Karamat Ali Khan — A Short Story by O. Kashmiri

Nov 27, 2020

In the first from a series, O. Kashmiri brings us the short story of a land and its people told through the story of a man and his struggle, as both are inevitably interlinked and bound by grief, despair and hopelessness.

Sometime after the Summit of the Great Leaders, Karamat Ali was informed that he would have to leave his home on the mountain slope. The Army was building a new headquarter and needed the slope because the current Commanding Officer’s wife had taken a fancy for the view from the lovely, deforested slope, overlooking a small, quaint valley full of mustard fields in spring, and paddy fields in summer. The taking of land of the ‘natives’ was now fully permitted after the Summit of Great Leaders. The ‘natives’ had no recourse to prevent their uprooting.

In that Summit of Great Leaders, Great Leader-I, who had previously married, but abandoned his wife, met Great Leader-II, who had previously married twice, and then settled for a spiritual connection with a third, under the watchful eye of Great Leader-III who had married a Rockstar. Great Leader III was the most powerful and had built a network of roads and bridges throughout the world so that his people could navigate through far-off lands and trade wherever they wanted. One such road passed close to Karamat Ali’s village. The Great Leaders resolved that their respected nuclear power states, built on varying degrees of concepts of Islamism, Hinduism, and Communism, now had only one common -ism, and they called it Money-ism. The Great Leaders went back and sold Great Ideas of Money-ism to their people and told their people to forget about the poor, downtrodden, and miserable that inhabited Valleys and Plateaus. Great Leader-II went to great lengths to tell his people to watch TV programmes from the past, and read about Spirituality and Awakening, and told them to look to the Heavens for help in this Great Project of Money-ism. He called it, ‘Islamic Money-ism.’ Great Leader-I did not bother about any explaining. He got on to TV one day and told the people what to do and that was that. Great Leader-III did not need to do anything. Everyone in his big country knew what to do each day in the morning.

Karamat Ali was confused by Money-ism. He had had four sons. He had been taught by radio programmes about a great land, called the Land of the Pure, where rivers of honey and milk flow and where people could speak their minds without fear or hindrance and where everyone is a brother to another. He had been so inspired by the Land of the Pure that he wanted to make his mountain slope a part of the Land of the Pure when he was a young boy. He raised a green and white flag and flew it on his rooftop. Some soldiers who did not speak his language came and brought the flag down and burnt it. “Next time we will burn your house down,” they said to him. He did not understand what was wrong with them. Karamat Ali married a girl from his village and they had four sons. He named them Mohammed, Liaqat, Ayub, and Yahya. The fifth son, Zulfiqar, died in infancy. All four grew into strong lads.

One day Karamat had a visitor. The visitor told Karamat about his visit to the Land of the Pure. There was now a mission to ‘liberate’ his mountain slope and fight the soldiers who could not speak Karamat’s language. The leaders of the Land of the Pure had decided that it was time to take the Mountain Slope back and give ‘Freedom’ to the people of Karamat Ali’s village. Karamat was excited by this prospect. He asked all his four sons to accompany this visitor to a place where they would be trained to fight. Karamat wanted to go himself, but he was old now, and his joints would not carry the load they once used to. Mohammed, Liaqat, Ayub, and Yahya all went with the visitor and they crossed over the mountain and were never seen again. A few days later, someone came to Karamat to tell him that all four of his sons had been killed by the soldiers who could not speak his language and their bodies had been thrown in to the gorge that was near the Land of the Pure. Karamat consoled himself. “At least in death they will be in the Land of the Pure.”

Many Great Leaders came and went and Karamat was waiting for the Great Leader who would come and unify his mountain slope village with the Land of the Pure. But no one came. One day, Karamat Ali decided to declare himself a Great Leader and said he was declaring his village as part of the Land of the Pure. Many villagers looked on in disbelief as Karamat conducted a parade of his sheep, goats, and chicken in the village square, each of them painted green and white, with Karamat leading the way holding a Green and White Flag. His neighbours were bewildered at the funny sight of an old man shouting slogans about the promise of the Land of the Pure and its Great Leaders. Soon, the soldiers who could not speak his language, came, and took Karamat away. What happened in the intervening months and years, no one knows, but, when Karamat finally came back, he wasn’t what he used to be. He did not speak to anyone. He did not care for anyone. He stood naked on his front porch and stared at the mountain slope in front of him, beyond which his four sons lay floating in the stream at the bottom of the gorge. He thought of all the promises he heard made on the radio and then the television and then the videos on the phone, all about the Land of the Pure and he would stare blankly and start to cry.

