All the houses look terribly alike – I’m afraid I might end up in some other man’s home. That fear kept haunting me as they took me away from the hospital.
The doctors at the hospital had said I had been badly hurt in an accident –they must have lied – otherwise I should hurt somewhere – they seemed to look at me with suspicion –they kept watching me as if any moment I’d jump out of my bed and run away.
And then it happened – what I was afraid of.
God knows what strange house they have brought me to!
No sooner had they forced me down on a bed than some woman began shrieking. “Ooooh! How terrible! He can’t be my Hamid. Nothing could’ve happened to him.”
Then some child asked, “Who’s that, mummy? Who’s that all coiled up in daddy’s bed?”
Now there couldn’t be any doubt: I had been brought to the wrong house –
that’s what I was afraid of all along.
What’s going to happen next? What if the man of the house comes back and finds me here? –run…run…
But there were people around me, holding me down. “Calm down, bhabi, calm down,” I heard someone say in the next room. “He’ll get crazier if you don’t. Try to make him happy. Get him to like it here.”
Make me happy? – Like it there? –what imbecile won’t take care of his family himself but force another person to sleep in his bed? – I must’ve fallen among robbers – they want to rob me –where are my keys?
What fool’s house is it, anyway? There’s hardly any light in the room…
Why hasn’t the sun come out today? I hope they didn’t lock it up too –
perhaps it’s night now –how did that happen? –but if it’s night there should be stars and the moon – ‘Uncle Moon, so far away; Uncle Moon so far away’ – who’s there? – come in, come in – is it Mr Sun? – yes, the sun ought to be up now – but suppose one morning it doesn’t come up, what would I do then?
I won’t be able to shave –nor would I be able to drink my tea – how can anyone shave in a dark room? I might cut my neck – that fool doctor at the hospital had said, “Don’t ever try to shave yourself” – why did he say that? – did he think I had lost my hands in that accident.
How would I get my shaving things now? – I seem to have lost my keys – all my things are gone – I’ve been robbed – there must be robbers living in this house – how they stare at me! – their eyes bulge – they whisper to each other all the time – then there’s that boy Fazlu who brings me my meals – every time he sees me he grins like an idiot – the fool.
Perhaps they’ve all gone mad due to some accident – perhaps they were going somewhere in their car and suddenly…
God, how my head hurts! – did someone hit me with a rock? – I must retaliate – l must hit back with a bigger rock – I should give someone a good thrashing…
But I just don’t feel like getting out of this warm, soft bed right now – also, I’m scared of the man who keeps peeking at me through the transom – he gives me such mean looks – he seems to gloat over my troubles…
“Go away! Get away from me! Leave me alone!”
My shouts brought Nimmo waddling to my bedside – she’s a plump woman…
I’m not sure how I happen to know her name – she pretends I’m her husband – that’s a good one, isn’t it? – I’m sure I’ve never seen an uglier face, or a more hateful woman – I flatly told her I won’t touch her, not even with my slippers – but she keeps coming back, again and again – she tells me to shut up and lie quietly – it makes me wonder: was she the wife of some poor beggar like me in her previous birth…
Nimmo came into the room and asked, “Whom are you shouting at?”
“That fellow up there, why does he keep staring at me?” I pointed at the man in the transom.
“God have mercy!” Nimmo shouted, striking her forehead with her open hand. “That’s no man – that’s you. Don’t you even remember yourself?”
Now how can that be true? – how can that man be me? – and if he is indeed me then who am I? – which of us is the real me? – this is just terrible – it could get pretty sticky for me if these strange people found out that the real me was someone else – I had better find some hiding place for myself – where’s my blanket? – now I won’t respond, no matter how hard someone calls…
“He isn’t insane,” someone speaks angrily in the next room. ‘Why don’t you folks get him some medical treatment? Doesn’t anyone want him to get well – to give all of you a hard time again?’
“..so much property…big savings account…seven hundred rupees per month in pension…”
That must be Nimmo,s husband – probably he’s gone mad – or are they conspiring against me? – they want me to go mad? – did they cut me into two…put one part in the transom? – they must have kidnapped me from the hospital…
Who’s here now? – who’s pulling at my blanket? – I’m not here – I’m over there, in the transom…
It’s Nimmo again – with a plate of grapes in her hand – who are these other people with her? – perhaps she’s brought them to watch the show…
With great affection she puts a grape in my mouth – and says, “Come on, Hamid, be nice. See, your aunt’s here, also Nishat and Akhtar. Or have you forgotten them too?”
“How’re you feeling now?” a man asks, sitting down on the bed.
