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  • Between Me and the Story
  • Intizar Husain
    Translated by Rakhshanda Jalil (bio)

I had picked up the pen that day with the intention of writing a story. I sat down with complete concentration, but the television set had been left switched on. Since I am no TV addict—even popular serials and programmes leave me cold—I ordinarily can continue with my reading and writing, unperturbed and unaffected by whatever’s on. That day, it wasn’t so. What disturbed my concentration was not a particularly riveting serial or a lively game show. Rather, a very serious programme was being aired: a demonstration of national pride focused on Pakistan’s experiments with the atomic bomb. A mighty explosion was shown being set off; the earth rumbled and shook. Then I saw the mountain on the screen quiver ever so slightly, and its colour began to change imperceptibly, like the colour fading from a human face. I put down my pen. Or perhaps it stopped writing on its own and I had no other option but to put it down.

In my childhood, whenever there was a lunar or solar eclipse, my father would put aside all his chores and sit on the prayer rug. He would offer two prayers, which he called the Prayers of Fear. He would say that a great misfortune had befallen the moon and that we must pray to God for the crisis to be averted and for the Hour of Reckoning to pass without mishap. Today, perhaps an Hour of Reckoning had reached that mountain in Pakistan. In the mountain’s moment of trial and tribulation, it showed an amazing grace and strength! It held up against the powerful destruction brought by the explosion and did not allow even a hair to be hurt on the head of anyone in Pakistan. How much it suffered can be gauged from the fact that it quivered and lost its colour when the explosion ripped through it. Its lost colour will never be restored.

Until yesterday, the atom bomb had been beyond our reach—a rare and extraordinary weapon of mass destruction that could be the prized possession only of superpower arsenals across the seven seas. But in the blink of an eye, the weapon had fallen into our hands. Strange, very strange indeed! Now we, too, are an atomic power. An atomic power is a superpower, and what nation doesn’t want to be a superpower? So just as the people of India must be very happy, the people of Pakistan are also very happy. It is the bunch of other superpowers who are worried now. Before today, they had signed countless agreements and counter-agreements among themselves, pledging that, come what may, they would never use these weapons of mass destruction. Now the superpowers are bedevilled by this classic case of the runaway monkey and the razor: no one knows who the runaway monkey [End Page 196] might slash! In the same way, who knows when India and Pakistan will press the button and annihilate the rest of the world along with themselves?

I remember so many stories from my childhood I heard my grandmother tell. One of them was about a down-on-his-luck prince who was caught in the snare of a genie. The genie took the prince to his grand fortress and released him, saying, “You are free in every way inside this fortress except for one thing. There are seven doors here; you can open six and they will lead you to amazing delights. You may have your fill of those delights. But do not open the seventh door. If you do, a great calamity will befall you.” The prince followed the genie’s admonition for many days. Each of the six doors led to a cornucopia—every manner of bounty to suit every taste and delectation. Eventually, however, the prince tired of these gratifications. One day he decided to open the seventh door to find out what great pleasures it hid. And the moment he opened the door, great calamity fell upon his head.

In our times, we are also caught in a genie’s snare: the genie of science...


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pp. 196-201
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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