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The Great Game

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Husain Qazi

The British Raj was marching forward: Punjab captured after a bloody battle; Manora breached with a burst of cannon; and the impassable Baluchistan chained by steel railings. The narrow defile was troubling the British road engineer. Not that he was short of materials, nor had the men revolted, nor was he lacking in technology. But a dead man had halted him. 

The frontier was in flames; the ferocious fighters were giving stiff resistance to the invaders, who were fewer in number but more in iron, gold, and guile.

The Great Game was on. The tanks, trucks and trailers needed to roll to the far frontier towards which the road stretched steadily. Nothing could halt it except the dead Baba sleeping peacefully in his grave.

The engineer was worried; the narrow mountain pass gave him no alternative but to run the road over the grave. But that spelled big trouble. The devoted disciples would take up arms if he did so. It would be a terrible loss of time, men, and the Game. The fat Malik shook hands with the political agent, his stomach heavy with roasted lamb and his pockets with the Crown’s currency.

The drummer called the whole village to Malik’s dera to listen to his dream. ‘Baba is happy; he is very near to God, you will have a bumper tobacco crop this season.’

The drummer called again the following week. ‘Baba has forestalled the drought that was heading towards your village. It’s going to the Khattak Killi now.’

‘Baba has saved us,’ the scared villagers proclaimed in desolate obedience.

Baba frequently graced Malik with his exalted presence. The grave became alive with people and their garlands, ghee, and goats: a small price for securing a sweet future. Sadness had gripped the village. Baba had not appeared in Malik Sahib’s dream. The people were sad and scared. All their high hopes seemed to have been dashed.

‘Please ask the reason for his absence. We would do anything to please him,’ the scared villagers requested of the Malik. Tension deepened with each passing day. At the deepest point of desperation the drum beat made them run towards Malik’s dera. ‘Baba is angry,’ Malik proclaimed. The villagers were terrified. ‘What can we do to please him? Our life, belongings, property . . . what does he want?’

‘Nothing,’ replied Malik. ‘Baba is beyond these trivialities. It’s his calm and peace of which you people have robbed him. The cool, quiet place where you buried him has been spoiled by the crowds and cacophony. How can he pray for your trade if your caravans spit sand on his grave and spoil the serenity? It’s no longer the peaceful abode that it used to be. 

Now lift me up and take me to the orchard that is at the foothills of the mountain. This is the commandment from Baba.’

A great ceremony was held. With much reverence the grave was opened and the coffin taken out and buried in the desired place with great solemnity.

Everyone was happy, most of all, the British engineer whose road started rolling once again.

This story by my friend was given award and selected for publication by Oxford Press. Book being Launched in Lit Festival Karachi on Feb 7, 2014. Congratulation Husain Qazi. 

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Wednesday, January 22, 2014,


At 11:59, Blogger HQ said...

The short story is based on a true incident and highlights our local psyche and the strategic communication through which it was dealt appropriately by the Raj.


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