By Naiyer Masud
Translated by Muhammad Umar Memon
All my past life is mine no more;
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams given o’er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.
~ John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
from ‘Love and Life’
Zamaana gasht, to ham gard su’e khaana’-e kheesh.
(Time has turned; you too turn back home.)
~ Mirza Gada, ‘Ali Gada’
from the elegy ‘Imam-e tishna-jigar ne pas az namaaz-e ‘ishaa’
I’m exhausted now, or rather, I think that I had already become tired a long time ago, perhaps after I had been assured that I had no need to go elsewhere and that I was to stay in this house from that day onwards. I do recall vividly though that I felt full of energy when I first set foot in this place.
The house’s façade had caught my attention. When I stopped to look at it, my glance fell on the garden in front and I walked in through the gate. I proceeded towards the façade looking at the garden over a hedge of brambles. A desire came over me to go into the garden and examine each and every patch at length, but just then somebody asked me, ‘Who are you looking for?’
‘Where are you coming from?’
‘I’ve been wandering around.’
‘Come on in,’ he said, but then came out himself.
‘I was passing by,’ I said, ‘and saw this garden. I thought I might tell you, “Let it be”.’
‘Everything in it is wild, some of these things are really very useful and not easily found. Please don’t have it torn down.’
‘Yes,’ he said, looking at me with interest, ‘I thought so too: it has certain things that are useful and even rare. But I don’t know anything about them.’
‘It’s no easy job to lay out such a garden.’
‘It hasn’t been laid out, just left to grow on its own,’ he said, then, hesitating a moment, he added, ‘Come, have a look from the inside.’
We went down the two stone steps and came into the garden. I wandered around for a long time looking at the trees, vines and shrubs that grew haphazardly. The owner was walking behind me quietly. Whenever I began to explain something about a leaf, a tree trunk or a root by placing my hand on it, he quickly came up to me and then fell back behind me again once I had moved on. If anyone saw us then, they would perhaps have taken me for the owner and him for the guest; actually I had started to think of myself as the owner, repeatedly deluded into thinking that I had a guest with me who was being shown around the garden for the first time.
Now we were in a dense arbour.
‘You seem to know quite a lot about these things,’ he said.
‘Not about all of them,’ I said, ‘but I do recognize them.’
‘You do?’ he said, a little surprised. ‘So then…’
‘Each one has some kind of effect,’ I said. ‘I know the effect of certain ones, but not others; nonetheless I do recognize them all.’
‘Then tell me about this one,’ he said, lowering a branch that had long, thin leaves.
I told him the name of the tree and added, ‘But I can’t tell you what its effect is.’
Thereafter we started back towards the outer room. Going up the stone steps he turned around towards me and said, ‘You look quite tired.’
‘I’ve been wandering around,’ I replied.
We came to the door of the room in silence.
I saw that most of the seats in the room were occupied. I stopped at the door. The owner went in and took the same seat he had been sitting in earlier. In our encounter so far he had seemed like a rather serious and somewhat melancholy person, but among these people he appeared to be quite cheerful and carefree. Without paying much attention to the clothing or conversation of those present, I surmised that most were guests but some were members of this household.
They were talking about the curios that decorated the room. The owner had apparently forgotten that I was there, but when I turned around to leave I heard his voice rise behind me: ‘Don’t go yet,’ he said, standing near me. ‘Let me finish talking to the guests.’
Turning towards the door he stopped short and said with a smile, ‘You, too, are a guest, in a manner of speaking, but it’s possible . . . All right, I’ll send for you shortly.’ Then he went back inside.
I moved and stood a slight distance from the door. I could see a part of the garden from my vantage. The branches of the small trees that grew side by side in a row in this section seemed to be almost fused into one another, and a broad-leafed vine propped up against one of these trees had risen a bit higher, hanging over it and out past the hedge. I recognized all of them, one by one, but didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, what effect each had.
Finally I sensed that all the guests had left and only members of the household remained in the outer room. After a long conversation one of them got up. He came out and asked me to follow him.
There were four or five people, and each was looking at me with great interest. I remained silent as I stood before their eyes. Finally, the person who had come out for me asked, ‘Where all have you been?’
I told him a little.
‘What all have you been doing?’
I told him a little about that too.
After that they talked among themselves secretively and I occupied myself by glancing at the curios. Then they broke into a loud laugh over something and the owner turned towards me. ‘We want to keep you with them,’ he pointed at the curios, ‘but the trouble is, you’re alive.’
‘These are all priceless objects,’ I said, ‘though each one has something missing.’
‘Even so, should you care to rest here for a few days,’ he said, ignoring my comment, ‘space could be found for you too.’
I had not heard the exchange that took place among them; still it occurred to me that for some reason they wanted to populate an unoccupied portion of the house. And a desire to look at this unoccupied part came over me, so I blurted out that I was ready to rest there for a few days.
‘Come back tomorrow about this time,’ the owner said, and I left.