Short Story                                                                        Home

By: Amarlal Hingorani
Translated by: Hashu Kewalramani

SOME thought he was crazy, but some saw in him an inspired being, a holy dervish.  May be, he was both. Lean and lanky, rather above the average in height, wheat-complexioned, he was always found with an old man quilt wrapped round him.

A mystic he constantly looked lost in thought and in vague brooding. He would be seen sometimes  in a mosque,  sometimes in a Hindu shrine. Often in the evenings, near the quay on the riverside in Sukkur, people gathered for a recital of the poet-saint Sami's devotional verses. He would be there, listening with rapt attention. Every little while he would be muttering to him self, "Well, Brother Abdur Rahman, did you get it into your thick head? When will you, silly man, see the light?"

One day, as he was walking along the road, he tripped over a stone. Sharply, he rebuked himself :  "Brother Abdur Rahman, your head  has  turned dizzy with conceit. Sheer arrogance has sealed your eyes. Had you walked humbly, with open eyes, you would not have hurt yourself !"

He sat down, pondering deeply. Soon, he resumed his soliloquy:   "Brother Abdur  Rahman , see how selfish you are! Is it right on your part to go away without first removing that stone? Think it over, brother. Some other creature like you may also stumble over it and get hurt." Pausing for a moment and scratching his head, he suddenly shouted, "Look there, Brother Abdur Rahman, if you are really a good man, you will pick up that stone and throw it away."  Then he retraced his steps and, dislodging the stone, deposited it beyond anyone's path.

It was his habit to think and talk himself aloud and to address himself as Brother Abdur Rahman.  Perhaps he delved deep within himself to let the voice of conscience dictate to him in a meaningful language. The righteous tone of those exhortations addressed to himself suggested the scene of two distinct personalities
in constant argument and tussle, one poised like a relentless sentinel  to remonstrate and guide  the other.

If somebody happened to ask this queer man whether he would care to  have am meal, he would  pass  on  the message to himself, along with the admonishing words  of the  Persian proverb : "One must eat to live, and  not live to eat." Thus would he confer with himself before considering an invitation.

He was a bard and sang in the Persian language, and he knew Hafiz by heart. Of Shah and Sami, the immortal Sindhi poets, he knew enough, but he was steeped in the mystical verse of the third great poet, Sachal, the Intoxicated One. He also knew Urdu, and when others received letters from the Punjab written in that language, they would seek him for reading and interpreting those letters.  He was content with a few morsels of food. The godri, the old quilt covering his body, he wore day and night in all seasons. May be, under its cover, he held his most intimate communion with the Divine Beloved.

An innocent person found himself one day implicated in a trumped up case.  He was charged by the police with the theft of a gold watch, belonging to a Muslim merchant, which had been allegedly recovered from his possession in the presence of witnesses. The evidence was outwardly conclusive and the trader was a man of great influence.

The accused, however, pleaded not guilty. He said that he was only walking by the merchant's house, when he was looked up the balcony and ogled at one of the womenfolk of the house. He would have been beaten to death, but for the timely intervention of Abdur Rahman, who happened to pass by that moment. The merchant now started ranting that the name of his noble family had been sullied by a man of lower class, and that he would see to it that this was not the end of the matter.

At the time incident occurred, Abdur Rahman had talked to himself: "See, Brother Abdur Rahman, this man is very obstinate. How touchy he is about his family's honour! His sister is thirty-five years old, but he will not marry her off lest she take away her share of the patrimony according to law. Well, if the poor woman is denied a husband while she has still youth and warmth of passion, surely." He checked himself and frowned. "No, no, Brother Abdur Rahman, you are not here to expose others. Fie on you! Fold your hands in humility, and try again to persuade the merchant to see reason. If he is still stubborn about it, then you can tell the truth."

Abdur Rahman rarely conversed with himself in a whisper; hence everybody present on the scene had heard him to the embarrassment of the merchant. And what Abdur Rahman had insured soon became the talk of the town. The scandal damaged the merchant's reputation beyond repair. Now it provided the accused with his best defence witnesses were the merchant's neighbours, and the fourth one was Abdur Rahman. Two witnessed were bought off by the merchant, and the third one was served with an arrest warrant for his failure in attending the court on the first day. In sheer panic, he denied any knowledge of the incident. The case for the defence now entirely depended on Abdur Rahman's testimony, and the counsel
had grave misgivings about the worth of such a quixotic witness. But the accused had implicit faith that Abdur Rahman would tell the truth without fear or favour.

When Abdur Rahman received the summons, he said to himself, "Brother Abdur Rahman, you have been called by the Honourable Court of Justice. You must make it a point to go there humbly and with due difference." He even borrowed a pair of shoes for the solemn occasion and kept it rolled within the godri till his name was called by the peon. Putting on the shoes ceremoniously and folding the godri around his neck, Abdur Rahman entered the courtroom, unperturbed.

The peon snapped at him : "Take off your dirty shoes!"  People of humbler birth alone are admonished in this manner because they are expected to show respect towards the privileged ones by walking barefoot.

