Saturday, 12 November 2011

The turning of Ghafoor Khans wheel

"A Mouse that prayed for Allah's aid
Blasphemed when no such aid befell:
A Cat, who feasted on that mouse,
Thought Allah managed vastly well.

                                                    -H Munro

‘Arrut Lutkay’ was the Pashto word for Persian wheels, Ghafoor Khan reminded himself. It was what he had been told as a child. He remembered being told about it by his grandfather, when he was very young. “ my child, remember life is like the Persian wheel, what goes around comes around, that is why you should always try to be good because you know not what will be your fate at Allahs hands when times are tough”

The Persian wheel ‘Arrut Lutkay’ was an interesting contraption, a water lifting device used to lift water from open wells. The wheels cyclic turns were a common sight in Ghafoor Khans village in Nowshera.

  He remembered his grandfathers tale ever since, and as a reminder he felt he had done as much good as he could. He mused, he was after all a tehsildar and he had done quite well for himself. While it did worry him at times, might he  pay the price his grandfather warned? After all what about the bribes he had taken? He rationalised though they were no more and no less than anyone else had taken.  He had a good life, he ate well, he lived well and made his dream house in his village, the tallest it was in his village. He was a good father and a good husband, married as he was with his four children. Obviously compromises needed to be made, ‘Easy load babas men had to be paid for his lucrative posting. The posting had not come cheap, so he had to earn enough to ‘repay’ the costs of the posting as well as earn some extra for himself. The going rate was quite obvious, whatever the cost of the paperwork and transfer fees, an equal amount would be paid as ‘commission’. Ghafoor Khan hated the word ‘donations’ that they used to say in the old days you see, they used to call the commissions as donations. Now things were so much easier, it was a bribe and it was expected to be paid if people expected their work to be done.

It has been a good few years, after the rocky start during Military rule. Ghafoor Khan had high hopes initially of Pervaiz Musharrafs government. It was an impossible situation in those days, the Army monitoring teams were either checking everything meaning nothing was getting done and people were getting angry. It was either that or they wanted all the money for themselves, and if you spoke about it they would ‘fix’ you.

 Things got better after 2002 though with the MMA government, their inexperienced Ministers did not really know what they were doing for the first few years. It was fairly straightforward to befriend them and in time teach them the way things were done. ‘He would miss them, after all they did take to the politics of omission and commission really well, ‘it is amazing what you can hide in a beard’ he considered.

Despite all this, Ghafoor Khan still had his grandfathers warning haunting him, how could he ensure he did not experience Allahs wrath? In a moment of inspiration, he hired a man with an exquisite voice to make the call of prayer at his local mosque. The memory of the local villagers mocking him about the man still annoyed him, how was he to know that the Qaris voice was only good because he took Bhang? ‘Qari Bhangi a gift from the haram money of Ghafoor Khan’. They would taunt ‘Ghafoor Khan shows you can take a donkey for Hajj but it will still come back a donkey’!

In 2008, the new government had come to power, but Ghafoor Khan found them hard work ‘Zardari was just too greedy, his party people wanted too much too quickly.’.

Time moved on, and then came that fateful day in 2010, rumours had spread about floods from nearby villages. Ghafoor Khan did not think much of it, after all there had been no warnings from his friends in the government (‘nothing like this had not happened in a hundred years they said’). The Media had not mentioned anything, as he had turned on the television to check ‘ No cause for concern, mentioned by them either something about a crashed plane, poor people’.

That night Ghafoor woke with a start, the house was flooding, and he and his wife and kids were unable to get out of his village house in the dark. Left with no option, they all hid on the first floor and watched as the water steadily rose. They then climbed up the stairs to the 2nd floor and again watched as the pouring water started to rise. The terrified Ghafoor, thought his time had come, his wheel had turned and Allah had decided to punish him for his ways. Why else would he be left to die like this while everyone else had safely escaped? He cursed himself, what was the point of his big fancy house and wealth? In that moment he swore he would not make the same mistakes again, all he needed was a sign from Allah.

The water was rising once again, his young son shouted to him, “Why don’t we climb on to the roof?” Ghafoor dejected but agreeable helped everyone climb to the roof in the pitch dark. “Those stupid children down the road and the neighbours will laugh at how I have finally got my comeuppance. “

Dawn broke soon and the water had started receding, Ghafoor looked around, where were the other villagers or the Army? Instead he saw the ruins of his neighbourhood houses and the neighbours dead body floating. It would be another day before any help arrived. As the relief workers picked up Ghafoor and his family, the young man looked at him, his tired family and his huge house and said “you’re a blessed man, not many people have made such tall houses. The others have just been washed away, many have been drowned and others are ill. Allah must have been watching over you last night. You must have done many good deeds”

Perhaps, Ghafoor thought, this young man was right, perhaps that was his mistake, perhaps that is what the Persian wheel was teaching him.

‘Next time around I will need to make an even bigger house.  I wonder how much I can make as tehsildar of Peshawar?’


AQ521 said...

poignant observation .........beautifully expressed..

takhalus said...

Thanks for visiting !

Anonymous said...

When I come across a beautifully written piece, would not finish it in one go, would take a break, somke outside and then read the rest to enjoy. This was one one of those pieces.