“Aha! I begin to see now,” I say to the man – I’ve recognised who he is – “You’re that man in the hospital – you must’ve come to give me a shot”– l quickly grab a vase to defend myself – “Get out here – or I’ll let you have it in the mouth.”
Nimmo starts to cry, but I give her a kick – I say to her, “Stop acting! You think I’m some pet monkey to show to your friends. If you aren’t careful in future I might make you dance for them.”
It looks like I’ll have to get away from this place – now that would be something – one day they’ll come into the room and find I’m gone – then they will have something to cry over…
But this other me, he’s really spoiled everything – he has his, eyes fixed on me all the time – now why did that happen?
Why did I break into two? – what can one-half of me do?…
One day Nimmo sent two children into my room – a boy, Pappu, ten or eleven – very suspicious – very much on his guard – he seemed to think I had a rock in my hand – and a very pretty little girl – like the doll that goes chun-chun when you turn the key in its back.
“Come here, Chun-Chun,” but she ran up to the bed before I could finish – Pappu tried to stop her, but she threw her arms around my neck – her lovely hair spread on my chest…
“Daddy, daddy,” she said, ‘how did you hurt your head? Pappu’s scared of you, daddy. You’re not going to spank us, are you?’ Then she cupped my face in her hands and whispered, ‘Get me a little airplane, daddy, then both of us will fly away.’
“Yes, we’ll fly away, very far away. Grrr, grrr, zoom, zoom.”
Suddenly the two of us were flying around in a small airplane.
“Ta-ta,” Chun-Chun waved to those contemptible people below us “Ta-ta, ta-ta,” I shouted too.
“Stop, stop! Whatdo you think you’re doing?” – those curs have got hold of me again – “Don’t be so wild. You’re not well” – Nimmo grabs from the back – ‘Get down, Munni. You can’t ride on daddy’s shoulders anymore. He’s not feeling well, you know.’
“Let go of us” – I try to free myself – “We’re flying to Delhi. We’re going way far away. Ta-ta, ta-ta…”
But Chun-Chun had to get down – I too was forced back on the bed – then Nimmo came and sat down near me.
“Thank God,” she said, her voice all cream and honey – “Thank God, you still remember your children” – then she touched my face and snuggled closer – “I swear to you I was so scared you might have forgotten your children too. I don’t know what we’d have done then.”
“Why? What’s the problem?” I push her away from me.
“Why! You think I’d go out and get a job at my age. Thanks to your pension we still somehow manage, but only barely. What else do we have now? Just a little bit of property. I tell you, I envy Imtiaz’s mother. She lived in luxury till the day she died. Why did you then marry me? Where would I go now with these small children?”
Nimmo must be crazy – one moment she’s crying, the next she begins to giggle – so unpredictable.
Suddenly she puts a piece of paper before me. “Here, sign it”– she coyly says.
What’s this now? – something to make me her slave for life? What if it made my split permanent? – one part peeking through the transom – the other lying here snared by these thugs…
“What are you looking around for? Hurry up and sign the paper.” Nimmo must be standing on hot coals – she is so agitated – l closely look at the paper –1000 – 1000 – numbers come into focus, then disappear…
“Aha! So that’s what it’s all about –money!” – I quickly sign the paper.
“Mummy, what would you’ve done if daddy had forgotten how to sign his name?” That’s Pappu – next to Pappu, Fazlu – behind Fazlu, Shimmi – then some other Ummi – Pummi – they form a circle around me…
“Just think, all the money would’ve been lost if the sahib had forgotten how to write!” That’s Fazlu – he has teeth like the seeds of a rotten melon…
“Shut up!” I pounce upon him. “Who the hell are you to talk of money? And why the devil must you flash your teeth every time you see me? Am I a clown? Are there horns sprouting from my head?” They burst into laughter…
A suspicion crosses my mind: has my appearance changed in some way? – do they know I’m split in half? – that one half of me sits in the transom? – perhaps that’s why they keep staring at me – what’s more amazing, the I in the transom also stares at me like them…
Perhaps I shouldn’t act so wild – the other day I chased a fly all over the house – so many light bulbs got smashed – the glass cabinet was knocked over –Nimmo said everyone was watching my show – you might have thought all the movie houses had closed – that all the people looking for entertainment had come into this house – there were so many of them.
