‘Dozakhnama’ by Rabisankar Bal

She was not like the majority of the people in this city, who had forgotten how to listen, which was why the very idea of waiting had vanished from their lives.
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Be kind enough to call me any time you want I’m not the past which cannot come back.
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Why does time erase me thus, O Lord? I’m no redundant letter on the page of the world.
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‘There are two Ghalibs,’ you said once, ‘one of them is a Seljuq Turk, who consorts with badshahs, and the other is homeless and humiliated, weighed down by debt.’
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These ancestors of yours, their days go by just riding, riding. If they come across human habitation there’s killing and looting, and then pitching tent in the desert at night to rest. A fire has been lit, the meat is being roasted, the rabab or the dilruba is being played. Some of them are sitting at a distance, singing the songs of desert nomads to the infinite sky. In some of the tents, festivals of flesh are underway with plundered women. You were quite proud of your martial forefathers, Mirza sahib, even if you never picked up a sword yourself. But despite your pride you knew in your heart that taking other people’s lives and giving up their own was all there was to their existence. Interspersed by the company of women, wine, and the arrogance of power.
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I’m not the flowering of a song, nor the flow of melody I am the echo of the shattering sound of my defeat
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Sometimes I see you tossing and turning in your grave, groaning for your mother, ‘Ammi … meri ammijaan …’
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Two people living alongside each other for over fifty years, never conversing, never even getting to know one another. This is nikah, this is marriage, who needs mohabbat, who needs love?
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—Bad dream? I am a nightmare myself. Never in his life has Allah had as bad a dream as me.
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Hum hain mushtaq aur woh bazaar; Ya Illahi! yeh mazra kya hai? I am desirous, and she, disgusted. What sort of mess is this?
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Where is the sorrow of parting, the joy of love. Where are the nights, the days, the months and years?
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There are two worlds. One in which Allah lives with Gibrail and the angels. And the other is ours, this earth, this world of land and water. The master of both these worlds asked one day, ‘Whom will the world belong to on the day of the qayamat, on judgment day?’ Who was it that answered? The master himself. Who else but he could have answered anyway? The master said, ‘Everything, everything is Allah’s.’ And, how funny, only Allah talks to Allah. Who can talk to him, after all? Allah is very lonely.
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You’ll never understand, Kallu, what a punishment it is to have to keep writing all your life.
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That’s why Allah sent me to this world. After thirteen years in prison, Kallu, I was given a life sentence. Do you know when? The day I was married to Begum.
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Our love has just begun, and you’re weeping already? Just wait and watch all that happens now.
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The flow of time is halted in the depth of my sorrow When the day is black, how can morning and night be different?
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You shall write of love. You will never find love, Asad, but it is the same love that you’ll have to write about.
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Thinking of my mother made me realize that her entire life was actually a single word: waiting.
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Is this the Mir who stood at your door With moist eyes, dry lips, and ashen face?
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You love beautiful faces, Asad You should see yourself once
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That’s the best thing about a story, you can write, keep writing, what does it matter to you what some chutiya, some fucker of a critic says?
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Ghalib has long been dead, but we remember him Wondering, what if this had happened, or that?
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People say Goddesses were merciful once The Lord knows which era they’re referring to
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This beauty with the black mole on her cheek Touched my heart with her hands Bukhara is nothing, I could even Gift her Samarkand in sheer joy
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Hafiz sahib
Phir kuchh ek dil ko beqarari hai, sinh jua-e-zakhmkaari hai. My heart in turmoil again is looking for an assassin.
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I had set out in search of the very person who would break my heart once again. What option did I have but to seek her out?
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‘Tere naam se jee loon, tere naam se mar jaaoon …
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I had set out in search of the very person who would break my heart once again. What option did I have but to seek her out?
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I had tasted a woman’s body by then, Manto bhai, I knew what it was like. Each of their bodies was like a pashmina with a unique pattern.
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individual consciousness when you have transcended
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Look, Saki, the night is ending Fill my cup with wine They’re racing upwards there Be quick, time is flying
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Hafiz sahib
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Yeh na thi hamari kismat ke wisal-e-yaar hota, agar aur jeete rahte yehi intezaar hota. It was not in my destiny to meet you. Had I lived longer, I would have waited longer.
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Everyone referred to it as Dilli, but I liked using the name Shahjahanabad;
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I am now deprived even of cruelty, oh God Such enmity towards your devoted lover!
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Sauda
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‘It’s true I’m no flower in the garden, but then nor am I a thorn in anyone’s flesh.’
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Because, to build a city, it was necessary to find criminals to kill and bury without reason.
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My heart is so bereft that I cannot tell whether Anyone ever lived here, or whether it has long been empty
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Mir sahib’s sher, Mirza sahib? I couldn’t save my heart from the heat of separation I saw my home burn but I couldn’t put out the fire
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What medicine besides death for the agony of living, Asad? The lamp must burn in different hues till dawn
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We cannot decide who will be admitted and who will be turned away from our own jannat and jahannum, can we?
