I’m drinking from my saucer…

‘Pehli Taareekh’ and the sounds of life

I have stopped complaining – complaining for the spilled tea on my saucer. I grew up in a family where evening tea was more of a religious ritual. My late mother used to do a great ehtimam, modest though, for the daily evening tea. The tea cozy, milk and sugar pots along with rusks, butter bar and jam all set neatly on the age old trolley – not to mention the squeaking wheels when it moved. For her, mixed tea and mugs was a blasphemy. Something, that lingered on after I got married. It’s now been exactly 28 years I have been complaining to my wife for the spilled tea on my saucer every time she hands me one. And I had to sip it from the saucer first, to avoid dripping on my shirt…But I do not complain anymore. I have, kind of, started enjoying it…..

The other day I happened to visit a family that I did not know previously, in connection with my nephew’s marriage. The father of the to-be bride was a septuagenarian, retired as a grade 18 federal government officer. As expected on such formal occasions, the old gentleman started off, as if being warmed up, with the atrocities of the weather and then changing to top gear, plunged into what was seemingly an unending discussion concerning the appalling state of affairs of Pakistan, the apathy of its people, and the scarcity of resources. Not only he denigrated Pakistan, but declared it a “third class” country, and all Pakistanis’ corrupt and characterless scoundrels. He was full of grim and gory stories occurring throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan –an encyclopedia of all crimes and follies of the state. His most favourite tagline, probably by instinct, which he would utter every two minutes was: “Goli Maro ji Pakistan Nu - Pakistan ne hume dya hi kya hai ”.

He whined and griped on his imagined predicaments which he squarely attributed to Pakistan. During the discourse of the discussion, he unwittingly referred to his five residential plots and three houses of various categories, all in the most affluent housing societies of Lahore and Islamabad. Those were excluding the two-kanal palace we were sitting at, placed in the midst of the most prized location of Lahore. During our two hour and a half long stay there I counted four servants, two uniformed security guards and a retinue of cooks and drivers. He showed his three dogs and told us that those were only used to imported food, available in only two stores of Lahore. Each consumed two bags in one month. Being a dog lover myself, I knew that the bag he was referring to cost Rs15000 each. He told us that he was in arrangement with a popular band which he had hired for the Mehndi for her daughter as he wanted to make the event really memorable. While leaving their house I noticed three luxurious sedans and a Land cruiser, cramped in his huge garage. Suspecting another family living in the same bungalow I asked him whether the upper story was on rent, (since the house was too big for a family of four) he asserted that there was none, since he did not trust anyone. The  land of the two-kanal house was allotted to him while the other property, according to him, was the “fruits of his sweat and hard work” while in service. 

While driving back home, his words “Pakistan ne hume dya hi kya Hai” kept echoing into my ears. Somehow I have always been a very optimistic person all my life. I always try to see the bright part of the picture rather than focusing on the dark one. No matter how grim the situation is, I do not know why, but out of the instincts embedded in my very fiber, I try to direct my eyes towards the silver lining in every dark dungeon, for I believe it is always there. Today, I feel as if being happy has gone out of fashion. Is it the bad side of the personality to see the bright side of things? Or do we have it so good that we have to invent things to be unhappy about. During my whole experience of being in this world which is stretched to over 50 years, I have come across people who never had a good word for anyone or anything. These kind of people would embark on determined hunts and then with a lot of pride and confidence they bring it out into the lime light publicly with an unusual grim so in order to infuse hopelessness and despondency in the other party. This reminds me of an old saying that ‘the optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole’. Since these men and women see nothing but the hole, consequently, never attempt to taste the doughnut also. Being a white collared, salaried person I have had my share of being in the thick and thin of life. At times I encountered very trying situations escaping which seemed impossible at that moment. Sometimes I had to serve under people of very low stature. Due to their parochial and over ambitious temperament for personal goals, they stooped down to the lowest ebb almost ditching me for good. Due to my own temperament, I had to suffer a lot financially, mentally and physically many times. I was cheated, humiliated, deceived and damaged comprehensively and irrevocably. But all this could not dither my fate and the resilience to lose hope.

After putting on 27 years in service and being a military man, I still am a simple person, a devoted father, a caring husband not allowing myself ever to be carried away by the choppy waters I, many times, found myself in. Being the only male in my house I thought it was, for me, not allowed to quail in the face of hardships. Except for a small house, a little adorable heaven, I own neither property nor any worthwhile bank balance. I and my wife leave for work early in the morning and enter house more often than not after sunset. I would be dishonest if I do not tell you that part of the few hours that we spend together at house comprises the discussion on the home budget, and the impromptu expenditures we likely to have, invariably ending up counting the number of days still left in the current month before the ‘Pehli Tareekh’ (the first of the next month). Most part of my married life we have been so religiously doing this ritual every night before going to bed. And let me confess; never have been successful getting the two proverbial ‘ends’ meet with our combined incomes. Once stuck, we then would, like silly fools say to each other “ho jaega Insha-Allah” (plainly meaning by, ‘leave it to God’) and retire to our bed for a good night sleep. And though, we always stopped short of getting those proverbial ends meet, nevertheless, every time they did meet, and meet well. How this human calculation of numbers is overtaken by the Divine, is a phenomenon that I still ponder at. Let me confess that we have actually started enjoying it. There are things not meant to be understood.

For us and many like us, life is like a railway journey and ‘Pehli Tarreekh’ is the intended station. A bustling station full of so many noisy and crazy sounds –sounds of commotions and confusions, of ecstasy and grief –the sounds of life; ‘Chai Garam, Halva Puri, Botal Thandi’. In a world where many could not even afford to have the luxury of having a dinner in a good Chinese restaurant, or to buy a good dress for one’s wife, or a humble visit to an amusement park for one’s kid; I thank my God for giving us a small share among the spectra of the colours of life for a few days. I could hear the whistling of the T.T (the railway Guard), the hissing of the engine, the rumbling of the carriages, the rattling and churning of the pistons, the squealing of the track under the wheels.

These are irritating –at times frustrating –and sometimes squeezes the will and hope to carry on, and put you in a despondent mood. But the good thing is; the train moves on. And I thank my God for these noises, and bumps and ‘Dhakkum Pail’. I thank my God Who has given me the sensation to feel the beautiful spirals and the articulate contours of the sea-shell in my hands, the one and only in my possession. I wonder how that person would feel; the one who has all the shells of the beach dumped in his backyard. I thank my God for giving me the perception to smell the scent of the flowers on Alstonia trees when these enrich the pathways each November, albeit for not more than a fortnight. How I crave each year for November to come just to get to see Alstonia bloom and spread its fragrance in the lonely cold nights. Each time it takes me closer to God. Each time I pray for the time to stop. I thank Him who gave me the sight to see the hues and colours of the tiny yellow, pink and purple flowers in the clover lining the pathways—and to look at the butterfly, and wonder in my thoughts at the strange creation; pondering at the blue, red and crimson pattern fluttering carelessly in my small lawn, for there are millions of souls who come and pass away without having known such perfections. I thank my God to know and value these creations no less than the sun and the moon. Happiness comes in small packages. A diamond will lose its uniqueness if it is in plenty. Perhaps it would lose its very existence. I thank my God to give me the happiness and joy of getting up on Saturday morning driving down the road to my workplace –and then packing up for home, driving back home on Saturday twilight; what a unique feeling; wondering what would be there on the dining table; or to sit in a quiet corner of the community club and enjoy a meal with your family. I wonder what about those for whom Saturday and Sunday have no meanings at all. And I thank my God for the Pehli Tareekh. I wonder how would one feel; the one for whom every day is ‘Pehli Taareekh’. And I thank my God for ‘reaping better than I sowed’.

When I was a child I saw grannies sipping tea from the saucers. I still wonder quite often as to  what made them do so. I thought it was to cool down the tea. But now I see myself doing the same – not to cool it down, but perhaps, subconsciously inspired by the poem by John Paul Moore:-

I’ve never made a fortune and it’s probably too late now.

But I don’t worry about that much I’m happy anyhow.

And as I go along life’s way, I’m reaping better than I sowed.

I’m drinking from my saucer, cause my cup has overflowed.

I don’t have a lot of riches, and sometimes the going’s tough.

But I’ve got loved ones around me, and that makes me rich enough.

I thank God for his blessings, and the mercies He’s bestowed.

I am drinking from my saucer, cause my cup has overflowed.

I remember time when things went wrong my faith wore somewhat thin.

But all at once the dark clouds broke, and the sun peeped through again.

So God, help me not to gripe about the tough rows that I’ve hoed.

I’m drinking from my saucer cause my cup has overflowed.

And though the train of life leaves the station in a short time and even sometimes gets jolty, slow and sluggish, it keeps moving with its own rhythm - moving with all those crazy sounds. Perhaps to arrive on the same station –the ‘Pehli Taareekh’ which, in a way, are both the end and the beginning. 

The author is a retired Cavalry officer. He has spent 27 years in uniform and has a published collection of short stories 'By the Autumn Trees' to his name. He is an avid traveler and also has ample of well-researched travelogues published in the leading newspapers of the country.

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