs made only by Murari for his khadaus.  He too, never sold his pegs to anybody else.  Even today, Iqbal had gone to that village with Altaf, to bring pegs from Murari chacha’s house.   The sack which was half filled with pegs was not put on the roof of the bus.  But he had cleverly hidden it under the bench when the conductor was busy elsewhere.

Altaf, who was awakened by the jerk of the bus, smiled a little and looked at Iqbal.  “Bas, ab thodi hi der –“, he said.  Iqbal nodded and looked out of the window.  The faraway trees, the fields which were swinging a short while ago showing different shades of green were looking calm now.  Everything had come to a standstill by consuming the grey shades of the evening.  When Iqbal saw the different trees, shrubs, green fields softened in the slanting rays of the sun, he thought – how amazing in this soil – she is prospering our life in so many ways!  But now- the same fields with trees had a different shade of aloofness – which did not belong here – and induced fear in one’s mind!  Then he thought – This is so just because the sun has set now.  Nothing else!  He laughed to himself.  Meanwhile the bus had climbed on the bridge and its sound had changed. The sound of the water flowing under the bridge was added to it.  The river was full to the brims.  Iqbal looked at the water below and he was taken aback.  He shook Altaf’s shoulder violently, without shifting his eyes away from the water and said, “What is this, Bhaiya?  Why is the river water looking so red? Look here please -”

“What’s it?” said Altaf and looked at the water leaning towards window and he started laughing.  “What a big fool are you!  Isn’t it the rainy season?  Sawan?  Wasn’t there a flood in the river?  The water is bound to look muddy and red! And look over there”, he pointed above the water where the sky had become red, and said, “It is all his alchemy! Isn’t it?”

Iqbal looked there and smiled shyly.  How scared he was! Even if there was a slight change in the atmosphere he was frightened like a hare.  Mm, it was true….. The riots in the month of Chaitra.  It was heard that somebody had thrown a bag of beef in the meeting hall of the temple of Ramprabhu.  Then there was a hue and a cry, the huts in the ‘Nayi Basti’ were reduced to ashes, there was striking with knives, the atmosphere was filled with terror….

It was a holy place of pilgrimage.  The temple of Rama was situated on the banks of the river.  There were a number of trees surrounding the temple.  The whole place was very serene – as if clean, spotless innocence has been dwelling there for centuries, in that atmosphere.  But the riots took place when the big elections were approaching.  Who could have done this?  Nothing of that sort has happened till today – not even in the childhood memories of Abbajan.  Had any Muslim fellow done it deliberately?  But how could it be possible?  How could one achieve it?  Of every ten pucca houses in the village only one house belonged to a Muslim family.  Who and why would anyone dare to risk his life?  And – yes, except Mehmood.  His father Rahimchacha did the work of sweeping the mosque.  His wife had died long ago, making Mehmood motherless in his childhood.  But it was quite an interesting thing to know that Rahimchacha has educated his son.  Maybe, perhaps because it was not possible to take care of him in the house.  There was no one to look after him.  So he might have talked to the teacher and sent him to school.  But Mehmood proved to be an intelligent kid and learnt with interest, passing his exams every year.  He could have passed his Matriculation exam by now. He used to stay awake at night,sit under the streetLamp and read, though his books were not only from the school syllabus. If anybody asked him, “What are you reading son?” he used to answer, “I am learning the mantra of changing this world, this society.” “What type of books are these?”, if somebody inquired further, he would give one fixed reply, “These books are better than even the Quran and Geeta.” 

Mehmood had united the Rickshaw-walas in the village.  They used to hold meetings.  Baljinder Rickshaw wala had himself told this to Iqbal and Altaf in front of their shop.  Altaf was very curious and baffled him with so many questions.  Baljinder was in a hurry as his passenger had finished his shopping of Khadaus and was rushing back. With a blooming face he pulled the starter of the   said, “Mehmood has understood life very well, more than others.”

