Hamid Dalwai, mainly, wrote his creative works from the age of 20 to 35, including a short novel and around 40 to 50 short stories. All his stories depict the ordinary life of Muslim society. However, out of all his stories, eight stories have poverty, dearth and hunger mainly at their center and the reasons that resonate for this through the stories are land ownership and lack of education. Moreover, it highlights the gap between the two - Hindu and Muslim societies regarding backwardness.
He has written these eight stories between the age of 20 to 25 years. These stories are written before he turned his full attention to working for the questions of the Muslim community. It is also likely because by then he was motivated by Lohia waadi / socialist thinking people and was also aspiring to get into politics to make changes in the society.
After reading about his biography, one can conclude that his mind has been deeply reflected in those eight stories. Two stories worth noting are - 'The Ten Rupee Note’ and ‘Ahmed’. The story former one is somewhat indefinite or raw, which he wrote when he was twenty years’ old. The second story, however, has been skillfully written and its critical appreciation can be a subject for a separate article. We are publishing here today an English translation of the story ‘Ahmed’.
Some people awaken early while some don’t; but Ahmad is generally wakeful before the crack of dawn. He wakes up with the hens and cocks at his home and the birds on the trees.
When he wakes up, other people at his home are yet in their bed. His father lay asleep on his huge bed and continuously snores. His mother places herself on the floor besides Ahmad. Ahmad usually rolls far away from his mother in his sleep and later when he wakes up, he feels frightened. He is terrified enough to get up on his own and reach up to his mother. He keeps shivering and screeching from his place in a quivering voice like a lamb, “Buvaa… Oo buvaa…”
The hens listen to his calling and answer back in their own way ‘cok cok cok’ aspiring to console him. As soon as they make sound ‘Kukooch koo sssss’ the birds spread their wings and fly towards the sky. They strangely begin to chatter.
His mother wakes up to this sound. She learns that her son is awake but as she feels very sleepy she calls him from her place in her drowsy voice, “What happened? ... Ahmad? Arrey! Ahmad what….?”
“Take me close to you… close to you…” Ahmad replies with a suppressed voice as if someone would cut his throat if he shouts even a little louder.
By the time, his mother gets very angry. She shouts, “What’s your problem, you Monster? Why are you shouting? Come in front… Come here…”
“I will not… You come… You take me closer to you. I feel scared…” he somehow gathers courage to answer.
“You useless!” she gets up yelling and carelessly pulls him towards her with anger; places her rough and loveless hands on him saying “Hun! Sleep now.”
She sleeps but he remains wide awake. He is done with the sleep since long time. The sound of cocks and hens has grabbed his attention now. His mind senses happiness in the sound of birds chirping outside. His mother's hands on his body, though affectionless, makes his fears gradually evaporate like the dewdrops. Her touch somehow calms his shivering hands and legs.
He then realizes the presence of light. He is the only one who witnesses the slowly melting darkness in that house and his fear completely fades away. He jerks off of his mother's hand from his body. She tries to hold him tight in her sleep but he pushes away her hand, struggles to stand up and runs towards the hens’ hutch.
The hens wakeup making ‘cok… cok…cok’ sound. They push each other and come out of the hutch jumping one after the other. They heavily move their feathers blowing the ashes and dried dung in the air.
Ahmad stands there smelling the bitter & piquant odor of the ashes and the dung. The odor lingers around him till the ash dust settles down and then vanishes in the air. Only after this, Ahmad puts his hand in the hens’ hutch.
His hand touches a small white egg... white round-round egg... The yolk inside the egg seems to him like some transparent object. He stands there with the egg in his hand. It reminds him of his parents and he becomes doubtful about whether he would get to eat this egg or not. He loses himself to the uncertainty of getting to eat that egg.
While he stands with an egg in his hand, his mother wakes up angrily and begins to roll the bed. His father loudly yawns and his stretched body makes the cot bed yell even louder! Both of them begin to search for the child and they find him standing near the hutch with an egg in his hand.
"You idiot! What are you doing here? I have been searching you for so long!" mother yells. Her eyes fall on the egg and she snatches it from his hand saying, "You Useless! You very well know how to eat eggs but you don’t know how to work in the farm, Hun? Just wander around and eat eggs!!! You’re good for nothing!”
