Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 4, 1984 p. 69.


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Zahida Hena

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Translated by C. M. Nairn

Darkness had become a sheet and spread itself over the trees; it had become the fragrance that filled the flowers of the "Queen of the Night;" it was the chill that permeated the brisk wind blowing over the land.

I was tired of sitting in the smoke-filled drawing room. My feet were hot with fatigue. I asked my husband and his friends to excuse me, and came out to stroll barefoot on the cool floor of the veranda.

The windows of the drawing room were open, and patches of light were spread over the veranda floor. I remembered a childhood game. Our courtyard would be covered with such patches of light, and we would run around leaping across them. Then someone would stumble and step into a light patch, that person would be declared the "thief." The rest of us would continue to run here and there, heedless of everything, while the "thief" would chase us on one foot. Our feet would now tread upon all the patches of light and our shrieks would fill all the corners of darkness.

Tonight, as my naked feet paced the cool floor of the veranda, the open windows of the drawing room threw up upon me --then swallowed everything back.

I stopped in my tracks. I saw my husband- <-his hand was stretched to turn on the stereo. The shrill sound of the Boney M rose:-"Rah . . Rah . . Rasputin." A dread filled me. I saw all of them. They were four friends in the drawing room, sodden with whisky, laughing boisterously. Across from them was a bookcase, on top of which there was a framed photograph. It showed a barren hill made up of glistening white rocks. One small part of the hill had been shaped into a wall; in the middle of the wall there was a barred door with a heavy lock hanging from the bolt. There was a cave on the other side of the door, with an arch and another dark and narrow cave beyond it. Beyond the second cave was eternity and that endless sleep which mediates between the living and the dead.

I too was in that photograph, holding a bar of the door, peering into the cave. My face was towards the cave, my back towards the camera. Next to the photgraph was a bell-metal bust of the man who had been a prisoner in that cave. I had bought that bust in the city of that prisoner.

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