- The Jungle of the Gonds
Has he returned?”
“Who rang the bell?”
“A servant from the house across. He wanted the newspaper.”
She grumbled, as if she hadn’t heard him. “I wonder where he is.” Looking worried, she turned around and went inside.
“Betay Mobeen,” Bawa Jaan said, “Sajid Mian is waiting. Make some tea for him.”
Mobeen was about to get up when Sajid stopped him. “Not yet. Tea can wait. Let Moin get back.”
“If only he would come back home,” Bawa Jaan said despondently. “You can see how worried his mother is.”
Amma, still worried, looked into the room once more, as if she had suddenly remembered something. “Sajid Bhai, what did he tell you?”
“Ji . . . Actually . . . I had complained to him that the evenings are very boring. One can’t go anywhere. There is a curfew every evening. He replied, ‘I am always at home these days. Come over after work. We’ll invite Rasheed too. Both of you can spend the night here. We’ll gossip. Maybe even see a film’ . . . ”
“Yes, he has been at home for several days. He has no work. Where can he go? But early this morning, there was a telephone call for him. He left at once. I said to him, ‘Betay, don’t go. The times are bad.’ He replied, ‘I have some urgent work. I’ll take care of it and be back in about an hour’ . . . He has yet to come back! It’s almost evening, and there is no sign of him.”
Amma continued to stand in silence for a while, then went inside. That was the fourth time she had come into the room since Sajid had arrived. And Sajid hadn’t been there for long. Bawa Jaan hadn’t even started his usual commentary on current affairs.
The telephone rang again. Mobeen picked it up. “Hello . . . ji . . . ji . . . He hasn’t yet come back.”
Amma rushed into the room. “Is he asking for Moin? At least ask him—” Mobeen had hung up.
“Ask him what? I don’t even know who he was . . . ”
“‘I don’t even know who he was’! How casual can you be? I wonder who he was. There was a call for Moin in the morning, soon after he left. And another in the afternoon. And yet another now. Someone asks for him and disconnects immediately after . . . I wonder who it is . . . an informer or [End Page 113] some . . . ” She fell silent before completing her sentence and walked out of the room.
As soon as she left, Bawa Jaan began to speak freely. “You can at least step out of your house. Was it peaceful in the city today or was there any . . . ”
“I didn’t hear anything. We’ll know from the newspaper tomorrow.”
“Yes, we’ll find out from tomorrow’s newspaper. There was a time when the most insignificant news used to spread through the city at once. Now the times are such that if there is a calamity in one locality, other localities hardly even get to hear about it. For instance, last Friday we were at a wedding feast. There was gunfire in a locality a few steps away from the marriage hall. The police arrived. A curfew was imposed. But we knew nothing about it. We continued with our feast.”
“But, Syed Sahib, rumours spread very fast.”
“Yes, that’s true, Mian. The times are very bad. That’s why I tell both my sons to stop wandering around. But Moin can’t sit still. I especially warn him, ‘Betay, the times have changed. You can’t roam through the city day and night. Finish your work and return home at once.’ But he refuses to listen. You can see how worried his mother is.” Bawa Jaan stopped talking.
The telephone rang again. “Mobeen Betay, see who it is. Perhaps . . . his . . . ”
Mobeen rushed to the telephone. “Hello . . . all right . . . I’ll get him.” Then he called out, “Nadeem, phone call for you.” Amma came into the room.
Nadeem picked up the telephone, spoke for a few minutes, then returned to...