THE STRANGER IN HIS OWN HOUSE.
Translated From Urdu Afsana “Ajnabi Aadmi” by Shaukat Husain Shoro (Published in ,”Mah e Nau” June, 1994).
The original article in in Urdu and can be seen at
He had stopped smoking for the last many days.
But the reason for which he stopped smoking never left him. When Ghulam Mohammad had a fit of cough he became breathless due to protracted coughing. Just now when he tried to stifle his urge to cough, he found that his throat was choking. He was least concerned about his own pain but did fear that his coughing will disturb people sleeping (on their cots) in the courtyard. And this is what exactly happened. His eldest son Anwar complained from his slumber, “Oh my”,
Then, instead of speaking to his father, he called his mother,
“Maa, what a great problem you have let us get in to, one cannot even get some sleep in a part of the night”
The mother Mariam said in an annoyed manner, ”Yes my son, He cares not; what does he ever do except eating and coughing”.
“No problem with his eating, he may eat to his fill, God has given us everything. But he should at least let us sleep”.
“Bhai Jaan, let us set his bed in the drawing room, where he could have his cough as he likes”, said younger brother Ahmad.
“Well done, my junior, what a great suggestion! Do you want others to laugh at us when they would see the filth in the drawing room from his coughing, like sputum and phlegm?”
Ghulam Mohammad was listening all this verbal exchange quietly as if they were talking about someone else. He now quipped, “What is there in me that people will laugh at me?”
“Who is talking to you? The poor fellows are talking with each other” said Mariam angrily, “you are wasting your breath, just get on with your coughing.”
“The poor fellows, eh” Ghulam Mohammad could not control his anger, “Is there anything ever said in this house except taunting me?”
Mariam, who was lying on her string cot, now sat up, “You are ruining everyone’s sleep and expect that they will say nothing?
Anwar came to his father and, putting his hands together, said,” Abba, please have mercy on us. We toil all day and do expect some rest and some sleep in the night. Please do not ruin it.
Now Mariam started grumbling,” I do not know what type of illness is this. He has managed to cough up enough filth around the house.”
“I am scarce happy to cough. I cannot help but cough when I get a fit.”
“Bhai Jaan, please admit father in a hospital, or he will get us all ill”
“Now I have seen it all! My own sons planning to abandon me to a hospital when I am old!” Ghulam Mohammad said in a sad voice.
Mariam looked at Anwar and said,” Now look, he has started wailing like a woman”
“I do not talk to him just because of such behaviour” he said angrily.
Ghulam Mohammad kept quite as he had realised that it was futile to pursue the matter any further.
“He is no father, but is rather an enemy of his sons.” Mariam now laid down on her cot facing away from him.
Ghulam Mohammad felt a pang of rage but somehow he controlled his feelings.
He felt thirsty, but knew his sons or even wife won’t get him a glass of water. So he himself walked to the water pitcher and looked for the tumbler which was set aside specially for him. When he did not find it on its appointed place he asked his wife, “where is my tumbler?”
“It should be there somewhere” she replied with disdain, “You should take care of your glass”
(a tumbler, even if made of metal is called glass)
“It is not at the place where I usually keep it.”
“Yes, your glass is made of gold, someone might have stolen it” the wife said with sarcasm.
Ahmad came in,” We never touch that glass. Who wants to fall sick after drinking in it.”
Ghulam Mohammad was furious,” Am I suffering with T.B. that one will get sick after using my glass?”
“This disgusting phlegm you spread everywhere is enough indication of T.B.” said the wife.
“Abba has never learnt anything from his education as he goes on spreading his phlegm everywhere.” Said Anwar.
Ghulam Mohammad wanted to reply but his eye caught sight of his glass which was lying upturned on the ground in a corner. This reminded him of the glasses kept aside for the use of the low cast people in restaurants in small towns. He felt he had been reduced to the status of a scheduled cast in his own home. He picked up the glass, drank some water and placed it at its appointed spot.
What a pity a man becomes useless once he is old. The people outside as well as in the home scarce give him any importance, once he retires after working for many years. When he was in the service he knew even then people in his home were not very happy with him. After his retirement his folks complained he did nothing for himself and for them while he was working.
“When you will retire, the government will weigh you against gold because of your honesty?” his wife used to taunt him.
Back then he was strong and would shut her up. But now he was helpless in front of his wife and his sons.
The elder son hardly talked to him and always he was angry whenever he did talk.
“After all what good did you ever do to us? You even stopped me getting a motor cycle, forget about a car. The children of people who were in grades lower than yours go about in cars.” He would complain.
Anwar never allowed the story of the motor cycle be forgotten. How when a contractor came to know that Anwar wanted a motor cycle and his father would not get him one, brought a new motor cycle and gave him, in the hope that Ghulam Mohammad will oblige him by signing his bills, he refused to accept the bait and returned the motor cycle.
That day Mariam and Anwar became convinced that Ghulam Mohammad was their enemy.
They maintained a semblance of normalcy while they were dependent on him for board and lodge. Now when he is retired, their frustration has come out in the open.
He has realized that he has become a stranger in his own house.
He wondered if being honest was from within his own conscience or was it just his stubbornness. He made many people uncomfortable due to his habit. He was always afraid someone might trap him into corruption and this made him postpone even straight cases for weeks.
He now felt that he is a misfit in the society. But it was too late to do anything now. He looked at his wife and sons. They were all asleep. He felt a small itch in his throat. He pressed his hand against the throat. With red face and eyes bulging due to stress, he went to the bathroom and closed the door. Then he started coughing like he will never stop.
Suppressing the noise to the minimum, he coughed to his heart’s content.