Monthly Archives: August 2015

GADARIA (Shepherd) by Ashafaq Ahmad



      The afsana (short story) by Ashfaq Ahmad has a wonderful mix of fate, events and social interactions. A man sees himself elevated from humble beginnings to a respectable status only to be brought down right to the point where he started by fate/ events. It reveals in a very subtle way the ironies and pains of the times of the partition of India in to Pakistan and India.

The original is in Urdu and can be read at

This is an English rendition and I cannot claim it to be 100% literal translation of the original. But I will try to retain the flare and the flow of the narrative.

Here it goes:


(THE SHEPHERD) (abridged)

by Ashfaq Ahmad


It was a cold and long night of winter and I was asleep in my warm bed when some one woke me up. “Who is it” I screamed. A voice came from the darkness, “Rano has been arrested by the police”.

I said, “What” and the dark form in the darkness said, “Rano has been arrested by the police, translate this sentence in Persian”.

“Dao Ji, you dog, you are good at annoying me even in the middle of the night, I do not want to be tutored, I will not stay with you any longer”. I said with irritation and started crying.

Dao Ji said lovingly, “How will you become a successful man if you will not study, How then will they know your Dao Ji?”

“How I wish every one to die, even me, even me; and also you” I cried thinking of my young demise and soon lapsed in to uncontrolled weeping.

Dao Ji was caressing my hair lovingly and said, “My beloved son, just translate this one sentence now and I promise I will not wake you up again.”

“I can’t” I said grudgingly.

You give up so easily, please try once.

“I will NOT try”

He then laughed and said, ”Karkunan-e-gazma khana Rano rataoqeeq kardand, say it 10 times”

Realizing that he will not go until I said as he asked to, I repeated this 10 times. He then said, go back to sleep now but remember I will ask this again first thing in the morning.

Every day in the evening, on my way back home from learning Quran from religious teacher I used to choose the long lane that had on both sides many houses. There was one of water supplier whom we used to call “seller of pumpkin for 2 ½ annas”. After his house was an enclosure with mud walls of other houses on three sides, and on the front they had put a fence of dead twigs and thorns. This was used to contain goats. Next was an open space followed by the hut of the potter. After that there was that small brick house. It had a strong door with shiny brass knobs and brown windows. As I walked I was scared as the lane was mostly deserted save a man or two coming or going. There was one such who was rather tall and I saw him occasionally walking along side a boy. He sported a white moustache, wore a loose grey coat and a pair of raw cotton pyjamas and had flat boots in his feet. As he walked with a slight stoop he had his hands in his coat pockets and was in constant conversation with the boy. As they levelled with me I cast a glance at the boy who also at the same time looked at me. Soon we both turned our faces and crossed each other.


Once when I and my elder brother were coming back from an unsuccessful attempt at catching fish from the pond situated outside our locality, we found sitting at the bridge of the canal this same man who had transferred his turban to his lap and whose white choti

(6 inches of hair tuft left at the scalp with the rest of the head almost shaved, known as ‘shikha’ in Sanskrit) now exposed looked like the tail of a dirty white hen. As we passed him my brother saluted him by putting his hand on his forehead and saying, ”Salaam, Dao Ji”.

“Jeete raho” He replied (Long live).

Pleased that my brother knew him, I too shouted but so very mildly, “Salaam Dao Ji”

“Long live, Long live” he said raising his both hands and I received a sharp slap from my brother, “You dog, you like to show your smartness, what was the need of you saluting after I had done it? You always come in where you have no business? Who do you think is he?”

Keeping tears in check, I said, “The man sitting there? that Dao Ji?”

My brother was at the height of annoyance and said “Stop nonsense, you dog, you always like to imitate me, you showman”

I remained quite and kept on walking. I was glad to have had acquaintance with Dao Ji and never had any regret about the slap. It was his habit to slap me every now and then as he was elder brother.

Now that I could claim to be known to Dao Ji, I purposely chose to walk in the street at the times when he was expected to be walking also. And I experienced great happiness after saluting him and more from receiving his reply, “Long live”.

In this way in a few days I knew that he lived in that small house with brown windows. And that the boy who walked with him was his son. My brother was not at all helpful when I posed questions about Dao Ji; he was ready with his swift quips as, “Don’t be silly”, or “why, can’t you keep to your own self?”

I did not have to wait long though. When I entered M.B. High School in standard V, I found his son was my class mate. I also learnt that Dao Ji was Khatri by cast and that he was script writer in the city court. The boy’s name was Ami Chand and he was definitely the most brilliant student in the class. His head wrap was easily largest, his face very small, like that of a kitten. Some of the boys called him miaaooN (cat’s call), others called him neula (squirrel), but I called him by his proper name due to the respect I felt for Dao Ji, and this led to us being friends.

