- from Sleepwalkers
This is Lucknow.
With the partition of the country, the mohajirs migrated from Lucknow to Karachi. And, here too, as soon as they regained some balance, they raised the old Chowk of Ameenabad. Here too, tilting their caps in the Lukhnavi style, several streets converge upon the square all at once, as if the whole world were flocking here. When not an inch of space remained in Ameenabad, the mohajirs spread themselves around it. And, in this way, all of Lucknow in Karachi was peopled. Not just the old city, but also the new one born from the womb of the old, was soon spreading its spirit of playfulness over the suburbs. They say people come and go, places stay where they are. But, in this case, the mohajirs had transported an entire city within the folds of their hearts. With some came the bricks of their houses; some carried entire homes intact. Some brought a whole gali, and others transported the bustling main road beyond the gali—whatever they could contain in their hearts! As soon as the mohajirs recovered their breath after reaching Karachi, the entire city emerged from their hearts, brick by brick. Who knows what remains at the spot where this city had earlier stood! Here it has acquired such splendour that any visitor to Karachi is repeatedly asked, "Have you seen Lucknow in Karachi?"
In the dying hours of the night, when the silent lanes of Ameenabad are lit with the eerie glow of colourful lamps, people lying deep in sleep in the pitch dark of their homes roam about the bustling Chowk as if it were day. In the beginning, Manwa Chowkidar would constantly bang his lathi on the road, wide-eyed with fear and astonishment as he stared at the dazzle around him…The entire Chowk is deserted; who on Allah's earth do I keep bumping into in this dead silence?…What was even stranger was that, within a few days, he actually began to see apparitions. In fact it so happened that it was only rogues and crooks that the Chowkidar could not spot. He could clearly see all the people who had walked to the Chowk in their sleep.
"Arre bhaiya, why are you coming at me like that?" Manwa Chowkidar had leapt back the other night as he bumped into someone. But then, to his [End Page 136] amazement, he realized that it was his very own Deewane Maulvi Sahab. He greeted him courteously, "Assalam-alaikum, Maulvi Saab!"
"Walaikum-assalam, Manwa." Deewane Maulvi Sahab paused for a moment, pulled out a two-rupee note from his pocket, and thrust it into Manwa's hand.
"Much obliged, Maulvi Saab! May Allah always grant us your benign shadow!" Even as Manwa was kissing his fingers after saying "Aameen," Deewane Maulvi Sahab vanished into thin air.
"How can that happen, Manwa Chacha?" asked Azizo, the chaiwala, holding out a glass of tea to Manwa Chowkidar.
"Arre bhaiya, if it can't happen, where did this two-rupee note come from?" Manwa took out the new note and showed it to him.
"Who knows? That could have been some ghost or spirit!"
"So what if he was a ghost! He was, after all, our very own Deewane Maulvi Sahab." Manwa Chowkidar paused to sip his tea. "Forget the others, Ajijo, I even saw you going towards the bazaar."
"But I was enjoying khwaabe khargosh then, you know!"
"That's exactly what happens! People are out in the streets while they're sleeping in their homes."
"Your mumbo-jumbo is beyond my understanding, Chacha! If people are really walking in the streets while asleep, I'll keep my tea business open even at night."
"I see Deewane Maulvi Saab so clearly in the crowd every night, Ajijo."
"What strange stories you tell, Chacha!"
* * *
Deewane Maulvi Sahab's name is actually Nawab Mirza Kamaluddin, but he is known as Deewane Maulvi Sahab both at home and outside. He is so used to it that if anyone were to call him Nawab Kamaluddin, he would think that the poor fellow had...