By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
(Translated from Urdu)
Illustrations by Fakrunnissa Mohsin He was an old man who had not tasted any grief in his life. He had lived a happy life, siring a number of sons and daughters. His business had had a remarkable stability, never having suffered any loss. Now he and his wife were left alone in their cottage, with all children having set up their own homes. Having performed Hajj and marrying off all his sons and daughters, he was looking forward to a blissful, retired life enjoying the coffee on a rocking chair on the balcony amid the chatter of birds every morning and narrating tales of fairies, devils, and the angels to the gaggle of grandkids who gathered around him every evening. But then the things do not remain the same forever. The old man lost his wife within a few years, robbing his cottage of the presence of the ever-smiling woman. Looking at the solitude that engulfed his ageing father, the elder son persuaded him to move with him. He set aside a special bedroom for him that opened out on a verandah facing the backyard garden. Arriving home from office, he would first head for the father’s room, sit and chat with him for some time and would arrange for his dinner. But this did not continue for long. His wife, known as Bahu Begum to all others, did not like her husband spending time with his father. To begin with, even the thought of hosting her father-in law in her home had never found favour with her. She began to express her discomfiture every time her husband returned home from the office. A host of grievances would welcome the poor husband. One day she declared: “It’s either me or your father. Enough is enough! I can no longer bear this torture of looking after the kids, running the home and also attending upon the old man. Let me have another house where I would stay with my kids. You be at your father’s side.” Finally a truce was reached. Under the new arrangement, the old man was moved to a solitary room upstairs. Meals would be delivered to him there. Though, he did not like the idea at all, he opted for it as it was better than being moved away from the care of the family altogether.
Now he was rendered totally isolated from the hum of the house. Solitude would often appear stifling him. Children too had been
admonished against venturing upstairs. Now he had no one to share anything with him. He would shed tears at his fate. Even the son would visit him only occasionally, lest his wife curse him. Bahu Begum would send him meals in a plastic plate although the family
would use the bone china dinner set for own dining. It was the same set that he had brought them while returning from the pilgrimage. The maid had strict order to serve him the meals in the same plastic plate all the time. “His shaking hands might drop the porcelain plate,” she had been warned. For months together he would lie on the same grumpy bed, with none to replace the bedsheet.
Unable to bear this humiliation, he was counting his last days. He was not living a life, rather he was acting as a living man. Finally, the day arrived when he had to bid farewell to this painful life. He passed away quietly with no one to mourn. A week after the old man died, Bahu Begum’s husband entered the room with his kids. He had to clean up the room for a new occupant. It was his new car driver who would be moving in. One of the children lifted the plastic plate and began to wipe off the grime. “Throw it away, It’s not fit to be used,” the man shouted at his son. “No chance, Baba! I would like to have it with me,” the child shouted back. “But, Beta, what are you going to do of this worn out, filthy plate?” “I would like to have it with me till you grow old so that I would use it to serve meals to you,” the child howled back. It came like a thunderbolt. Bahu Begum’s husband was dumbfounded at the little child’s reply. He had
a flashback of years of maltreatment and exile his old father had undergone at his hands. He bowed down and kissed his bed. But then beyond this gesture he had nothing to compensate for the sins he had committed against his father. (Note: The original story in Urdu was picked up from the Internet).
Old Man and the Plastic Plate
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj