Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English translation of chapter 13 of 'Kuchch Zindagiyan Bematlab'(कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak


Maqbool  had believed without a doubt that judge Sajnani would release him and when he saw how severely the judge was scolding the policeman, he too came to believe it. It was in fact, to some extent due to his own foolishness that he had stayed three months in jail. When the judge had asked him if there was someone who knew him and could vouch for his conduct, he had said, yes. Otherwise, the judge would perhaps have released him earlier. The policemen, too, must have known about the judge and had kept postponing the case despite the judge’s reprimand, hoping perhaps, that they’d find an excuse to transfer the case to another court. When the police did not file the challan at the first hearing, the judge lost his temper again. The challan was filed at the second hearing but without any evidence. When the judge asked the officer representing the police, point-blank, why he shouldn’t dismiss the case, the officer said, “My lord! This boy is clearly a pick-pocket, two blades were recovered from him at the time of arrest. If the court won’t pass a sentence in this case, it would amount to contempt of law and would encourage crime. The boy would go out and pick more pockets.”

The judge first asked him if he had a lawyer. No, my lord. O.K. We’ll deal with it later. The judge turned around the papers of the challan. Dharamdas s/o Chhedilal, r/o Hata Ramdas, Subzi Mandi. The judge looked up, what does your father do? No, my lord, my father used to work in a government depot, but both my parents passed away last year. You don’t have a brother? No, sir, I am all alone. What do you do? I am learning work sir, at a cycle shop. Can your employer or someone from your neighbourhood vouch for your conduct? He paused for a moment thinking how to answer. The enquiring eyes of the judge rested on him. Yes, my lord, my employer is a big man, why would he come to court on my account? But someone from the neighbourhood would vouch for me.

The judge handed the papers to the clerk sitting alongside – ask him the name and address and issue summons. He got into a fix now, whose name should he give? Also, he didn’t have much time to think. The clerk asked in a low but impatient voice, speak up, whom do you want to call? When he couldn’t think of anyone else, he gave the name of the pundit at the Shivala, Pandit Balbhaddar Misir, Hata Ramdas. The next two hearings were wasted in confusion. The judge enquired and was told by the clerk – the summons has not returned sahib. The judge got some what peeved at the third hearing, not with him but with the police. He said a little angrily, I know all about your department! It has been a month and a half and you couldn’t serve summons to one man? The officer said, ‘I beg your pardon sir. I’ll make a note of it and send it by hand this time.’ ‘No way. I am not giving any more time. This orphan child has been languishing in jail for three months for no reason.’

‘But sir?,' said the police officer, ‘If he is telling the truth, ask him what he was doing in the Company Garden at that hour?’ When the judge turned to look at him, his face drained of all colour. What could he say now? But the judge, instead of asking him, mimicked the police officer in a rude voice, ‘But sir, if the boy is speaking the truth, who is responsible for keeping him forcibly in jail and turning him into a criminal? And even if he is guilty, aren’t three months in jail, punishment enough? After all, you have arrested him only on suspicion, not picking a pocket.’ Then turning towards him, ‘Run off now. But never run away from home again. Go to your employer and go all out to convince him to engage you again. Don’t run away even if he scolds or beats you. If you come before me again, I’ll send you in for one year. Go, run along now.’

The constable undid his handcuffs. He folded his hands in front of the judge – Namaste sir, - but the judge was looking already at the papers of another case. Stepping out of the court room, he walked quickly for some distance in the verandah, afraid he would be arrested again, but then he saw the constable going towards the lock up to bring another prisoner without looking in his direction. He threw a glance around him. The two words – run along – spoken by the judge had made every one lose interest in him. Walking slowly he came on to the road outside.

At first, he kept thinking – the judge had realized that he had run away from home and therefore hadn’t made too many queries. Had the judge asked questions he’d have been trapped. Then it occurred to him that his bag and the other set of clothes had been left in jail. Once, he thought of going back to the police lock-up and go with others to the jail and bring back his clothes from there. But the court had released him, so why would anyone take him there? Should he go to the jail himself and say his clothes were left inside? And then he suddenly realized he would never want to see the gate of the jail again. He hoped in his heart he would not see the day when the window of the jail-gate should close after taking him in.

Coming out on the road, he stood thinking for a while. What should he do now? While in jail he had almost made up his mind - he’d go back home. Go back home, fight with Dulaare chacha and drive him away. He was a grown up now, after all, and if Dulaare chacha would create a problem, he would threaten him – I have stayed with hard core criminals in jail, if I set one of them after you, you’d disappear without a trace – bones and all. But he had thought he’d go home after it was dark.

