2016-10-17 10:52 供稿單位: 新航道 原創作者:新航道
Unfortunately or fortunately, Nawab hadmarried early in life a sweet woman of unsurpassed fertility, whom he adored,and she proceeded to bear him children spaced, if not less than nine monthsapart, then not that much more. And all daughters, one after another afteranother, until finally the looked-for son arrived, leaving Nawab with acomplete set of twelve girls, ranging from toddler to age eleven, and one oddpiece. If he had been governor of the Punjab, their dowries would have beggaredhim. For an electrician and mechanic, no matter how light-fingered, thereseemed no question of marrying them all off. No moneylender in his right mindwould, at any rate of interest, advance a sufficient sum to buy the necessaryitems for each daughter: beds, a dresser, trunks, electric fans, dishes, sixsuits of clothes for the groom, six for the bride, perhaps a television, and onand on and on.
Another man might have thrown up hishands—but not Nawabdin. The daughters acted as a spur to his genius, and helooked with satisfaction in the mirror each morning at the face of a warriorgoing out to do battle. Nawab of course knew that he must proliferate hissources of revenue—the salary he received from K. K. Harouni for tending thetube wells would not even begin to suffice. He set up a one-room flour mill,run off a condemned electric motor—condemned by him. He tried his hand atfish-farming in a pond at the edge of one of his master’s fields. He boughtbroken radios, fixed them, and resold them. He did not demur even when asked tofix watches, although that enterprise did spectacularly badly, and earned himmore kicks than kudos, for no watch he took apart ever kept time again.
K. K. Harouni lived mostly in Lahore andrarely visited his farms. Whenever the old man did visit, Nawab would placehimself night and day at the door leading from the servants’ sitting area intothe walled grove of ancient banyan trees where the old farmhouse stood.Grizzled, his peculiar aviator glasses bent and smudged, Nawab tended thehousehold machinery, the air-conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, andpumps, like an engineer tending the boilers on a foundering steamer in anAtlantic gale. By his superhuman efforts, he almost managed to maintain K. K.Harouni in the same mechanical cocoon, cooled and bathed and lighted and fed,that the landowner enjoyed in Lahore.
Harouni, of course, became familiar with thisubiquitous man, who not only accompanied him on his tours of inspection butcould be found morning and night standing on the master bed rewiring the lightfixture or poking at the water heater in the bathroom. Finally, one evening atteatime, gauging the psychological moment, Nawab asked if he might say a word.The landowner, who was cheerfully filing his nails in front of a cracklingrosewood fire, told him to go ahead.
“Sir, as you know, your lands stretch fromhere to the Indus, and on these lands are fully seventeen tube wells, and totend these seventeen tube wells there is but one man, me, your servant. In yourservice I have earned these gray hairs”—here he bowed his head to show thegray—“and now I cannot fulfill my duties as I should. Enough, sir, enough. Ibeg you, forgive me my weakness. Better a darkened house and proud hungerwithin than disgrace in the light of day. Release me, I ask you, I beg you.”
The old man, well accustomed to these sortsof speeches, though not usually this florid, filed away at his nails and waitedfor the breeze to stop.
“What’s the matter, Nawabdin?”
“Matter, sir? Oh, what could be the matter inyour service? I’ve eaten your salt for all my years. But, sir, on the bicyclenow, with my old legs, and with the many injuries I’ve received when heavymachinery fell on me—I cannot any longer bicycle about like a bridegroom fromfarm to farm, as I could when I first had the good fortune to enter yourservice. I beg you, sir, let me go.”
“And what is the solution?” Harouni asked,seeing that they had come to the crux. He didn’t particularly care one way orthe other, except that it touched on his comfort—a matter of great interest tohim.
“Well, sir, if I had a motorcycle, then Icould somehow limp along, at least until I train up some younger man.”
The crops that year had been good, Harounifelt expansive in front of the fire, and so, much to the disgust of the farmmanagers, Nawab received a brand-new motorcycle, a Honda 70. He even managed toextract an allowance for gasoline.
The motorcycle increased his status, gave himweight, so that people began calling him Uncle and asking his opinion on worldaffairs, about which he knew absolutely nothing. He could now range farther,doing much wider business. Best of all, now he could spend every night with hiswife, who early in the marriage had begged to live not in Nawab’s quarters inthe village but with her family in Firoza, near the only girls’ school in thearea. A long straight road ran from the canal headworks near Firoza all the wayto the Indus, through the heart of the K. K. Harouni lands. The road ran on thebed of an old highway built when these lands lay within a princely state. Somehundred and fifty years ago, one of the princes had ridden that way, going to awedding or a funeral in this remote district, felt hot, and ordered thatrosewood trees be planted to shade the passersby. Within a few hours, he forgotthat he had given the order, and in a few dozen years he in turn was forgotten,but these trees still stood, enormous now, some of them dead and loomingwithout bark, white and leafless. Nawab would fly down this road on his newmachine, with bags and streamers hanging from every knob and brace, so that thebike, when he hit a bump, seemed to be flapping numerous small vestigial wings;and with his grinning face, as he rolled up to whichever tube well neededservicing, with his ears almost blown off, he shone with the speed of hisarrival.