By Abbas Zaidi
The first of every month was a time of great tension and excitement on Blessed Companions of the Prophet Street. Those who had the money for their rents gloated over Khurram Pig's (everybody called him "Pig") abusive treatment of the more impecunious tenants. Some smart alecks, despite not being able to pay on time, got round Pig by relating to him some neighborhood sex story in which he could be a potential participant. But this time it was to be altogether different. It was the first of October, and every tenant was anticipating some fun. At the end of Blessed Companions of the Prophet Street--the entire street was owned by our landlord--a big stage had been carefully prepared and about a hundred seats neatly arranged. Khurram Pig had let it be known that there would be a lavish dinner preceded by devotional songs followed by a mujra of Multan's best dancing girls. He had also announced that the tenants could pay their rents on the seventh, a one-week reprieve. 'It is a great day in our lives,' he said, but he did not say why.
When I came out onto the street that day expecting some free food and fun, I found instead a commotion in which Baqir's voice was raised above all the others. 'I will burn the whole Multan University! I will burn the whole country if I have to! All these mother-fucking pseudo-intellectuals are just jealous of our beloved doctor! Bring me a man in the entire universe who is worth the dust off our doctor's feet!' he was yelling in his high-pitched grating voice.
I pushed a few spectators aside for a better view. All the tenants were there, along with a number of other people from the neighborhood. Khurram Pig was prsent as well, looking nervous, his Turkish fez tending toward the right side of his head. In the center of the crowd Shamsuddin, our landlord, sat in a high-back upholstered chair. Baqir was standing nearby as if guarding him. Shamsuddin had a serene look on his face and kept telling Baqir in a quiet voice to calm down. 'You can't change the world, my dear! Truth-seekers are always undermined. The Shias curse three out of the four pious Caliphs of Islam. The Jews disobeyed Allah again and again and pes-
tered every single one of His apostles. Look what happened to the Prophet Himself. People called him a false prophet! Allah's blessing be on him! Amen!'
'Amen!' Baqir shouted, along with the rest, while Shamsuddin's face oozed stoicism. 'You are a saint, but I myself cannot take it anymore! I have re-
quested you many times to migrate to America where they will properly honor you. This unfortunate country does not deserve a genius like you!'
'If every competent person leaves Pakistan, the place will collapse and the Shias will take over,' Shamsuddin replied patiently, his head bowed, his reading glasses resting in his cupped hands.
'Then you should lead a jihad against the Shias. I tell you...'
While Baqir continued his invectives I pulled Tahir, one of my roommates, away from the crowd to ask what was up. What he told me was this: Shamsuddin had obtained a Ph.D. by correspondence in the philosophy of science from a university based on some Pacific island. It was in celebration of that Ph.D. that this grand function was being staged. Shamsuddin had invited the Multan University professors and impor-
tant city dignities to the function, but none had shown up. Some professors had even called Sham-
suddin's Ph.D. a fake.
While Tahir was still telling me this, Baqir shouted, 'Down with the conspirators! Let us celebrate Doctor Shamsuddin's great academic victory!'
Khurram Pig told us tenants to hurry up, and we quickly sat down in the seats in front of the stage. Everyone else there were locals: laborers, sweepers, stray-dog killers, grass-cutters and drug addicts. They could not read a word, but the prospect of free food and fun had excited them beyond their limits, making the event very lively.
The promised musical shows never took place. Baqir made a lofty speech about Shamsuddin's genius and greatness for Pakistan. He would have gone on forever, but after a bit Shamsuddin raised his hand and Baqir abruptly fell silent. Then an old man, a janitor in a nearby factory, stood up and began praising Shamsuddin. 'Now we have our own doctor. We will not have to go to the city for treatment. I request our respected doctor not to charge us like other doctors, as we are poor. I wish he had become doctor before now and saved some of us who died before their time,' at which all the other locals applauded enthusiastically. Khurram Pig gave us tenants a threatening look, and we also applauded.
Shamsuddin said that he was too busy with his scholarly research to start a clinic for them ('Maybe some other time.') Then he talked for a long time about Pakistan's need for scholars, his fas-
cination with the philosophy of science, his four-
year stay in England, the ignorance of the Multan University professors, the Jewish-Shia conspiracy against Pakistan and Islam and, finally, his travels abroad where he had got opportunities to learn and teach. Whenever Shamsuddin paused, Baqir raised his hand and the local people clapped. Then Khurram Pig raised his own hand and we tenants did the same.
The food was modest but we fell on it like hungry animals. Then Baqir left the stage and slipped the linen cloth off a tiny brand new car parked nearby, an 800cc Suzuki. Everone oo'ed and aah'ed. Then a tractor appeared to which was attached a long, battered trolley. Baqir placed a flower wreath and a five-rupee-bill wreath over Shamsuddin's head and held open the back door of the car. Shamsuddin squeezed in, and Baqir assumed the driver's seat. Khurram Pig ordered the locals and the tenants onto the trolley, and our procession started towards the city center, Shamsuddin's car in the lead. Through-
out the journey Khurram Pig called out prompts to which we replied in unison:
'Who will outlive all?'
'Doctor Shamsuddin is the Lion, the rest are...?'
'Time and tide wait only for...?'
Throughout the ride Baqir's hand remained stuck out of the car window, making a "V" sign. The procession paused near the Multan University Staff Colony so that we could shout, 'Down with the pseudo-intel-
lectuals! Down with the conspirators! Down with the Jewish agents!' A number of professors appeared along with their families and some curious passers-
by. I slumped down in a rear seat of the trolley in order not to be seen.
Suddenly Baqir sprang out of the Suzuki and flung open its back door. With considerable grace Raiz climbed out as well, raised his hand in appreciation towards us, made a "V" sign with the other hand towards the University people, took off his wreath and threw it in their direction. Then he got back into the car and the procession started back to Blessed Companions of the Prophet Street.
The next day was Friday. In the late morning Khurram Pig herded all the tenants over to the mosque where a number of locals were already sitting on the carpeted floor. As was his custom every Friday, Shamsuddin was seated on a chair up on the podium. But even though the mosque's prayer room was full after our arrival, he did not start his sermon. Soon a few men arrived in the company of Baqir. Khurram Pig stood up and greeted them. They were strangers to me, but most of the congregation seemed to know who they were. Shamsuddin introduced them as local public school teachers. One of them, Haji Pervaiz, had worked with Shamsuddin in Borneo, and they had come to congratulate Shamsuddin on his Ph.D.
Shamsuddin then gave a long sermon which was actually a synopsis of what he said was his Ph.D. dissertation. He spoke both in Urdu and English. All the locals and most of the tenants were unable to understand a word. To me it sounded like a terrible muddle. But whenever he paused the entire congre-
gation applauded, prompted by the raised hands of Baqir and Khurram Pig respectively. Shamsuddin an-
nounced that in a month's time he would be going to the UK to discuss with the relevant authorities the possibility of setting up a Multan campus of Cam-
bridge University under his own rectorship. Finally, after the Friday prayer, Shamsuddin climbed down from his throne and retired to the Sufi Restaurant at the end of the Blessed Companions of the Prophet Street to discuss some academic matters with the public school people.
Blessed Companions of the Prophet Street was sit-
uated in the outer suburbs of Multan, an extremely backward village with very few civic amenities. There was no drainage system,and the Blessed Street was soft with filth. But it was entirely owned by Shamsuddin. He made good money in Borneo and with it had bought a piece of the Multan suburbs where he had constructed this little real estate empire. Baqir, his childhood friend, was from the same village as himself, a hamlet about four hundred miles from Multan.
There were fourteen double-storey houses on both sides of the Street. At one end was a small Aur-
engzeb mosque and at the other the small Sufi Restaurant, both owned by Shamsuddin. The general state of the dwellings was very bad: dilapidated rooms, ineffably dirty communal toilets, moss-ridden bathrooms. No one was allowed to use electricity after seven in the evening. Even so, it was con-
venient for some us to live there, as it took only a few minutes to get to the city center or the univer-
sity by bus or van. And the rents were very cheap.
Shamsuddin lived on the ground floor of one of the houses, and Baqir lived on the floor above with his wife. Baqir's wife observed complete traditional purdah. No one saw her face or even her hands, be-
cause she always wore black gloves. She led such a cloistered life that no one, not even a woman friend, was ever seen visiting her. Khurram Pig lived somewhere outside the immediate neighborhood, but he was present on the Street from morning till night. He was responsible for collecting rents and kicking out undesireable and deadbeat tenants, and he did so in the most disgraceful manner. He also kept all the rooms overcrowded by adding new tenants at will and by requiring existing tenants to move into other rooms, seemingly at a whim. The tenants were comprised of struggling students, underpaid clerks, unemployed youth from villages looking for jobs in Multan and scores of indigent nonentities. No unmarried woman or Shia was allowed even to be seen on the Street, and every new tenant was re-
quired to swear that he was not a Shia. But soon I discovered that most of the students there were in fact Shias, like myself.
