This Balochi short story by Ghaus Bahar, who passed away last week, has been translated by Fazal Baloch.
It is midday. The sun is scorching hot overhead. From tiny ants and birds to giant leopards and elephants, everyone is writhing in unbearable heat. As far as one could see, the whole world looks like a rocky plain and the earth is as hot as a glowing pan.
Off in the distance, a whirl of dust is rising up. It is as if something is moving ahead. It is not obvious, however, if it is a beast, human or somebody riding an animal.
Dressed in” white, a handsome young man standing at the main entrance of an imposing building is continuously eying at the whirl of the dust which is approaching nearer and nearer.
As it approached near enough, an old man emerged out of it. Covering his head with a tattered turban, he wore a sleeveless and collarless shirt with baggy trousers strewn with patches. His face is covered with dust. He is barefoot. Perhaps he has his sleepers torn apart midway through. With eager steps, he was coming towards the building. Soon as he reaches the entrance, the young man, who appeared to be keeping the door, stopped him from entering.
He asks him: “Who are you? Where have you been?”
“I… I… I drifted off to sleep. Let me come in and rest first, ask me whatever you want to later,” the old man barely answered.
“You were asleep, but how come?” The young man asked with a touch of bewilderment. “Didn’t you hear the deafening sound of the trumpet?”
“No, not at all,” He replied, gasping. “I don’t know anything.”
Then he pleaded to the young man: “Please let me in and rest for a while. Ah! It is too hot here.”
The young man smiled and looked at him with amazement as if the old man was any wondrous creature. A few moments later he again asked the old man:
“Do you know anything about today”?
“No, I don’t,” came his reply. “I have already told you that I was asleep. The burning sunrays jolted me out of slumber.”
The young man took pity on the ignorant old man and informed him: “Baba, it is the Doomsday today. The Almighty Allah initiated the process of accountability of his subjects early in the morning. This place is reserved for those who have committed good deeds in the world. It is the Heaven. But you have just awaken from sleep and yet to pass through the process of accountability. Who have granted you permission to enter this building?” He paused, and then said. “Wait for a moment. I will look for your name on the list of the people blessed to the Heaven. Maybe the Almighty Allah has had mercy on you and blessed you to the Heaven. He is, undoubtedly, the most merciful of all”.
The young man started to search for his name in the register.
“What was your name, Sir”? He asked the old man.
“My… My name is Kaleidd”.
“Your father’s name?” He asked again.
“My… My father’s name is Tahlu.”
“Where are you from?” He asked the third question.
The old man, who was drenched in sweet and alternatively lifting up his bare feet to avoid the heat of the ground, replied: “I’m from Panchen Karz, Balochistan. I’m 70 years old”. He disclosed his age without being asked for.
“Take it easy. I will look for your name.”
The young man looked at the mammoth register which seemed to be too heavy to be carried by four camels put together. He was quietly sifting through the pages. As the old man was squirming in the scorching heat, he could wait no longer and blurted out: “I’m dying of heat. Please let me go to the Heaven.”
The young man did not respond, and after turning several pages told the old man: “I couldn’t find your name here. It means you are not amongst those who have been blessed to the Heaven. There is no place for you in this building.”
The old man had learnt in the world that on the Doomsday those who would not be blessed to the Heaven would be doomed to the Hell, a place stuffed with fire and ever-glowing embers. When he heard from the young man that he was not blessed to the Heaven, he was shaken by grief. He earnestly pleaded to the young man. The young man lent him a sympathetic ear and said: “Go there,” he pointed his finger towards the south, “you will find some houses there, where you may find your name, the poor man.”
Soaked in sweet, the grief-stricken old man headed to an unknown destination. When he caught a distant glimpse of some houses, he sped up and finally reached there. Properly built mud-houses were enclosed in a boundary. A young man there too was keeping the main entrance. Though he was not as handsome as the previous young man, he looked smart. The old man thought perhaps he was the brother of the young man he met earlier. But in the next moment, he rejected his own idea.
“No, they can’t be brothers, but colleagues”.
After greeting the young man, the old man told him: “My son, please look for my name in your record. Your colleague at the Heaven has directed me here. I missed the process of accountability early in the morning”.
“The Almighty has not blessed me to the Heaven. Please check if you find my name in your record. Hurry up my son! Hurry up. I can’t bear this scorching heat anymore, my son”.
