Almost three years have passed. Tides of death have swallowed the burnt
bones of the Taliban. The faces of children have become old in these
three months. The wrinkles on their faces look as if they have lived
three centuries in a cruel world. They will enter the New Year with blank
eyes. These thin children will stand in the dirty streets staring at
people passing by, searching for their lost mothers. Their empty eyes
are widened to see the dazzling lights of foreign cameras. The flashes
capture their withered faces. But the children are unable to understand
this drama, because they do not know that pain is the most valuable commodity
in the human market. Soon these pictures will become important and the
children will be left behind in the darkness. These pictures will be
hung on the bright walls of galleries, but the human souls will be forgotten
The convoys of political genius can be viewed on the bright screens,
explaining the situation with their twisted tongues. The swollen intellects
have become more abstract. Their genius is revolving around "If Bush
had done this" "if Bin Laden would have been crushed earlier; if Taliban"-
--and many more IFS. It seems as if the course of history takes place
by their balloon-like brain. These big brains do not perceive the very
small basic truth-- there is no victory in war, the death of even one
innocent existence is the humiliation of God.
Now they are talking about the restoration of the Towers and of Afghanistan,
but who will restore the dreams that are lost in the eternal dark valley
of death? Taja was also one of these thousands of victims. He lived in
the slum area of a remote town in Pakistan. He was a sweeper of the small
area of that town, where I have been living for these last many years.
I think his name was Taj Maseeh, but everybody called him Taja. Poor
people have never complete names, like their incomplete existence.
Taja used to wake me up after sweeping the entire street. He had a lot
of stories to tell me which I never listened to completely, for I had
my own stories half-written-- stories like the half-opened graves. He
was a wonderful singer too and often was ready to blast out his new songs.
In the evening he used to perform small roles at the local theater. Once
he also took me to his heaven. I had no interest in those plays but on
his stress I went to see the opening ceremony. The special event of that
play was that it began with a soft romantic song, and the singer of that
song was Taja. There was great applause for that song and I saw the happiness
in Taja's wet eyes.
The next day when he came, he was not in high spirits. He told me that
nobody appreciated him, all the credit was given to the actor on the
stage, nobody cared about the real man behind the role. He told me that
he would quit performing in such a mean environment. But this was not
the first time he'd thought this; he had decided to quit many times before.
But as a new play started, he would go to the theater with a new spirit,
as a moth moves towards a candle.
Taja was born to perform behind the curtain. Nobody ever appreciated
the real man standing in the dark background. All the applause was for
the actors, standing on the glaring stage. The original creator always
remains in the darkness like God.
What is the relation of Taja with Bush or Ladin? You must be thinking
about the inconvenient and abstract plot of the story. But how can I
harmonize the plot of the story when Taja had a plotless life? Such characters
live without unity of plot and die without any significant resolution.
He was a Christian in a Muslim society, as Muhammad Rafeeq was a Muslim
in a Christian society. They both were living honestly without any prejudice
or hatred. But the flames of hatred burnt even such innocent people.
After the horrible event of September 11th, Taja was upset at the war-
like condition in the country. I thought he would be upset due to the
temporarily closed theater. One day I told him that it was a temporary
break and soon his theater would restart. He stopped sweeping for a while
and said, "You have misunderstood me, sir; I am worried for my dear fatherland.
May God save Pakistan from the flames of war; to hell with my songs,
may my Pakistan live long!" Saying that, he went out silently. These
were the last words that I heard from him.
The next day was Sunday, and Taja went to church early in the morning
to pray for his fatherland. In the midst of prayer, some dark souls entered
the church and fired on them. It took two or three minutes to spread
death. Taja's prayer rose incomplete as with his songs, which were never
listened to completely either.
Tonight was the last evening of 2003 and I went to meet him in the graveyard.
I found his grave losing life. In that sad dusk of sunset, I wondered
how many more graves would be filled with such innocent souls, who knows?
.. Only those that insist on living in the past know!
BIO: "I try to write heartfelt stories based on bitter realities. I belong
to a country where people are afraid of life. Their sleep has lost dreams.
I want to reawaken their oppressed dreams; I want to share their woes;
I want to share the suffering of their shrieking souls. Humanity is dying
and I am trying to put a few drops of water on its dry tongue so that
it should face death bravely. My writing is the echo of their flagging
hopes and raging desires."
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