Every tenant, especially those who were being kicked out of their dwellings, added to the stock of stor-
ies about Shamsuddin and Baqir. Those two, along with Khurram Pig, were always the hot topics of conversation. Like every other prospective tenant I had been interviewed by Shamsuddin in his library in the back of the Aurengzeb Mosque (named after the eighteenth century Mogul King who persecuted Shias). There were two glass cabinets filled with 'O' level books, dictionaries and texts on topics ranging from chemistry to literature. During the interview Sham-
suddin freely dropped literary terms, watching me expectantly each time he did so. I told him that despite being an English literature student at Multan University my grasp of the subject was not half as good as his own. He accepted me immediately as a tenant.
Every evening Shamsuddin's tenants and the locals gathered in the Sufi Restaurant because the elec-
tricity restriction did not apply there. That was also where Shamsuddin held court. He always had a book or magazine in his hand and talked incessantly about every topic under the sun. Baqir either ar-
rived with him or showed up shortly thereafter. He never sat on the same level as Shamsuddin and usu-
ally preferred to stand behind him. But at the slightest indication from Shamsuddin he pulled up a small chair and sat down, his hands locked together in his lap and his head cast down. Occasionally he looked up into Shamsuddin's face but only to support a point that his mentor was making, nodding in ap-
proval or shaking it to delore what Shamsuddin was criticising.
'I see innumerable vices about,' Shamsuddin would say, and Baqir would look around suspiciously. 'That makes me angry.' Baqir's face flushed and his lips began to tremble in anger. 'But then when I ponder on some finer aspects of life, like newborn babies or my own intellectual pursuits, I experience a great sense of happiness,' and Baqir's face glowed with happiness, his eyes shining ecstatically. 'But the point is that the Shias, being in the minority, cannot take over the government. That's why they are conspiring with the Jews to capture Islamabad,' at which Baqir's hands looked like someone restraining himself from doing some terrible violence.
'Can you not form an army of Islam and destroy them?' Baqir asked. And Shamsuddin would say, 'We must wait for the right time. Let their friends, the Jews, destroy the West and weaken themselves beyond repair. Then we shall deal with them all....
'In London I was solicited by many women. At times they entered my bathroom naked.' At which Baqir blushed crimson and could not even bear to raise his eyes. 'But I preserved my virginity. My personal philosophy of life is very rigorous,' and a proud, victorious Baqir shot us a victorious look and then stared adoringly at his master.
But Baqir was not merely a passive supporter. Some-
times Shamsuddin broke off in the middle of his homily, gave Baqir a meaningful look and his assis-
tant would take over for him.
'What,' Shamsuddin said one day after the Ph.D. procession 'can I say about the Multan University?' and glanced at Baqir.
'That third-rate university? Where the only thing the professors do is collect their salaries and have a nice time with the female students? And look at the Shias! They are taking over. This will become a Shia University.'
'But less than one percent of the teachers are Shia," I said. 'I know because I study there.'
Baqir stared at me furiously, but before he could say or do anything Shamsuddin added quietly, 'No, they are actually in majority. They pretend not to be Shias but actually they are working against Pakistan.'
'Yes they are hiding their identity!' Baqir shouted. 'Doctor Shamsuddin is right. How dare you challenge him!'
'Calm down,' Shamsuddin told him. 'He is new and does not know that the Shias are imitating the Jews' tactics.' Shamsuddin gave me a kindly look, and then Baqir smiled at me as well.
'There might be some Shias amongst our tenants!' Baqir said.
Shamsuddin darted a suspicious look at Khurram Pig.
'I shall kick them back into their mothers' wombs,' Khurram Pig shouted.
Shamsuddin laughed. 'Yes! The bastards!'
As the tenants before us did, we gave various names to the relationship between Shamsuddin and Baqir. At first Baqir was called 'Shamsuddin's dog' for his faithfulness. 'My friendship with Shamsuddin is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened in my life! I shall continue to serve him as long as I have the last drop of blood in my muscles!'
For his womanish expressions of love for Shamsuddin, we called Baqir 'Shamsuddin's wife.' Whenever we saw them together we whispered about 'the odd couple.' If one of them was absent we whispered that the wife/husband was missing. But that did not last long because Baqir was married, while Shamsuddin was not. Besides, Shamsuddin was thin, bald and clean-shaven; Baqir was well-built, hairy and had beard. Sham-
suddin was over fifty and Baqir was in his mid-
forties. Although Baqir's wife observed purdah and no one had ever seen her, some of us seriously and half-seriously speculated that, given Baqir's obsequiousness, Shamsuddin must be sleeping with Baqir's wife. For a while that idea became very popular with the tenants. But Baqir's demeanor in the presence of his wife was quite macho. Whenever he went out with her, he walked a few steps in front, the mark of male dominance, his head held high and his chest expanded, making him look like a very different Baqir from the dog-like sycophant we knew. We all respected Baqir's wife for being a purdah-observing woman, a mark of honor and pride for a woman in an Islamic society.