Meanwhile his father comes yawning, banging his feet and says to him, “Go… go and give some food to the goats!”
He feels a lump of cry in his throat but he very well understands that it is not at all convenient to cry in front of his parents. He drags his feet towards the goat shed, opens the door and enters in.
The goats begin to ‘bnaa-aa-aa’ as soon as he gets there. They stare at him with sharp ears, hoping to get something to eat. He instantaneously forgets to give them food as soon as he enters. He loses himself to the smell of the goat droppings. He likes this smell too.
Someone has told him that this smell of dung and droppings is good for health. He has also heard that this smell keeps one away from diseases. Since then he has adopted the habit of smelling it. He wants to stay healthy.
While he stands engrossed in his own thoughts he hears the bell ringing at the Maktab (a muslim elementary school). His attention flies from the smell to that sound which is followed by the sound of children. He also hears the scolding of Mullah ji. Then everything goes silent! After that he hears a different kind of chaos - created by many mixed voices. This sound echoes in his ears. The children from the Maktab begin to recite.
This voice mesmerizes him. He remembers the ‘lesson’ of Bismillah which once he knew by heart. He recalls the days when he was in the Maktab.
He knew the lesson of bismillah very well and he would have learnt the Quran, the tarteeb (arrangement / methods / formations) really quick! He would have understood the Daleels and Hadees. But nothing out of this happened; it could never happen…
...and just like their farm, his father’s intelligence also became useless. He had gone crazy and was behaving witlessly. With the same Madness, he one day came to the Maktab, slapped Ahmad on his back and said, “Education is only for the lenders’ children. Do we have that much ability? Why are you reciting Bismillah? Get up and come with me to work to pick up the cow dung… He pulled him holding his neck and brought him straight in the cowshed. His father gave him diksha (initiation) of cleaning the dung! After that he never stepped into the Maktab. His morning time was spent cleaning the dung and he later completely forgot about the lesson of Bismillah.
But now, while he is trying to remember the lesson, he suddenly hears his father yelling from the house.
“You!! What are you doing?”
“Giving food to the goats!”
“Up till now?” and he comes walking to the cowshed. On watching Ahmad stand his father understands the situation and punches Ahmad in his back.
“You scoundrel! You just came here and stood doing nothing for so long, hun?” And he continues to jabber.
Though unable to bear yet Ahmad helplessly receives the beating from his father and then puts some grass in front of the goats. Father grabs and drags him home. Bhaakri has been cooked at home.
Ahmad takes a mat to sit and his mother keeps a plate in front of him with the single bhaakri made and an omelet made with onions. Ahmad sits besides his father fearfully and looks at his face with hope and expectation.
His father breaks the Bhakri and places one fourth of it on Ahmad’s hand. He also puts similarly small portion of the omelet on it and then he greedily alone eats the remaining portion.
A lump of tear gathers in Ahmad’s throat as he looks at the very little portion of Bhakri in his hand. It is highly impossible to sustain till afternoon with such little food. Accompanied by this hunger, he will have to work in the farms in the burning weather. But it is of no use to have any expectations for more Bhakri because to have more shouldn't there be more available? Now, he feels very angry about the father who eats more.
As soon as his father finishes eating Ahmad remembers that he hasn’t filled the glass of drinking water. He frightfully gets up from his place, dips a glass in the pot and keeps it besides his father. His father drinks half of it and keeps the glass with leftover water there itself. Ahmad picks up the glass and takes it near his mouth. He unwillingly drinks that leftover water with closed Eyes!
He never likes to drink the leftover water but he knows that if he refuses, it might upset his father. His father always tells him, “One should drink leftover water! It contains a blessing for our livelihood!”
Then his mother orders him, “Now take the goats out, Hun, will you?”
He is completely aware that this - ‘will you?’ is merely a formality. Was anyone going to listen if he says ‘no’? But even these phony words make him feel good and he asks, “Buvaa, shall I com early today? Will you give me food before time?”
“Yes- yessss!” She replies in a motherly loving voice and says further, “Come soon my child. Today I will be cooking daal and dhaan !
