An Unfinished (Effigy) Story: By Prof Mirza Ather Baig
An Unfinished (Effigy) Story: By Prof Mirza Ather Baig: Translated by Aqsa ljaz
Sirajdin, the old gatekeeper of the party office was assigned the task of preparing the effigy. The assignment had been so unexpected that, at first, he couldn’t believe what the two senior party organizers were talking about.
Half the night had already gone by. Hashim Sahib and Rehman Sahib were through with preparations for tomorrow’s procession, including speakers, demonstrators, megaphones, flower garlands, tyres to be burnt in public, newspaper reporters and, the effigy.
The effigy! The moment the thought echoed in Hashim Sahib’s mind there was the sound of thunder in the sky; heavy rains had already started in the city.
“And the effigy.” Rehman Sahib said distractedly as he gazed at the rain.
“Yaar, this rain makes me feel nervous. What if it doesn’t stop? Tomorrow’s procession will be a waste, if the roads are still drowned.”
“Well, for now, just think it’s a blessing from God. Don’t you know when it suits them people in authority consider the rain a sign of divine support?”
“But yaar think of the tyre! I mean the effigy. Have you decided who’s going to make it?”
“Yes.” Hashim Sahib said thoughtfully. “it won’t do without an effigy.”
At this point Rehman Sahib felt a sudden itch in his left car, and began twirling his finger into it, turning the interior upside down. When the itching subsided, he thought perhaps it was his old ear problem coming back. Here was an excuse for him to not give his speech tomorrow. But wouldn’t a throat infection seem a more appropriate excuse on this occasion? Anyway, tomorrow, after the procession in the evening… or if he got arrested, after the release, he’d head straight for an ENT specialist.
He said out loud, in a high pitch voice. “Yaar, do something! We have to make the effigy”.
Since the beginning, everything had been done before Sirajdin, the gatekeeper. Indeed, for days. whenever it had come to him he’d embraced the leaders orders whole-heartedly.
But presently, as he sat in a corner observing the two party leaders, he swung between his devotion to them and the pangs of hanger that he felt in his belly urging him to go back to his quarters as soon as the work was over and eat to his fill.
The other workers had all left one by one after being assigned a duty for tomorrow. And now this effigy business had popped up from nowhere, and Hashim Sahib and Rehman Sahib had stayed on longer.
And now this rain had started…well. that was not really a problem they had car to leave on, but what of all this fuss about the effigy…?
“An effigy we must burn. Rehman Sahib we must fucking burn it! So this shit is a matter of sentiments. A matter of public sentiments…” Hashim Sahib would resort to a bad word every sentence. which was an effective way of speaking with him.
A lightning holt lit up the room and as he sat down on the stool waiting for the sound of thunder. he looked at Sirajdin.
You will make the effigy. Sirajdin: he said. and the thunder sounded.
Sirajdin heard it in the same moment as Hashim Sahib’s voice. Numb for a while, he began with a stutter, “Ye-yeah… yes Sir Jee! Effigy…”
Rehman Sahib chortled.
Hashim Sahib frowned and said. “Effigy…. Sirajdin… his… his effigy… it will be burnt to ashes tomorrow… do you understand?”
“A puppet made of clay?” Sirajdin asked in a shaking voice.
Rehman Sahib chortled again. “A puppet made of clay will only burn in hell. Sirajdin.’
Hashim Sahib said disapprovingly. “This isn’t a time for bantering. Rehman Sahib. Its a difficult situation. Make this nincompoop understand that he will have to make the effigy. It’s already one o’clock in the night while the city is drowned in the rain. All our workers are gone. We don’t have anyone else. Make him understand. He will have to do it!”
Rehman Sahib stepped forward and spoke fondly.” Look Sirajdin, as far as I can recall you and I joined the party together. We’ve invested our entire young life in its cause and now here we are in our old age.”
“Sir Jee! What are you saying?” Sirajdin felt he had ascended the heights halfway up the sky.
“Tomorrow. Sir I… Your Highness I… I’m ready to give my life for the party!”
“It’s not your life we require at this moment, Sirajdin.” Hashim Sahib said and Rehman Sahib smiled. “Keep your life safe. Siraj. Just do as Hashim Sahib says.”
“I’ll do it most certainly. Sir Jee.” Siraj said, putting his hand on his chest. “I’ll make billions and trillions of clay figures.”