Iqbal had understood what Bajinder had said, or maybe he had not.  But everybody used to refer to Mehmood as Mad Mehmood.  But how can anyone call him mad?  There was no other person as educated as him in the entire Muslim community.

Sometimes Iqbal wondered, should he learn more? Abbajan or even he himself may talk to the school master….. once he raised this issue in the house.  “But then would Altaf alone work in our business?” Abba had said.  “Why do you want to learn? What of education? Don’t we have a family-business?” Ammi had given her opinion.  Does she know how vast the world is outside her Burakha?  And even I had not seen how the world really is outside this province.  It is shown in the Hindi films – colourful cities, big wide roads, tall buildings, that outside world, lit with electric lights – and didn’t Altaf also want to learn?  The well placed Hindu people in the village used to send their children to the school as a rule.  Many of them get jobs in banks, societies, in government offices, or on Commerce Street.  Sure they give an appearance of smartness.  They wear clean, tidy clothes. 

“We cannot afford to learn, because it is not at all necessary for us to learn.”  Iqbal tnen had convinced himself to believe this and then he started to take interest in the business matters along with Altaf, without giving it a second thought.  But what about Mad Mehmood?  How come then he was so fond of books and letters?  Recently Mehmood was visiting the big cities very often.  They say he had some friends’ over there.  Once when he had visited their house he told them,” Abbajan, by next year an Aluminum factory will be set up in the vicinity of our village.  Then you will see how fast everything will change- the whole life over here.”  Then he was whispering something to Altaf and when Abba asked what it was about, he said,  “ Nothing, I was just telling him that your family business can go on, but both of you or at least one of you should take a job in this factory. What do you think?”  Abba had looked at him fondly and smiled a little.

“Really Abba, once this factory is started we can get out of this stagnant life.  Our life will improve a lot when the outside winds blow here – – at least it will be better than what it is now.”  He used to tell this to everyone.  He used to talk about it enthusiastically.

Iqbal had heard somebody saying, “Mehmood? He belongs to the Red flag party.  Beware of him.”   What is this ‘Red flag party?’ Iqbal did not know anything about it.  He asked Altaf, but even he did not have any idea – At last Iqbal gathered courage and asked his Abbajan about it.  When Mad Mehmood left for the heavenly abode of Allah, Abba’s face, which had a few wrinkles but was fresh, became very serious.  Iqbal could clearly see the lines of worries which had developed on his forehead.  He came very close to him and said, “Why son? Even I don’t know what it is! But one thing I know for certain, Mehmood was a good guy with fine intellect and fine heart.  Somebody intruded in his house near the mosque in the darkness of the night and stabbed him with knife and killed him, because he was good.  And my Son, this is very bad, very bad.”

“Why should a good person get killed in this manner, Abbajan?”

Abbajan had smiled gravely and said, “A good person only has to die in this manner, Beta!”

When Iqbal realized that his Abba was as grieved as Rahimchacha when Mad Mehmood was finished in this way, he thought Altaf should learn all the techniques and tricks of the business from Abbajan as soon as possible and he should teach them to me too. Our Abba is getting old now.  But he could not understand it then, that Abba was grieved for a different reason.  Yes, it was for Mehmood, no doubt.  He was the only son of Rahim, intelligent and had come of age.  But he was experiencing that day by day the atmosphere in the village was undergoing a change.  The Hindu and Muslim households which were staying together for years had started turning their backs on each other.  There were those riots a few months ago, and everything began to change. As if a juicy fruit was getting rotten. It was not like this in the past.  He used to visit Lachchhuramji’s house very often.   Lachchhuramji’s wife Rasmani would send out a cup of strong tea specially made for him with Kusum or Kamali.  When Kusum and Kamali were kids, they used to play here in our house for the whole day long and Iqbal and Altaf would tease them by pulling their plaited hair or by seizing their chunnis and covering their own faces.  Then Kamali would say, “Wait, I will tell this to Abbajan.”  Abba used to observe all this with his heart filled with joy.  He used to remember it very often. – Ya Allah! These girls call me Abbajan and my heart is filled with pleasure.”   He would tell this to himself and would also go to Lachchhuramji’s house and tell him so.  But after those riot……

Even now he visits that house very often and asks Rasmani for a cup of strong tea like in the past. It was his right !  But – of course, all of them are invited in that house, even now they are always welcome.  But one experiences a gloomy feeling as if something is torn within one’s heart.  Now he feels that the air is borne with shadows of fear and there are doubts in people’s minds.