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Saadat Hasan could never confront Manto. Saadat Hasan was full of affectations—such elegance, the clothes must be just so, anything but Lahori shoes was out of the question, he had to possess at least a dozen pairs of sandals from the Karnal Boot Shop in Anarkali bazaar; there was no end to his fancies and demands. And Manto would grab him by his ear, shake him, and say, you fucking son of a bitch, you think you’re a fucking aristocrat, do you even know the fate of what you’re writing? They will blindfold you and gag you and throw you into a pit. All of Hindustan will reek with the stench of your stories. You bastard, you swine, you dare write Thanda Gosht? Is there no limit to your defiance of our religion? Have you heard what they say? All you write about are relationships of the flesh between men and women, is there anything besides red light areas in your stories?
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How would you understand, then, why the first thing I would look for in a woman was her feet?
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stories—all those men and women you see, on the streets, in the slums, at the whorehouses, in the movie studios of Bombay—you might just find Manto among them. Are these stories or shit, they would ask. For heaven’s sake, if you can’t understand the times we live in, read my stories, and if you cannot bear to read them you’ll know that you cannot bear to live in these times.
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passed the matriculation examination in the third
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I passed the matriculation examination in the third division on my third attempt, and you know the funniest thing—I failed in Urdu. Ha ha ha, just imagine, Mirza sahib, I failed in Urdu.
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All the arrangements on earth are for love Love makes the sky go round
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Even dead, I wouldn’t have been able to bear the punishment of heaven.
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But I often wondered whether anything beautiful has ever been crafted except through pain.
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We cannot give birth to anything beautiful without causing pain. Then how can God? All the games of creation and destruction in his world are played to give birth to new kinds of beauty.
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every love affair is death;
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Don’t forget, ours may be a romantic relationship, but you’re still my prisoner.
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There was no relationship between love and marriage in our lives. Love was a sin.
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Men were forced to visit brothels, and women had secret affairs. It’s human nature, Manto bhai, human nature—who can stop it?
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This is what society is good at, Manto bhai. When it cannot accept you, it can stamp you with the label of a mad man.
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Every step makes the distance to the destination palpable The desolate forest walks even faster, leaving me behind
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Our Captain Wahid was chasing some woman or the other at the time. Which is all very well, but is there any sense in being besotted with a woman all the time, Mirza sahib? The Captain was perpetually terrified that she would run off with another man. Let her if she wants to, for heaven’s sake, is the world running short of whores? Pardon me, Mirza sahib, I can never mind my tongue.
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I was always part of my stories.
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sometimes. He pretended not to recognize us. I met
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I met him at Zohra Chowk a couple of days before he died. He made me realize how a man could be destroyed in the process of making compromises.
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All he could do was discuss the condition of the country with the women at Hira Mandi after a couple of drinks.
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Hira Mandi was another name for the light of the walled city of old Lahore. This was where I had discovered Sultana and Saugandhi and Kanta, my brothers. If you thought Hira Mandi was nothing but mounds of flesh, you’d be wrong. Once upon a time the scions of nawabs and badshahs and kings and emperors used to visit the courtesans of Hira Mandi to learn etiquette and culture—the adab and the tahzeeb. It was the courtesans who were the best teachers of behaviour. Their tools were the song and the dance, the lingering glances and conversation. Those of you who have read Mirza Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada will know exactly what I’m talking about. And our Mirza sahib knows everything too. He met so many famous courtesans in his lifetime. The kotha of the courtesan was not just a place you visited for pleasure. To be part of the gatherings you had to master the necessary social graces. It’s not as though you could pounce on anyone you liked. Wooing was necessary. Only if you managed to set a woman’s heart on fire did the question of going to bed with her arise. Else, listen to all the thumris and dadras and ghazals you want, watch the kathak, and then make your payment and go home.
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Do you know what Lahore used to be called before the Partition? The Paris of the East. And Hira Mandi was its heart. Many people used to call it Tibbi. Come to Tibbi to see God’s charisma You have to see it over and over again
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Although the glory of Hira Mandi had faded after the advent of the British, the glow of the sunset had not disappeared. But from the Second World War onwards, Hira Mandi turned into a prison of flesh. Who were the clients then? Freshly sprouted businessmen, contractors, scum who had cashed in on the war to make quick money. They didn’t even know the meaning of the word decorum. I have seen both the Hira Mandis, my brothers. I have seen the baijis of the kothas turn into call girls, ready to get into a hotel bed with you as soon as you paid them. But to me Hira Mandi was a gold-enamelled picture.
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People used to say it was he who made her a woman. You understand what that means, don’t you,
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I have seen a man become a pauper here, not for flesh but for love. I will not tell you his name, he was a landowner from Punjab. He fell in love with Zohra Jaan from Hira Mandi. He used to visit her frequently and stay with her. People used to say it was he who made her a woman. You understand what that means, don’t you, my brothers? Suddenly the landowner had a fancy for buying a car so that he could take Zohra around Lahore’s streets in it. He might have been a landowner, but he hadn’t been able to save much money; and he had spent extravagant amounts on Zohra’s family. But he had to buy a car. Eventually he bought one on loan. He had promised to return the money in two instalments a year, from the proceeds of selling the crops on his land. The loan should have been paid back in three years. The car company got its money on time only twice. After that the landowner disappeared. No one knew where he had vanished. All that could be discovered was that he had sold all his land and gone off to Calcutta with Zohra Jaan. The car was parked next to his country home, which was why the company at least got its vehicle back. About ten years passed. The manager of the car company was at Hira Mandi with his friends for a colourful evening. Standing before a kotha, he discovered the absconding landowner looking sickly with his eyes glazed over. — Would you like to hear Zohra Jaan sing, huzoor? The landowner approached the manager. — What’s happened to you? Where were you all this time? — It’s all fate, huzoor. I took Zohra to Calcutta. I tried very hard to get her into films. — And then? — Didn’t work. We ran out of whatever little money I had. They simply wouldn’t let Zohra work in films. — So you came back? — What else could I do? Zohra had to survive. How could I abandon her? So I have to get clients for her now. Just like all the light in Hira Mandi, darkness fell on some people’s lives too. But even in this darkness I have seen a glowworm, my brothers. The glow-worm of love. Even though he was a pauper, he had not abandoned Zohra Jaan. From her lover he had become her pimp. But his love hadn’t died.