Some of them even put on their own shows – a matinee was going on in the dining room – that cute girl, Shimmi, was the heroin – a tall, dark man was the hero – quite a romantic show it was – plagiarists – I’ve seen such cooing couples in every Hindi movie – they seemed ready to burst into a song – “You’re my moon, I’m your moonlight” – God! I’d have gone crazy if they had – “Cut, cut!” l shouted – they were so frightened they actually stopped – the hero leaped out the door and ran away – the heroine threw herself at my feet – “Daddy, please forgive me”– now she was shedding false tears…
I pulled her away – the way the father does in that movie – “And you forgive me too, for I can’t play in your trashy movie.”
Just then Chun-Chun came into the room – the lap of her frock was filled with paper cuttings – “Quick, daddy, I’ve brought you lots of money” – she dropped the strips of paper in my lap – they turned into currency notes – then she started picking them one by one – ‘With this note we’ll buy a big cake, with this, an airplane – with this, some cigarettes for daddy and with this we’ll buy a daddy…’
“You’re silly!” That was Pappu again. “You don’t buy daddies with money.”
“You can too. Didn’t you buy us all with money, daddy?”
“Of course, I did. I bought all of you with money. You’re all my slaves. Here now – line up all of you!”
I gave the order, but no one listened.
“Pappu’s stupid,” said Chun-Chun. “Mummy says if one has money one can buy anything.”
That gives me an idea – perhaps I should try to buy back that other I. I grab all the money and push her away. “Get Out! This is my money.”
“No, it’s mine,” Chun-Chun begins to whimper. ‘Daddy’s taken all my money. I want my money back.’
Nimmo comes into the room.
“What’ll you do with those scraps? Let Munni have them.”
“I’ll buy my other I with it. You want me to remain split in half for ever?”
“God have mercy!” Nimmo’s frightened by my scolding. ‘Go on, children, go and play outside. Your daddy’s about to have another of his fits.’
She locks me inside the room and goes away…
I’d also like to kill all my enemies, but I don’t have my gun – it was borrowed by the man who killed Kennedy – he hasn’t brought it back – would I otherwise let so many wild and useless people run around freely? – particularly Nimmo and Fazlu, and that Imtiaz? – the three ought to be shot – you’d see how brightly the sun shines that day – how people laugh…
“Bang…bang…bang!” I make my fingers into a gun and begin to shoot – those who come within my range fall – right and left – Nimmo – Fazlu – that pig-faced doctor who sent me by force to another man’s house – the clerk in the pension office who smirks every month when he sees me – they’re all dead – now we can have some fun – eat and…
How hungry I am today! – I haven’t eaten anything for the last twelve months – I’ll have some kababs today – hot and spicy – and if I don’t get to – that day he’s so concerned about ‘what people might say’…
People – people! – who are the people the residents of this house are so afraid of? – if I ever find out I’ll give them all the dirt – that other day when Nimmo had gone out, Imtiaz opened the safe with a key of his own and took out some jewellery – that any day now Shimmi will run away with that swarthy fellow – she too has plans to open the safe – every day I hide behind this curtain and watch what goes on – one day Pappu was picking pieces of meat out of the dish on the table and gobbling them down when I surprised him – later they were all muttering: ‘How did he get in there?’ ‘How long was he hiding there?’…
And that Fazlu – what a rascal he is! – he brings me my meals, then sits down and gobbles them himself – one day, after he leaves the room, I put my ear to the door and listen – he tells Nimmo that he had fed the sahib…
“No, no. I haven’t eaten anything. I’m starving. Give me some food,” I run into the room and shout at them.
“God Almighty! What does he want now?” Nimmo says to Shimmi, “Just now Fazlu fed him and now again he’s hungry!”
“You might get sick from eating too much,” Shimmi tells me, pushing me towards my room.
“No. I’m starving. I haven’t eaten anything. You can ask Fazlu.”
Instead of an answer, Fazlu looks at Nimmo and starts laughing.
“But why did you have to come here? You’ll only make a mess on the table. Go to your room. I’ll send you something to eat.” Nimmo pushes me into the room and bolts the door from outside.
“Don’t push my daddy – don’t hit him,” Chun-Chun shrieks outside the door – she is crying.
“Shut up! Be quiet! Daddy’s darling!” Nimmo starts spanking her.
“Open the door.” I beat my head against it. “Open the door.”
It is opened.
Have they killed her? – wiping the blood from my face I look for Chun-Chun – she’s standing in a corner scared to dead – we run into each other’s arms…
Nimmo has thought up another trick to keep me confined to this room – she brings all sorts of people to talk to me – to keep me happy, she says.
Two days back she brought a crazy man to see me – he had a fast beard which flapped in the air – he kept grabbing at it as if he were scared of being exposed – the moment he saw me he clasped me to his breast – as if we were old buddies.
“Well pal, how are you?” he asked heartily. “Feeling better now?”