The bus crossed the bridge and left behind the sound of rushing water.  Altaf and Iqbal sat alert as the scattered lights in the village became visible now .  The bus took a turn near the mosque and Iqbal’s attention was shifted to Rahimchacha’s room. A dim light could be seen from the window of that devastated house.  Poor Rahimchacha! He lives alone in that house now. “Nothing changes in life any time – “, he had said.

The bus halted with a sigh.  Altaf got down first and downloaded the sack from Iqbal’s hands.  He carried it on his shoulder and started walking.  They left the S.T stand and headed homewards.  After some time Iqbal asked his brother, “Altaf bhaiya, should I carry the sack now?”

“Why? Is it a big burden for me to carry?” “No, it isn’t, but – “Iqbal smiled to himself- “Altaf is also a strong man!” Both of them continued walking silently again. The only sound that could be heard was that of their own footsteps. Now there were very few people on the road which used to be normally crowded. Iqbal could not resist talking, and asked again, “Nowadays people are in a hurry to close their shops as  soon as it gets dark, Isn’t it?”

“What else can they do! “ Altaf exclaimed.

“Do you remember Altaf bhaiya, how this road used to be crowded till nine O’clock in the night? ” Iqbal remembered the Tongawallahs shouting “Baju, Baju!”, horns of auto rickshaws, the strings of beads hanging from the shops on  both sides of the roads, heaps of Revadi and battasas for Prasad, the strong and intoxicating smell of garlands and fragrant flowers, the glittering clothes of the shopkeepers who sold perfumes, Surma and Sindoor, bright light of petromax lamps, and in those three days in the month of Chaitra, including Ramnavami, the entire village would then turn into a fair. The priests-Pandes-on the Ghats of the river would be very busy – giving Teerth and Prasad to devotees who came to attend the festival – And the craftsmen in the village used to earn for the whole year, in this one month of Kartik,. Now the fair in the month of Shravan was approaching soon and that is why Abbajan had rushed them both to Murarichacha’s place to get the supplies. When everything was going on like this as usual, Kashiram Pandya used to say to Abbajan, “Why was Prabhu Ramchandraji born only once? Had it been otherwise, we would not have to starve like this, struggling to meet both ends. What can be done in these times with such meager earnings?”

Abbajan used to just smile on this. He had started to earn some profits on his khadau business recently. Besides, Ammi had learnt the techniques of making perfumes, Surma and Sindoor, all this sitting at home.  This year some tiny bottles of perfumes – attar – were ready for sale for the first time.  Iqbal had thought of gifting one of them to Kamali secretly.  But then he thought better of it and decided not to.

They reached near the shop of Gajmal Nathumal and Iqbal thought that Altaf bhaiya is carrying the burden for too long.  Now he should carry the burden upto the house – so he stopped his brother forcefully.  Altaf put the sack down. “Ok, you can carry it now.  I would not have died !”  He smiled a little bit, but actually spoke in a voice which showed mocked anger.

Iqbal lifted the sack with a laugh.  Gajmalbhai was sitting on the mattress in the shop and was tying bundles of Ramnamdhari Chaddars.  They were dyed in saffron colour and on them had the name ‘Shreeram’ printed all over in dark brown letters, by block printing.  He used to sell other types of cloth also along with those Ramnamdhari Chaddars, so he had customers for his shop all-round the year.  The only big cloth store in that region was Gajmal’s shop.  He asked softly, with a serious face, “Why, have you been somewhere?”

“Yes, Gajmalji, to the neighboring village, for the sake of our business.”