“What an idiot!” Hashim Sahib snapped. “Don’t you understand? We don’t need billions or millions! We just need one that will burn! Make one*** make one his his” His words were so gross that both Sirajdin and Rehman Sahib felt their hearts squirm.
“I’ll do it. Sir Jee. I’ll do it! Just tell me how to go begin. I mean, how do I …?”
“Yes, that I shall tell you.” Hashim Sahib took a deep breath and looked around the room. The rain had subsided, and the blue glow that came from the sky was soundless. He was disappointed with what he saw. “Just the party’s records in this room.” He turned to Sirajdin whose eyes and mouth were wide open to swallow down his orders.
“Do one thing. Look in your quarter. in all the rooms. What you need is this four bamboo sticks, two for the legs and two for the arms. Tie them tightly together. Then look for something for the head: some old pillows, old clothes… yes. a small pillow will do. Just cover it with a the head. Remember! Use some black soot from a griddle cloth. Then you’ve got to make a shoe necklace. And on to make eyes and nostrils. Got it?”
Sirajdin broke out laughing. He was enjoying looking forward to those moments of creativity. He spoke with more confidence. “I got it. Sir Jee… absolutely…But… Sir Jee… how would one tell that it is his. I mean that**”‘s effigy?” With some effort, he stopped himself from further abuse.
“Yes. yes. Here. perhaps. I can help you. Sirajdin.”
Rehman Sahib said. “While making this effigy. it is important to bring to your mind all those people you detest. detest so badly that had you gotten hold of them…had you gotten them in your hands. Siraj, you’d have torched them! You feel it? Those are the emotions you must keep burning inside you.”
“Inshallah!” exclaimed Sirajdin, with frightening confidence.
“Bravo.” said Hashim Sahib. “And listen. You’ll be reimbursed for whatever you spend on the bamboo sticks, pillows and the cloth. Don’t worry about that. And tomorrow before bunting it, we’ll announce that the part’s old gatekeeper Sirajdin has made this effigy.
‘The reputation of this office is in your hands now.”
Sirajdin nodded. Hashim and Rehman Sahib patted him on the back and left.
Rain returned with thunder as they departed. Sirajdin in a dreamy mood closed the office door and came out to the veranda. Up in the sky the clouds blew in a breeze.
In the green light of the bulb hanging in the veranda he saw petals from the sunflowers scattered in the bed below. And despite having been promoted to the high station of the creator of the effigy he thought, like the caretaker that he was. to get the gardener to cut down the rest of the flowers tomorrow for their season was past.
The stuff he needed to make the effigy was ready at hand. There was no lack of wasted cloth and spent pillows: there were the bamboo sticks he had once used for putting up the party banners. He picked the rags he needed from the old clothes and a thick needle and a thread to sew them into a shape. From the round griddle on the stove he scraped out the soot for eyeholes and nostrils lie acted upon Hashim Sahib’s directions to the letter.
Then he got down putting those things together. He picked up a bamboo stick, which could have been a leg, the backbone. or a support for the head: or the two arms. if it were to go across. at the back. He couldn’t decide and so put it down.
A strange uneasiness crept into his heart.
With sweat on his forehead he realized that there was a forehead required for the effigy too. And. the two hands; and the neck. and…and…I won’t be able to do it., he feared.
Then he remembered what Rehman Sahib had told him: Think of all those people you detest so badly that you’d burn them down to ashes!
He smiled. as if a weight had been lilted from his chest. This is easy. All I have to do is think about people I really hate… who I’ll bunt to ashes if ever I’d ever get a chance. It’s so simple. I should start from my childhood. Yes, right from the very start.
As he began to think, a diabolical thought crossed his mind. Should he also burn his father. along with the effigy? The idea shocked him to the extent that hr touched his ears and sought the forgiveness of his God: “tobah tobah !”
Then again, he started thinking of the most hated people, whom he’d rather toss into the flames to be devoured with the effigy, and he was amazed that though, they did appear, they did so as a hotchpotch of assorted organs. The ears of a donkey, he saw, the snout of a dog, and eyes and moustaches, my God! Eyes and moustaches…
He realized that conjuring the most detestable people in his imagination had left him half dead; and those organs of hatred he had awoken in mind’s eye, bit by bit, had chipped away at his spirit, and this task had started to drain his force even before it had begun.
He recalled that he was hungry. For such a long time his stomach had been hollow and twisting. One should eat, even if it’s for the task of setting people on fire. He got up and went into a corner, where he ate a couple of naans filled with minced meat that had been distributed among the party workers earlier that afternoon. Having polished off the naans and downed a couple of glasses of water he began putting the effigy together. He looked affectionately at him, who was taking shape on the floor…
He strained himself hard and at length. And with great resolve, he recalled that incident, when he worked at another place. His owners had accused him falsely of theft, and had him arrested. He had been taken to the police station and beaten all night long, and all the while he had pleaded his innocence. Those moustaches…those eyes… those feet…. those boots.., and those kicks, he remembered it all.
And yet, nothing happened.
A fever of sorts would grow on him at the thought of an organ or another and disable him. Perhaps he had burnt himself out even before he had had the naans, when with an empty stomach he had summoned to his mind those grand and grotesque innards of the most detestable people…
But this is about the party’s reputation, he said to himself, and got up in a panic and shook himself twice, thrice. Yet again, he tried to tie up the effigy where he wanted its back to be upright, but the rope slipped from his hands.
“It is a matter of the Party’s honour.” echoed in his mind.
They will be announcing it tomorrow: “This effigy here, that’s being burnt, is made by our old gatekeeper, Sirajdin.”
Sirajdin hurried towards the window and opened it because he wanted to see the rain outside. He was shocked to see that the clouds were no longer there, and neither was the rain or thunderstorm anywhere to be found. The moon was bright in the late night sky as if nothing had happened.
And then. Sirajdin…
(2) Letter to the Great Writer
By now you must have guessed who calls you by this name. How are you? It has been a while since we talked or met. I’m writing to you because… rather, also because there is an Unfinished writing… or an Unfinished story that I’m presenting to you … Words slip out of my control as I sit down to write a letter, but anyway. to hell with it – to hell with it, to hell with it!
So my dear, the thing is that you are an established writer. You write with a plan. You’re published, and publicized. I, on the other hand, write out of literary dysentery that sometimes afflicts me. Then, at times, the same affliction comes back to stand in my way, and I retreat and I return to health as I do in the case of this story.
At this point I suggest that you read the story attached with this letter, and then resume.
So you’ve read it… whatever it is.
I’d named it as “The Story of an Effigy” but now, it is an Unfinished Effigy…or Story. Well now that too is an interesting and wonderful thing. Is it an Unfinished – effigy story… or an Unfinished effigy – story. These are two different things. I mean: story of an Unfinished effigy, and the Unfinished story of an effigy? See now, how we’re miles apart, you and I?
So my Dear, I had thought that I would complete this story thus:
Sirajdin completes the effigy. Hashim Sahib and Rehman Sahib return the next day, and Hashim sahib asks Siraj, in his nasty, abusive language, about what he has made. “You mother f*cker*, it doesn’t even look like a human being!” he yells.
Rehman Sahib chortles, and jokes that Picasso perhaps inspired Sirajdin. In the end, however, it is decided that the same thing will be burned after some polishing, since there is no time left. It will be set on fire when the time comes. But when the time comes, it rains, and the protest is disrupted. Sirajdin. however, is adamant that the burning must go on. He finds petrol from somewhere, and with the protestors all scattered under the tin shelters of the shops, sets it on fire.
The protestors and the leaders are astounded by what is witnessed.
The blazing effigy. in that pouring torrent from hell, cries out in a manner that clenches the heart. And then one wonders if it is a single effigy, or two, or…?
I think you know what I mean to say.
But then, my dear, I thought this ending would be too political. You know, how I hate political stories, and yet more and more stories that try to mirror the issues of today. In fact. I abhor the whole idea of mirroring. So what should I do?
As it is, I have a number of other endings in mind for this story – or whatever you might call it. But tell me, what do you suggest?
Everything else is fine here. I keep breathing in some damned void. Though, it is written: one should live in happiness, wherever he is.
Dearest, do skim through this piece. And, between us two, if you should like to tweak it a little and publish in your name, it’s all alright. I won’t object. In fact. I will be happy.
On a different note, my financial condition is rather bad. It was never good anyway. But now, your bhabi has to go through a gall bladder surgery. Friends are chipping in, you know, in the name of charity. I look forward…
Do tell me more. Your recent book is better than the previous one.
I shall take leave now.
The Unfinished effigy
(3) There happen to be various burnt and wasted notes found everywhere in the world. Who wrote them and when…Why were they written and why burnt? Nobody knows.