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Peace comes from abandoning hope.
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I know I’m telling the story of my life in great detail, but if I had to tell it in just one word, I would only have to draw a question mark on a piece of paper.
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There’s music, float away on its currents There’s wine, forget everything There’s a beautiful girl, fall in love hopelessly Piety is for others
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The lord made all of us from dust, after all. Consider, then, what ancient dust from distant lands and its memories we hold. I’m perpetually amused by the fact that we exist somewhere or the other eternally, concealed in the dust.
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There were strong rumours that Ghalib would be massacred I went to see too, but the show was called off
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Love has snatched light out of the darkness Without love there would have been no flowers
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‘I have wine, mian, it can make me forget everything; why do I need to pray?’
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That was exactly how I felt. Complete union with her was not in my destiny. The longer I lived, the longer I would wait for her.
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It’s been long since my love was my guest Long since the wine warmed the parlour All these rigid rules choke my breath I long to wear my torn clothes once more Will my bleeding heart be mended, asks love They’re just waiting to rub salt in my wounds I want to be at my beloved’s doorstep again Pleading with the doorman to let me in My heart again seeks those easygoing days When hours were spent in thoughts of my love Don’t disturb me, Ghalib, my passion drives me on I am waiting now with stormy, reckless will
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If the fire of your love from your youth is still alive within you, place it now at God’s feet. Khuda is the last word, all else is a mirage.’
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Man derives the greatest pleasure from humiliating another man.
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Rafiq is fond of his fifth wife. That’s love.
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However ill-fated I may have been, I do wish to be born again in this world. Do you know why? We are the Asraf-ul-Makhlakat, the finest creatures of God, Adam; even the Gibrails had to bow before us. When Iblis refused, he was thrown out of paradise. Each of us is a mirror, my brothers, in which the lord sees himself. And love is the shadow hidden deep inside the mirror, which you will never see.
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Beauty does not last long in this world, my brothers; the fragrance of the rose, the song of the nightingale and our youth all dissipate in the wind—oh, so quickly. And youth in particular, the spring of this life, dies even quicker.
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It is she I am reminded of by the sky, Asad, Her cruelty was a copy of God’s ruthlessness
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He prefers the bitter fruit. Instead of being attracted to women in their homes, he wants to attain the seventh heaven of happiness with whores.
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Tolstoy had said that all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
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Pimps of the Revolution.
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Without your love, I’ll accept exile Let my exile bring you fame
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Woh toh kal der talak dekhta idhar ko raha, humse hi hal-e-tabah apna dikhey nah gaya. Oh, he kept looking at me so long, it was I who couldn’t bear to see my plight.
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Have you not seen how Meera’s Giridharlal tends to Radha’s feet? We humans move downwards, kissing the lips first; but Mohan climbs upwards, kissing the feet to begin with. That is why our love dies eventually, while his love becomes a veritable festival of joy.
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There was a woman named Bhuran. Her whims and fancies were different from everyone else’s. One day she wrote a letter to Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e-Janna, ‘I am restless for your love. But you love four people at the same time. I can never be that way. It is not right for a woman to love four people.’ Can you tell me what Mirza sahib’s reply was? — It is far more religious to love four women rather than twelve. I was astonished by her response. —How did you know? The girl replied with a smile, ‘A Sunni loves four people—he honours the four Khalifas. And a Shia loves twelve—he is led by a dozen Imams.’
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laughed—What can a whore have to say? She can only take her clothes off so that you can do whatever you like with her. Some people ask me my real name; some ask why I’m in this business. Pardon me, janab, I feel like pissing on these dogs’ faces. You’re here to fuck me, so fuck me. Why do you want to know me? You’re here for an hour—feast your eyes on my body, do what you have to, get the hell
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laughed—What can a whore have to say? She can only take her clothes off so that you can do whatever you like with her. Some people ask me my real name; some ask why I’m in this business. Pardon me, janab, I feel like pissing on these dogs’ faces. You’re here to fuck me, so fuck me. Why do you want to know me? You’re here for an hour—feast your eyes on my body, do what you have to, get the hell out.
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These breasts will never give you a harvest Why do you keep sowing the seeds of desire in them?
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Men become helpless sometimes, Manto bhai; instead of seeking the hand of God they seek the company of a woman.
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Is a person who always judges the world only with logic any less mad?
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no matter how powerful our reasoning is, we will never be able to penetrate a lunatic’s mind.