“So that’s why,” said Gajmal, “you must not have heard the news.”

“What, which news?” Iqbal’s heart was beating very fast.  Riots again? Murder?” or fighting somewhere?” “I have heard”, said Gajmal with a face absorbed in some thoughts, which showed some suspense, “a big police party has been planted in the village.  The municipality elections are approaching now, isn’t it?  And the fair in the month of Sawan also.  There should not be riots again like last year and that is why the government has sent the police party in advance for bandobast – there will be a curfew from nine o’clock in the night – make haste.”

“Police party?” Altaf asked as if he was bewildered, “and curfew also?”

“Yes, yes; right from nine o’clock.  Rush to your house as quickly as possible. Otherwise -.”

“Will this happen again and again?  Then how can we do our business and run the shop Gajmalji?” Altaf appeared disturbed.

“Oh! There won’t be any business! Not even a meter of cloth was sold since this morning !” Gajmal frowned and said.  Altaf sighed heavily, “It is okay for you Gajmalji, but what about our Roji-Roti? Day-today existence?”

“Now go, get started.  Everything will be alright till the fair in Sawan.”

“I hope it will be so.” Altaf said and started walking again.

When Ammi saw both of them entering the house she hurriedly started the preparations for the dinner.  Altaf looked at his father while they were eating and said, “Today a curfew is being declared in the village, I have heard.”

“Yes- I have never heard anything like this happening in our village before –“Abbajan was not in a mood to eat.  He consumed one or two morsels and stopped again and said, “Somebody is not happy to see that Hindu-Muslims are living here in harmony.  So many generations have come and gone.  All the disputes which might have occurred in the past are forgotten now, and now once again –“

“Abbajan, do we really belong here?” Altaf asked a question.  Abba stopped eating and held his hand halfway to the mouth and asked him, “What are you trying to suggest?” “Abba, I mean – means I have heard that when the white sahib left our country, our country was divided into two nations.  And many people migrated here and there at the time of the partition.” “No! no!” Abba retorted, “What has that got to do with this?  I don’t know anything about it.  But, we belong here – God knows for how many generations, but as all the remaining people belong here, so do we.  We belong here itself.  My father, his father also – everybody was from here only, anybody can tell this! Anybody!” Nobody said anything after this for a long time.

Ammi had gone inside to bring the gravy, rassa.  She said coming out, “Now listen to me, once this Sawani Fair is over, we should think about Altaf’s marriage.  At least I will have someone at hand to help me.  Making Sindoor, filling the bottles of Surma, is it an easy task to do? – Besides cooking, Rasoi -“

“Will you please keep quiet now?” – Abba suddenly looked very irritated, and Ammi kept her mouth shut.  Then she distributed the gravy, giving big portions to all three of them, and pulled the bowl near her and started muttering while scraping it –

“Why should I keep quiet? Fatimabhabhi had come here the other day.  She was telling me, the men in their house were discussing that the business will come to a standstill if things continue like this and then our people will have to leave this village and go away.  That is why I wanted to tell you that we have to hasten certain things, but –“She shook her head in resendmtent.

Altaf said, “Why do you want to hurry for my Shadi, Ammi? Everything should settle down first, isn’t it? And Ammi, would the business of only one come to a standstill?  Or will it be so only For the Muslims? Hindus, Muslim and even Sikhs are here – Balwinder was telling me day before yesterday, so many sardars are driving rickshaws here in our village.  Do you know that?  If the business is good, it will be good for everyone.  If it is bad, it will be bad for everyone.  I have heard that an Aluminium Factory will be established here in the near future.  If it is so — and what can we do after leaving this village?  Where can we go?”

The dinner was over, without the usual chatting and then the night merged into an atmosphere of melancholic peace.  Abba got up and started walking to and fro in the front room, holding his hands at his back.  After quite some time, he opened the window shutter and looked outside.  The road was quiet and vacant.  One could see only darkness prevailing everywhere- then after some time he saw the patrolling policemen near the next house. the rifles in their hands shined under the lamp post. And now were the patrolling men coming this way?  One could hear the sound of their footsteps.  Abba gently closed the window and then rested on his cot. His eyes were wide open in the dark and he felt again and again, somebody should ask – what next? What should be done now?

When Lachchhuramji saw Abba visiting him early morning, he was astonished.  ”Why brother ? Is everything OK?”

“One has to say it is ok. What else can be said?” Abba answered.

“What do you mean? The curfew has been withdrawn.” “But just now I took a round in the village, brother,” Abba paused a little and added, “you cannot see life going on as usual.  It is half past nine in the morning but it is very quiet on the Bazar Road! Shops are closed.  Not only this, but the people you see on the road—-“

Lachchhuramji smiled, “If there are no customers, who will open the shops?”

“Lachchhuramji, but the Sawani Fair is just a week ahead! If everything continues like this, how can we survive?  What will we eat the whole year?” He took a pause and said as if casually, “It is all right for you Lachchhuramji.  Any God many be worshipped, or may not be, the sales of the grains and provisions will not stop any time.  The grains will be sold anyway!”

“How do you talk like this, Miya?” Lachchhuramji came closer and pressed Abba’s shoulder lightly, “Whatever may happen, it will be the same for everyone.”

“Really? May be, but I have a feeling that —“, Abba uttered these words as if he was talking to himself.

“Yes, speak out please – say it-“

“I have a feeling. . . I hope I don’t have to leave the village?” Abba uttered these words and sat down on the cot as if he had lost all his strength. His lips were quivering.  His body shuddered.

Lachchhuramji stared at him for a long time. He could not make up his mind about what to say. Abba got up slowly after a long time and went out of the door without a word.  Lachchhuramji just said, “Don’t think like that brother, please don’t!”

Abba reached his shop and saw the nameboard which he had recently got painted and which was adorning the shop like a crown.  ‘Khadau ki famous Dukan’.  His name was written in bold letters as the proprietor of the shop.  With some determination, he entered the shop. The whole day he just sat there without doing anything.  Iqbal had delivered the sack of pegs in the shop. The pegs were to be attached to the khadaus, a lot of work was pending.  But Abba just sat there looking at the scorching daylight.  The adjoining shops were being shut down at dusk.  The street lamp in the square was just switched-on when Iqbal arrived there.  Abba said, “Help me to take down that nameboard.”  He took out the hammer and the pliers from the tool box.  Iqbal was surprised.  But without a word he started assisting his father.  He was wondering about what his father was going to do next!

The board was taken off.  Both of them took it inside the shop and placed it near the wall, with the letters facing the wall.  Then Abba locked the shop and started walking speechless.

As soon as Iqbal reached home, he signaled his brother to come aside and told him, “Abba has got something different on his mind most probably.  He might tell you if you ask him.  Will you ?”

It was dinner time. Altaf finally asked Abba, “Abbajan did you discuss anything with Lachchhuramji?  What is his advice?  Did he say anything?”  Abba said, as if he had decided it beforehand, “Look here, son, if we have to leave the village under these circumstances, it is better to leave it timely.   That is what I am thinking.” Everyone was taken aback hearing these words from Abba.

“Abba, should we leave the village?” Iqbal managed to say only this much, in a shakey voice.

“Yes, son — I mean. . .  it will not be possible to live here anymore.  I am afraid —.” The air was full of tension. Then suddenly Ammi repeated Altaf’s question, “But what did Lachchhuramji say?”

“Nothing. What can he say? We have to decide for ourselves what is good for us.”  Altaf, who never spoke much, suddenly exclaimed, “I will not go anywhere.  I will stay here, in this village only.  I will be buried here-.”

When Iqbal heard those words he felt as if ice cold water was flowing through his limbs.  Suddenly an ugly storm had started and there was an unstable atmosphere which he could not control.

Abba smiled sadly, ‘your blood is young and hot, if you had two good eligible sons like me, you would not talk like this!”