A week before summer holidays I had a chance to go with Ami Chand to his house for the first time. It was a hot afternoon and I braved both the heat and the hunger and went with him straight from school, as my desire to get the story books was too intense. It was small house. Behind the massive door with shiny brass nails was a court yard and a outer room with blue door. On the opposite side was a veranda painted red and it led to a small room. There was a little pomegranate tree and a small vegetable bed on one side of the courtyard. On the other side were the rather wide stairs under which there was little kitchen. Ami Chand saluted his mother (Be Be namaste) and disappeared in the outer room (meant to entertain guests), leaving me on my own standing in the middle of the courtyard. His mother was sitting on a mat in the veranda and was busy sewing on the sewing machine. Near her was a girl using a pair of scissors cutting cloth material. Bebe murmured some answer and continued on with her machine. The girl looked at me and said, “It is the son of the Doctor perhaps”. The machine stopped.

“Yes, it looks so” Bebe said and asked me to come nearer, waiving here hand lovingly. I moved slowly and rather erratically weaving in my hands the loose string

of my books bag. I stood next to the pillar half hidden from her.

“What is your name?” she asked. I told her my name.

The girl put down the pair of scissors and said, “He looks like Aftab, isn’t it Mom”.

“Yes of course, they are brothers”

“What about Aftab?” came a voice from inside the room.

“It is Aftab’s brother, Baoji, he came here with Ami Chand.”

Baoji emerged from the room with a bucket of water in his hands. He had folded up to the knees his trousers. He did not have any shirt on but had his turban on his head. He looked at me and remarked that yes my face resembled that of Aftab. He sat down on a stool in the middle of the court yard and began washing his feet, which he had put inside the bucket.

“Do you receive letters from Aftab” he asked me.

“Yes, one came only yesterday”

“What does he say in the letter?”

“I do not know, Abbaji knows”

“You should have asked him. One learns only if one is prepared to ask questions.” Baoji said,” Ok recite for me Surah Fatiha” (First chapter of the Qoran)

“I do not know this surah”

“Don’t you know even  Alhamdulillah?”

“I know that.” He said that it is the same thing. Ok recite now. I recited.

When I said ‘Ameen’ at the end, he also said ‘Ameen’, having lowered his trousers blow knees and was in deep concentration in reverence. I expected some reward from him like when I recited this surah for the first time to my dad he gave me a rupee. But he remained motionless and answered absentmindedly customary ‘long live’ to my salutation as I departed. I heard Bebe say after me,’ come often to play with Ami Chand.”

Daoji came out of his trance and repeated, “Yes do come often, like Aftab used to”.

This was my first full meeting with Daoji. At home I mentioned to my mother that I was at Daoji’s house and that he was remembering Aftab bhai. She scolded, “You shouldn’t have gone there as your father and Daoji are not on talking terms due to some miss understanding”. She though appreciated the fact that Daoji used to teach Aftab. I never mentioned this to my father but I continued going to Dao Ji’s house. I found him sitting on his mat and he liked to chat with me, often laughing just to please me even though there was nothing so cheerful in what I would tell him by way of gossip. Occasionally he would give me a sum to solve with the promise of more idle talk after wards. Thus I got hooked with his teaching me this and that. Once he suddenly pointed to the mat and asked me, “What is this?”. I said ‘chatayi’ (mat). He said, “No, tell me in Farsi (Persian)”. I was at a loss as I never knew any thing in Farsi. He then told me it was called ‘boria’ in Farsi and ‘haseer’ in Arabic. Thus tentatively began my education with him.

{Note: It was considered good education if one was versatile in Farsi and/or Arabic}.

His son Ami Chand was a book worm and was busy with his books all day in his room. Occasionally he would emerge in the courtyard to have a drink of water from the earthen pot placed on a wooden structure called ghiRaunchi. Bao ji would fire a question or two to him too. “Ami, what is the noun of the word do?” He would reply, “deed” and throw the tumbler under the ghiRaonchi and go back to his room. He loved his daughter very much. We called her Bibi but he always addressed her as Qurrat. He would say, addressing her, “Qurrat, when will you leave your pair of scissors alone”. She would retort, “Since you changed her name to Qurrat, she has it in her destiny to become seamstress” At which Daoji would say, “Illiterate people will scarce know its meaning”. She would then start a monolog containing foul language and bad words. He would then quietly climb the stairs leading to his room.

