(Translated into English by Noroz Hayat and Carina Jahani)
It was a hot summer day, the twentieth of the month of Tir, a Tuesday evening. The sea fog, thick as clouds, had engulfed the coastal town of Ormarah in the shadow of its hair-locks. Drops of moisture were showering down softly and tenderly; a mild breeze was blowing gently. If anywhere could be called paradise on earth, this was it! Could there possibly be anywhere better around here than this fresh and cool place with its breeze and moist fog? No one could imagine so. One would have to be a fool to go out on a summer evening and not walk down to the paradisal seashore. In this season, the weather at Ormarah beach could heal any distressed heart.
Uncle Balach was very old. He must have been around eighty by now. In spite of his age and weakness, he still kept up his habit of taking a walk on Ormarah beach every evening. He was a lover of his motherland and a true nationalist. He was active in a nationalist political party, and he had also taught his people to love the motherland and the nation with his poetry.
On this occasion he was sitting alone at the seashore, on a mud brick bench facing east, by the road. His complexion was dark and he was wearing glasses. By now his age-mates had all left this world or had settled outside Ormarah. Old habits die hard. In the good old days there was no road by the seashore, only the soft, reddish sand. Uncle Balach would come down to the beach every evening in those days. Sometimes he would come alone and sit on the sand writing something or other, and sometimes he would come with his friends, and they would fill the beach with happiness and laughter.
He was a political activist; that is why he had political ambitions. In those days he told his friends that after independence, when the Baloch themselves take possession of Balochistan’s natural resources, they would adorn Ormarah beach like a bride. Now his life was about to end, he had lost all hope, and his ambitions had all been aborted. But what he had said about the Ormarah beach being adorned like a bride had certainly come true. Now this beach truly was like a bride. Thousands of hearts full of desire came to the beach, but there was not a single young Baloch among them, apart perhaps from the odd one now and then.
At this moment hundreds of boys and girls, men and women, young and old, engaged and pledged for marriage, companions and confidants, acquaintances and relatives, friends and intimates, all were walking along the beach. Some were wearing shirts and trousers, some skirts, some saris, some gowns, and others were only wearing t-shirts and shorts. Many had their children with them. As a sign of their intimacy many were walking hand in hand as couples, at a distance from the crowd. Many were cuddling each other, many were walking side by side, many were whispering in each other’s ears, and many were laughing loudly.
There was a restaurant some distance away where hundreds of people had gathered in a crowd, just like gulls, albatrosses, terns, and other local seabirds used to gather around their catch on the shore in former times. Now there was neither the squawking and fighting of the seabirds over their catch any more, nor was there any brave, falcon-like hunting for prey. Still the beach showed scenes enough to fill a lifetime: joy and happiness, sorrow and trouble, smiles and laughter, crying and grumbling, begging and beseeching, reproaching and scolding.
Uncle Balach, through the eyeglasses on which he now depended, had to watch these heart-rending scenes every day. Every so often a sigh arose from his heart. He was so lonely; he had no one here. Not a single soul was there to say hello to him, to ask how he was doing, to speak a few words to him in his mother tongue. Hundreds of people spent time here for recreation, but they were all speaking Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, and many other languages.
“Daddy! Was Clifton beach in Karachi as beautiful as this?” Uncle suddenly heard a girl saying in Urdu. He was writing something at that moment and when he raised his head to look, he saw a slim girl some eighteen years old, approaching and talking with her middle-aged, squat father, still dressed in his navy uniform.
“No, my daughter! That was artificial beauty, constructed by the Government, but this is natural”, her father answered, still in Urdu.
“Daddy! What was the old name of this town?” the girl continued in Urdu. Uncle strained to hear what answer the girl would receive. Uncle’s eyes may have needed glasses, and he needed a cane to walk, but bravo to his ears that never failed him.
“Hurmorah! My daughter, the old name of this town was Hurmorah, it must have been a word from the Makrani language. Some 37–38 years ago, when the base and the port were being constructed to enable our headquarters to move here from Karachi, the Sindhi Prime Minister at the time changed the name of this base, which used to be called Hurmorah Naval Base after the town, to Jinnah Base. And gradually the name of the town also changed, to Jinnahpur.”
