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  • A Chronicle of the Peacocks
  • Intizar Husain
    Translated by Alok Bhalla (bio) and Vishwamitter Adil (bio)

Allah alone knows why this evil spirit is after me! I am shocked and upset. I had actually gone there to inquire after the well-being of the peacocks. How was I to know that this evil spirit would grab hold of me?

It was by chance that I came across that small news item; otherwise, in the midst of all that turmoil, I would never have found out what had really happened. Tucked away in the middle of the terrifying news about India’s atomic bomb was a small note about the explosion having so frightened the peacocks of Rajasthan that they had flown up screaming into the sky and scattered in all directions.

Immediately, I wrote a column expressing my sympathy for the peacocks and thought that, having done my duty, I was free from all further obligations. But had I really done my duty? Was I actually free? That insignificant piece of information disturbed me in the same way as a small fish had disturbed Manuji. Manuji had once caught a fish no longer than his little finger and had placed it in a pot. He, too, thought he had done his duty and was free. But the fish started to grow and grow. It became so big that Manuji had to take it out of the pot and release it into a lake, and then take it out of the lake and release it into a river. The fish, however, became too large even for the river, and Manuji had to carry it to the sea. In the same way, the news item that journalists thought deserved no more than two lines overwhelmed my imagination.

The news reminded me of the peacocks I had seen in Jaipur. Subhan Allah, what a beautifully planned pink city it was! I reached Jaipur late in the afternoon. At first, I did not sense their presence. But in the evening, when I opened the window of the guesthouse, which was as lovely as a new bride, the view outside was breathtaking. Everywhere I looked—in the courtyard, on the parapet around the fountain, about the balconies—there were peacocks; peacocks and more peacocks; peacocks with bright-blue tails! They had a quiet dignity and a royal grace and a calm elegance. I felt as if I were in the very cradle of beauty, love, and peace.

The next evening, as I was about to leave the city, I saw peacocks on every tree, rock, and hill. Their movements had the same peace, the same grace, and the same beauty. As the evening shadows deepened, the air was filled with the song of peacocks. I thought they were there both to welcome me and bid me farewell.

Whenever I recall that trip, my mind is filled with the images of those peacocks in Rajasthan. I am surprised. Did I really see so many of them? Did the peacocks actually come out to greet me? I wonder how they are now. [End Page 105]

I try to imagine the city of Jaipur, but all I can see is a picture of desolation. Shocked and disturbed, I am able to neither see the peacocks nor hear their song. Where have they all gone? In which corner of the world are they hiding? Suddenly, I have a vision of a lonely peacock on a distant hill. He seems battered and bruised. I walk quickly towards him, but before I can reach the hill, he rises into the sky, screaming with terror, and disappears.

Where has he gone? Where are his companions, those countless peacocks? Why is he sitting alone on that hill, the very picture of desolation? Why is he so despondent, so terrified? The sight of that dejected, bewildered peacock suddenly brings to mind another image of desolation that I had forgotten. On the far edge of a dark, oil-soaked sea, I see a forlorn duck covered with foul effluents, watching the waves in disbelief. Till yesterday the sea was ambrosia, today it is poison. The wings of the duck are so heavy with slime that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 105-112
Launched on MUSE
2015-09-29
Open Access
No
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