After the Ph.D. celebration we finally settled on a permanent name for Baqir: 'Shadow.'
'Why hadn't Shamsuddin married and why was he so much against the Shias and the Jews?' were the two questions that we Shias used to ask each other in private.
Twice a year Shamsuddin went abroad for 'research.' At that time Baqir would also leave town and go to his village with his wife. Shortly after the Ph.D. affair Shamsuddin went to the UK and Baqir to his village, and so we had Khurram Pig all to ourselves. To our amazement we discovered that he had a bach-
elor's degree in physics and liked to drink alcohol. Almost all of us tenants drank, so he became our comrade. Then, one evening while some other tenants and myself were drinking cheap whiskey with him, we made another shocking discovery: He was an Ahmedi! The Ahmedis were even more persecuted and more des-
pised than Shias. Under some circumstances Sham-
suddin might have tolerated a Shia; but having an Ahmedi on his Street was out of the question. And yet, there was Khurram Pig, working for him!
For as long as Shamsuddin and Baqir were away--about a month-- Khurram Pig joined us every evening, drinking alcohol and revealing secret after secret. He said that he had to pretend to be anti-Shia and anti-Jewish because he did not want to lose his job, even though Shamsuddin had not paid him a penny for years. But he was clever enough to get even by putting up tenants without keeping any records. He told us that Shamsuddin was once given a government-
sponsored 'backward area uplift scholarship' to study in London for a B.Sc. Some of his teachers and classmates there had been Jews and Shias. He spent four years trying unsuccessfully to get a degree while everyone else passed their own. He was sure he had failed only because the Jewish teachers were anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistani. When he returned he did a master in science by correspondence from some foreign university and applied for a teaching posi-
tion in Multan University. The validity of his de-
gree was challenged by a competing candidate who happened to be a Shia. Shamsuddin's application was rejected and the other man got the job.
Khurram Pig also told us that Shamsuddin was married a long time ago, but soon after the marriage his wife eloped with a Shia. 'And now he says he goes abroad for research. Bullshit! He visits foreign brothels for sex, which he cannot do in this country,' Pig said. We all laughed, and so did Khurram Pig.
It was a month since Shamsuddin and Baqir had gone away. As the winter was approaching its coldest part and examination time was drawing near we, the stu-
dent tenants decided to go see a movie before buck-
ling down to our studies. Khurram Pig decided to accompany us to a late show. It was about one in the morning when we returned from the cinema. As our auto-rickshaw pulled into the Street, a taxi entered from the opposite direction. Shamsuddin and Baqir got out and, while the taxi driver was offloading their luggage, the two of them approached us. Sham-
suddin demanded an explanation for our presence on the street at such a late hour. We explained to him the circumstances for our unusual behavior.
'If I ever see you out again at this time of night you are out of here,' he said.
All of a sudden a very nervous Khurram Pig asked, 'Where is your wife, Mr Baqir?'
'You worry about your own!' Baqir shouted back at him.
Next day the entire Street returned to its ugly self. Khurram Pig became again the same malicious law-enforcer. On the third day after his arrival back from Cambridge, Shamsuddin called all the tenants together in the mosque and announced that his visit was a 'total success,' as the university had agreed to set up a campus in Multan. We students congratulated him and requested that he allow us to use electricity after seven because of our examin-
ations, and he graciously consented. Meanwhile it started to rain. It rained for the whole week--such an unusual event in Multan! The cold became unbear-
able. Even in late afternoon we all remained tucked away in our rooms.
One of those evenings Khurram Pig came to visit me. Besides my friend Tahir, two other students were also present.
'Do you know Shamsuddin and Baqir have quarreled!'
We were shocked. 'You are lying,' Tahir said.
'I swear upon Allah they have! I overheard them exchanging hot and indecent words. I bet it is due to Baqir's wife. You know, this time Baqir has not brought her back with him from the village. Sham-
suddin must have tried to molest her! Didn't I tell you Baqir is a wife beater? Many times in the even-
ing I hear her moan. I am sure that Baqir got sus-
picious of her and Shamsuddin having an affair,' Baqir said.
