Sunday, June 27, 2010

Moonless Nights

Now this is an ordinary story about an ordinary man. And he had a very ordinary name too, Chiragh Deen. Like most ordinary men Chiragh Deen had lots of children and a wife. He would have liked to have more wives and fewer kids, but that was not to be.

However, what he wanted more than anything else in his life was to have electricity in his village, which was a very small village named Roshan Abad. It was a very superfluous name for a place that didn’t have a single light. It was a misnomer, and whoever was responsible for it had died many decades ago. Why did Chiragh Deen want Roshan Abad to have electricity so badly? Partly because his parents, like all parents blinded by affection, had called him the light of their eyes, and had also mistakenly believed he would light up the whole world with his light. They had conveniently overlooked his complexion, which resembled more a moonless night than a lamp or Chiragh.

But, what really spurred on his ambition of having Roshan Abad lit up was a fan. Now this fan had a very interesting history too. Once Chiragh (who was later nicknamed Chacha Bijli by the villagers) went to visit a distant relative in a big town. The name of the town is of no relevance here. What is relevant here is that the distant relative’s wife didn’t like to have Chiragh Deen at her home.

The distant relative was in a fix. He couldn’t tell Chiragh Deen to leave, and didn’t dare cross his wife. Then he remembered that there was a fair in the city and perhaps he could take Chiragh there. Thus, the distant relative and Chiragh embarked for the fair. Chiragh was a man who was very careful with his money. So, even though the fair had lots of interesting stuff on sale, nothing could induce Chiragh to part with his money. Well, nothing except a fan. And he didn’t buy that fan. It was there to be won as a prize in some sort of lottery. Chiragh would never have wasted his money on anything like that. But, the distant relative bought him a ticket because he felt guilty at his wife’s treatment of Chiragh. There were lots of things to be won in the lottery. But, what really fascinated Chiragh Deen was the fan. Perhaps, because Roshan Abad was a hot place, or perhaps because no one in Roshan Abad had ever owned a fan. As luck would have it he did win that fan.

He had to travel on the roof of the bus on his way back, because the fan would not fit inside the bus and Chiragh could not think of trusting the buswallahs with his precious fan. It was very uncomfortable up there, but he didn’t really mind it.

The fan, as expected, caused quite a sensation in the village. All the womenfolk in the village came one by one with the excuse of congratulating his wife, whereas all they actually wanted to do was to see the fan. His wife had never approved of anything he had done in his life. For the first time in his life she did praise him in front of all those women, saying how wise he was and recited a long list of his good qualities; most of which were not true. The first thing she did was to embroider a cover for the fan. She also got its borders crocheted by her neighbour in exchange for a promise that she would let her sit in front of the fan, whenever the village got electricity.

To get the electricity now was the sole ambition of Chiragh’s life. Not that he ever had very many ambitions in his life. Most of his dreams consisted of having more cows and poultry, and sometimes secretly of a second wife. But, all of them had been replaced by this new obsession. All night he lay thinking alternately how he could get electricity into his village or else what would it feel like to be cooled by the fan in the scorching summers of Roshan Abad.

How he spent that night only he knew. The next morning as soon as he had had his breakfast he went to the pepul tree, which was a sort of unofficial community centre for the men folk. He started a long speech on why it was important to get electricity in the village. I cannot remember all of it, most of it was drivel, but I can tell you the most interesting parts.

“As you all know my mother died because she had this attack of I know not which disease in the middle of the night” Here he paused to snivel or to do something to the similar effect, and resumed his speech. “She fell ill in the middle of night, and as everyone sitting here knows, I went to doctor Allah Rakha (and here he alluded towards the doctor who was present among the audience). It was a moonless night. And my mother may God rest her soul in peace used to say that moonless nights always are so unlucky. I would have called that a silly superstition started by women, were it not for the fact that my mother did die on a moonless night. So, as I was saying this mother of mine chose a very bad time to fall ill. It was very dark that night. We had run out of oil for the lamp, because my son did not go to buy it in the evening when his mother had asked him to. So we had to borrow a candle from our neighbours. And you know our neighbour, he is so miserly. He gave me the smallest candle that he could find, which Allah is my witness, was smaller than this small finger of mine (showing his finger for the benefit of the spectators). How much light could such a small candle produce? And the doctor could not really see very well at night, and perhaps injected the needle in the wrong place or something.” The doctor grew very uncomfortable at this, but Chiragh Deen added with haste “All of us here know how competent the doctor is. It was not his fault at all. It was the lack of electricity that killed my dear mother. That and the moonless night. And were it not for that I would not have thus been orphaned.” Here he paused, to the relief of everyone, to drink a glass of cool water.

