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Impasse

Naveed Ashraf


Excerpted form a short story originally published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 5 (2021).


The old man sat in his wicker chair in the living room, a stack of rumpled newspapers slumped on a

table beside him. The servant, Asghar Buhadar, a man of about seventy years, stood before him. He wore a ragged looking shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his bald head. An apron hung loosely from his neck. Touching his shaggy grey beard nervously, he stared silently with his beady eyes at the old man. Both with a baffled look on their faces. The ceiling fan hummed steadily in the background. The inquest was about the missing fruit from the plum tree in the servant quarters.


The instructions were that the fruit would always come to the kitchen before anyone could have it. It would be presented to the old man and his wife first. The wife would then allot portions of it to the staff. The old man was a retired army general and things had to happen immaculately according to a plan, procedures had to be followed at all times, without exception.


The general broke the staring contest. “Don’t you have anything to say for yourself? How many times have I given instructions that the fruit cannot be plucked and eaten directly from the tree? Surely, you must be aware of the procedures.”


“But, sir, my son was here only for the afternoon, and he hardly ever visits me. I gave it only to him. I did not eat any myself.”


“When did I ever say who could eat it or who couldn’t? I never specified that a certain person visiting from your village could have it, or that some other person did not have the privilege. The rule is universal.”


“Sir, my son came all the way from the village. It was hot and he was tired. He stayed only for two hours. He came to pick up the money I wanted to send to my sister in the village. Sir, the roof of her house fell in the rains. She needed the money for the repairs. She wanted to have the roof repaired before more rains came.”


Exasperated, the general looked at him with his mouth open. Both had an expression on their faces as if they wanted to say to each other, what in the world are you talking about? The steady hum from the ceiling fan seemed to have grown louder. The general lifted his leg, planted it on the floor, and crossed it with the other. Asghar shifted his weight from one leg to the other. Finally, the old man breached the staring bout again, his arms raised in frustration:


“What has any of that to do with what I am asking you? The roof of your sister’s house? The information about your village affairs does not shed any light on the matter at hand. Do you understand that the speech you have just made is irrelevant?”


“But, sir, in the village trees are for everyone, for the entire clan, at least the ones in our common areas. We pick guavas from those. Whoever gets to the tree first can pluck them. That is about the only time we ever eat any fruit. When the tree no longer gives fruit, we chop it down for firewood. We divide the wood equally.” Said Asghar with a hint of pride in his voice.


“I give up. I just give up.” The old man raised his voice. “Let me just ask you something else, because I really want to understand what I am going to ask you about now. How long have you worked for me?”


“Sir, I was employed by you when I had just passed my thirty-fifth year, or was it my fortieth year? I think I am over seventy now.”


Determining the age of an elderly villager from his time was a guessing game. You could never put your finger on an exact number. It always fell within a range. Asghar wasn’t done:


“My uncle, who was also my father-in-law and second cousin, sent me to you. He had worked for you when he was younger. That was a long time ago.”


Future of the Past by Qadir Jhatial


 



Naveed Ashraf lives between New York and Rawalpindi, after having run a real estate development business in Washington, DC. He works as a freelance writer and a photographer. In DC, he has also worked as a theatre actor, including in the play Indian Ink at the Studio Theater. Naveed has published articles in Pakistani newspapers, including Dawn and The Friday Times.










Qadir Jhatial is an interdisciplinary Sindhi artist based in Lahore. He completed his BFA with distinction from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and obtained a master’s degree from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, where he was awarded UMISSA scholarship and distinction in his thesis project. Qadir’s inquiry is centred around how an image is viewed, read and interpreted in the present age with its overwhelming daily access to information and knowledge. His practice evolved from pure painting into a multidisciplinary practice with the use of interactive expression incorporating performative and digital media elements. He is currently a featured artist at CollaborARTISTS, a project supported by Arts Council England. Qadir has shown his works in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.


Bios for archival pieces are reprinted as they appeared in the print volume and may not reflect the updated activities of the author and artist.

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