Short Story by Komal Ishtiaq
Since 1947 a long time, each and every day reminds me of my walks on the same roads, my connections with the past. Each of my newly built connection has its strong link with the past. I could never forget our friendship. I used to remember all the times we used to play with one another and how hard it is for us to pass the day without looking at each other. I am talking about my best buddy Hamdan.
My name is Zakir, I was student of literature and now most of my time passed just by sitting near the window recalling the old past memories and writing memoirs. I miss Hamdan so much that I could not get rid of those old memories. Losing someone who is near to your heart is a complex feeling to explain, but rejoicing those old memories you have built with someone is something that is the whole asset of your life. Hamdan is no more between us; he left me alone amid a swirl of chaos 10 years ago and I was recounting each and every single moment since he left me. I’m alive not because of food, water and air but because of his memories he made with me. I wanted to tell the world a tale of our friendship.
When I was seven years old, the family of Ismael Zakria came in our neighbourhood. Before their arrival an old man lived there, who died of cardiac arrest. Ismael Zakria was a tradesman, a rich merchant and he had two children, one daughter and one son. Hamdan is the youngest among two; his sister was three years older than him. Soon after their arrival a good relationship established among our families, as my father was high profile businessman counted in elite society, therefore, he loved to establish relations in the same social class. It is not wrong to say but he was arrogant and had repugnance towards poor. Though, my mother was a sweetheart who loved everybody even their servants’ children.
We both were citizens of Lahore. Our visits to each other’s house increased day by day and later we became one family. Friendship is a unique gift with which a person is bestowed; the friendship between Hamdan’s father and mine father was based on interest. Though, our relation was exclusively opposite to our elders. It contained all essential elements which an ardent friendship demands including trust, care, love and compassion.
Hamdan took his admission into same school, where I studied. I was in the fifth standard and Hamdan too. We both went to school together, used to do our homework together. But sharing our life in educational domain is not just all. We had a great memories be it going to some picnic spot, getting punished by school master. Time passed so rapidly and both of us grew and took admission into the same college and same department,
I had a keen interest in literature, Hamdan did not have but still he opted for literature as we both decided to select the same. Hamdan besides studies had an interest in sports, he took part in badminton and I had an interest in drama and theatre. This time we decided not to become hindrance in each other’s way. So, I let him what he wished to do and I selected what I want to do. Both of us after our classes gave some extra time to the club we chose and practice there. Hamdan practiced Badminton for 3 hours and my club gave me leave after 2 hours where we discuss that which play to perform and also wrote our own creative pieces for performances. I waited for Hamdan before badminton court and when he came out we came out of college, crossed the street and opposite to it we found our famous Lahori desi Kulfi shop. We spent almost 8 hours outside after college wandering here and there, passing by shops aimlessly and then took a bus and rode to home. Both of us believed our bond of friendship is the perfect one but this belief was not a belief but a faith.
But a guilt that resides in my heart is now a different feeling to explain, it was not betrayal but I could not understand what hits me so hard. Hamdan always told me “life is uncertain, unpredictable, so live the joys of life now because nobody knows what is ahead” and I totally opposed his philosophy of life, I always used to tell him “life is not about joy, it is about to live with pain and find joy in it.” It is what I am doing today. When I was going to my bed the past memories and the roads of that journey came to my mind one after the other as it was not about ten years old, it came as frequently as it happened yesterday.
Everything was fine to its perfection but my goals were my only destiny. I wanted to become a famous writer and it was not my ambition, if I say it an ambition the intensity might be small like a tiny particle. I wanted recognition and fame and Hamdan wanted to stay away from all this so called “fame”. After completing our graduation Hamdan decided to look for job, he wanted to become a school teacher and I did not find it strange. I decided to devote my all time writing my book and it was quite ironic the book I wanted to write was all about my life the ‘so called’ autobiography but what all I wrote in that book was not me but Hamdan only the name was mine, but the strange thing is that I still not felt ashamed of what I did, but all that came to my mind was why? Hamdan? But I did not realize at that time why it was so. The only think that came to my mind was an unbreakable bond of us. Whenever this thought came to my mind the only thing that chills my spine is death of Hamdan.
I remember that night when I almost completed the half of book and I decided to recite this all to Hamdan and he was the only one with whom I shared my all experiences of life, joy and sorrow ______ so why not this book? Of course, but then I thought why not complete it first and then let it read by Hamdan who would become the critic of my book or life? I did not know or I did not want to know? Time flies, book completed and I decided to contact with few publishers who would show willingness to publish my book.
It took me almost three years to make my way to one of the editors, not the editor the famous editor, internationally recognized author to help me published my work. I did not recognize at that time what fascinated him so much about my book; one of the most interesting things to notice here is that I did not recite my book to Hamdan and surprisingly he did not ask me and this is the thing that bothered me most at that time that he had lost his interest in our friendship or maybe I have lost. Who knows? I thought.