“Wah! Wah!” He says and goes jumping happily towards the shed. He hurriedly leaves the goats and gets them out.
The goats come out pushing each other. They blow the dust around with their hoofs. He begins to walk behind them through the dust with a stick in his hand.
The coldness of the morning has yet not reduced. The dust also seems moist and heavy due to the morning dew. The road seems to be quietly asleep under the dust. As the goats walk through it a beautiful design gets carved on the dust due to the goats’ hoof. Ahmad keeps walking behind them watching this design.
It is the time for children to go to school. The children walk in groups towards school. As this road reaches the heath passing by the school, Ahmad has to herd his goats from there. He has to go everyday this way.
He feels that this task is the most annoying one for him. All the children from the village look down upon him. They tease him, they bully him and he quietly walks away from there with his head down. He feels better only when he comes far away from the school, at a point from where the school almost becomes invisible!
But today these children catch hold of him on the road itself. He begins to rush his goats and run behind them in order to avoid these children. As soon as the children realize this they begin to run behind him. As soon as he understands that the children have already caught him he reduces his speed of running. He and the children both keep walking with the same speed looking at each other. He looks at them fearfully while they look at him mockingly!
None of them utter a single word for a while. Just if I would have also gone to the school… then even I would have stood with these boys hanging a bag on my shoulder, is what he feels… We lost our land and my father lost his senses; that is why we have to face this sad situation - is the only thing he understands... He never gets to understand why these children have a different situation than him. Maybe they are blessed by Khuda, is what he feels. He feels envious of them and also has a feeling of hatred. He exceptionally begins to feels tremendous hatred towards them.
The children now begin to behave aggressively. They start walking in front of him and obstruct his way. His leg touches another boy mistakenly while walking and the boy falls down. This reason becomes enough for the children. They stand in a circle around him not allowing him to go.
His heart beats increase. He feels that - today he won't remain alive anymore. He tries to escape from these children but does not succeed.
“Hey!! You silly boy Ahmad!! Where are you going?” the children start yelling at him on the top of their voices.
“Field… I am going to the field… let me go….” he pleads.
But no one allows him to go. One of the children hits his head with the hand. Second one kicks his buttock. Third one snatches the stick from his hand and raises the same stick on him.
The raised stick seems to him like a naked sword hanging on his head with absolutely no assurance of when it might fall on him…
As he sees it coming down towards him he moves aside quickly. Because the stick misses the target and bangs on the floor, the hand of the person who hit the stick quivers with pain. Everyone gets angry because Ahmad could skip the blow. They begin to fight with him.
By this time, the goats have gone too far. Maybe they have reached the heath… and here Ahmad is fighting back down-heartedly with the children. The stony school watches all this quietly; keeps watching…
But when they begin to fight physically, all the other things around him seem to become invisible. The school becomes invisible, the goats vanish and the road below his feet begins to worn out. What remains is just he himself. His father's image appears in front of him. He remembers that, once when some kunbis had purposely sent their cattle in the field, father had made them run out of the field along with their cattle by pelting stones on them.
While being hit and being wounded, slowly his hatred for his father begins to lower; same like the low tide of the sea water. He just remembers his father's action of pelting the stones and his bravery. He immediately bents down and picks up a stone in his hand while releasing himself from them. He throws that stone towards the children, which hits one of the boy’s head and he begins to bleed. That boy sits down in pain.
Seeing the condition of this boy other children fearfully run away from there. The wounded boy and Ahmad remain there. The boy feels extremely scared of Ahmad. He runs away from there and joins the group of other boys standing far away.
Ahmad feels powerful. He picks up some more stones and pelts them towards that group of boys. Those boys run away and he immediately comes to his awareness.
He suddenly feels afraid - afraid of the stony school, the boys inside the school and also of his father. He feels tremendously depressed. He begins to run towards the heath.
He feels relieved after covering some distance. His legs tremble and he stops running. And then he is bothered by a different worry…
…he is tremendously hungry now.
(Originally published in marathi in Sadhana: Kumar ank, 11 June 1958. Translation by Deepali Awkale.)
Read original marathi version of the story here.