Artwork by Abdul Mateen, Punjab Lok Lehar, Sahiwal.
Roshan Deen’s father slapped his son across the face saying, ‘Sinners have lost their smiles and you dare sing!’
Roshan Deen stumbled as his father pushed him into a dark room.
Regaining his posture he turned and looked at his father, who stood in the doorway, under a full moon, holding Roshan Deen’s long chimta, his metal tong.
A startled bird fluttered in a tree somewhere. The song of crickets rose up and dissolved into the muffled noise of a massed humanity in the fields on the outskirts of the village, where a short while earlier, in the spring mela, the festival, Roshan Deen had played the chimta and sang, and where his father had hit him in the back with a walking stick.
Throwing the chimta at the feet of his son the Father said, ‘It is dawa, prayers. This is the road to your jihad, not song, not dance, that will purge the people of sin.’ Slamming the door shut he muttered, ‘It is deen, Deenya, deen, faith, Deen, faith.’
Roshan Deen lowered his head in disgrace. After a few moments he was caught in streams of moonlight coming into the room through cracks in the wooden door. But for a manji, a bed, the room was empty. It was a small windowless kachi, mud brick, room, which he had built himself. Taking a deep breath he sighed, ‘How lucky you are Roshan, you built your prison with your own hands.’
A scraping on the ground outside the room told Roshan Deen, that his frail old father was dragging a manji.
‘You have brought shame on your caste and your ancestors,’ the Father said dropping the bed on the ground in front of Roshan Deen’s door. ‘The chimta is made to move the flame, not make music for the devil to dance.’
Stepping back on the edge of streaming moonlight, Roshan Deen whispered a reply,’ In song I am one with Him and when I hold the chimta in my hands, it moves by His will. And it speaks in a voice more humane than any human’s.’
The Father coughed, spat on the ground and said, ‘We make things with our hands, not with our mouth.’
‘I talk to you in my voice, father,’ Roshan Deen said softly, ‘but sing in His.’
‘The Jinn sings, not you,’ the Father said stepping away from the door.
‘When I sing, it is in Your voice,’ Roshan Deen replied looking up into the darkness, ‘Is that not so?’
In his mind, Roshan Deen saw his father walking past the buffalo, past the goat pen, around the corner where he had left his hooka.
Taking a deep breath, Roshan Deen remembered, when he had walked on the stage, chimta in hand, the joyful roar of the jubilant people who had come to hear him sing.
He had just started playing the chimta, when his father emerged out of the crowd. Roshan Deen had had his eyes closed, his shoulder length hair whipping his face as he danced in a circular motion, to the beat of the drummer, all the while playing on the chimta.
The Father’s coughing chased memories of the mela out of Roshan Deen’s head. The bed outside creaked. A moment later the water in the hooka bubbled and the Father said in between puffing on the pipe, ‘Come on Fire, light. I know you are alive.’
Roshan Deen prayed, ‘Ya Allah, give me a sign.’
The Father sucked on the hooka again.
Roshan Deen went close to the door and peeped out. His father was sitting on the bed holding onto the hooka with his right hand, his left on his thigh. The leaves of the peepal tree were swaying. There was no mistaking in signs, Roshan Deen thought, it was the same rhythm, the one he always heard in the monsoons. There was always one drop, then two, then three and then four. And it was on the fourth drop that the hungry soil let out its breath and in its repetition came the rhythm of the earth. There was no rain today, yet the sign was unmistakable. The leaves and branches of the peepal tree were all resonating with the beat of the earth. In the darkness of his room he began to see the rhythm, in cycles of four, cutting into eights, forming the outline of the chimta in his hand. He inhaled deeply and held his breath for a moment before letting it out. Even in the dryness of his prison, he could taste the wet breath of the earth on his tongue, and hear its song.
He smiled with the thought that he had no idea when he bent down and picked up his chimta or when he had stood on the manji. He heard his father snoring outside.
Holding the chimta tightly in his hand, Roshan Deen stuck the end into the ceiling. Bits of dirt fell his head. He struck the ceiling again and again until he had made a hole large enough to crawl out of.
Once on the roof, he drifted into a world of rhythms and melodies. And then he saw the words of a poem flash in his mind. He felt the words growing heavier and heavier and melting inside his stomach. He closed his eyes and started to play the chimta, and sang: Dil karda mein binaan par aan day maraan lambi odari, ya mar jawan rastay andhrm ya milaan ik varai.’
My heart desires, even without wings, I take the long flight
Either I meet you once, or die mid-journey.
He lost track of time.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw women standing on the roofs their houses, waving their hands in the air,dancing. On the ground, all around were men, dancing. The mela had come to him. Two young men were prostrating in front of his father.
The Father looked at the faces of the people, beaming blissfully, a sight he had not seen for a lifetime, and felt a surge of energy run through his tired body. He raised his hands in prayer and then placed them on the heads of the two young men. The youth stood up and lifted the Father onto their shoulders. He was carried from shoulder to shoulder and raised and put onto the same roof as his son.
Roshan Deen saw tears streaming down his father’s smiling face. Whilst still playing his chimta, Roshan Deen bent down and kissed his father’s feet.
As Roshan Deen stood up, the Father pulled away, raised his hands and danced. END
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