Whispering along the Dead Sea, by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan.
It was a beautiful March evening; a light layer of cloud veiled the sky. Crimson sunrays came out of that thin veil like blood falling through the coffin of some innocent man. I was sitting alone on a stone-made chair on the sad beach of the Persian Gulf. For many days I could not sleep. Staying awake was my only option.
So I watched the sea and it watched me.
I started writing a letter, which would never be posted. It was addressed to my disloyal beloved:
I am thinking of you with my blank mind and spiritless eyes. See, the dead waves of this dead gulf mock my helpless condition. Far away the yellow moon is coming up to add to my eternal sadness. He will be my fellow this night; we both will wipe out our tears to make a place for more. Moon also seems to be ashamed of his existence, rising without a natural bloom, begging God to reduce his duty.
This is the second month of my exiled life. You know I was not exiled by any authority or dictator, but by hunger. My land has become barren and now vultures rule there. As I saw the movements of vultures over me, sniffing the stinking smell of my half-dead body, I crept out of their reach. But I had to run in such haste, while carrying the weight of my own dead-body, that my panting would be shifted to many coming generations, if I am fertile. Now I am at the richest place in the world. It is the land of Prophets and it is believed that God showers His entire blessing on this land. I don't know what was the blunder made by our ancestors that God has turned His eyes away from us forever. I have seen weeping mothers crying for help, but his anger does not seem to be melted. Definitely the sin of our ancestors was very severe.
See? Now the moon has come into some spirits and the dead waves are also showing some movements to prove their potency. Far away the sparking light is becoming very near. I am sure it is some ship loaded with the fruits of some poor country, leaving behind a few coins on the blank and dusty hands of poor farmers. How funny it is that the hard work under the burning sun gives them nothing except a few coins and dust.
Do you remember how these natural sights fascinated me? I could spend whole nights dreaming of such scenes, but what has happened to me? Is this the feeling of disorientation, which has sucked all my emotions, or is it the feeling of failure?
I am even unable to judge my own condition. Things seem to be empty; everything is past now. I am so much stuck to the past that I am unable to move further. I am stuck to the past but time is dragging me towards the empty future. I know time is more powerful than my feeble resistance.
So let me put my past on paper because I have heard that words are beyond the reach of this bastardly time. Do you remember it was the month of spring when I met you in the bright light of noon? How did this fatal relationship start? Well, I will blame you. But that is not true. Somehow, I just seemed to be less real than the rest of the world. I know I was a penniless writer, fighting, and writing for the poor creeping creatures of my country that was my dream. Yet there was something in those dirty streets and withered faces, which gave me the sense of ownership. But how could you conceive the pleasures of sitting in the muddy huts? How could you ..."
Somebody called me and I stopped writing. I heard a masculine voice:
"Hello brother, do you have a lighter?"
I looked at the man and found something very familiar. I have seen this man somewhere, I thought.
Suddenly an image of my very old friend appeared my mind. Yes it was Shahnawaz, a man who was thrown out of our own country many years ago
when we were students.
"Can you please sit here with me? I am feeling lonely,"I requested of him.
"Why not friend? But I am sure you are writing something very personal, if I am not wrong, a letter to a very dear one."
"Yes, once dear," I replied.
"Oh, it is sad. But, my friend, never forget that nobody can be sincere forever."
From his mysterious smile, I confirmed he was Shahnawaz. Nobody else
could give such a smile. He left Pakistan many years ago. Those were very long and suffocating days for our country. Our Army had conquered our own land once again, full of motley wickedness.
Everybody in this world has some resemblance to somebody, but our
Shahnawaz was the only one of his type. We were young and patriotic with ambitions to die for our country. Though we were very poor, we were yet very rich in sincerity and love. Shahnawaz was an openhearted man in the cold and dried-up mob. He was a tall, strong man, with wonderful wisdom and intellect, but innocently open and honest. He could see those personal faults which are normally kept hidden.
Inspite of his rare wisdom he was not cloaked with clever words and pretended virtues. He seemed to be a child, grown-up into a man without learning anything about worldly manners, or maturing into hypocrisy. He often reminded me of a story of childhood in which an absent-minded king was addressing his ministers, without wearing clothes. He was a philosopher king and forgot to put on his robes. But nobody dared to tell him that he was naked. Many ministers praised his wonderful dress.
Suddenly a child entered the court and started laughing saying: "Oh, see the king is naked." Shah was that innocent child. Sometimes, he seemed to me The Idiot of Dostoyevsky.
One day he stopped the most pretty but blunt girl of the campus on the center of a public path and said: "Excuse me?"
The lady gazed at him with her angry eyes and replied: "Yes, you are excused."
"Thank you very much," Shah said with his eternal innocence.
"For what?" the lady asked with more hot temper.
"For being so beautiful."
She nodded to him with her serene smile as if he were of her long time acquaintance. She wanted to say something but Shah had moved forward as if nothing had happened. He did not know that she was titled The Queen of The University, and people chased her for single smile.
But our Shah was indifferent to all these petty desires and lustful dating. That one sentence of our Shah made her crazy and we often saw her
roaming around the department as the dogs come at the smell of a bitch.
As is the case in all Pakistani Universities, professors are selected by nepotism; our professors were also shallow drums. Their stupid rhythmless noise depended on the guidebooks, which they used to hide in the dais. Once we threw that dais in the side-canal of the campus. No professor dared
enter the classroom until a new dais was provided.
Those clever and cunning professors kept a sharp eye upon the talented students. They were small people and could not tolerate students who werer superior them. How could those small professors see some students stride over their heads? So they started their dirty tricks against our Shah. But our Shah also rose above them with his ingenious and pure thoughts.