"Brother Abdur Rahman," said the dervish himself, "you have been ordered by the peon to take off shoes. Tell him that you made it a point to borrow the shoes precisely for the purpose of appearing respectably before the Honourable Magistrate." He then told the peon accordingly and advanced to the witness box
unruffled. As he took his stand in the box, the magistrate asked him testily why he had raised the godri around his neck.

At once Abdur Rahman talked to himself loudly, "Listen, Abdur Rahman! The Magistrate Sahib has questioned you about your godri. Mind your tongue! You are now facing Justice seated on that chair. Tell him respectfully that since Hindu witnesses on such occasions are accustomed to wrap scarves round their neck, you have also adopted their custom to show respect to the court." Abdur Rahman then repeated what he had just said to himself.

"Repeat the words after me," ordered the court clerk who administered the official oath. "In the name of God, the All-Seeing, the All-Pervading, I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.'
Abdur Rahman repeated the oath to himself with the concluding comment, "Of course, the clerk is saying the right thing, Brother Abdur Rahman, and you must obey him. God is watching you!" He then turned to the clerk and recited the rescribed oath.

"Your name?"

"Brother Abdur Rahman, the clerk wants to know your name. Of course, you must tell him your name." He then loudly addressed the court, "My name is Abdur Rahman."


Some people in the audience started sniggering. The Magistrate who was at first amused began to lose his patience. One of the lawyers informed him in English that it was a normal habit of the witness to talk to himself before replying to any question.

"Your religion?"

The witness turned to himself in sheer confusion, "Now Brother Abdur Rahman, don't forget that you are under oath to speak truth. What is really your religion, you old sinner? Oh, it is a very awkward question! If you say you are a Muslim, Hindus will surely resent it. And if you say that you are a Hindu, Muslims will feel most indignant about it. Why not tell the truth? Shame on you, Brother Abdur Rahman, that you get confused over such a trifling matter. Just recite to him Intoxicated Sachal's verse:

I am neither A Hindu,
Nor am I a Muslim
I am what I am!

The clerk turned to the magistrate with a puzzled look. The magistrate ordered, "Write him down as a Muslim. He has a Muslim name, hasn't he?"

The next question was, "What is your age?"

In a rattled tone Abdur Rahman turned to himself, "Now he wants to know your age. When I said that I am not a Muslim, the magistrate insisted otherwise. Tell the clerk that he can put his this question also to the magistrate." Turning to the clerk he then said, "You may put that question also to the magistrate."

Enough! The magistrate was beside himself and threatened the witness: "You ignorant jat, guard tongue and give your evidence properly! You are here before the Honourable Court."

Abdur Rahman kept smiling and resumed his muttering, "Brother Abdur Rahman, he has called you a jat, Ask him what he means but it."

Before Abdur Rahman could repeat the communication from his inner self, the magistrate was creaming. "The jat is an ignorant man, you jat!"

"So, Brother Abdur Rahman, you are a jat! You are an ignorant man. You know Sindhi, Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit and Hindi. Five languages in all. Ask magistrate how many languages he knows." Then turning towards the magistrate, he asked, "Sir."

Interrupting him rudely, the magistrate snarled back: "A jat is one who does not know English!" The magistrate leaned back on his chair with a smile of triumphs. But the peace of the court had been disturbed and all were whispering aloud and sniggering over this wordy duel.

Abdur Rahman repeated his monologue solemnly and audibly. "Brother Abdur Rahman, the magistrate insists that you are a jat because you never cared to learn English. Did you listen to this son of Topanmal whom you knew so well? Yes, that Topanmal who was in charge of cattle-pound! Remember? Now ask the
magistrate whether his father and his father's father and all the forefathers who know no English, nor cared to learn it, were silly jats and whether he can be called the son of a."

The magistrate exploded in a wild rage. He started hammering on the table and shouted, "Order, Order!"
The entire court was resounding with peals of laughter. Taking out pen and paper, the magistrate thundered, "Enough of your impertinence! You will have to pay for it. Will you show cause why you should not be convicted for contempt of court? Now, keep your mouth shut, and write down what you have to state in your defence."

Silently and with great dignity, Abdur Rahman took the paper and pen. Leaning over the desk, he then wrote:

"Honourable Magistrate Sahib,

Be it known to you that Abdur Rahman has committed no contempt of court. If anybody has lowered the dignity of the court it is your good self. On this very day, you have abused and insulted several witnesses.
But your foul words cannot touch even the fringe of Brother Abdur Rahman's godri. Be it known to you that you are not the sovereign master of those over whom you sit in judgment. You are supposed to be their servant. We witnesses do not come to this court for the sake of fun. You have summoned us to help you in
the dispensation of justice. Who will agree to testify before you? It is you, above all, and in all fairness, who must show cause why you should not be dismissed from your exalted post for using uncivil language and lowering the dignity of the Court.

In accordance with his own oath, Brother Abdur Rahman swears that he has told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Brother Abdur  Rehman"

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