Mansha Yad( Punjabi fiction writer): Fiction writer from Pakistan, post graduate in Punjabi and Urdu; eight books in Urdu, one novel in Punjabi; many anthologies; three volumes of selected short stories; two collections in English; many plays for radio and television; seven awards for fiction and drama.

The Eyes of Jacob

He was giving us the details of his arrival. But I was not much interested about the airline he would travel by; the class he would travel in; or the route he would take. The thirsty earth does not care whether the cloud comes from the East or the West; it only wants rain. For me the best airline was the one which would bring him home, as soon as possible, in this busy season. Although we did hear his voice every seventh or eighth day we had not seen him for seven or eight hundred days – eight hundred melancholy days and unending nights; days of sad longing and nights of unendurable thirst! The contact by voice might be a good substitute for meeting but love wants physical touch. I remember that when his phone calls used to come in the beginning his mother would start crying when she talked to him. I would say ‘You should be happy’, but she would reply ‘I can only listen to his voice, but can I see him too?’ When I mentioned this to him once he said this too would be taken care of. We would be able to see him through the Internet – but would this be enough for us?

I was happy to hear that he was coming but not too much because it also meant another separation for a year or two. I prefer waiting for him – letting the crow announce his expected arrival on the walls of my heart! Or else he should come not to go back. Had it been up to me I would never have allowed him to go so far away. After the permanent parting of my father-Abba-from us I calculated that he lived for exactly fifty years after my birth. But, for the sake of education and employment, I left him in the village and came to the city. And out of my life of fifty years or so, Abba got at the most fifteen. This calculation really hurt me. Abba was alive, lived in this very world, but I lived away from him for thirty-five years. And in his lifetime I never even missed him. Now that my own son had left me, I had started understanding a little of Abba’s feelings. He used to visit us every second or third month and for as long as he stayed he wanted me to be on leave from my office so that I could keep talking to him. Nevertheless, I visited the village only once in a year or two. And then too I could hardly stay there for more than a night or two. The attractions of the city, the resplendent and luminous attractions, and my own interests – all called me back. At times I would leave in the evening. He would say that dusk was the time to come back home not to leave it. I would pretend to have urgent business. How could I tell him that my home was elsewhere?

I remember how sad and anxious he was once when I was setting out in the evening. Everybody was trying to prevent me from leaving at such an inopportune time but he was silent. When saying goodbye he could no longer control himself and asked me if this is what I would do if my mother were alive. However, I did not relent, made excuse and went away. That night and several other such nights Abba must have passed in what agony – that I can guess now.

I remember that during my boyhood my father liked the story of Joseph and his deceptive brothers who left him for dead in a well. After my departure to the city he would read this story aloud at night. My mother told me that he would read out the part in which Jacob, missing his lost son, cried his eyes out. Or else he would read out the part when Joseph’s monger, Bashir the messenger, brings his shirt to Jacob and given him the happy news that his son was not only alive but was also the ruler of Egypt. When the prophet Jacob put the shirt to his eyes his blind eyes gained their sight. Mother would tell me that Abba’s voice would tremble at this point and he would make some excuse to stop reading. In his last years when he would no longer read he would keep repeating the couplets about parting while lying in his bed.

Next day he (Amir) rang again to tell us that he was not getting a seat and would try his luck in New York and then inform us about his arrival. If he failed to ring us from there he would ring when he reached Karachi or Lahore. In any case we were not to worry. He knew the way and would reach himself.

In two or three days he would be among us and we would be able to see him and touch him. This pleasant thought thrilled me to the core of my being. My eyes started seeing his face again and again.

His mother insisted that he should reach at least a day or two before Eid (holy festival of Muslims). He had reassured her that he would start the Eid with vermicelli cooked in milk as she alone could cook for him. After that the telephonic connection ended and we started waiting for his next call. When anyone engaged the phone she started growling like an enraged lioness. However, the whole day passed by us like blank sheets out of an out-of-order Photostatting machine and the long night of vigil came again. Today he should have reached according to the program and his promise but even the news of his departure had not come through till then. I would pick up the phone from the cradle to ascertain that it had not gone out of order. During this period many calls came but all seemed useless. We spoke to everyone very coldly and briefly. Most calls were of relatives and their inquiri