When they gave themselves out as wise, their little sayings and warmed-over truths made the Shah excited like the small child and he could not help saying: "The King is naked!"
Those small-minded people have the same nature everywhere in the world,
they are like the wild wolves. When they are hungry they attack each other to tear each other to pieces. But when they have a common threat, they unite against the common enemy. We saw those wild professors sitting together with their empty heads and open mouths, planning against Shah. How could the simplicity of our genius be compared with their diversity? They knew well how to combat knowledge, because knowledge was the greatest threat to their survival.
As normally happened, their evil plans worked out and Shah was expelled from the university.
Later we heard about Shah from newspapers. Yes, he took another great step! He joined the revolutionary political party of our country and became an active political worker against the martial law government of that time. Soon he was arrested, as we were expecting, and was put behind the bars.
In those days, special events for the people of Pakistan were the
flogging of 'political criminals'.
One day there was an announcement of the flogging of one rebel. We went
to see that live scene of the justice of our government.
The man in chains was our Shah. He had become thin and pale, yet we did not find any gesture of defeat in his face. A black fat man flogged him. We heard the sounds of whips on his naked body, but there was no crying or screaming. I ran away.
Even in the seclusion of my room, I could not stop his image shining through the window, shining and winking at me, fixed in the pale light
of that dark night of my country. I saw him crying: "See! The king is naked."
In the midnight I argued with him loudly: "Yes, the king is naked! You are right but I have very old and poor parents. I love them and I want to act like a normal loving son. My own and my parents' lives are more precious than my land. If I am here, my land is here. If I perish then what of land or country? Leave me, Shah; go away. Let my conscience sleep. Life is more important than conscience."
After that we did not hear anything about him for a long time. We were sure that he would have been murdered in a corner of some dirty jail.
But to my surprise, here he was, roaming along the solitary tracks of the sea as I wrote a letter, without seeing anything, lost somewhere in his internal sea.
"So you are enjoying memories of past?" he spoke out with his everlasting childlike smile.
"Yes, Shahnawaz, but how did you come out of captivity and where did you go after that horrible period?"
He looked on the isolated patch of cloud, threw a stone in the dancing
waves, and said: "One night we were thrown out of jail, there was no more space for new criminals. We were thrown on the borderline of a northern country. They asked us to cross the borderline in ten minutes.
"We will shoot you if you don't go across the border line," one of them shouted. We knew they meant what they said. I was baffled for a moment. But you know, at the brink of death, bravery loses its meanings. So I also ran away like a jackal.
I could feel torture on his face. He stopped talking for a while, lighting his cigarette. Then again he started. "And then began a new odyssey of misery, roving and struggling with destiny. No help from anywhere, not even from heaven! I had broken completely with my family. I remained in Russia for six months. The only refuge for socialists like me.
"There I faced another disillusionment. People wanted to get rid of their so-called socialism. They were crying for justice, and soon we saw the statue of Lenin falling on the dust under the feet of the mob. These were the death-like days. I had forgotten the taste of food. My rags were too shabby for any occasion. I fed my soul on hunger.
"Then I got a chance and reached the USA. For a while I had a roof over my head and a piece of bread. What was my fault? Only that I dreamed of free land? Well, I still dream of that. But my dream is almost at the deathbed. I was at that time intoxicated by a romantic dream. My heart is now dead; the brutish fire of poverty has burnt its wings. Behold, truth was my crime! I spoke truth and punishment was inevitable."
I could see his barren wet eyes, in the dim light of the moon. "But how did
you come here?" I was anxious to know more.
"Due to this belly; due to lack of money. After many years when the dictatorship was over, and the man who claimed himself God on the earth was called upon by the real God, I returned to my land. But there was nothing left behind. My father had died and my mother had become an invalid.
"I returned with hopes as there were new elections, but it was another shock for me, the final disillusionment in my life. I could not find a job in my own country; my own land refused to give me a livelihood.
"The same people with different faces appeared again and started filling their lusty stomachs, I found them eating and vomiting; again eating and vomiting!
"Now I was not alone, I had my wife and small son Wali with me. I could not see my son in hunger, and came here to this country to earn something. So this is my life! For few coins I am away from my wife and son.
"Two years ago when I left, my son had started speaking. When I entered the airport, I saw his hand innocently moving as he had learnt to give the gesture of bye bye and ta ta. I saw those hands and told him: 'Yes my son we are born to say bye bye!'
"By now he can walk and speak, and when he sees airplanes he starts crying: 'Baba - Father - bye bye ta ta.' "
There was a silence again. I had no words to console him. I stood up, said good bye to Shahnawaz, tore that letter into pieces, threw it in the
impotent waves of the Dead Sea and said to those sinking pieces: "bye bye - ta ta" and took my way to face another dirty day.
Muhammad Nasrullah Khan sent this story from Pakistan. He says: "I live in a country where people are afraid of life. Their sleep has lost dreams. I want to reawaken their oppressed dreams; I want to share their woes; I want to share the suffering of their shrieking souls. Humanity is dying and I am trying to put a few drops of water on its dry tongue so that it should face death bravely. My writing is the echo of their flagging hopes and raging desires."
See also Nasrullah Khan's stories "Bush, bin Ladin and Taja" in Offcourse #13, "The Dying Man" in Offcourse Issue #12 and "Lifeless Life" in Offcourse Issue #10.
You can write to Nasrullah Khan at email@example.com
To Of(f)course home page
To Index of this issue.