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I can’t help it, Kanta. These one-second episodes don’t fulfil me. I want long stories, which will go on for a long time, robbing me of my sleep and rest.
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Do you know what the male ego is: I’m the last word, nothing can be greater.
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If you have to die like a worm, die that way, but complaining will not fetch you anything extra.
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How long can you converse with your servants? So you speak to yourself. And you know what talking to yourself means, my brothers. With each of your sentences you will deceive yourself, erecting towers of dreams that will crumble the very next moment.
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like the unfinished kisses that remain after every single kiss.
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Discard now, o temptress, Your beauty and maddening youth Learn, instead, with care the art Of stealing the lustful heart Malati told herself, ‘The singer is advising me as a friend should.
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I knew only too well that love always ran out when money did.
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‘There’s nothing as bloody annoying as guns, Vimto sahib. Even a child can fire a gun. Press the trigger, and you’re done. But a dagger … I swear on the lord … using a dagger is something else. What was it you said the other day? Yes, art. Listen, Vimto sahib, using a dagger is an art. And what’s a revolver? A bloody toy.’ He pulled his shining dagger out as he spoke. ‘Look at it, just look at it, look at the bloody edge on it. There’s no sound when you use it. Plunge it into someone’s stomach and give it a twist, that’s it, all over. Guns are rubbish.’
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ear does not flow from anything outside of ourselves, Mirza sahib, it lurks in the darkness within our own hearts.
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‘He took so much bloody time to die, Vimto sahib. It’s all my fault. I couldn’t stab him properly.’
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He had no regret for killing a man, only for not using his dagger properly.
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I’m a bundle of desire from head to toe, and so a mere man If my heart had been bereft of yearning I’d have been God
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Who will police this city? There’s so much flesh everywhere That vultures are the protectors The rat’s a boat which the cat rows The frog sleeps, the snake is on guard The bull gives birth, the cow is barren now So he suckles the calves every night The jackal fights the lion every day Who understands what the poet says?
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“This too shall pass.”
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I needed company even for solitude.
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This was what the film world was like. If you made it into the bed of the right person, you were bound to be successful.
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Do you know what chilled mango tastes like, Manto bhai? As though you’re running your tongue over the body of your favourite woman.
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Death can be endured, Shafia, but memory cannot.
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One day a Sufi saint told his disciples, no matter how much you try to help a man, there’s always something within him that prevents him from meeting his goals. Many of his followers did not accept this. A few days later, he told one of his disciples, take a sack of gold coins to the bridge over the river and leave it there. To another, he said, search the town for a person overburdened with debt. Bring him to the bridge and tell him to cross it. Then observe what happens. The disciples followed his instructions. As soon as the man chosen to cross the bridge arrived on the opposite bank, the saint asked, ‘What did you see in the middle of the bridge?’ — Why, nothing at all. — You didn’t see anything? — No. — How can that be possible? One of the disciples asked. — When I was crossing the bridge I wondered what it would be like to walk with my eyes shut. Would I still make it across the bridge? I did. The saint smiled at his followers.
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You will weep too every hour, just like me If your heart is trapped, just like me The more I became embroiled with the Dilli durbar, the more I realized that politics and poetry could never be friends.
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Momin sahib’s: You will weep too every hour, just like me If your heart is trapped, just like me
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It was like sitting before my own grave.
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Can’t you ever speak without sarcasm?
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Your Allah lives in the mosque, you read the namaz five times a day for him. Maulvis and mullahs show you the way. And my lord lives in the dargah, where Maula Rumi sings and dances the Sama. My way is not for you, Begum; I seek the lord through pleasure and celebration.
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Listen to me, Begum, this is for you: If I get the opportunity I will show you that each of the wounds in my heart is a seed that has sprouted
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As Mir sahib wrote in a sher: Everything’s indebted to the brightness of her beauty Whether it’s the flame at Kaba or the lamp at Somnath
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Who knows, maybe the history of civilization is nothing but the history of barbarity from another perspective.
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Collective opinion is inevitably a lie.
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The truth can only be spoken by individuals. Collective opinion is inevitably a lie.
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People never judge a person by their individuality but only by their creed.
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In his old age Alif Has had a beautiful son I name him Hamza As everyone knows All Alifs grow up to be Hamzas
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Isn’t that right, my brothers? Alif is a straight line and Hamza is a twisted one. Everyone’s body twists into a Hamza in old age.
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Misery vanishes when you get used to misery I suffered so much that it became easy
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I want to see the beauty of the garden, pluck the flowers too … My heart is sinful, O Creator of spring
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no matter how important your position, you’re nothing but a government servant. No one will spare you even a glance once you’ve lost your job.
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I would have taken this road after all, Ghalib, had I lived in another time
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marriage transforms the relationship between a man and a woman into a set of habits, and then the relationship begins to fade and finally turns utterly grey.
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‘The truth doesn’t sound entertaining unless lies are added to it.’
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A single lifetime isn’t enough for anyone,
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Compose some more poetry, Mir sahib Your words may survive on someone’s lips
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—Maula Darvish was reciting the sayings of Maula Rumi to initiates at the dargah. You know what Maula Rumi said, don’t you? Man has to pass through three phases in his life. In the first, he worships something or the other—men, women, money, children, this world, a rock … anything. In the next, he reads the namaz for Allah. And in the last phase, what he says is neither ‘Allah is all I have’ nor ‘There’s no such thing as Allah’.
