This story about a man who doesn’t know how to laugh is originally penned down by Naguman. Fazal Baloch has translated it from Balochi for our readers.
On the very day of our first wedding anniversary, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. Thus we named him Saalaan*.
Days passed by and Saalaan was now five months old. I played with him, talked to him, asked him questions and answered them myself. He was like any other child – reckless, oblivious but also adorable. What made him different from other children of his age was the fact that I had never seen him smiling or laughing, though he cried like a professional.
I tickled him, tossed him up in the air and caught him back, showed him the mirror and made a monkey face for him, but his lips never turned into a smile. In the beginning, my wife and I were worried a bit but then we consoled ourselves that he was still too young and that he will get better with time.
Months and years passed by. Saalaan grew up into a toddler and started school. Yet he was deprived of the blessing of a laughter. I had never imagined that the son of such a cheerful man like me would become so agelast. I was confused that who he had taken after.
My wife, I, both of our parents and all our relatives were jolly people.
We took him to doctors and briefed them about his history. They concluded that he was fine otherwise, but he might have had inherited his unwillingness to laugh from some of his grandparents. They also hinted that as he grew older, studied and knew the world better, he might be able to get rid of this habit.
I disliked Saalaan’s that damn habit. But I loved the one he had inherited from me: The love for the moon and moonshine.
It was a summer night. The electricity had gone off. Thus we went to the rooftop and slept there. It was a full moon night. With his head on my right arm, Saalaan had his eyes fixed on the moon.
“Father,” he addressed me without any warning.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Why does the moon look so beautiful”?
I heaved up.
My son was asking me my own question.
But I hid my amazement and replied smilingly:
“I will tell you only if you give me a smile.”
Rather, he got annoyed and went to sleep with his mother. For a whole week, he didn’t talk to me. He never asked me that question again.
The question Saalaan asked me that night evoked an old memory of my childhood. I remember me asking my mother one night:
“Mother, why does the moon look so beautiful”?
For a moment, she thoroughly looked at me and then replied:
“I don’t know, God has made it look so”.
Later, when I grew young and acquired higher studies I knew that like the earth, the moon too is made up of stone and clay. It perplexed me that why does the moon not look to us the same as it is? Why does the difference in distance makes objects look different from what they actually are?
With the fast-travelling time, Saalaan, after whom we could not have any other child, grew young. As I expected, he went to study philosophy at university. And after the completion his masters, he was appointed as a lecturer there.
Even after much learning and exposure, I never saw a smile on his lips. And he was very much infamous in and around the town for this damn habit. I and my wife had long ago surrendered to his silly habit and stopped persuading him to laugh or smile.
One day, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that if Saalaan marries, he might cast off his annoying habit in the company of his wife and children. I shared my idea with my wife. She was quite happy with it. That night we had a conversation with him:
“Saalaan! What is your opinion about getting married?”
“Nothing,” his reply was brief.
“If you love a girl do tell me,” his mother teased him.
“No,” his answer was brief again.
“Should we look for a girl for you?” his mother touched his hand.
“As you wish,” Neither was there any interest nor annoyance in his tone.
“But do you wish to marry or not?” I wanted to confirm.
“If you wish so,” he responded in such a way as if the talk was about my wedding, not his.
The next day, we visited a relative to seek their girl’s hand. The elders of the family consented but when the girl came to know about it she refused the proposal that she would not marry a person who didn’t know how to laugh.
We returned home, disappointed.
We visited two other families as well. Everywhere, parents agreed but the girls refused. They were critical of Saalaan’s damn habit.
One night, I blasted at him.
“Why don’t you get rid of this accursed habit? How many families have we gone after! Parents have no problem. But the girls aren’t willing to marry you. All because of your damn habit. Either stop being mournful all the time or stay a bachelor whole your life”.
He said nothing.
Then on, I gave up on my search for a bride for him. But his kind-hearted mother was still looking. One day, she informed me she had found a willing girl who is aware of Saalaan’s behaviour because she had been his student. It was good news because the girl was willing to marry him but I feared she might be as sombre as Saalaan, as she had been his student. But my wife assured me she was a good-looking and cheerful girl.
Eventually, they tied the knot. Our daughter-in-law was in fact a merry girl. But our expectation didn’t meet the reality. The cheerfulness of our daughter-in-law couldn’t manage to bring a smile on Saalaan’s lips.
After a year or so they were blessed with a daughter. Her name was Zeba but we lovingly called her Zebol. Like her mother, she too was cheerful and jolly. We all loved her.
We had already stopped worrying about Saalaan’s sombreness. We were pretty happy with Zebol. She was totally different from her father. However, one thing was common among the three of us: It was the love for the moon and moonshine.
One night, we were watching news on TV. Zebol grew bored and held my hand and asked me:
“Let’s go upstairs.”
I knew she wanted to see the moon.
“Wait a bit. I am watching news. We would go a bit later,” I replied.
But she was adamant. Sensing that the grandfather was not willing, she turned to her father. Saalaan seemed to have grown bored of news, and on her daughter’s first request he rose to his feet and both of them went upstairs.
We were glued to the TV screen. Suddenly we heard a burst of laughter. It was most probably Saalaan. But no one was ready to believe it. How could he laugh?
I feared Mr. Philosopher had gone mad, thrown Zebol off the roof and is now laughing.
We hurried to upstairs. We witnessed a strange scene. Both Zebol and Saalaan were laughing. We were dumfounded. Saalan and laughter! Numerous thoughts passed by my mind in a course of seconds. I held his hand and asked gently:
“Saalaan, what’s wrong, son?”
“Zebol says why does the moon look so beautiful?” He replied, still laughing.
* The one who appears after a year.