Budding Shoot of a Cool Slumber
The fragrance of fresh flowers permeated the atmosphere. The masked ones loomed over him and he simply could not
rise up. The knives and scissors were meticulously arranged on a table on one side. A furtive, gloved hand reached out towards
the weaponry at display. The heart pounded hard in the bosom. A strange malaise heightened the sense of unease. Something
was looming over, bound to happen but he was helpless. Slowly and gradually drowsiness took over, making him feel quite sleepy
and in no time he slipped into a deep slumber.
Yes, he was in a deep slumber but his eyes were gaping wide and now there was no anxiety at all. All was still. The scene
before the open eyes transformed as he found himself transported into lush green surroundings. The garden was blooming and
he found fresh flowers within his reach. Beams of light swayed over the waves. Flower-like children frolicked across the flower
beds. He ran after them and gazed hard at each one of them, identified them all and felt himself to be a kindred spirit. Sprinting
forward, the children entered the alleys of the city. He vaulted after them but then all of a sudden, a quiet took over. All
the children vanished and he was left all by himself, and squatting in an embryonic posture he wondered about his own whereabouts.
He wondered and the fragrance of fresh flowers danced all around him. Feeling the leaves of flowers falling over-head
he raised his head to see an anchal sway and heard the tinkle of a laughter. An apparition darted out of his side and borne
by the wind set out towards some direction. Ill at ease, he rose to stand up and shout across frantically.
‘Is that you? If so then stop-- step back -- hold on. I have been looking for you for years -- don’t go--
stay still.’ But the shadow of the tinkling laughter spread over the air like a grey line of smoke to finally disperse
altogether. It was getting dark; the evening was giving over and he was scared. The alleys were deserted. The city was silent
and bereft of all friends and companions. Only one sound was coming out of all the houses; the tick-tick of the clocks. He
peeped inside the houses and stopping in front of every clock he saw the arms in motion. They moved swiftly and the momentum
made it extremely difficult to discern whether it was a forward or backward motion. Greatly
anchal: long scarf
upset, he ran back into the alley and from the alley into the wilderness and took to running hard.
He ran on and on without knowing whether he was running ahead or in the reverse.
While at it he realized that he was not alone. A multitude of voices and apparitions accompanied him -- familiar voices
-- age long voices, but the apparitions were hard to place. They escaped all identification. It was a futile endeavour,
yet he bade them forward.
‘Come forward - one and all. I am desirous to see you all -- only for once - just for once.’
He continued calling across and stopped running to find them standing still.
As he stopped he realized that he was not in a wilderness but in a long corridor whose other end was quite nowhere. There
was just a glimmer of light quite beyond - somewhere in the distance. He moved towards the direction of the light in the hope
of finding the way out but the passage was interminable. He walked on and on and then started running. Short of breath, he
‘Where am I?’ The passage echoed. It was the reverberation of his hysterical outburst.
‘Where am I? Where am I? Where am I?’
He cried out running and beating his head against the old, worn out walls, struggling hard for dear life, and all of
a sudden he struck an entrance.
Yes, there was a door in the wall and beyond it there was even a house and out of a whole lot of rooms, one window was
drawn open and through the open window, light emerged. And then, not quite knowing how, he made his way through either
the window or the ventilator and found himself enter the room from some side and stopped quite wonderstruck to see somebody
resting his elbows on the table, watching the disarrayed papers, engrossed in deep contemplation.
His amazement knew no bounds. ‘Why? This is my room - and this is my table. These are my documents and every word
inscribed on them is written by me. Can I not even recognize myself? But then who is he? Is it me?’
Wondering on these lines he went forward. He went forward to have a better view of the man who was sitting before his
very own papers, the ones he had penned down himself. But the moment he went ahead, a gust of wind entered from somewhere
blowing away all the papers through the open window and now the table was swept clean of paper, pen and ink. There were the
knives and the scissors and the seated person suddenly turned back. He had a mask on his face and gloves on his hands. Confounded
he stepped back but the man with the mask did not give him much time and picking up a knife from the table thrust it into
his chest. He writhed for a while and then lay inert and unconscious.
A commotion broke out the moment he lost consciousness. The masked ones pulled off the masks, plucked off the gloves
and took to their heels. The dots on the graph that were leaping and bounding on the screen became still and started running
along one straight line. The sound accompanying the leaping and bounding dots shrieked into a whistle -- a horrendous whistle
that frightened all the birds off the branches of trees to fly high up in the air. Then the whistle fell silent and the dots
became static. The screen went black and the entire world lost its colour. A stillness pervaded. It pervaded over his entire
being and permeated his sinews and tendons.
Now he was in the throes of a deep, cold slumber but there was another - deep inside him - deep inside the recesses of
his being, who was still awake, desirous of rising up, as rising up was imperative and then there was a knock on the door.
Someone was here with a reminder - a wake-up call to wind up the loose ends.
Spurred by the desire to know who was at the door, he tried to get up but found himself bound, unable to get up. He felt
the ceiling atop as if he had put on the very ceiling and not a simple sheet over himself. Inching here and there he tried
on his own to get off the cot but to no avail. It seemed as if the walls of the room were stuck fast to the legs of the cot.
And so he lay flat, with the roof laid on his head and the walls pressing around him. He could neither raise his head nor
move his limbs. A stillness pervaded and total darkness took over.
Somewhere in the recesses of sweet slumber and immersed in total darkness he was quite awake, wondering why the night
did not give over? Why did the stillness not yield? Why did dawn not break? Why could he not find the way out?
The night had to give over but he did not know that it was quite sometime since the night had given over. The flowers
spread over him had withered since long. There was brightness all around. The world laughed radiantly. The birds chirped but
nobody knew that somewhere around, a new endeavour was underway, struggling hard. The endeavour, the struggle kept rising
and rising, straining to the point where it burst itself on his being to shoot itself out in the form of a tender bud.
Birds flew over to watch the bud that had just shot into life. After a while they too flew away to perch on their branches.
Only one little sparrow stayed back and watched over him. After a while it also flew up, but it did not fly up to perch on
a tree. It settled itself on the far-off parapet of some roof to chirp as if it were the bearer of some tidings.
Translated from Urdu by Iffat Saeed