Translated from the UrduBy Fahimm Inhonvi----Baba Jaan was sleeping. Like a child developing inside its mother’s womb, he was sleeping with one hand placed against the side of his head and his feet curled in to his belly. There is usually no distinct shape or angle to the way he can go to sleep. At times, you find him sleeping turned to the left and at others to the right. He can even go to sleep sitting propped up against a cushion, with his neck bent to one side, snoring in such a terrifying way as to jar the ears. And then again, sometimes he would go to sleep with his hands and legs stretched out straight like a corpse. Looking at him like that filled the heart with dread. He does not sleep too soundly. In fact, he sleeps as lightly as a bird, so that even the slightest sound would awaken him in an instance. He says because he has slept so much during his youth, now the need for it has almost gone. When he feels a little at peace, he rummages through the packets and pouches of medicines and digestive powders lying on the bed, as if searching for some such thing that would bring comfort to his heart. But there is nothing to comfort his heart in these bundles and pouches. All the comfort and consolation of his heart lies buried in the rubble of our ancestral home.Baba Jaan’s world is now confined to the four walls of his room. Still, shading his eyes with his hand, he looks across into the drawing room through the door of his room and to the patch of sky framed into the window that opens outwards. One day he was saying:‘My vision has become so weak that I cannot even see the birds and kites flying in the sky’ There was a time when Baba Jaan loved to fly kites and pigeons. A few years ago he used to read religious and historical books with an avid interest. Naseem Hijazi was his favorite novelist and Salah Ud Din Ayyubi his ideal hero. But he has lost all interest in books now. Even otherwise, with his failing eyesight, he would not be able to read anyway. I have noticed, too, that he no longer prays or recites the Quran’s verses with same intensity and devotion as before. A sort of stupor descends on him during namaz, or when reciting the Quran’s verses. The only time he appears fresh and lively is in the morning. Propped against the cushion, he appears somewhat rather at ease going through his prayers beads, all the while observing with an affectionate smile the hustle and bustle going on as the children prepare to go to school. After the children have left for school and a feeling of emptiness pervades the house, he begins to gaze towards the sky to find some solace and comfort. It is as if the small patch of sky visible through the window is one of the most pleasurable and vivid element of his life. When his vision used to be sharp, he could, by glancing at the sunlight coming in through the window, give you a very good approximation of where the sun stood in the sky and so what time of the day it would be. But he can no longer do so now. Instead, he keeps on asking Sajida and the children to tell him the time. One day, Saijida remarked, ‘He can very well hear the azaan*, then why does he keeps on repeatedly asking the time? And I had replied with a laugh, ‘It is time which makes a man aware of his existence.’Right now, Baba Jaan was sleeping in such an absurd way, propped against the cushion, neck askew, and his mouth open in a most comical manner, emitting such horrendous sounds from his throat, like an animal being slaughtered. This was certainly not an appropriate moment. Dragging out the box from under the bed may awaken him.“Wake him up. Even otherwise, he is sleeping in such a troubled way.’ Sajida said. I gently put a hand on Baba Jaan’s shoulder and even before I could call him to wake, he had opened his eyes with a shudder and, clearing his throat, he asked in a worrisome tone ”What’s the matter?’“Where are the keys to the box?” I asked. Without any hesitation, Baba Jaan extended the key towards me after drawing it out from beneath his pillow. It was surprising he didn’t ask for any explanation at the key being asked for. Baba Jaan has very strong emotional ties to his box. The key to the box was always kept under Baba Jaan’s pillow, and he never allowed anyone to open the box. Sajida often remarked, ‘There must be a Will, or some other precious thing in that box that could be of value to our children.’ She knew though that there was no land or property in Baba Jaan’s name and neither had he earned so much money as to be able to buy something of value for our children’s future. Retiring from the post of a primary section teacher, he had been awarded a meager pension. But yes, he had somehow managed to build a small house to provide a roof for our heads.Out of the things found inside Baba Jaan’s box were a pouch of old coins, some religious and historical books, a few pages of a tattered diary on which he had noted down some home remedies and written down in a most disjointed way the circumstances and episodes of his life, some doctor’s prescriptions and x-rays, a few beads of a broken rosary and a rusty, crumbling genealogical chart. There were also some photographs and parts of some letters whose ink had almost faded. The coins were undamaged but the pouch containing them as well as all the rest of the stuff had been so badly eaten away by termites that it all represented an elegy to bygone days. Whatever was in the box had been seen by me in my childhood. One photograph belonged to my grandfather’s time in which grandfather