Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 3, 1983 p. 65.

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Ghulam Abbas


Translated by C. M. Nairn

One day, the population exchange between the two countries brought four barbers together in a strange city. Each had found his way to the same tea-stall for a cup of tea. Those who share a profession quickly recognize each other, as did these barbers, who had been forced out of their home cities by communal riots. After they had exchanged stories of those terrible events, they began to discuss the future: what was to be done now? Each had a little money and his small box of instruments. They ^finally decided to pool their resources and open a shop in partnership.

This was soon after the partition of the country. Life in the cities was in a terrible shape. People had a hard time getting anything done. Almost all businesses were in decline. The four barbers had to undergo a lot just to find a shop. For several days they ran back and forth between an assortment of government offices, and at each place they had to repeat their tragic tales to numerous supervisors and clerks, even to peons. Only then did the heart of one of the officers soften, and he got them allotted a shop on the main square of the city. It had belonged to a ^barber from the opposite community who had abandoned it during the riots and run away.

It was not a very big place, but the previous owner had made much effort to give it a fancy look. There were wooden panels nailed to the walls, with long slabs of marble attached to them to form tables—three on one side, two on the other. Each table had its own wall-mirror and a high chair with a padded head-rest attached to its back. If the customer were short, one lowered the head-rest; if he were tall, one raised it; then, letting the customer rest his up-turned head on it, one could merrily give him a decent shave.

Whatever the barbers needed was in that shop, but everything was either slightly damaged or old-fashioned. The edges and corners of the marble slabs were chipped; the mirrors, though large enough, were thin and made the faces reflected in them appear flattened. One mirror even had a hairline crack; it showed two faces for every one, each incomplete in itself, each joining the other at a crazy angle to create ludicrous shapes. If someone sat before that mirror, he couldn't help stretching his neck right and left, before giving up in disgust. In addition, the shop had no equipment for shampoo.

The barbers didn't give these matters much thought. The truth was, even in their wildest dreams they had never imagined


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