Flash Reality — STORY # 1 (Teensy-Weensy Tiddly Toys)
This is Flash Reality as opposed to Flash Fiction. I’ve coined this term to narrate personal/real stories tweaked to suit fictional purposes. The maximum word limit I’ve chosen for these stories is 2000 words excluding the wording of any poem or reference material.
The Monsoon Rains caressed Islamabad—the corridor of powers (the seat of the affluent, manipulators and king makers)—drenching it in water from the paved bricks of the urban terrain through vast swathes of lands to the Margalla hills ringing major part of the town. This was the time when the whole city, which only witnessed scorching sunbeams and fluctuating political heat, chose to bathe in the Monsoon showers that knocked at their doors almost every year. There was much this planned city offered its populace to enjoy in, but the most prominent used to be the hilly terrain, especially Pir Suhawa, the nearest of the points. Our poet, along with his colleagues, also planned to visit Pir Suhawa hills.
The hills of Pir Suhawa offered fantastic scenery. The meanderings of the road leading to the hills served as a test of nerves. Outside, the rains lashed against the vehicle. Hullabaloo within.
Our poet had blown into the town for over a few weeks now. The town was fully planned, thanks to the Greek architect and town planner–C. A. Doxiadis. Doxiadis had left an indelible mark on the forehead of history with the architecture of this town. In fact, the town was fully planned compared to any other city in the country. In the leafy town the criss-crossing streets formed a fantastic pattern. However, there was something that pushed the poet from within to leave the place. He didn’t know what. But one catchphrase caught his attention that he heard the other day about Islamabad: rastay hamwar nahin, darakhat phaldar nahin, mausam pe aitbar nahin, aur log wafadar nahin (translated from Urdu: [in this town] roads are uneven, trees are without fruit, weather is unpredictable, and people have no [true] loyalties). It was a catchphrase that almost everyone who lived in Islamabad knew by heart.
It was for the first time that he was on way to Islamabad’s hilly terrain. He had otherwise explored several mountainous regions in the north of the country years ago. He loved the mountains, especially their magnanimity and aura they oozed with. Mountains made everything in their surroundings inferior as did the sea; however, he found himself overblown in their presence. But the Pir Suhawa hills didn’t offer such magnanimity. However, there was serenity and aesthetic flavour that the poet’s mind sought in the verdant landscape. He was happy to step on the top of the hills and could view the breathtaking panorama of the whole city.
The poet feasted his eyes on the panoramic view of the city from all possible angles from the hills. But since he was in a poetic mood, he found himself alone in the crowd of his colleagues and the people who had thronged the area from the town. He chose a huge portion of land graced by uncountable cashew trees, spruces and pines, and spent most of his time with them as well as monkeys.
Yes, a number of monkeys swung on tree branches and occasionally neared him. Those monkeys, whenever they made faces, reminded him of his country’s bureaucracy. He had now begun to believe that Islamabad was full of monkeys, not only the ones who made faces before him, and smiled despite himself. Picked a few cashew nuts and washed them in the rain to eat.
While he tried to make use of the scanty drizzle, a little girl, hardly a few years old, approached him with straw-made toys to sell. They seemed inexpensive but he had forgotten his wallet at the hostel before rushing to the hills; hence not in a position to buy anything.
While she kept asking him to buy one of those toys, all the colleagues had returned and shouted at him to get into the van to leave for the hostel. Having told the girl that he had forgotten his wallet at home, he walked briskly to the van and the little girl followed him running, hawking in the same tone. Her last sentence was “Asan twade peechhe saari umr rorhh chaaddi ae, tussee saano panj rupay we naeen dende” (translated from Punjabi: I’ve squandered my whole life following you, while [you’re so rude that] you even don’t pay me a few bucks).
This was the moment the poet had entered the van, some of the colleagues shouted terribly at the little girl, one of them even tried to push her away but the poet clasped his arm not to. At this, before the van could move, the other fellow started speaking against the beggars of the town and told how such kind of people had led beggary to take roots in the country. The girl seemed to be unaffected by their behaviour and kept hawking her toys. Meanwhile, one said “Did you notice the sentence this little girl just uttered? My Lord, could you believe such a tiny girl could speak so deeply, as if a philosopher, some fully grown, mature soul?” At this another replied “These kids are trained this way. These are marketing techniques, emotional blackmailing. Nothing else.” An unending debate began on such poor people who in their eyes were beggars even if they sold things like that. The van door slammed shut, and it moved off the girl to the town.
The poet could only see the little girl moving her lips, and waving her toys in her tiny hands. His soul had wept that moment for something inexplicable but his eyes couldn’t support him. After the road turned, the little girl disappeared, like Wordsworth’s Lucy Gray, for good and all, and would never appear in his life but perhaps like Lucy Gray in the lonely and dreamy landscape she would move past as a ghost.
Though he could not see the girl now, he was still able to spot several monkeys in the trees. He could see them swing but couldn’t hear them; however, he could hear the sounds of those monkeys through his colleagues who were totally devastated by the girl’s apparent drama of selling valueless stuff to rob people of their hardly earned money.
After several years, when he was not in Islamabad as he lived in Karachi by then, the poet went to China on a visit, especially Wall of China at Badaling.
Accompanied by a friend’s relative, who could communicate in English, he sauntered up and down the colossal wall. There was no Monsoon in China and undoubtedly it was wet winter with snow. The poet who had witnessed the mummies (terracotta warriors of Xian district in China) a few days before touring to Badaling and the other portions of the Great Wall near Beijing, could in that biting chill experience himself as a mummy that walked. He smiled despite himself but the chill forbade him to do more. Amidst this inhospitable weather, which the poet had chosen out of compulsion as he was not expecting to return to China in the near future, he found a little girl following him. The girl was little enough to be noticed in the beginning but when she touched him at his knees, he saw she hawked for some toys she wanted to sell. Those were plastic toys she hawked for. The ages old history returned to him forthwith. He could not afford to ignore that little girl. He wanted to ask how much those toys cost, but couldn’t understand Mandarin, so the girl who accompanied him intervened and helped the poet and the little girl reach a deal. The poet bought a number of toys, which made the little girl run with inexplicable joy and excitement, which only the poet could feel, because the girl accompanying him had started reminding him of how unworldly he was in wasting a dozen of the renmimbi on a thing which was not even worth a yuan and that he was fool enough to buy more than one toy.
The tour had brought him to a nostalgic world. At night, he wrote a poem, which he thought might have been written several years ago at Islamabad. That poem, which he also included later on in his poetry book, was:
Teensy-Weensy, Tiddly Toys
Tall, rolling hills an’ the rain
With biting chill, gusty winds
And the discouraging height
Challenge my feet, pulse an’ veins.
People soaked in rain an’ snow
Think of no retreat to homes,
Rather chuckling, giggling mount
The saturated course, hills.
In this huge throng of people
One little girl follows me
Hawking, in some breathy tone,
Teensy-weensy, tiddly toys.
I ignore and scale the hill
But in a dolorous mode
The little girl hawks aloud.
I keep on ignoring and
She keeps at hawking her toys.
In a deep tone she complains,
“I’ve crept on rough stone of life
Lacerating skin and flesh
Of my wretched, luckless soul!
Bro! Am I not worth one buck!?”