The editor had decided not to publish my book instantly, he said to me “he wants some time to think about it, to give it a more thorough analysis and then he will decides whether it merits to be published” and I nodded but there was anguish in my heart at that time. With that anguish I reached home and Hamdan found me upset. He did not ask me anything, pushed me towards the door, then dragged me and took me towards the car. He was looking mysteriously handsome as I glanced at him. I brushed his hand off and he with extreme force pushed me inside the car. A minute or two and then I gave up. He drove the car towards the famous Restaurant “Larachi” where all Pakistani desi food were available.
It is still there but who is not is something that matters to me. I missed him terribly but the memories of joys overshadowed by my guilt. He ordered my favorite food and he did know well how to make my mood set again. He asked me tenderly “what happened at the editor’s place and not surprisingly I looked and after a pause of couple of seconds, I replied, “three years are much to lose, isn’t it Hamdan?” he listened to me for an hour without interrupting me. He was a good listener.
In the last he just said to me, “I have a faith your work is soon going to be published and you will shine, indeed”, I did not know what happened to me but I felt much relieved. I consider his every word as near to my faith. We then walked, in the chilly evening, across the roads of Lahore aimlessly.
A week later I got a call from the editor that he decided to publish my book and multitude of feelings came in and out of my heart. After that I ran straight to Hamdan’s house, searched for him, where his mother told me he was not at home. He was in the school at that time and I totally forgot. I decided to pick him up from the school and would take him to editor’s place, along with me. When I brought him with me, the editor observed his every single move as he was interested in knowing about him. In the last he told Hamdan, “you resembled very much with the character Zakir told in his autobiography, and surprisingly, it opposed Zakir as I met him so many time but every time he did not make me convinced of whatever he wrote is truly him but my first meeting makes me feel like it is you”. I felt jealous and all the time my way home I thought I have committed a sin by taking Hamdan along with me, and I thought, he might become an obstacle in my way. But, he did not ask me a question whether the editor was true or so. He only said to me “please drop me at the National’s Library, as I have to collect some books from here”. Anyway, my autobiography was published under the title “Past Roads” which I found fascinating as it was not only available on local levels but reached to the heights in London as well, because after one year of its publication I was nominated for the Xavier best non-fiction award, the international award. I was happy. There was another person that was happy for me, but there comes a distance between us and the reason was not him, neither me but my “passion”.
He asked me whether “I will be going with you as you are allowed to take one person with you and I really wanted to see you receive this award” and I straightforwardly said him “no, you are not coming with me, may be next time” and he looked towards me in disbelief “next time” but you said to me yourself once “when you will be receiving any honorary award for the first time, you want me by your side, both my physical presence as well as mentally”, “but things change and priorities change, even time change” and he, in turn disappointedly said “and even dynamics change” and left my room. I went to London, received the award, felt that success that I always wanted to but I did not know there was something incomplete. I stayed in London for two months and when I came back I came to know Hamdan had moved into another city due to his transfer, his family already settled in abroad after his sister’s marriage. His father was a business man so he rarely came to Pakistan but Hamdan was totally opposite from his family; he did not want to detach from his roots, though he left me.
Once, I was sleeping on my bed and a peculiar thought came to my mind whether he read my book or not. I thought then, it did not matter to me, but I always wondered what was so fascinating about him, that gained the attention of wider audience, a global audience; just an ordinary school teacher. He did not contact me and I never tried as I got a call from one of the directors who wanted to use my autobiography for making film on it and was so much excited but I did not even give a hint to xyz director that I really care who is he? Why the film on my book? Or did I really care? As I was someone very renowned just like some ‘celebrity’ but reality was totally different. I had a greed, excessive greed for fame, success and recognition that I used others for it. I asked my mother once, “Did, Hamdan tell her where he would be going or left any message for me. My mother said, “He did not even come to meet me before going, he just left and I came to know this from gatekeeper of his house”.
I allowed the director to start his project on my book and after that I did not show any interest because I know once it’s finished, my seat as a writer would already be fixed. After one year, teasers of the movie came out and I was interested in watching the film too but I confronted with one of the ugliest facts that my book went back to its owner. Hamdan was the main protagonist of the film. He had performed the role of Zakir that was not Zakir at all but was Hamdan. This opportunity followed him, editor suggested to the director as was his closest friend to select Hamdan as a main lead. The anguish was about opportunity followed him and it took me all most years to reach at that point that was not mine. Anyway I once again got selected as a best writer’s category award and won it but the more critical appreciation was given to the winner of its performer. I wanted to ask Hamdan so many questions and I prepared myself for it. I came to know from the sources that was living in Islamabad and I went there for project. I met him during the award ceremony but we only met, our gaze met but there I found a weird estrangement, coldness and not a warmth it used to carry or not even a recognition.
I opened the news channel in the morning and there was breaking news in big letters that had taken earth from my feet and sky from my head “Actor Hamdan died of fighting with cancer for past couple of years”.
I was looking at the screen in an erect position but in disbelief, in a state of shock. My mind and heart both went in harmony refused the fact that he was not alive. At that point I realized I was deceiving myself, I did not know “who was Hamdan”, even if I spent my whole life I would not be able to recognize. And for the past ten years I asked myself: Did I deceive myself or Hamdan? But I felt surrounded by shallowness and guilt and that was all I was left with.