When the man grows old they become shadows

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This story has been translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch

It was an old town. Dusk had just fallen on the crumbling mud houses. A man, standing in front of a bunch of people, was telling them a story. Lanterns were hanging from the doors of the mud houses. Occasionally, you could hear the barking of dogs and howling of jackals from some distance.

People were curiously listening to the storyteller.

“So I was saying there wasn’t even a single person who hadn’t laughed at him. Every one mocked him. Anyone encountering him — be it in front of a shop or a house — poked fun at him.

He had just attained adolescence. He was not bad looking at all and there were many who were uglier than him, but people only teased him. His schoolmates too, though he was good at his studies. One day a new teacher came to the school and he was the only person who felt for the boy’s dilemma.

One day, he summoned the boy to his office and told him: ‘Beyond the mountains of this village lives an elderly man who always sits under sunshine in front of a shop weaving ropes. He might do something for you. You must pay him a visit. Remember, he always sits away from other people and weaves ropes.’

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The very next day, the boy began his journey down the mountains. He had to cover a very long distance. When he passed the mountains, he had grown into a young man.”

The story continued. Lanterns were still on. Children had fallen asleep on the laps of their mothers. Dogs were barking and jackals howling more noisily. The man was still standing in partial darkness and talking.

“What time did the boy reach there?” An old man from the audience asked.

“It is not written there. But it is said that he found a horde of men under mild sunshine instead of a lonely old man. Some were weaving boxes out of stray leaves for storing dried dates, some making Seekad and others braiding a rope.

Standing at some distance, the young man was trying to figure out the old man he was looking for. He moved a few steps forward to see whether there was an old man sitting apart from others. But they were seated very close facing each other. One of them was talking. When they saw the young man, they almost sneered. He was now standing very close to them and they had stopped their chatter.

‘What are you looking for?’ Asked an old man.

‘Is there someone who sits alone and braid ropes,’ replied the young man.

They all broke into laughter. They fell silent as the old man stared at them.

‘Son, he was of my age and it’s been a long time since he migrated from this village. Now only God knows if he is alive or not.’ Said the old man guiding the young man with his finger towards the eastern mountains.

‘How would you figure him out’? Asked the old man when the young man was about to take to route to east.

He didn’t say anything.

‘He always keeps a small toy boat in front of him. You have to recognize him from it,’ said the old man.”

“So how long would it take the young man to reach there?” asked someone from the audience.

“It is not written there. But it is said when he reached there some of his hair had turned gray and the sun was hovering over the middle of the sky. He found a horde of aged men weaving carpets. When they saw him they laughed. He looked around but found no one with the small boat. Disappointed, he was about to return when an old man called out him and asked him to sit beside him.

‘What are you looking for?’ asked the elderly man.

‘I am looking for the old man with a small toy boat but nobody has one here,’ he replied.

‘Son, you must be looking for Peer Shah,’ smiled the old man. ‘Well, we all know him but these days he is too old to move. Since you have come from very far, let me guide you to his place.’

He followed the old man.

They were passing through an old street lined up with decrepit houses on both sides. At every door, there was some sort of fragrance. When they drew nearer to Peer Shah’s house, the fragrance emanated more vigorously. They stopped at a patterned door.

‘This is the door you have been searching for,’ said the old man and left him. Standing alone at the door, the man looked and caressed the carved patterns on the door. He was breathing in perfumed air. Before he knocked, the door turned open on its own. As he entered the room, he found a small boat hanging from the middle of the door. For a moment, he thought to kiss it but dropped the idea the next moment and moved ahead. Light and fragrance were pouring out from all the corners of the house. Except for a giant wooden box, he found nothing in the house. For a while, he stood clueless in front of the box. As he turned to the door, he heard someone calling him:

‘Here, I am in the box.’

He opened the box and found a tattered manuscript lying there. When he turned the first page, he read: ‘Take this boat along with you; I have kept it for you.’

Rest of the pages were riddled with book-louse and he couldn’t even read a word.

He took the boat and returned home crossing the mountainous pathways. Now he was an old man. The entire village was on its feet to greet him. They kissed his hands. They were curious to know about the small boat.”

The storyteller fell silent.

“What happened next”? Asked someone from the audience.

“It is not written there.” With these words, the man abruptly fell on the ground. People gathered around him with lanterns trying to recuperate him. Soon he was pronounced dead. A small toy boat was found in his palm.

In the meantime, women came from all the corners of the town saying that the air is filled with such sweet fragrance that they had never smelt in their entire life.

 

Seekad: A type of rope.

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Fazal Baloch teaches Urdu at Atta Shad Degree College, Turbat. He is the first regular translator of Balochi literature into English.