Except for his clothes he had no other major concern. But then, he thought he was sure to get clothes at home. He had brought one set with him. He recalled there were shorts and vests also at home, also a set of kurta-dhoti, and perhaps a pyjama too. He also possessed a slightly torn shirt. There was no cause for worry. But what if Dulaare chacha had worn his clothes in the mean time? If he had, he would take him to task first on this count.

Maqbool had, as a precaution, given him two letters. There was no knowing at which hearing he’d be released. The letters, written in Urdu - which he could not read -  were lying in his pocket. But Maqbool had also explained everything to him :  right opposite the mosque situated at the starting point of the baarraa - the residential compex - is the paan shop owned by Aziz. This long letter is addressed to him. I have noted down some items in the letter. Tell him he is to bring all these when he comes to visit in a day or two. He is also to bring some money to deposit in my name. And explain to him clearly to bring cigarettes and slip in some notes between the silver foil and the cardboard of the packet. And to do so in many different packets separately. Tell him not to shove all of it down one packet so one can tell just by looking at it. I’ve written in the letter to give two rupees to you also. This other letter is for my brother Iqbal. He is the same age as you. Ask Aziz for his address. He has the key to my room. You can take the key and sleep in the room till the time you can make another arrangement.

Listening to Maqbool, he had nodded but had no mind to go to his place or to his room to sleep. The ‘baarraa’ was an out and out Muslim area. It was all right as far as passing the message to Aziz was concerned. He would also get money from him, there was not a single paisa in his pocket. But the idea of living in Muslim quarters scared him. He was also of the mind that even though Maqbool was a good sort, getting close to a Muslim was not the right thing to do. But perhaps Maqbool had asked Aziz in his letter to tell him his address, take the key from Iqbal and give it to him. Aziz didn’t even ask his name. All kinds of people must have been frequenting his shop – perhaps that’s why he didn’t feel the need. After reading the letter he gave him two rupees. And then asking a boy to mind the shop he said – come along.

After several turns in the lane they reached Maqbool’s place. An old, single story house. With a sack cloth as the door curtain. Asking him to stand there Aziz called out – ‘Iqbal’ and went in. He stood there and kept thinking – Are there any women in Maqbool’s household? Why is there a curtain on the door? Don’t they observe purdah in front of Aziz? They must have gone inside when Aziz called out. Who would be there? Would Maqbool’s wife be there? Had Maqbool married? His mother must be there, perhaps sisters too. Then suddenly, his mind became fraught with many apprehensions. Has he become trapped in a snare? Who knows what Maqbool had written in his letter? He looked around him. The lane was deserted. Only a few boys were playing in a corner. But it was day light still. What can they do in broad day light? What would he do if people surrounded him from both sides and asked him to either eat beef or be killed? There were only Muslim households in all the lanes. If they killed and buried him someplace, no one would ever know. There was in any case, no one to enquire about his whereabouts. He considered moving away instead of standing there, waiting. But it would be difficult to find his way out of these lanes and in case he met someone he would wonder what this Hindu was doing there. What would he say if someone asked something? That he had lost his way? But where was he going? To whose house?

He was still in a dilemma when Aziz came out with the key. The letter addressed to Iqbal stayed in his pocket. Perhaps Maqbool’s family didn’t approve of his conduct, of the company he kept, and didn’t want the younger brother to follow the same path. Was Maqbool’s father still alive? Did he have an elder brother? Aziz came out and said, come, I’ll see you to your room. As they walked towards the road, the room was located within the lane, right at the backside of the road. Aziz opened the door. The room was quite dirty. At one side was a sagging cot with a dirty bedding on it and a few clothes on a clothesline at the other, an old frayed rug was spread out on the floor and in a corner lay some empty boxes, a small lantern.

Leaving him there, Aziz went away. Not wanting to sit on the cot he sat down on the rug. And thought - it was all very well, he could pass his time here. It was well past noon but still some time before dark. Leaving the room open he bought a beedi and matches from the roadside, lit up and lay down. He had thought once of locking the room before going out but then thought there was nothing there that would be pinched in two minutes. The neighbours would know that it was Maqbool’s room. If they saw him opening and locking up the room, they’d wonder unnecessarily who this person was.

He fell asleep and on waking up suddenly, found the evening drawing to its end. He was also feeling a little hungry. During the three months stay in jail, he had become used to early meals. He stepped out, locked up and thought he would go to a small dhaba for food then take a tram from the ice-factory. Now he also felt that he had taken the key needlessly. He should go and return it to Aziz, but what would Aziz think? If he was not going to stay there why had he taken the key? Then he thought he’d keep it with him for now, come another day and return it. He would have to return it. They may not have a duplicate. What if Maqbool came out of jail and found that both he and the key were missing.