Once he had cleared his throat and gathered his thoughts again, he renewed his speech with a new fervour. According to him the grandson of the Chaudry had been failing in his matriculation exams for last three years because there were no electric bulbs. This had prevented the boy from studying at night, thus causing him to fail at the exams that he otherwise was sure to top. The boy and his grandfather knew the truth. He spent all his day catching measly fishes at the local pond, or else bathing in it.

The list of unfortunate incidents in the village because of the lack of electricity was long. All of those present began to relate their experiences. Someone said his hens would not get stolen at night if there were light. The darkness provided the thief with ample opportunity to escape. Another one’s sister had dislocated her knee joints because she stumbled over a dog at night. In the end, Chiragh had finally persuaded everyone to file an application with the local authorities.

The next day, at least twelve people who were considered the village’s eminent persons and Chiragh embarked for the big town. The clerk was just as rude and snobbish as all the people of his class are. He made them wait for two hours before he deemed it fit to accept their application. To all their inquiries he answered very gruffly and in vague terms. The only thing he mentioned time and again was how poor he was, that he had a large family to support, with such little income too. The villagers however chose to ignore his financial crisis. And in his turn he didn’t let them see the senior officer, stating he was too busy. They could see the officer chatting and laughing with his friend through the window. But, since they couldn’t do much about it, they just contented themselves by abusing the clerks amongst themselves.

Many more visits to the office were made. Each time the officer was too busy and one by one the members of the get-electricity-in-the-village committee declined. By the end of the first year it was reduced to two only people, Chiragh, who was the only one who really did believe that he would manage to get electricity in his village, and the village Chaudry for the sake of his ego. He too however refused to go when two full years had elapsed, and their application got lost in the midst of all the red tape.

By this time his wife had started to see many faults in him again. She wanted him to sell the fan and instead buy her a silver necklace or some gold ring. For, once in his life, he stood up to his wife and refused out right to sell the fan. “I would not sell it, even if I were starving” he declared in a dramatic tone that failed to impress his wife altogether. For, he had quite a comfortable income, and any chances of his starvation were very thin, in the immediate future at least.

As the time went by, the villagers started to make fun of him. They nicknamed him Chacha Bijli. Many years had passed. The snobbish clerk had been replaced by another one of the same species. The busy officer grew busier, until his transfer took him somewhere else. And another officer too occupied came. Chiragh Deen did not lose hope. True he despaired every now and then. But, he would buck himself up again and go to the district office with same determination as the first day.

Now a big landlord in that area wanted electricity for his lands. He used his contacts, pulled a few strings, and got the busy officer to pause his ‘business’. In no time, the application was approved. As chance would have it, Roshan Abad happened to be on the way to the landlord’s lands. And thus, Roshan Abad finally did get electricity.

The day when electricity finally arrived in the village was the grandest and biggest day in Chiragh’s life. The first thing he wanted to see working was his fan. But, when he switched on the fan its blades refused to stir. He checked the light bulb; it was working fine. Why wouldn’t the fan work? The miserly neighbour’s son was then consulted. He had gone and lived in a big city and learnt to repair electrical appliances. When he had finished inspecting the fan he shook his head and said, “Chacha Bijli, this fan would not work ever, all its parts have rusted. Nothing I can do about it. Why don’t you sell it and buy a new one?”

Some people think that Chiragh Deen fell ill that night because the fan had not worked. Some blame the quack doctor for his death, and others blame old age and related diseases. But, I will tell you what really killed the man. It was a moonless night after all!


Saadat said...

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

Your experiences about the village life really showed in this one. Someone like me, who has never really been to a village, could never have written such an observant story.

I do feel sorry for Chacha Bijli though.

Arimas said...

Yes, I feel sorry for Chacha Bijli too, but this seemed like the only logical ending to me.

Thank you for liking the story and commenting on it, at least it proves that somebody read it:)

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