The bleeding heart

By Tajamul Hussain. Dated: 9/11/2018 8:27:56 AM

Memories of the freakishly chilly days of dismal and distant past always send me packing into the nostalgic throes. I'd get to the mindboggling visions of the icy winters of my preteens. Winter was always a big nightmare and that too when it happened to be a Siberian Chilla Kalan. It meant poverty, miseries, affliction, diseases and death. As and when the vast expanses of landmasses, stretched as far as the eye could see, were accumulated with the heavy snow, it meant that the icy stuff, which would soon be smeared with mud and dirt, never melt if it froze up in the continuing subzero temperatures. The very sight of the frozen dull and dirty snow mass scattered here and there gave cold shivers. As if winter were going to be there with us forever the unending load-shedding cajoled denizens into living life of cavemen….using hearth, damchool, kerosene stove, lanterns, chatta-gheer, earthen lamps (tsoung), kangries,manin etc.
Eyes, under pitchy conditions, seemed to be of no use….. You couldn't see, you couldn't read and you couldn't work in the pitch-dark caves. In the unlighted night, as dark as the wolf's mouth, the howling wilderness would cast a deep gloom to give rise to hellishly nightmarish imaginations. Cuddled up together in the corners of the dark, ill-ventilated cells, kind of cubbyholes, the Pheran-clad grave-dwellers, with tens of awe-stricken and gloomy eyes gazed into the ghostly shadows that were cast on the walls and roofs. In the pitch-darkness, desolate and almost invisible, it's the flickering flames of the lanterns, chatta-ghir, tsoung (Chirag) and candles shining with the subdued brightness here and here that suggested the human habitation. In the subzero temperatures a rubbernecker, who dared venture to peep out, might hold himself in an absolute thrall at the sight of the glittering icicles that hung by the rooftops, but then it would also give him a chilly feeling of freezing-to-death.
We lived in the old city in a 3-storied ancestral house perhaps built in the 19th century. The locality largely symbolized of a slum…… dilapidated old architectural disasters peopled dozens of families in dark, poorly ventilated cubbyholes stretched on all sides. Its neighbourhoods were a way of measuring and expressing the repeated behaviour of larger collectives. It was a locality that was inhabited mostly by lower middle class (safaed poash) eking out a living 'on-haakh batta'….. pirs, Hakims, bakers(kandur),dairymen(ghoore), tongawalla, boatmen(hanjis), carpenters, labour and the like. Earnings barely enough to keep the wolf from the door, the lone-earners of the families were obliged to feed tens of mouths. The upshot, a large section of society was plagued with illiteracy, ignorance, under-nutrition, ill-health, backwardness and all that. A few bungalows here and there suggested the presence of rich in the locality. They'd attract a beeline of poor and destitute to bask in their sunshine and even work as family patsies.
The narrow lanes and by-lanes between and behind the lofty structures would invite a horde of ragged toddlers, preteens, teens and twenty-some-ones whiling away their time, loitering here and there. Cigarette-smoking was symbolic of macho-men, and most of us kids would die for taking a puff or two. Freakish games like sazza loung-a game something like hopscotch-, toure-baba (kind of peek-a-boo), bira-ball(cricket) would be played by all, irrespective of sex and age. Hordes (diphri) of gamblers of all ages would settle at the isolated places to playmongapati, trump (Turuf) throughout the day, sometimes even beyond dusk under candlelight. A lucky few, as rare as a black swan, attended Madrassas, outanjis (elderly ladies belonging to pir families that taught Quran) and some government (kind of jabri) schools.
The narrow street that connected our mohalla with Lal Chowk was hardly motorable. Occasionally when a Tonga or areda passed through this potholed track the street vendors and pedestrians hurried up along with their merchandiseinto the shops on both sides of the road. As I hark back the memories of my childhood, the Pheran-clad 'wrinklie' has for some time situated him (self) against the wooden railing of the small bridge across the sunder kul to beg alms from the passersby. The scantily dressed snow-white-bearded 'oldie' starts early in the morning, when most of us are still in beds. The beggarly calls of the poor fellow more often than not wake many of us kids up. The 'oldie' would sometimes be joined by an ill-kempt, tattered girl in her preteens.
On that chilly evening when a couple of us friends are loitering around the road we can make out the beggar-man shivering with cold. He tries in vain to hide his bare legs. But then oblivious to the icy winds that blow the poor fellow keeps on begging from the passersby. As some of us teenyboppers sit alongside the kerb to observe him making beggarly-calls, to our surprise and awe, a turban-clad sixty-something dressed nondescript, appears from somewhere. It's kind of screeching-to-sudden-halt. He looks at the half-naked fakir with curiosity and keen interest. In a depressive stupor, the old saviour suddenly steers himself towards the old beggar-man and catches hold of him by his shoulders. With tears welled up in his eyes as the visitor hugs the poor fakir, the former cries his eyes out. 'O, God, forgive me; the old man has been shivering with cold for want of warm clothes and I …I… Your ungrateful and self-centered slave am living on the hog and luxuriating in my warm clothing'. He suddenly stands aside, takes off hisPheran and sweater and then quickly slips out of one of the two trousers that he has been wearing. He then quietly hands over the sweater and the trousers to the naked fakir, pulls him up and helps him to slip into them. As the oldfakir finishes with his job, the noble soul takes leave of him and vanishes into thin air. It isn't many minutes before the old fakir resumes his beggarly-calls.



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