Gulammohammed Sheikh essays

In the afternoon when everyone was resting I would go to dada’s old room and sit there by myself. Sometimes I would write odd scraps or make pictures. In the midst of this activity there would be several pauses, during which my gaze would slowly fix itself on the wall rising outside the door. The top of the wall stayed outside the frame, but I could see the edge hard and clear along the ground. For years I had observed it with great curiosity, as it separated our lane from the mill compound. One end of the wall joined up with the houses in the crowded section of the town, the other sank into the warm belly of the dry river bed; about twenty-five feet high and five hundred feet long, this wall has split my child’s world neatly into two - one world lay this side, the other over. My childhood belongs to the small universe that lies this side, where we stand; that beyond is still unfamiliar to me.

I have watched this wall with a hypnotic fascination for so long now that the yellow stones, markings on the mortar, the rough pattern of the surface have all grown deep within my mind. Against these stones, we would mark off our height in notches on the wall, and our passes and races were measured off against its length. In our vivid imagination, this was surely the most invincible curiosity in the world. We had never really had the opportunity to scale it or look beyond it. Flying kites, we would clamber up on the roof and stand on the tips of our toes to try and look at what lay beyond, but saw nothing except the chimneys of the mill and a few desultory rooftops. There was nothing exceptional beyond, but the wall held our minds so fiercely captive that we imagined It some sacred serpent guarding a wonderful treasure, and had of course no intention of seeing reality, in this case, as it was.

Sometimes we thought we sew a small depression in the wall, and taking a pebble would try to file a tiny hole inwards; working the atone absently into the dent the mind would begin to wander and I would find myself scratching my name in rounds about it. Sitting on the threshold of dada’s room I would confront the stoutness of the mall staring resolutely at it I would bore a dear, minuscule opening through it. Occasionally I would, from staring, become mesmerized and fall into a half-reverie, and my drowsy glances hopped and slid over its heavy-drained surface. The transforming afternoon sun would cast long striations on its rough face; sometimes I saw wonderful shapes upon its surface and the wall appeared momentarily to be transparent. When the shadows changed we would be left with a great sense of loss. Along with my childhood this wall is so deeply etched in my being that today to see a lonely fort or ruined enclosure is to draw a near emotion from it. Seeing a fragment of masonry in a bereft rain at Kandn the mind became still; its loneliness still rambles through my thoughts. In the strange isolation, silence, about a wall, that of my childhood shares and is a link. Within the home the bricks encircle a body of space that lives. This wall, stretching along like a formless line, soulless and unvital, has its very existence confined to its strange ability to divide the land it stands on. With the rising and setting of the sun the cordon of the wall kept changing. With the light of the early morning, when its shadow fell on the entrance to dada's room until the afternoon this shadow would stretch along thinly like a veil. At midday the slim dark line of the shadow would lie along the ground at the bottom of the mall like a mysterious scarf, and the dogs would come sniffing and try to pull it with their teeth. Sitting in the doorway, I would enjoy the sensation of the shadow passing slowly over my body. Resting in the slow edges of this passing shade, I would feel for a moment that I actually touched toe wall.

Remembering the wall now I remember too the faces I have seen before it. Endlessly and for years the eyes and voices of these people have fought its unrelenting visage. The ear-splitting screaming of the mill-worker’s widow the bawling of the drunk Alarakha, Ahmadehacha’a twenty-five year-old vigil for a long-lost cousin not yet returned from Africa, still by the wall with his two unmarried sons having squandered the years, their life. As though reflecting something of the stones in the wall,

their very form changed, their voices turned listless. My own home has not been spared this transforming experience; watching my mother’s wrinkled countenance, a silent over fear comes over me as I think of the wall that has gouged its own markings so clearly on her face.

The years still nestle in the deep of this wall. It knows neither night nor day, and although time keeps loosening its rooks, dropping minute-grained pebbles off its scaly surface persistently, it has not yet succeeded in boring even the tiniest hole through it.

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