From the early days when I started year 9, I found myself spending a lot of time with local hakeem (medicine man) late Ahmad Ali. He was scarce interested in treating his patients and was good in spinning interesting tails about djinns, ghosts, Sulaiman and the queen Sheeba. In his little outfit which was small and dark inside, not much was there in terms of medicine except a few boxes of maajoon, several bottles of various shaerbets ( solutions) and a few other titbits. Apart from medicine, he also used Sulaimani taaweez (charm) to treat patients who came in numbers from nearby villages. Soon I started providing him with used empty bottles I stole from the hospital and in return I could borrow books of The Tale of Ameer Hamzah. These books were so interesting that, hidden in my bed, I spent whole night reading them and slept late in the morning. My parents were worried about my health but I assured them I would win scholarship in year 10. The result of reading these books all the time which included Sind Baad Jahaazi and Alif Laila, I got through year 9 with difficulty thanks to Hakeem’ intervention with the teachers, but failed the year 10 Board examination. Ami Chand topped not only the school but the whole district. I received a hiding from the respected you know who and was promptly expelled from the house.


I went straight to the well that served the hospital and sat there for hours on its rim, pondering over what to do now. I knew all the tricks of Umar and Ayyar and was aware of he Sind Bad the sailor’s journeys but could not find a way out. In the evening my mother, draping a white cloak, came and took me home after promising to get me pardoned by my father. The next day I was with three peers who also failed like me to get through the exams and who wanted to escape to Lahore and start some business there. We decided to take the 2 pm train to Lahore the next day.

In the morning as I was shining my shoes, I was summoned by my father. The servant, with a curious smile on his face, informed me that he was waiting in the hospital. When I arrived at his room, I found Daoji also sitting with him.

“Do you know him?” asked my father.

“Without doubt” I replied like an expert sales person.

“The hell with your without-doubts. You scoundrel, I will break you bones…..”

“No Doctor, please calm down, he is a good boy” Dao ji interjected.

“Oh Pundit, you don’t know, this rogue has ruined my name”

“Don’t worry sir, he is even more intelligent than our Aftab, and one day he…”.

The doctor was very angry at this and blurted after banging the table, “What are you saying Pandit, he cannot even equal the dust coming off Aftab’s shoes!”

“We will see, just send him to me.” He said.


I came out of his office with Daoji and he took me to the small bridge where I first saw him. He told me he will teach him so that I would stand first in the class.

I said, “I do not wish to study”

He said, “Then what do you think will do, Golu?”

“I will do business and earn a lot of money and have a big car” I explained.

“You may have ten cars if that is what you want but I will never ride one owned by an illiterate, nor will the doctor”, Daoji said.

“I do not care about any one. The doctor may stay happy where he is, and I stay happy where I am”

He seemed hurt. “Golu, you do not care about me too? Meeeee?”

I felt pity on him and said,” I do care about you”. But he scarcely heard what I said and went into a trance like situation where he was murmuring to himself how it was impossible to even think of showing such a blasphemy with his revered teacher. He was a mere shepherd by cast, his father an ordinary milkman, his entire clan could only identify itself with ignorance. His great teacher elevated him from a mere yokel chintu to Munshi Chant Ram.


Later I accompanied him to the market where he purchased some household things and I found out when I arrived with him at his house that my bedding and a hurricane lantern was already there indicating I was going to live there.


He then proceeded to destroy my piece of mind. All day I would brave the unintelligible jargon at the school only to face his incessant questions at night. On the rooftop we had our cots set next to each other and I am trying to sleep when I would hear all of a sudden a question. The questions would cover grammar to Geography to language. I would answer at best as I could and sometimes would be annoyed and would refuse to say any thing. He said once “Jaan e pider,(apple of father’s eye)why do you trouble me?.”

Why don’t you call me Jaan e Dao, instead of Jaan e pider?.

      He was pleased at this question and explained that Jaan is a Persian word and Dao a Hindi word and both these words cannot be mixed in a Persian manner of speech. He further elaborated with an example as to how one cannot say din ba din (day by day) and should say either roz ba roz or say din par din.

His son went to college and I was given his room, also I replaced him in Daoji’s heart. I now sort of liked Daoji but I hated and still do his habit of asking questions at all the odd hours and never letting go until I did give an answer. Another habit of his that I hated was his insistence on me studying all the time; his notion of keeping physically fit was a long walk early in the morning. He would wake me up by calling me “mote”(fat) and upon my trying to continue sleeping he would remind me how I would go on a round of the district riding a horse, if I were fat. (ostensibly assuming I was going to be a district Magistrate).



Posted by on August 11, 2015 in adab and literature, Afsaane


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