“You tell me, how’re things with you? Care to sell this beard of yours?”
He jumped back, but I grabbed his hand and pulled him down beside me –no harm in having some fun with a loony.
He pulled himself free and moved away to sit on a stool.
“I thought of coming to see you several times, but I was afraid you might not even recognise me,” he said, smoothing his beard.
‘That’s true,’ I reply, “You have changed a bit since you went crazy.’’
I don’t know why he started to laugh – they say mad people always consider others to be mad – perhaps the old rascal thinks I’ve gone crazy?
‘You know, pal,’ he says after a few moments, ‘’you know, I do feel bad about you being sick. But what can we do? It’s as God sees fit.’’
‘’And I just adore this beard of yours. Won’t you let me have it for just one day? Chun-Chun and I want to play cops-and-robbers.’’
At that he jumps up and starts for the door – then stops and remarks somewhat pompously: ‘Talk some sense. I understand your wife didn’t even bother to get you treated. Anyway, did you hand over all your pension to these people or did you save a little for yourself?’
Again that damn word! – it seems I’m only the name of a pension – no one sees me as a human being – they see only an amount of cash – none of them talks of anything else – I wish I could peel this pension off my face and throw it away – but in that case, would I even be visible to anyone in this house?
I don’t remember how or when I got rid of that nut – I heard Fazlu that when I tried to pull at that guy’s beard he was scared out of his wits and ran away – what else could I’ve done – how else do you treat a loony?
Another such character came into the room the other day – he too acted as if we were old buddies – started telling me of all our good times together – all lies – then on the sly slipped into his pocket my expensive Parker – he smoked all my cigarettes too – then, as he was leaving, h made a great show of telling me how he had been looking after Nimmo – trying to cheer her up so she won’t be heartbroken by my illness – finally proudly declared that it was he who had brought me here from the hospital – when I heard that I couldn’t restrain myself any longer.
“So it’s you who threw me into this hellhole! But why? What did you gain from torturing me so?”
“Nothing yet,” he replied with a smirk, ‘but I will, soon enough.’
“I’m calling the police. I’ll expose you.” I twirled the dial of the telephone. ‘Hello, hello.’
“Give me my telephone.” Chun-Chun came and pulled it out of my grasp – it is her telephone – ‘Here, let me do it,’ she said, ‘Whom were you calling?’
“The police. Get them to come quickly or else the criminals will get away.”
“Hello.” Chun-Chun put the receiver to her ear and sat down on the floor – she had a serious look on her face – Come quickly. They’re bothering my daddy. They’re not giving him food.’
After a while both of us got tired of that game.
“That’s it. Now let’s go and catch the thief.” And we earnestly set out in pursuit.
“Sssh! Don’t make any noise” Chun-Chun said, putting a finger to her lips.
We crawled on our knees from room to room – suddenly my head struck the foot of a bed – someone jumped down – “Thief – thief,” I started shouting, and grabbed his leg – ‘Hurry, bring my pistol. I’ve got him.’
“We caught the thief! We caught the thief!” Chun-Chun began to clap and shout.
“Let him go, please let him go. The children might come. Please don’t shout so.” That was Nimmo.
I looked more carefully – how amazing – the thief was the man who a moment ago had been talking to me! – by now the whole house had gathered there – Shimmi –Pappu –lmtiaz – Fazlu – they looked flabbergasted – first they walked out of the room without saying a word – what cowards! They don’t even have the guts to tell off the thief.
That night I could hear Nimmo muttering in her room: “No, he isn’t mad. He’s just shamming. He pretends to be careless about himself, but he never stops watching me…”
One day an amazing thing happens.
What do I see but that the night has ended – the people are up and around – there is light in the room – but I don’t see any sun – did the thief steal the sun? – my anxiety grows – then Chun-Chun comes in with her telephone – l immediately tell her the terrible news: ‘Sometimes stole the sun last night.’
“What! Where did it go?” Chun-Chun is horrified – in this house none is smarter.
“Who knows! Didn’t you notice how dark it was? Now I’m lost. Without a sun how can there be a day? When can I now get out of bed?” I start crying.
When she sees my tears Chun-Chun throws down her toys and rushes to cling to me – she spreads her golden hair on my chest.
“I’ll buy you a sun this big,’ she says, spreading wide her arms – then she opens her hand, ‘See, I’ve two paisas.’
“Silly! No one can buy the sun.” I laugh at her foolishness.
“Then how did it come to you?” she asks, with wide open eyes.
Well! – now we had another problem on our hands – how did the sun come to me in the first place? – and why did it come? – did the sun also know about my pension? – did it hear about that other I too?
