The happiness was without cause, without reason, be sabbab. In fact I don’t quite know when or why I first felt it. But that evening I lived a page out of an Intizar Hussain short story (specifically one titled Be Sabab – a tale whose ebb and flow resembled that of my night, and thus of this article).
I felt like laughing. I felt happy. It had started at home, though I am remiss to tell when. I felt a smile creep its way on to my face. But how strange a thing to be smiling like this, what with the electricity out and no perceptible source of entertainment near me. There must be a place to be happy, needlessly so, without inviting inquisitive glances from parents, or intrusive inquiries from grandparents. But where?
I moved to the comforting seclusion of my car, and there decided to smile to my heart’s content. Intuitively, I went toward the Cantonment. The radio too lent itself to my mood, and I knew somewhere around me in the countless cars abound sat perhaps another inexplicably happy traveller. Or maybe there were thousands more.
But no sooner had these thoughts entered my mind that a traffic light bade its way into my path. And now there was honking, and the humdrum of nervously vibrating engines around me. A van, one of those green ones from governments past, pulled up beside me with a haunting array of even greener turbans. Its inhabitants peered into my car piercing through the shelter of my isolation.
With all these glares and stares I couldn’t possibly laugh, could I? What would they think of me, a madman laughing by himself?
I let go of the brake and gently irked my car away. Unthinkingly, I meandered my way towards Joy Land. I walked in nostalgically for this was one of the stomping grounds of my childhood. As I walked through the turnstile the security guard and I shared a perfunctory nod. Laced in this interaction was an unconditional assent for all the dangers and risks that lay ahead.
The rides were as I had left them a decade prior. Once more upon entering I was reminded of my unwarranted joy that day. From atop the Ferris wheel I could see the entire place. It was a warm night, but the soft breeze mixing with the rhythmic cadence of the rides had a cooling effect on my senses.
I went down amidst the loud shrill of shrieking daughters, and the silent wincing of petrified sons. Within this land of joy I found a quiet corner from where to sit and observe the people around, expressing my happiness by sharing in theirs.
I was near enough to be within, yet at enough of a distance to go unnoticed; proximate so as to see their every expression, yet too far to hear a word they said. And free the whole while to prescribe for their lives’ stories that take shape entirely in my imagination.
There was a woman of resolute beauty; her frazzled hair gave away her somewhat advanced age but her good looks seemed to have endured. There were two children prancing about her, but she treated them with that distinct affection of an aunt, not a mother. She offered to take a photograph for a rotund couple. Her familiarity with them was that of a sibling’s. But she was the odd one out. No man on her side. Was she a widow to a martyred soldier, or a wife to an uncaring husband? But the children ran wayward and took her out of the frame.
What followed was a family so strange that it was not until the next day that I could make sense of them. Three teenage girls in tight jeans and nose piercings walked about with an obese grandmother whose Punjabi was not of this city, but that of the city of saints down south.
The girls spoke French to each other, and Saraaiki to the grandmother. Maybe their father was a taxi driver somewhere in Europe, or a car salesman? They quickly ran off towards a precariously balanced ride — Pirate Ship — leaving behind a trail of young boys who followed them with their eyes. The grandmother’s stature was perhaps too imposing for the wanton boys to try anything else.
A small group on a triple date walked into the proverbial frame next. One couple among the three was noticeably and painfully quiet. She ventured to talk first, and he responded only with nods and shakes. He must have looked at everything but her, so scared he seemed. And then their eyes met and she smiled. But the rest came back from the ticket booth and all of them proceeded to add their screams and howls to the night air. I like to think that she held on to his arm on that ride.
People there were happy, nay joyous, though one can only wonder what secrets they all hid from view. My life and theirs would never again cross paths as equals as it did that night. We were united for the sake of amusement, them and I, I and them. Outside those walls we would once more assume the garbs we had shed at the turnstile upon entry.
But as I walked off towards my car I felt a warm sadness, a quiet udaasi, slowly come over me — without cause, without reason, be sabab.