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It was an astonishing world, my brothers. Love, murder, bloodshed—what good is life without these?
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What do I do, the heart is helpless The ground is hard, the sky distant
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A vital part of your life will be in perpetual darkness if you have not experienced love for your child.
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Only the lord knows what games he will play with us shadow puppets.
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fakir—all my prayers were ruled invalid.
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It seems you are by my side When no one else is
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wasn’t in my nature to praise someone’s work just out of friendship.
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It wasn’t in my nature to praise someone’s work just out of friendship.
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The rumours were rife—Ghalib would be torn apart I went to watch too, but the show was cancelled
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All I know is men and women. I don’t know any human beings.
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Those who have beautiful feet are very intelligent and sensitive.
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My lawyer asked, ‘Is this story of Manto sahib’s obscene?’ — Of course. This was the government’s reply. — Which word is obscene? — ‘Breast’. — Is ‘breast’ an obscene word, your honour? I don’t think it is. The government replied, ‘It isn’t. But in this case the reference is to a woman’s breasts.’ I couldn’t stay still anymore, Mirza sahib. Were court lawyers and clerks and government servants to determine the meaning of words? And would the man who lived with words in his waking hours and dreams and nightmares not be allowed to say anything? I leapt up, shouting, ‘Your Lordship, in my story the word “breast” is indeed used to refer to a woman’s breasts. Surely no one refers to them as “peanuts”.’ A wave of laughter ran around the court. I couldn’t stop laughing either, Mirza sahib. Had those who were sitting on judgment on me never seen breasts, never touched breasts, never pressed them or sucked them? Then why did they have all these objections to the word ‘breast’? I love breasts, Mirza sahib. How beautifully they are shaped, like a pair of seashells risen from the depths; the aroma of the desires of so many unknown and unnamed creatures is gathered in their bodies. I run my fingers over their warmth, I observe their loveliness. They are like two ornate temple towers. Sometimes they are transformed into two birds, and I discover a caressing touch in their feathers. I love the woman’s neck, her arms, the flower of her navel, her buttocks, her thighs. How dare you use the word ‘obscene’ for someone who has been endowed with such beauty by the Lord?
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Bringing her lips close to my ears, Ismat said, ‘If breasts are obscene, why not the knee or the elbow?’
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Did she know that I was actually weak and impotent? I had presented myself to others as a raging bull simply in order to survive.
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Amir Khusrau’s poetry inscribed on the walls of the Diwan-e-Khas of the Qila Mubarak—‘Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast, hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast.’ If there is heaven on earth it is here, it is here, it is here.
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The harems of Mughal emperors were overseen by eunuchs. When the empire was on its way to disintegration, the eunuchs had grown so powerful that the Badshah followed the eunuch Mehboob’s instructions. Think about it, Manto bhai, when eunuchs wield influence, the downfall of an empire is inevitable.
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And our emperor? He was a eunuch too. Yes, Manto bhai, a mental eunuch. He never had to fight a war. He lived off his forefathers’ wealth, displayed royal airs, and wrote some worthless poetry. He had four legal wives: Begum Ashraf Mahal, Begum Akhtar Mahal, Begum Zeenat Mahal, and Begum Taj Mahal. And countless slave girls and concubines. He had fifty-four children—can you imagine? Twenty-two sons and thirty-two daughters. This was how emperors lived, Manto bhai.
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Power will merely use you, and when you are no longer useful, it will kick you into the drain.
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Do you know what a king does when he is handicapped or when he lacks the ability to rule? He writes annoying poems, organizes mushairas, flies kites, and leads parades perched on an elephant.
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I look longingly at the doors and the walls Be happy, my compatriots, I will be travelling
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turn—had the lord really brought me into the world only to be defeated at every step?
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You must succeed, Ghalib The situation is dire, and life, precious
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I cannot stand this pain of separation anymore This is injustice, there’s nothing to be said
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Now grief and I remain in a hopeful city The mirror you shattered held a thousand images
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Faith holds me back; disbelief pulls me away Kaaba lies behind me; the Church, in front
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Yes, Mirza sahib, even to these people, whores were worse than cockroaches in drains. And yet many of them had secretly visited red light areas.
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I never tried to conceal the fact that I had been there. Compared to the colourless people around me, those discarded, painted women, their pimps, the flower sellers and kebab-wallahs in those localities all appeared far more alive to me. Those girls could even kill to get someone whom they had loved. The red light world that lies beyond ours is like an epic poem. I didn’t make up the stories of Saugandhi and Sultana and Nesti and Bismillah and Mehmooda and Zeenat; they all lived in the brothels of Delhi and Lahore and Bombay once upon a time.
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I wrote about Sultana in my story ‘The Black Shalwar’, my brothers. A whore wants a black shalwar to wear for Muharram—where’s the obscenity in this insignificant wish?
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One day she was summoned by the municipal committee and informed that her carriage licence had been cancelled. Why? Women were not allowed to drive horse-drawn carriages. ‘I know how to drive, sir,’ said Nesti. ‘What’s the problem?’ — You cannot drive anymore. — Why not, sir? If women can do all other kinds of work, why can’t they drive carriages? This carriage and horse belonged to my husband. Why can’t I drive it? How will I survive if you don’t allow me to drive, sir? Do you know what the municipal officer said? —Go join a whorehouse. You’ll earn plenty.
