Donkey

This time Nana Saheb seems to have picked up a bigger stone than before. He aims it at the dog barking from the opposite terrace. The dog has been watching this drama of fistfuls of air being aimed at him for a week now. And he is no longer afraid of the old man’s fake stones.

The dog goes back to listening to the azan and barking along with it. He invariably barks with the azan every day, especially with the call for the Fajr and Isha prayers. He’s been at it for a week. And Nanaji is tired of the dog’s persistence. ‘This donkey has to bark at this time only,’ he mumbles.

The dog is a white one, but he’s no pet dog. The worker living on the terrace of the building opposite Nanaji’s house feeds the dog off and on. And now the dog has made it a habit to hang out on the terrace every day.

Nana Saheb’s house is on the third floor, and it faces this terrace. Nanaji is the oldest patron of the neighbourhood’s masjid. It’s not like he dislikes animals, but the dog’s behaviour has been annoying him to no end.

Many a time, the muezzin would just be clearing his throat over the mike before making the call and the dog’s ears would stand up. And as soon as the azan begun, the dog would do his best to bark in rhythm.

At the time of the morning Fajr, when Nana Saheb would aim his imaginary stone at the dog, shouting ‘Hush, hush-hush … ,’ the dog would become quiet for a moment and then resume his ‘Hooooo’.

Nana Saheb lives alone. He makes a living by selling his grandfather’s remedies for rheumatic pains. He is well known in the neighbourhod and somehow manages to make ends meet. The mohallawallas check on him and also make sure to include him in weddings and other festivities. When kids would see Nanaji passing by on the street, they’d run up in front of him to say salaam. Nanaji always responded with his typically long ‘walekum assalam’ and would keep walking.

Today, when Nana Saheb ran to the balcony at the time of the azan to aim a ‘stone’ at the dog, instead of shutting up for a moment, the dog started wagging his tail in tune with his barking. Nana Saheb grit his teeth in anger. But the dog continued with his antic. ‘Such a strange, crazy dog! Donkey!‘ muttering loudly, Nanaji went back into his room.

Now, whenever he threw his imaginary stones at the dog, the dog would jump as if he were dodging real stones. And all the while, his tail would continue to wag. Nana Saheb disliked this tomfoolery. He felt the dog was teasing him.

This afternoon, while overseeing the mistri repairing the floor of the masjid’s wazukhana, Nanaji’s eyes went towards the pile of grit lying around. For a moment he thought he should pick up a small stone from the pile and keep it in his pocket. But the next moment, he changed his mind for some reason.

That night, as he was walking towards the masjid for the Isha prayer, Nana Saheb felt someone was following him stealthily. He turned to check, and there he was, the same white dog, wagging away his tail.

Seeing the dog so up close, Nanaji was a little scared. Mustering some courage, he shouted, ‘Arre, arre … re-re. You’ve come here too. Scoot!’ The dog responded by wagging his tail. ‘Bhai, you are such a donkey,’ saying this, Nanaji started walking faster and reached the masjid, still mumbling in anger.

That night Nanaji suddenly fell ill. Without eating anything, he lay down in bed and at some point dozed away.

The dream started somewhere in the middle. The sky was bright and draped in pre-monsoon cloud patterns. Nanaji was on the terrace of the opposite building and was looking at what seemed like his house. White fluffy clouds came floating towards him, and with them, the sound of azan too came drifting. As the sound came closer, the view before him became blurry. As Nanaji’s eyes opened, he realized that the dog on the terrace was already doing his riyaz of the azan.

‘Donkey!’ said Nanaji in the dark and checked his thirty-year-old radium watch for the time. ‘Arre, it’s actually the exact time for the azan.’

He drank a cup of milk and left for the masjid. On reaching, he saw that the masjid was absolutely deserted. When he asked why this was so, the muezzin told him, ‘How could the namazis have come? Just as I picked up the mike to make the call, there was a power cut!’

Nana Saheb didn’t say anything. Nor was the muezzin surprised about him turning up at the masjid on time. He just assumed that the old man must have woken up out of habit.

That day a strange thing happened at the time of Zuhr. The same dog decided to tag along with Nanaji at noon, following him into the masjid. No sooner had the dog stepped on the freshly laid floor of the wazukhana, that there were shouts from all corners of the masjid. Nanaji wrapped his fist around an imaginary stone and, aiming it at the dog, said, ‘Go!’ The dog was turning around when a boy aimed a real stone at him, hitting his back with force. The dog’s shriek filled up the masjid.

Aye ladke!’

The boy shuddered. No one had ever heard Nanaji thundering like this. Everyone in the masjid turned to look at him. Nanaji, for a moment, couldn’t figure out what to do. He then noticed the bar used for levelling the floor lying close by. Picking it up, he started smoothening the marks left by the dog. People got back to their business. And that was that.

On returning home, Nanaji peeped out to see the opposite terrace, but there was no one there. Not even at Asr or Maghrib or even at the time of Isha. When he woke up for Fajr, still there was no dog.

‘Arre, where has he gone?’ Nanaji wondered.

‘If he’s gone, he’s gone. How does it matter to me? At least it’s peaceful now without his barking.’

When he reached the masjid, the floor of the wazukhana was dry. Walking towards the row of taps, Nanaji went to the tap where the dog had gone the previous day. Sitting to do wazu, he noticed that the floor was smooth, yet one could see the faint impression of a paw. He stretched his hand and felt the mark with his fingers. Just then, a young man standing at the masjid’s door said, ‘Nana, assalamu alaikum.’

Saying ‘Walekum assalam’, Nana Saheb stepped forward to hide the mark with his foot and opened the tap in front of him. Along with the gush of the water from the tap, he was softly muttering, ‘Such a donkey!’

—Shiraz Husain
Translated from Hindi by Samprati Pani

Shiraz Husain is a visual artist and graphic designer. He is the founder member of Khwaab Tanha Collective, which celebrates Urdu and Hindi literature through visual reimaginings, and has also taught applied arts. Shiraz curates the Saiyidain Manzil Sessions, a cultural space for arts, literature and cinema. He is currently working on a set of children’s books. He posts as @khwaabtanha.

Cover image: Illustration by Shiraz Husain

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