“At least today I will talk like this – “Altaf said angrily.

“And how should I feed you?”

“I will look after myself!” Altaf struck Abba with these sharp words.

Abba looked hurt and said, “What do you mean? Am I nobody to you?”

“Enough of this now! Have your dinner-” Ammi mediated. Then she added timidly,” Before deciding anything, I think, why shouldn’t you go to Muraribhai? Perhaps he might show the way.”

Next day, early in the morning when both the boys saw their Ammi roasting fulakas, they understood that their Abba was heading somewhere and that must be for visiting Murarichacha’s village.  Ammi handed the tiffin to Abba and said, “Come before it gets dark. Ya Allah ! no one knows…these days . . . ”

It was a distance of eight miles.  When Abba reached Murari’s house it was already noon.  Murari was baffled to see him – yesterday only his boys had visited and collected the supplies, and today why is he here again?  He stopped his work and came forward .  Abba could not control himself now.  He embraced Murari and sobbed.  Murari consoled him and seated him on the charpoy.  Abba could talk only after his hands, feet and throat were cooled with water.  He was talking about the same thing, again and again. “I will abandon my village and make my home here in your village.”

After hearing everything he had said, Murari got up from his place.  He said, “Come on, let’s go to Rasoolmiya.”

“Who is Rasool?”

“A very old friend of mine. A wise man indeed.”  Abba immediately agreed.

Rasoolmiya said, “Look here, in this village of ours, only eleven out of a hundred and fifty to two hundred houses belong to Muslims. This village is a small one.  What difference is it going to make if you shift here?  Once the minds of the people are polluted, no province is safe.  Where would you go from here?  Tell me, where would you go?  And ask Muraribhai.  How the Maliks over here make the Hindus fight with Hindus,. All for their own benefit.”  Then he turned to Murari and asked him, “Isn’t it true?”

“Yes, it’s very true.”

Then Abba reiterated, “What will be your advice regarding leaving my village?”

Rasoolmiya took a deep breath, put his hand on Abba’s shoulder and said, “Any advice would be useless in this matter.  Isn’t it?”

“Yes”.  Abba tried to control his confused and disappointed mind and said, “it is true, but…”

Murari and Abba got up to go back. Rasoolmiya remembered something and said, “Miya, I have heard that an Aluminium Factory is being set up near your village.  Isn’t it correct? Think of something new Miya-.” Rasoolmiya’s eyes were shining. 

“Yes, yes.  It is being set up there!” For a moment Abba staired without blinking.   Then he gathered himself, embraced Rasoolmiya and bid him farewell.  He said slowly, “Something good may also happen –“

When he returned with Murari his mind would hear the words which he had uttered, again and again.  He remembered that Rahim’s son, Mehmood had also told him the same thing.  It would be better to ask Lachchhuramji.  He is acquainted with so many people.  If he recommends, one of my two sons- maybe Altaf might get a job in the factory.  Lachchhuramji would certainly do that much for me.  Our friendship is so old and seasoned.

When Abba started back after saying God bye to Murari, the sun was descending.   He took his usual trodden path. The road was dusty.  He was walking swiftly.  The shadows of the trees were elongated.  He looked at his own unfamiliar shadow and it made him laugh.  Trees and shrubs had grown beyond limits on both the sides of the road, and a shallow stream of water was flowing  beyond those trees.  Some scattered white clouds were floating in the sky.  They appeared as if they were going on a long journey. He had to find out his way from among the cattle coming across him.  He stopped the cowherd who was following the cattle. He was pleased to see someone on that desolate path, as if he wanted some human company.  He borrowed the match box from the cowherd and lit a bidi.  He offered a bidi to the cowherd.  He casually inquired about his whereabouts.  Then he resumed walking again.  It was his usual path, he was acquainted with it.  But today he had a different longing for it.  He felt some new enthusiasm. 