“Who’s he?” I ask Chun-Chun, pointing with my finger.
“That?’ For a long time she stands there looking at the other I – her neck stretched upward – then she says, ‘That’s daddy.”
“Whose daddy?” I’m glad – he turns out to be someone else.
“My daddy,” she says, putting her palms on her chest for emphasis – she adds, “That’s you.”
Me? – a shiver goes up my spine – even these children know that I’ve been cut into two!
Do you know who hung me up there, Chun-Chun?’ I ask her furtively – first making sure no one was listening.
“Mummy did,” she likewise whispers into my ear. “One day she put you behind the glass, tied a cord, and hung you up there.”
She put me behind the glass? – tied a cord? – in other words, I’ve been executed! – hanged till dead – I’m no longer alive – l have nothing to do with this world now – why am I then lying in this bed?
I get up and quietly stand against the wall, but just then Nimmo barges into the room – she’s been cross with me ever since I caught the thief – however, now her voice is soft as butter – first she tries to pull me away from the wall – then, when she fails in her efforts, she flops down on the floor near me.
Even so she starts acting very important – she refers to my pension as her pension – to her children as ‘my children’ – she says she needs thirty thousand rupees – she wants to sell the house and also take out all the money in the bank – so that Shimmi can be married off – so that Imtiaz can be given his share and then kicked out for good.
I listen – like some real-life, hapless husband – these talks of pensions and bank accounts bore me to tears – but after a while I couldn’t take it any more – I start scolding her – ‘Be quiet! I won’t listen to you any more. You’ve killed me. You put a cord round my neck and strangled me. I’m dead.’
She falls at my feet. ‘Please forgive me, Hamid. Please forget what happened that night. I’ll never deceive you again.’
“Ha! Why should I forgive you?” I kick her away. “You stole my sun. It was never so dark before.” I kick her again. “And you took away my pistol. Now I can’t shoot the thieves. Do you know how many thieves are lurking in this house? What kind of a place is this anyway? Some film studio where people constantly act out romantic scenes? No, I refuse to take part in your stupid plays.”
Just then I happen to look up. “Who put that noose around my neck? You me up and hanged me. Now I can’t even show my face anywhere.”
Nimmo begins to shriek – I keep hitting her with anything I can get hold of –some people rush into the room – they try to stop me – I hit them too and they run away – I chase them – today I’ll kill the whole lot – I’ll shoot them all.
“Come! come everyone! See what this man is doing!” Nimmo is shouting to the neighbours. ‘Today I’ll have all the property transferred to my name!’
“Go ahead and try.” Imtiaz enters the room. “I’ll take daddy with me.”
“You think so? You’d better not even come near him.” Nimmo shrieks at him, waving her hands. “Some lover of his daddy! I know why you want to take him with you. So you can swallow all by yourself the seven hundred of his pension. You’d better not even try it. He‘s all the support left for my little ones.”
The two are fighting so loudly it’s impossible to understand them – I drop the rock in my hand and start to think – will Imtiaz really take me away from this crazy place?
That other I shouldn’t get a whiff of it, I tell myself – I want to give him the slip – now it should be his turn to tackle this bloodthirsty bunch.
“Come Chun-Chun, let’s get out of here.” I pick her up in my arms – she seems scared by the fight raging around her.
“Where are we going?” She drops her doll and its tiny bathtub – she makes herself comfortable against my shoulder.
“We’re going far away…very far away…where the sun is.”
I open the gate of the house and step out on the street – the people inside keep fighting – they don’t even try to stop us – perhaps they weren’t fighting – perhaps they were mourning someone’s death – the sun’s death, perhaps, or my pension’s…
“Daddy, daddy,” Chun-Chun is saying, “Imtiaz Bhai was hitting mummy. He wants your pension.”
So my pension is not done with yet? – what should I do now? – I’m scared – Imtiaz might start hitting me too.
“Daddy, you must throw away your pension,” Chun-Chun advises me. “Throw it into the river. Then no one will fight.” Then she starts clapping her hands. “Look daddy, we found the sun! There it is, trying to hide in the river. Let’s hurry and catch it.”
It’s indeed the sun – so it wasn’t stolen after all! – it only tried to hide away from us in the river.
“Run faster, daddy. Mummy is coming behind us. She’s coming to catch you.” From her perch on my shoulders, Chun-Chun keeps me informed.
What should I do now? – I begin to run faster – but I see no place to hide – there is nothing but water in front of us – where can we hide from Nimmo? – “Come Chun-Chun, let’s hide in the water. Let’s see how they catch us then…”
Translated by C. M. Naim