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( چبھن )



Holding a thin and feeble young man's hand, a sweet little child was walking somewhat timidly on the street.

Seeing a balloon vendor, the boy excitedly cried out, 'Baba, gas balloon.'

'We'll buy one on our way back,' the father spoke in a measured way.

'And chocolates?'

'You already have chocolates in your pocket. Finish them first;
then we'll buy more.'

Hearing his father's promise to buy more, the child impatiently stuffed two chocolates in his mouth instead of one. The child's impish act brought a repressed smile to the man's face, even though while leaving his house he had been feeling utterly miserable and had come out only because he was unable to ignore his son's insistence, and had decided to take him out.

'Baba, why don't we take a rickshaw? My feet are aching.'

'If you keep walking, you will know what life is about. You haven't even walked a furlong yet,' replied the father.

The child could not understand his father's philosophical response and, again, started insisting on hiring a rickshaw.

'We'll hire one on our way back,' the father dotingly answered.

'Do you do everything on your way back,' the child retorted.

This pinching question startled the father. He felt a sudden jolt and fell silent. A death-like stillness had now clouded his desire to go out with his son and the people on the street now looked deathly pale to him.

'Baba, your face is sweaty. Please wipe it with a handkerchief.'

'Why do you waste your time in these trivial things? Why don't you, instead, walk with me quietly?' the father's tone was somewhat admonishing.

Realizing that his father's response lacked his usual tenderness, the child got a little scared and started walking with him silently. He thought if he did not obey his father, he would be deprived of the promised chocolates and the beautiful gas balloon.


Though they had not covered a very long distance, how could a child of six or seven be expected to walk so much?

Now the child's gaze drifted to the many beautiful toys displayed in the window of a toy shop - a train running on tracks, a Japanese car, a drum-playing monkey.

He could not hold himself back any longer: 'Baba, that drum•
playing .. .'

'No, no ... Not now ... We'll buy it on our way back.'

The father again felt a jolt. Drops of sweat shone like pearls on his forehead and, very carefully, he soaked those pearl beads in his handkerchief and moved on.


The child was now walking with him. Many other people were also walking on the footpath. The evening was still young. Shop• hoardings were shining with the glitter of shimmering electric bulbs. A web of new cars spread on the street and people were moving about with measured steps on the footpath. On the other side of the street, some children were eating ice-fruit. The child felt like asking his father to at least buy him an ice-fruit, but he kept walking along timidly, without uttering a word. The footpath, on whose ailing and narrow surface they were walking, was just not coming to an end. Suddenly, someone pushed the child and he

'Can't you watch your step,' the child protested.

The man who had pushed him smiled back at the child lovingly as if he was trying to apologize for his behaviour. The father kept walking silently as though he had no worldly desire left in him any longer. In any case, he seemed to have purposely blindfolded himself.

'That man pushed me and you didn't even say anything, Baba,' the child protested.

'I didn't notice .. .'

'It was you who .. .'
'Come on now, be quiet. We have to go back home in a while.' The very thought of going back brought visible signs of happiness on the child's face. In his mind, he started collecting all those toys which were displayed in the windows of the shops they had left behind. In his thoughts, he found himself standing in front of the balloon vendor who had different kinds of beautiful gas balloons fluttering on his canopy. To enjoy this reverie, he put his hand in his pocket but he found it empty.

'What are you thinking about? We have to go back in a while. Why are you searching your pocket repeatedly?'

'Baba, I have finished my chocolates .. .'

'You've eaten five chocolates in just one hour?'

The child did not like his father's calculations. He was feeling dejected, as if even his chocolates were now being weighed and measured.

He gathered courage and replied, 'Baba, truthfully speaking, you had bought me only four chocolates.'

'Don't talk nonsense. Whatever I have said is correct,' the father

By now, numerous drops of sweat had accumulated on his forehead but, this time, the child did not point them out to him nor ask him to wipe them off with his handkerchief. The father took out the handkerchief from his pocket with such caution as though even the handkerchief did not belong to him. He stood still on the street, thinking. The child's steps also appeared to be glued to the ground. It seemed as if two actors from a movie that was just playing on the street had suddenly gone numb. A discernible state of agony was now clearly visible on the father's face and the child, and seeing his father in this condition, he wondered if they would ever be able to go back.

On a cement platform opposite the footpath, two people were gossiping away while smoking their beedis. The platform was big enough for many more people. To rest a while, the father held the child's hand and went and sat with him on the platform. The gossiping men took a sideways glance at them and, once again, busied themselves in their meaningless conversation.

When the thick and bitter smoke of the beedis, passing through the child's nose, made its way to his mouth, the child coughed.

'This is a bad place, Baba,'the child protested in a subdued voice.

'No place is bad. Keep quiet,'the father replied grimly.

As if on an impulse, one of the two men stubbed his beedi and the other took a long drag and crushed it under his foot.

As the two began to leave, the father addressed them politely,
'Please stay; we hope our presence is not making you uncomfortable?'

'No, no. We were also sitting here only to ease our fatigue. Now we have even exhausted our beedis,' one of them replied.

When the two men had gone, the father turned to the child and said, 'They took offence at what you said and left.'

The child stared at his father wide-eyed. By now, the sweat had
spread all over his father's face like the Kabul Line. Once again,
he felt like asking his father to wipe off the sweat from his face but he appeared to have become tongue-tied. The father was wondering why the child was no longer asking him to wipe his face.

Love had, perhaps, taken the shape of protest.

The man had nurtured so many sorrows in his heart. Even if he wanted to protest, who would he protest to? He no longer had the strength to even fight himself. Time was running out. Noisy winds were whirling around him. He was enjoying these untimely winds.

After a spell of silence, he said to the child, 'Son, we have to go
back home now.'

But the child did not respond to his father's statement. He just started crying ... inconsolably.


- Translated by Saif Mahmood

                                                                   || Read Urdu version||