While he was gone, Great Leader-I had changed laws, as though they mattered, and had given the soldiers who could not speak his language a free reign to do what they wanted. On the mountain slope, where his goats and sheep once grazed, a new camp had come up, with beautiful lawns, a large mansion, a school for kids, a place to land a helicopter, and a manicured lawn where the Officers of the soldiers who could not speak his language played golf. Men from Karamat’s village, who had once herds of hundreds of sheep, were now working as porters and servants in the camp. Women used to entertain the soldiers with their song and dance at night and would work in the kitchens by the day. Kids born in the Village now looked different, and they could not speak the language Karamat spoke. It was a whole new world.

When the Summit of the Great Leaders took place, Karamat spoke for the first time in years. He said to his once beautiful wife, “It is over.” He realised that the Great Leaders now worshipped a new God, a God who had never come to the mountain slope before, and who only lived in banks and was prayed to when one needed a new gadget. The Great Leaders called it “Enlightened Money-ism,” but Great Leader-II called it “Islamic Money-ism.” Karamat Ali decided that he had to see the Land of the pure himself. “How was it possible?”, he thought, “That the leaders of the Land of the Pure and the people of the Land of the Pure, after so many years of promises, had suddenly decided to worship another God?” And now the soldiers were asking him to leave his home. Where would he go?

Karamat packed a few pieces of bread, a warm shawl, and his radio when he bade goodbye to his wife. He said he wanted to cross the mountain and travel to the Land of the Pure to ask the Great Leader-II about his plans for the mountain slope. He remembered the path from his youth and set out one morning. A few hours later he found himself facing a few soldiers who did not speak his language. They asked him a few questions, and he told them his purpose of travel. Laughing among themselves, they allowed him to proceed towards the Gorge where the Land of the Pure began. Karamat walked and walked, and he walked for a long time. He walked for days and days and he crossed mountains and hills and then plains, but he could not meet anyone who remembered anything about the Land of the Pure. Even the old people, who like him, used walking sticks and had grown white beards with rosaries in their hands, could not tell him about the Land of the Pure. Karamat kept walking until he reached the end of the Land, at the mouth of that Great river which had swallowed his four sons. And he stared at the sea ahead. At that moment, he realised what had happened. The Land of the Pure was nothing. He had been fooled and fooled many times, and he had given his sons to the visitor to fight, and he had raised the flag, and led a parade of sheep, goats, and chicken, and gone to a Godforsaken place of chains and bars, and returned, and now he wanted to see the Land of the Pure before his eyes went out. But it was not there.

Money-ism had eaten it up and spat it into the sea. At the spot where many large ships came from around the world to pick up goods from the land of Great Leader-III, Karamat decided that he would continue his search for the Land of the Pure. Not having money to buy himself a boat, Karamat thought, and thought, and thought, and then taking off his clothes, and leaving his meagre belongings by a rock on the sandy beach, he stepped into the sea for the first time in his life. A large wave was approaching. Karamat took a deep breath, said the name of the One True God he worshipped and then, most uncharacteristically, shouted, “Long Live the Land of the Pure!” and jumped into the oncoming wave.

No one heard him again.

They found his naked body by the beach a day later. Somewhere on his body, they found the marks of torture. What they could not find was the love in his heart of a Land whose promise was long forgotten. That love died with him, drowned at sea.

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About the Contributor

The author is a doctor working in Kashmir. His pen name is O. Kashmiri.

Knowledge is like Teher.
A handful of cooked rice
a humble offering
to ward off the grief
from an entire century.
Whosoever receives Teher
does so with blessings
and well wishes.
Today the T in Teher
is the T in Taaleem
just as the K in Kashmir
is the K in your name.
From Teōtīhuacān to Tral
we make a humble offering.

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