The father told his daughter some historical facts, still in Urdu. Uncle Balach was thinking about the conversation between the father and child when he heard another girl’s voice close by.
“Daddy! Baluchis used to live in this town, right?” the girl was asking her father. She too spoke in Urdu.
“Yes, yes, my child! This town used to belong to the Baluchis and Makranis. There are still some Baluchis and Makranis living here, but…”
It was as if someone had stabbed Uncle Balach in the back. He turned his head around and looked at the person whose voice was reaching him from behind. It was another middle-aged man, tall and slim, dressed in a navy uniform, approaching with his two little sons and a slightly older girl. The man was carrying his boots in his hand, the girl was holding her sandals to her chest, and the two little boys were following them, trampling down the mounds of sand which the crabs had made.
Alas… I knew it would turn out like this… Uncle Balach sighed deeply and started grumbling. All of a sudden the girl’s eyes fell on Uncle Balach, who until now had been observing the father and daughter.
“Look over there, father! How this Baluchi is staring at us.”
The girl curled up in her father’s embrace as if she was frightened by how Uncle was looking at them.
“Don’t worry, daughter! He’s just remembering old times.”
The father comforted his daughter and they kept walking, still speaking in Urdu.
Uncle recalled his youth. The situation today was exactly that which Uncle had predicted in those days, in his speeches at political gatherings and rallies. He had realized that constructing the military base would not bring progress and welfare; it would be the beginning of the eradication of the local population. But what Uncle said in those days went in one ear and out the other. Everyone regarded him as an enemy of development and prosperity, and they conspired against him in all sorts of ways. There was only one Uncle and the conspirators were many.
I knew it would be like this… I knew there wouldn’t be any Baloch left here, and the Balochi language wouldn’t survive.
This is it. These days hundreds of people play in the sun-kissed waves of the bluish ocean at Ormarah. People walk around on the soft, cool sand of the beach. Not a single soul among them knows even a couple of words of Balochi… In the good old days, if ten people came here for the fish auction, all ten would be Baloch. And the fish was auctioned in the sweet Balochi tongue… Four hundred fifty-five, going once, four hundred fifty-five, going twice… four hundr… all in Balochi.
Uncle Balach was grumbling for nothing. Small children had caught fish here. Naked, half-naked, barefoot, unveiled, dark-skinned and black children, but they were all native. But who belongs to my people today? Who belongs to the beloved soil of Ormarah? Who is a Baloch? All these people call the Baloch by wrong names, like Baluchis and Makranis, and distort beautiful Baloch names like Ormarah, which they call Hurmorah. By now Uncle Balach had completely stopped writing and was just grumbling.
“What’s the matter? I love you!”
A young girl threw her arms around the neck of her partner, speaking English in a strange way. Uncle’s thoughts were scattered. He turned his bespectacled eyes towards the girl and boy.
Who would have foreseen that hens too would crow in this place? Doomsday will arrive here before anywhere else in the world! Uncle looked down at his sandals… His traditional sandals were worn out. By now it was after sunset and time for Uncle to go back home.
The electric lights had shattered the darkness of the night just as much as the newcomers had dispersed the local population.
Uncle put on his sandals and turned his eyes towards the ocean. He gazed at a point far away as if it was the very last time he would look at the sea. Then he sighed deeply. He had just got up from his spot when he heard a voice behind him.
“Uncle, please, a rupee, for God’s sake. I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Hearing these words in Balochi, Uncle spun his head around in such a way that you would think someone twisted it by force. He saw a girl, seven years old or so, with a torn dress and patched trousers, barefoot and without a veil to cover her head. She stretched out a cupped hand toward Uncle.
The next morning the following announcement in Urdu was heard from a couple of mosques: “Balach son of Karar, who was a Baluchi political activist, passed away during the night. His funeral will take place at ten o’clock.”
Acknowledgement: Our sincere thanks go to our English language editor, Everett Thiele, who transformed our own draft version of the translation into a literary piece. It has been a great pleasure to work with Everett on this project. Translators.