was seated in an almost magisterial manner on a chair alongside some of the most active and influential political personalities of his day, including Maulana Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali. Seated cross-legged on the ground below them were my Baba Jaan, Chacha Jaan** and some other children of the area, all wearing*The Islamic call to prayer ** ‘Chacha’ is Paternal Uncle in Urdu and Jaan (literally meaning life) is added as a term of endearmentknotted caps and holding the Khilafat flag in their hand. The photograph had been placed upside down at the very bottom of the box so that it had stuck to the base and become coated with rust and faded to such an extent that the contours of the faces in it were obliterated. It was difficult even to recognize what manner of clothes they were wearing. The disfigured faces and tarnished clothes were imparting an impression of mummified corpsesThe things found in Baba Jaan’s box were of no interest or use. But yes, the few pages from his diary that had remained undamaged and the letters written by my uncle were readable. Though most of the pages of the diary and the letters had been devoured by termites, a picture of Jinnah, faded but still recognizably visible, had been left undamaged at the top end of an envelope. His face, though, had been pockmarked by the termites and a void had been created where his cap would have been. Only some excerpts were still extant from the letters in the envelope. One excerpt was somewhat as follows:‘During this long period of time, through which we have had no news, all sorts of things have happened and what tragedies have befallen. Baba Jaan and Chacha Jaan are no more and we could not even have a last glimpse of them. How sad and distressing this is-not a single one of our elders survives in this world. And the news that our ancestral home is no more is even more saddening. Perhaps you may have built a solid house on that piece of land. The image and contours of our mud-brick house and the memory of that niche, in which Amma Jaan used to light an earthen lamp, are all still etched in my memory. That niche was built in the centre and the lamp placed there used to light up the whole house. Alas, now we can only see that house in our dreams and imagination. It is also so distressing to learn that Sajjad has gone to court for possession of the house. After coming here, I have forfeited any legal rights to the house. Now, only you and Sajjad have the legal rights of possession to the house. Both of you brothers can now sit and try to conveniently work out a way to an amicable settlement. Mutual disputes and legal battles are not only a cause of shame they also harm the family’s name and reputation. The result of Baba Jaan’s dispute with his own brother was so exemplarily dreadful. However, I am unable to do anything in a practical way. I can only provide you with good advice through my letters. I hope that you have taken care of Baba Jaan and Amma Jaan’s graves and got them repaired and put grave markers on them again.’The rest of the excerpt had been eaten away by termites. The following lines were still extant on the second page:‘The only desire now left in life is to be buried in our ancestral graveyard, besides the graves of Baba Jaan and Amma Jaan. What can I say about the situation here? We are like a traveler marooned on an island, sitting and waiting for some divine help. Just recently I once again heard Maulana Azad’s insightful speech on partition. What a truthful and perceptive man he was. Today, Muslims need a leader just like him.’ The excerpts after this had been destroyed.The second letter, whose initial segment had perished, was most probably by my cousin brother Khalid. One part of this letter had begun in the following way:‘Baba Jaan’s disposition is like a child’s. He plays with the children as if he was a child himself. He takes away their toys from them. If anything happens against his wishes, he cries like a child. He calls Saira Amma Jaan and addresses me as Abba Jaan. Some people he calls by the names of his Hindu friends. He has given the localities here the name of localities over there. One day, on a visit to Sadar Bazaar with me, looking at the buildings over there, he remarked how Lucknow had changed so much.Doctors have given him medicines but they say he is suffering from an illness for which there is no cure.I tried to open the genealogical tree that had been kept so carefully folded into four parts. It had become brittle and tattered. When I tried to open its folds, it broke up in four parts. I brought each piece close to the eyes and tried to read it with the utmost concentration but could not understand anything. All the names with their delineation of ancestry had faded away and it would not be possible to read them even with a microscope.I kept everything back in the box that I had taken out of the box. Locking the box, I extended the key towards Baba Jaan. Looking at me with lusterless eyes, he asked, ’What were you looking for?’Explaining the prevailing situation to him, I said, ‘We need documents that can prove that we are citizens of Hindustan.’“Can’t this be proved through our family’s genealogical tree?”, Baba Jaan enquired with innocence and we both began to look towards each other as if gazing at a mirage.Inside, across the room in front, Sajida and the children were watching a documentary film on detention camps, shot by a hidden camera. Going near them, I took the mobile from her hands and deleted the film.