The old man kept chattering and the young man continued to stare in his face. He was thinking about the dejected old man who was wandering haplessly even on the Doomsday. He was still all immersed in deep thought when the old man introduced himself: “My name is Kaleidd. My father’s name is Tahlu. I am 70 years old. I am from Panchen Karz, Balochistan. I fell asleep and subsequently missed the accountability. Please, look for my name in your register. Hurry up, I am dying of heat.”
The old man put forth all the information about himself even without being asked for. The young man began to search for his name in the register. A moment later he asked the old man: “What was your name?” But he replied his own question: “Your name is Kalier, right? And your father’s name is Ta’alu? I am sorry but there is no such name in the register.”
The old man noted that he mispronounced both his and his father’s name. It was likely that he searched for the incorrect name. Thus he repeated both his and his father’s name. “I am Kaleidd son of Tahlu. Please look for the very name.”
The young man again pronounced the non availability of Kaleir son of Ta’alu. The old man once more pleaded to look for the correct name; Kaleid son of Tahlu. Both of them were confused by the difference of Arabic and Balochi pronunciations. The irritant young man pointed his finger eastward and said:
“Go there. You would find a fire there. Around that fire, you would find the name of Kaleir son of Ta’alu. He turned his back to the old man. After assuming that he might have gotten sick of him, the old man reluctantly began to march down the east. But a moment later he stopped and asked the young man again:
“What is this place called where I failed to find my name as well”?
“Baba, it is called A’araaf”. He replied curtly. “It is reserved for those who after serving a few years here will be sent to the Heaven. Your name is not amongst these people. Please, for God’s sake, leave me now, Baba”.
The miserable old man was haplessly striding down the east in the scorching heat hoping that he may find some shade ahead. He saw a fire burning far away with red, blue and black flames. A moment later, along with burning sunrays, he was now feeling the heat dissipated by the enormous fire. He kept striding ahead.
When he was close, someone greeted him. He was altogether different from the two men he had met earlier. He was a black skinned man with a disgusting look. His nose looked like the trunk of an elephant while his eyes were located on the top of his forehead. He was holding a thick baton with burnt marks on its end.
“Who are you and why have you come here?” He inquired the old man.
“Leave this place; it is not an appropriate place to be in.”
“I fell asleep and missed the accountability in the morning. I couldn’t find my name at the Heaven and A’araaf. Kindly look for my name in your record. My name…”
“We don’t have anything like record, Baba”. He interrupted the old man. “If ones misdeeds overweight their good deeds, they are condemned to be here. No one comes here by name…. but let me know how have you come here? People here are dragged and dumped in the fire-wells by angles.”
“I am at a loss, said the old man, I owned an enormous nation in the world but here I couldn’t find a single person from my nation. They might have arrived before me. If I could see anyone of them I would know my place. I wonder if you guide me to those wells where, as you said, people are dumped by angles”.
The black-skinned man, who was more sympathetic and polite as compared to the two previous men, escorted the old man around the Hell so that he could find out his people. The old man saw people incinerating in burning wells. When they reached close to a well, the black-skinned man asked the old man: “Are these your people”?
The old man looked into the well. They all were burning quietly without making any effort to come out of the well.
“No, these aren’t my people. My people had never been that lazy.”
He then took him to another well and said: “Are these your people”?
The old man cast a glance inside. All people were sympathetic to each other. Everyone was trying to burn himself instead of the other.
“No…. No…. They can’t be my people. My people had never been that united,” replied the old man.
They strolled down to another well. The old man, as asked by the black-skinned man, looked into that well. All people were crying and everybody was trying to hide himself behind the other. “No… not at all,” remarked the old man. “My people had never been that coward.”
They went to another well where flames were leaping out of its edges.
“Are these your people?” Asked the black-skinned man.
The old man threw his gaze to the burning people. He moved a few steps ahead, rubbed his eyes again and again. He drew even closer to the well and screamed abruptly: “Exactly… Here are my people. Without any doubt, it is my nation”.
The black-skinned man was astonished. He was unable to ascertain that how the old man identified his people.
“How did you identify your people? They have burnt beyond recognition.”
“You are right,” replied the old man. “But people are not identified by their faces and features but by the basis of character and deeds. Look, everybody here is trying to come out of the well. When one reaches the edge of the well, even almost out of it, the other pulls him from behind so that he could not go out of the well before they do. Such was the character of my people in the world. This disunited and malevolent nation is mine. Let me join my people”.
Fazal Baloch teaches Urdu at Atta Shad Degree College, Turbat. He is the first regular translator of Balochi literature into English.