SARMAD SEHBAI (Pakistan)
Sarmad Sehbai is one of the most eminent poets, and playwrights of Pakistan. He is known for his innovative approach to art and culture. He has worked with PTV, and has written several plays, including The Dark Room. He has made a documentary on Truck Art and Highway Culture of Pakistan, ‘Mughals of the Road’. Also written and directed a memorable video film like Fankar Gali. Sarmad has brought some short stories of Saadat Hassan Manto to the screen, including Naya Qanoon and Toba Tek Singh. Held in very high esteem in the sub-continent.
Shamyanas went up and carpets rolled on the open space surrounding the Ganju House. The body lay in the attic among thick slabs of ice that stood like walls to keep the vigil.
‘What a mess,’ Zahoor grumbled, struggling to get his voice through a badly cobbled jaw. Though surgeons had done a good job, the severed tongue was too swollen to be stuffed back in place. Forcing it down, they had hurriedly shut his mouth and tidied the carcass for a decent burial.
Collected in a plastic sack, Zahoor’s body was brought to the hospital the previous night. It was accompanied by his soul that hovered over his head like a saucer .
Until the burial he had to stay in freezing cold to appear fresh for the visiting friends and relatives. Lying stiff on a bare charpoy Zahoor saw all his speeches fumed in the grey silence of camphor and his future plans knocked over by the fatal accident.
It was one of those days when sun is radiant in a clear sky and the gentle breeze wanders in the open fields. Everything seems still but then a tiny fuzz of cloud goes haywire, insanely repeating itself into a gauzy firmament that unnerves the raging sun and wraps the world in a foggy gloom. Nature becomes unpredictable. Some ominous impulse rears its pagan head and devastates all human arrangements. Time evaporates and a dull haze takes over like a vague dream.
Zahoor, after eating a chicken sandwich, drank from the bottle of distilled water. As he picked the hollows of his teeth, the wind outside howled itself into a dust storm.
‘Autumn is being pushed by the barging winter,’ Zahoor had switched on his mobile, ‘yes it’s a little windy over here. Tell me, how’s the weather in the Capital? Good? Good,’ he chuckled and clicked the phone.
Amused at the sudden change in weather Zahoor picked merrily until the toothpick got stuck in his teeth. Wind outside died down like a panting animal. A slow drizzle followed, soundless and invisible, the air still.
While they passed the mountainous steeps, trees trembled with some primitive intuition and like animals prick their ears before an earthquake, they shook their green mien. The driver held the prayer plate for Allah’s help. But then as if from the unknown itself a huge trawler throttled and hit the Pajero. It went flying off the road, tumbling thousands of feet into a ravine. The bottle of ‘Aab-e-Hayat’ wobbled in the air, bursting open, the water gushed out in wilderness. The titanic frame of Zahoor shattered in a flash. His gold buttons sunk deep into his chest like bullets. Head slashed and battered against the windshield, teeth flew like a fist of seeds, bones crushed, limbs fell apart, stomach gouged out, eyes bulged, toes cut and nails gone. In a grisly mesh of veins, the dangling guts flung his cast and race in a puzzling fury. Guards fell defenceless with stunned eyes, watching no one. Safety belts hung, like swings of death.
‘Shit, what a way to kick the bucket,’ Zahoor screamed in pain and as the cellular phone blinked, his soul loomed out of the debris of his bones.
The sly rain kept slithering the road, silently.
Sometimes past midnight, under blazing lights, laid on table, the litter of mortal remains. Only the tooth pick remained in place between a pair of jammed teeth. Surgeons in white masks and synthetic gloves were kept busy till late, reassembling the organic mess. By forenoon they had skillfully tarted up the human junk into a tolerable sight, all ready for public viewing.
The grand show of massive wailing started the moment his body arrived in Noorpur village. Followers of Ganju’s clan, relatives, government officials, women and children, swarmed at the Ganju House. Separate arrangements were made for men and women along a special VIP enclosure that showed off velvet backed sofas, furred carpets and colourful cushy chairs. Outside, beyond shamyanas, pushed to the ends of ground, local beggars jostled and stray dogs circled around cauldrons of food with their tongues hanging.
Inside the courtyard, women squatted on mattings and wailed in bouts of tears.
Zeenat, in her bedroom sat huddled on the floor with attendants who served her water after each time the new arrival of condoling people wept with her. She was there from the crack of dawn, waiting for the body. Zahoor had been a caring father but lacked the familial warmth.
Taimur, her son walked in. She couldn’t help bursting into tears as she hugged him.