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Those who accused me of obscenity sold themselves too, but they concealed their prostitution and floated balloons of personal greatness. I was a whore through and through; every brothel in the world was my address.
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Where the flames of Mir’s lament raged last night All I saw this morning was a handful of ashes
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In the terrible emptiness of this worldly gathering I considered the flame of love all I had
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Even if I were to die of starvation, I would never be able to burn down anyone’s art gallery.
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At the end of the day, soldiers can fight wars and raze cities, but they can never usher in freedom.
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Some say, a million Hindus were killed; others, that a million Muslims died. I tell them, say that two million people lost their lives.
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The old heart is gone, the mind too There’s life in the body, like a lamp burning down
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Do you know what you must do before making someone disappear? Brand him a criminal. It’s very easy after that.
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Don’t you realize the significance of the fact that the lord has now turned you into a beggar? The entire world is yours now.’
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You have been born in this world, you will leave it … such an effortless voyage, like a feather
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I have killed a man—his blood has drenched my body I am the brother of this slain brother on the road He considered me the younger one, but still he hardened His heart and was killed; in fear of a wave on the bloodied River I killed the flabbergasted older one, and now I sleep—when I rest my face on his insubstantial chest It seems that someone who had made a loving vow To spread the light to all of us went forward but, Finding no light anywhere, is sleeping. Sleeping. If I call out he will rise like a wave from the river Of blood and say, coming closer, ‘I am Yasin, Hanif, Muhammad, Maqbool, Karim, Aziz … And you are …?’ His hand on my chest, he will raise His eyes from his dead face—from the foaming river Of blood he will say, ‘Gagan, Bipin, Shashi … from Pathureghata, Shyambazaar, Galiff Street, Entally …’
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— Is it possible that the lord will never have mercy on his orphans? — Mercy? You call this the lord’s mercy? — Death is his best gift, bhai.
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You bemoan your own fate under the sky, Mir So many different worlds have burnt to ashes here
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In this terribly empty gathering of the world, I consider The flame of love, like a lamp, is all I have
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This shroudless corpse is indeed the heartbroken Asad’s May God forgive him, his will was far too free
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The price of one man’s survival was another’s death.
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I had come to Pakistan with such hope. Many questions were connected with this optimism. Would the new nation of Pakistan have a different literature of its own? If it did, what form would it take? Which of the two nations was the legitimate owner of the literature that had been composed in undivided India? Would this literature also be split into two? Would Urdu be utterly destroyed across the border? For that matter, what form would the language take in Pakistan? Would ours be an Islamic nation? Would we be able to remain faithful to the nation but still criticize the government? Would we have better lives than under the British? I did not get the answers to these questions, Mirza sahib.
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I had no wish to stay alive in a country that had heaped nothing but calumny and condemnation on me.
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Suddenly my belly churned and vomit gushed out. A stream of blood spread across the bluish-yellow water in the bathroom sink. And then there was nothing but blood. I was startled when I rinsed my mouth out and looked at myself in the mirror, Mirza sahib. Who was this? Was it Saadat Hasan Manto, or was it Death himself? I patted his back. ‘You’ve won this time, Manto. Just hang on by the skin of your teeth for a few days more.’
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The death of the tehzeeb that came with the death of Shahjahanabad also marked the end of Mirza Ghalib.
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There are more dreams than people on earth.
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‘How many people really know how to listen to stories, janab? Some scratch their ears, others finger their arse. Their eyes wander. There’s an etiquette to listening to a story. Just as you trust in the lord, so too must you trust in the story and keep listening. I wander about on the road, I look for an audience, but no one has the time these days for stories. The world has become far too violent, janab. No one understands that stories can restore peace to the heart.
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When people asked, how will you cross the desert on bleeding feet, Dakuki would say with a smile, that’s nothing.
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Reality? What is reality? Hunger and thirst and the strong sun?