By the time he had his meal, it had grown dark and by the time he reached Pul-Bangash, the roads were lit up. When he reached before the lane, he found it abuzz with people. He remembered people used to assemble and gossip at the well at this hour. For a long time he kept pacing up and down the road. Once, when he thought the lane had fallen silent he went in but on going a little further, saw three-four people standing under the light of the lamp post near the Shivala and retraced his steps. If he passed by that point, someone was sure to recognise him. He did not want to meet any one from the lane before reaching his house. At first his mind had not been very clear and he had felt only a hitch, but walking about the road in wait of silence, he remembered all that the people in the lane had said and done and felt a rage build up in him. He would bide his time and deal with each of them. But first he has to deal with Dulaare chacha. He’d rent a house some other place once he’d driven Dulaare chacha away. But first he would shoo Dulaare chacha out and look for work, so everyone in the lane would know.
As he walked, he also passed by the shop where he had left his dues of eight or ten days. The lala was sitting on his seat counting money. He’d come here tomorrow. He may get work again. Otherwise, he would ask for his dues. He also passed by Chhotelal’s shop, who as always was dozing on his chair. There were two new boys in the shop but they were, at the time, smoking beedis. He did not see Kisana in the next shop. He was still very angry with Kisana. He would, one day, give him a good talking to.

After a while he peeped again inside the lane. There was no one near the Shivala now. Quickly, he walked past the light. Anyone who saw him in the dark would not know him. But he did not meet anyone. When the lane turned he stopped. Beside the electric lamp post, was also a blazing petromax. People sat there eating in a row. He stopped outside the circle of light and stood in the dark against the wall. On a durrie spread out close to the row, sat a crowd. He recognized quite a few from the lane. Mahaadev, Massur Maharaj and, chewing tobacco and talking to someone, the pandit sat in a corner. A few members of a band stood at the back. The door to Rajee’s house was open and people were going and coming, in and out. He guessed it must be Rajee’s wedding, still when he saw a stranger pass by he asked, ‘Why sir, is there a wedding taking place?’ The man paused on hearing a voice come in from the dark, then probably thinking it was one of the low caste servants, he indicated by turning his face and said, ‘The Chaudhury household is entertaining a baaraat tonight.’

He continued to stand there for a while. The place would remain crowded till late at night. After all, they are entertaining a wedding party. Keeping to the opposite side and close to the wall, he proceeded to his house. He went and stood there going as close as he could without stepping out in the light. The door to his house was ajar and a lantern burned in the outer room. Suddenly a feminine voice drifted out speaking in Punjabi, and then a woman in salwar-kameez, a Punjabi dress of loose trousers and top, stepped out. Who is she? And this man? Looks like he is a Sikh. Yes he is a Sikh, there is a small kirpan – a dagger kept by Sikhs, dangling down his waist. The two went back in, the door closed.

How come these Sikhs are here? Where have mai and Dulaare chacha gone? Dulaare chacha had been thinking about it already, he must have left surely, taking mai with him. He was a fool to think, they’d still be here. It was all absolutely clear, there was no need to ask anyone. With heavy feet, he turned back. Someone perhaps saw him in the light near the Shivala and when he had passed ahead, a voice came from behind him, ‘Is it Ghaseeta?’ He couldn't tell whose voice it was. He didn’t turn to see, nor stopped, instead, as if a little jolted (also somewhat disconcerted on hearing his nick name after so many months), he stepped up his pace and went out of the lane.

His mood had somehow turned sour. Where would they have gone! It occurred to him once that if he went to Dulaare chacha’s hotel tomorrow, he’d probably see him. But the thought came and went away. He now wanted to see neither Dulaare chacha nor mai. He wanted to see no one. What would he do if he met mai? If she had gone with Dulaare chacha, it is well and good. For a while, he felt he was lost again in an alien place. The way he had in the jail when the barrack-gate closed behind him. Then he started thinking, he’d work out and build up his body, be a bully, become a rogue like Jidda, people would be terrified of his name, even the police and the jail staff would stand in awe of him. Maqbool was a thief and a gambler. He too would gamble, also booze but won’t steal. He would be a bully and people would pay him out of fear. And if someone would be defiant he would kill him with a knife, he would keep a pistol (he would first learn to shoot and become a crack shot), bang, and everything will be over.

Suddenly he realized he was heading back to the ‘baarraa’ without having thought about it. The lane with Maqbool’s room was closeby. He gave a slight jerk to his head, entered the lane, unlocked the door, latched it from inside and lay down on the rug. It was very hot and the room had become a furnace. It was difficult to sleep. He remembered there was a lantern in a corner but had no idea if there was kerosene in it. Taking out a beedi from his pocket, he lit up. The acrid smoke of the beedi began to fill the room.

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