We did not believe him. But for days we did not see Shamsuddin and Baqir together. Despite the cold I went to the Sufi Restaurant to spy on them, but neither turned up. By now all the tenants knew what was going on, and the two men's failure to appear in their usual haunt confirmed our suspicions. One day one of the tenants did spot Shamsuddin and rushed to tell us. We saw a very depressed-looking man sitting in an armchair in front of the mosque. Next after-
noon we saw Baqir sitting alone on the pavement out-
side the Sufi Restaurant.
That same evening Khurram Pig told us he had over-
heard Baqir soliloquizing, "All the great books Shamsuddin reads, nothing is left for us! What kind of justice is it?" which puzzled us greatly.
A bit later we heard someone screaming in the street. As we rushed out we saw Baqir running about in the fog, beating his chest and head.
'Doctor Shamsuddin is dead!'
It was an unusually cold morning, but I felt my en-
tire body begin to sweat. This was for the first time a resident of the Street had died.
Soon everyone was out on the street, even the locals. We tried to console Baqir. 'It is Allah's will! Who can defy Him?'
'But why our Doctor? He was the gentlest man alive? Why him?' It was quite some time before Baqir calmed down. Two of the locals went into Shamsuddin's house and brought his body to the prayer hall of the mosque where we all saw his calm face for the last time. Later we offered the prayer for the dead. Then a tenant who worked in the transport office arranged for an ambulance to take Shamsuddin's body back to his village.
By now Khurram Pig had arrived. He offered to accom-
pany Baqir to Shamsuddin's village, but Baqir re-
fused, saying there were hundreds of people in the village who would look after the remains.
Two months later when Shamsuddin's brother came to dispose of his brother's property he told us that Baqir had joined some religious group and gone to Kashmir to participate in a jihad against the Indian army. We never heard from him again.
After Baqir left, a kind of depression settled over the Street. For hours on end we talked about the futility of life and the certainty of death. We praised Shamsuddin for his generosity, and Baqir as well, especially for his loyalty. But life goes on and eventually things returned to normal.
Late in the evening about a week after Baqir had gone, Khurram Pig barged into our room looking very distressed. He said that he had smelt something burning in Shamsuddin's house. 'Maybe Baqir did not switch off all the lights, or a heater even!'
We decided to check the house. We took as many tenants as possible in order to save us from a possible problem for breaking the lock without Baqir's permission. When we reached Shamsuddin's house we did not smell anything, but we were so worried that we broke the lock anyway and went in.
It was dark inside, and for some reason we were all very frightened. We switched on all the lights and began searching for smoke from one room to another. We found nothing amiss domwstairs, so then we went up into what we believed to be Baqir's apartment. The doors were all unlocked except for one, which we had to break open. We were immediately struck by some alien fragrance. 'A woman's room!' Khurram Pig shouted. We switched on the lights and saw that the walls were covered with maps and souvenirs from London, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur. There was a large poster over the double bed which seemed to be an advertisement for condoms available in many different colors. To one side of the bed, on the floor, were scattered female wigs in different colors and styles. In a corner there were several pairs of pantyhose. There was neither smoke nor any burning smell.
We were about to leave when Khurram Pig suddenly jerked open a cupboard, and panties, bras and mini-
skirts came flying down onto the floor. He pulled open another cupboard, and this time a bundle of some kind fell out. He ripped it open, and a cascade of photographs fell out: naked Chinese, African, Indian and Caucasian women. The last cupboard was stuffed with women's clothes. He rummaged through it and came up with a big album full of snapshots. He sat down on the bed with it, opened it and declared, 'Baqir's wife was more beautiful than a fairy!'
We all flocked around to see the pictures. They seemed to have been taken in front of famous tourist attractions all around the world. In each of them Baqir's wife was wearing a provocative dress: lean-
ing against the railing of London Bridge; posing in front of Singapore's Changi Airport, a Manila cas-
ino, a Bangkok nightclub, an Amsterdam bistro. In many of them she was sitting on Baqir's lap, and she seemed to wear almost as many different wigs as there were photographs, her face heavily made up with rouge and lipstick.
Then, as if he knew exaclty where to find it, Khurram Pig suddenly pulled a picture out from a hidden pocket in the back of the album. It had been taken in Trafalgar Square. In it Shamsuddin was sitting in Baqir's lap. Baqir's hand was on Sham-
suddin's head, holding a red wig in place. The smile on Shamsuddin's face was the same as the one on Baqir's wife's in all the other pictures we had seen.
(Abbas Zaidi <email@example.com>was editor of
The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore. "The Shadow" is part of an anthology scheduled for publication at the end of 2000.)