Suddenly he wondered, is someone singing? Where?  Somebody was singing in a loud but sweet voice.  Who could it be?  He stopped and looked everywhere, then he walked again.  He was listening.  Then suddenly he felt there was a huge tree at the side of the road, some hundred – two hundred steps away from him.  Is that tree singing?  He was possessed with that idea.  He started walking swiftly with his eyes fixed on the tree.  Ya Allah! Certainly that tree – it was a huge banyan tree.  Actually Abba knew that tree as it was a long aquaintance.  But now – the sky was darkening and it was sprinkling the golden rays of sunshine on the ground and the tree was swinging slowly in the atmosphere of aloof joy.  The swinging aerial roots of that tree seemed to cool and console the land.  The small leaves were sleepy, though the branches were still awake for the returning birds. Its old trunk, with many channels engraved on it, was standing there straight with confidence, as if having some unspeakable relation or bonding with the soil.  This huge tree was felicitating the soil.

Abba wondered, he had passed this way in the morning and used to travel this way frequently.   But the tree was singing only now and that is why it is looking so very different now. Its leaves, aerial roots and expanse does not look like this everyday. Normally I cross it without giving it a second look.  It does not sing usually, like it is singing today.   Why is it singing now?  Abba came closer to the tree and stopped forgetting that he was getting late. It was becoming darker and darker.  He was able to hear the words clearly now –

‘Jus tu tus tohi koi na jan,

Log kahai bus aan hi aan.

(O God, no one knows you as you really are.  People talk about you in many different ways.)

Kasturi kundali basai mig dhoondai bonmahi,

Aise ghati ghati Ram hai duniya daikhi nahi

(The musk deer carries the musk in his naval.  But he searches for it in the woods.  In the same manner, Ram prevails in every human being.  But the world cannot see it.)

Kabir gorav no keejiye, kal geh kar kes

Na janou kah mai hai, kai ghar kai pardes.

(Kabir says, do not be boastfull.  The time is holding you by your hair.  He might kill you in your own house or in foreign lands, no one knows.)

Abba had come to a standstill by those words and the notes of the song.  He felt very calm and high spirited.  He felt as if he was enlightened from within in the growing darkness.  He felt as if he had reached beyond fear, longing and everything else.  He may not be able to fathom the unfathomable depths, but at least he was able to see the form of the unfathomable!  He experienced a confidence which one might experience, if one can reach far away things with his own hands.  Confidence about himself, about the world, and even about the growing darkness. A cool breeze was blowing.  The leaves of the trees were fluttering.  He saw a person getting up from behind the trunk of the tree.  Abba was taken aback.  Who can it be?  Will he come this way?  But the person started walking ahead swiftly.  He was a fakir.  A wandering Darwesh.  He was wearing simple clothes. Almost covering his feet, carrying a zola on his shoulder, a stick in his hand and on his feet – on his feet he was wearing khadaus.

The person moved far away, but Abba did not feel like running behind him, falling at his feet, talking with him, or asking him for something – none of these.  It was not required.  He had received a lot from him.  If he used words carelessly he may have to forfeit what he had received – he felt.

Quite some time passed and Abba started walking again.  Now his mind longed for his home, and his feet were pulled by that longing.  Home! He thought in his mind – this is my home.  This village! I belong here.  As these trees and shrubs belong here, so do I.  My roots are here in this soil like this tree.  The leaves will change colour, fall down, the roots may dry up, but even then, they will become part of this soil.  One has to face the storms, which he is destined to face.  Like these trees over here !  Didn’t Ramprabhu had to go in the exile?  And Muhammed Paigambar had to be Mahajareen, leave his homeland?  Then what about us, ordinary people?  But we will not let Ramprabhu walk barefoot.  We have been making khadaus for his feet for generations.  As Altaf has said, this is our work and it is decided by Allah.  Then?  And as he had said it rightly, why and where should we go elsewhere? Fear is everywhere.  So what! Our mind is also with us. 

The darkness was thickening and Abba covered the distance speedily.  When the lights from the village were seen at a distance, his feet accelerated the speed.

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