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But I want to tell you about my dream last night before I go. I was strolling outside the Jama Masjid. Suddenly someone came up to me and grasped my arm. Looking up, I saw it was Kallu. — What are you doing here, Manto bhai? — Do you know me? — How could I not? Kallu smiled. ‘I’ve been hearing so many stories from you and Mirza sahib from my grave.’ — From your grave? — You were in your grave too, Manto bhai, don’t you remember? — But I’m not dead yet, Kallu. — Really? Kallu scratched his head. ‘I must have dreamt it then.’ — Dreamt? But you’re dead, Kallu … — So what, Manto bhai? — Do dead men dream? — You bet they do. Do you know how many dreams are floating about in this world? There are more dreams than people on earth. That’s why they possess dead men as well. Would you like to hear a story, Manto bhai? — A story? Who’s telling stories here? — Oh I come here every day. And I inevitably find a dastango. There he is … — Who? — That man there, wrapped in a blanket, he’s a wandering storyteller. — How do you know, Kallu? — See for yourself—he can’t stop laughing to himself. Do you know why? People who have stories bursting out of them just cannot stop laughing. Come, come with me. Going up to the man, Kallu sat down in front of him. — Mian … — Who is it? Glancing at Kallu, the man smiled. Oh, it’s Kallu mian … — You know who I am, mian? — Is there anyone in the whole wide world who doesn’t know you? Damned Kallu Qissakhor, Kallu the story addict. Kallu burst out laughing. Tugging at my arm, he said, ‘Sit down here, Manto bhai, sit down.’ — I see you’re famous, Kallu. I chuckled. Turning to me, the man in the blanket said, ‘How many people really know how to listen to stories, janab? Some scratch their ears, others finger their arse. Their eyes wander. There’s an etiquette to listening to a story. Just as you trust in the lord, so too must you trust in the story and keep listening. I wander about on the road, I look for an audience, but no one has the time these days for stories. The world has become far too violent, janab. No one understands that stories can restore peace to the heart. — Then start, mian. Kallu spoke excitedly. — Don’t rush me, Kallu mian. Give me time to turn over the pages of my heart. How will telling a story make me happy unless I’m fulfilled by it? For a long time the man sat with his head bowed, muttering to himself, and crooning softly. Then he said with a smile, ‘The story of the shaikh will go down well today. This is a story about the search for the eye that lies within the heart.’ He remained sitting with his eyes shut for a few moments, and then began his tale. A shaikh had lost both his sons to illness. But no one had ever seen him weep or grieve for his children. He went to work punctually every day, even hummed to himself at work, and laughed and joked with everyone when he returned home. The shaikh’s mother and wife grew increasingly surprised at this behaviour. One morning, when the shaikh was at breakfast, his mother exclaimed, ‘Can you imagine the state we’re in, beta, after losing two of our boys? Our hearts bleed constantly. Have you even looked at your wife lately? She’s wilting by the day. You go to work as usual every day, as though nothing has happened …’ The shaikh’s mother broke down in tears. His wife burst out in anger too. ‘Do you even have a heart? I haven’t seen you shed a single tear. How could you have behaved this way if you’d really loved your children? As though nothing has changed … as though they’re still alive …’ — Nothing has actually changed, bibijaan. The boys are alive within me. I see them all the time. — And I look for them everywhere. I cannot sleep nights. ‘We’re cold, ammi,’ they cry to me. ‘We’re so hungry. Take us inside.’ Why can’t I see them? — Look for them with the eye within your heart, bibijaan, you’re bound to find them. — You’re blind in that eye. You cannot see anything with it. — No, I’m not. We don’t see things properly with our eyes. We see them differently. To me it’s all the same. I see my children all the time. They play here, around me. — Where? Show me. I cannot see them. — They cannot be seen with our eyes. Have you ever seen the wild plants that lean over the water? Our senses are like those plants. You can see only if you move them aside. Shut your eyes and imagine what cannot be seen. Your sons will appear and hold you, bibijaan. — My heart is emptied out, janab. Your beautiful words cannot fill it again. The shaikh’s wife wept and beat her breast. The shaikh’s mother said, ‘We cannot understand the eye you’re talking about, beta, don’t try to comfort us with mere words.’ The shaikh was silent for a long time. His initial irritation with his wife and mother gave way to unhappiness. He was not capable of dispelling their grief. They had accepted the separation as the truth. The shaikh began to tell them a story. — Let me tell you about a woman. Each of her children died within a few months of birth. — But our boys lived for several years, his mother interjected. — And the woman? Asked the shaikh’s wife. —She must have died of grief. I want to die too, but death won’t take me. — The woman lost twenty children. Not two but twenty. She used to wander around the streets, cursing the lord. Then something strange happened one night. — What? — In her dream the woman was crossing a desert. Blood streamed from her stomach, soaking the sand. She arrived at a tiny door. Entering, she went into a narrow passage, like a womb, which brought her to an astounding new world. She saw the fountain of eternal life, with the river of heaven flowing through the garden. The plants in this garden never died. Not everyone had seen this garden. Only those who believed it existed could actually see it. All the world’s celebrations of joy took place in this garden. ‘It’s all your dream,’ screamed the shaikh’s wife. ‘There’s no such garden anywhere.’ — This garden has no name, its loveliness cannot even be described. But still, it does exist in this world, bibijaan. — Tell us what happened to the woman. What did she get in the garden after losing all her children? — She waded into the river of heaven. All her unhappiness and doubts were swept away at once like dirt. As she bathed in the river, she heard her children laugh. Truly, believe me, her children swam about her, laughing. A torrent of happiness coursed through the woman’s heart. — Take me to this place, then. Tell me how to get there. — Think of the fakirs of this world, bibijaan. They have no complaints about the things that happen in their lives. Allah will give them more than he has taken from them. They have to follow the path that he leads them to. — How will we take this difficult road? — It isn’t easy. Even Dakuki was beset by doubts. — Who’s Dakuki? — Then listen to the stories of the travellers who accept everything that happens on the way. — Tell us, my son, your stories are making our hearts lighter. The shaikh’s wife began to eat some bread. — Dakuki was a pilgrim. He was always on the move from one place to another. He would never settle down anywhere or with anyone. — How strange! Can anyone actually be this way? — But he did have one weakness. — For his children? The shaikh’s wife asked. — No, for fakirs. How he was drawn to them! Through them he could see the universe in a grain. It was the fakirs who had told him that the lord resides within human beings. There was no place Dakuki did not visit in his search for fakirs. His feet would bleed as he tramped along. When people asked, how will you cross the desert on bleeding feet, Dakuki would say with a smile, that’s nothing. — And then? — One evening Dakuki arrived at the seashore. He saw seven candles glowing in the distance, taller than even the palm trees. The whole place was full of light. Walking towards the candles, Dakuki arrived at a village. The villagers were wandering about on the roads with lamps without any oil in them. — What’s the matter? Dakuki asked one of them. — Can’t you see? Our lamps have no oil, no wicks. We don’t have food for our bellies either. — But just look around you. The sky is full of light. Can’t you see those seven candles there? The lord gives us light on his own. — What light? The sky is completely dark, where do you see any light? You’re mad. Dakuki looked at the man closely. Although his eyes were open, they were actually stitched up. It was the same with everyone else. Their eyes were open, but shut. As soon as the sun rose the seven candles turned into seven trees. When the desert grew hot, Dakuki sat in the shade of the trees, plucking their fruit to eat them. He saw that the villagers had made canopies with tattered clothes to protect themselves from the sun. Calling out to them, Dakuki said, ‘Why don’t you come and sit here in the shade of the trees? Can’t you see the fruits? They will quench your hunger and your thirst.’ — We can’t see anything. What trees? It’s all a desert here. Are you making fools of us? We shall leave this village at once. — Where will you go? — There’s a ship anchored in the sea, we’ll board it to go wherever we please. — Listen to me, my brothers. You’re all deceiving one another with lies. — Shut up. Don’t try to fool us with falsehoods. We have seen the trees too, but it’s all a dream. We do not believe in it. We want to return to reality. — Reality? What is reality? Hunger and thirst and the strong sun? The trees are full of fruits, can’t you see? — No. We’re sure of finding a better place on the other side of the sea. Dakuki was bewildered. He wondered, am I the one who’s mad, then? So many people cannot be wrong. He went up to one of the trees and put his arms around it. ‘I’m an imbecile, as you know,’ he whispered into its ears. ‘Don’t you prefer my moistened madness to dry intelligence?’ Suddenly six of the trees lined up in a row and the seventh began to pray before them like a priest. Gradually the seven trees were transformed into seven humans. ‘Dakuki!’ they addressed him in unison. — How did you know my name? — Nothing can be kept from the heart that seeks Allah, Dakuki. We have a single heart. The heart of Allah. Don’t search for a heart by yourself, Dakuki. Come, help us read the namaz now. — I know nothing, huzoor. I’m worse than an ass. — A pious ass like you is above everyone else. The shaikh’s wife had broken down in tears. ‘Tell me where I can meet my son.’ — Wait a little longer, bibijaan. — What happened to Dakuki, beta? The shaikh’s mother asked him. — As he read the namaz Dakuki could hear stricken wails in a multitude of voices. He opened his eyes to discover that the sea had turned turbulent in the moonlight. The ship was rolling and pitching like flotsam on the waves. All the villagers were on it. They were screaming … Save us … Have mercy, O Lord … Save us … Suddenly the ship was split into two. — Did they all die, beta? — Dakuki’s eyes were streaming with tears. Lifting his arms to the sky, he prayed, save them, Lord, forgive their ignorance, open their eyes, lead them to your heaven. The shaikh broke down in tears. Stroking his back, his mother asked, ‘They survived, didn’t they, son?’ — Yes. The sea grew calm. They swam ashore. For the first time in many weeks, the shaikh’s wife ate a piece of bread and drank some water. — And then? Asked the shaikh’s mother. — Looking at the sea, the seven men asked, ‘And who played God with God?’ Nobody but Dakuki, of course. With this, they disappeared into thin air. Dakuki continued wandering, now in search of his seven companions. One night he saw the reflection of the full moon in a well by the road. Delirious with joy, he began to sing and dance. Suddenly a cloud covered the moon. The reflection vanished. Dakuki lay down by the well, rising to his feet after a long time. ‘Idiot!’ he began to shout. ‘I’m an idiot! I am still taken in by reflections. Allah can give light even without a lamp. Why am I still searching for those seven men? How much longer will I remain distracted by external form? Give me the strength to think only of you, O Lord.’ Breaking the silence that the dastango had lapsed into, Kallu asked in excitement, ‘And then?’ — What do you suppose? — What happened to Dakuki? — Everyone in the shaikh’s family returned to their own tasks. Dakuki continued on his travels. — Where will Dakuki go now? — Where do you suppose? He was in my bag, and that’s where he’s returned. The dastango extracted a wooden puppet from the bag slung across his shoulder. —Look, mian, this is Dakuki. — Who else do you have in your bag, mian? — See for yourself, do you recognize who this is? — Mirza sahib, huzoor. — And this? — Jahanpanah Bahadur Shah. — This? Kallu leapt up. ‘Manto bhai … you … you … you have become a puppet too?’ Pulling out wooden puppets one after another from his bag, the dastango arranged them around the precincts of the mosque. In astonishment, I discovered that they were all characters from my novel Dozakhnama. The painted puppets glittered in the light. They had not been soiled by the heat and dust of history. Allow Manto to bid you farewell now, my reader, my companion. Khudahafiz.
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