Little can be said about Butt sahab without shedding light on the verities that defined his neighbor, Haji sahab. The two were not quite inseparable but separating the two in the middle of an argument was a rather exhausting task. From the scorching heat of the Lahori summer, to the chilling winds that froze January, the two would be at odds on the tiny road in the cantonment that they resided upon. Democracy came and went (and returned feebly once again), rich families demolished the crumbling cantonment lodges to build palaces of their own but Haji Sahab and Butt Sahab stood firm; barking at one another with profound perseverance. Though they held very little in common, the two had little regard for the skyrocketing property value of cantonment plots and turned each bewildered buyer away for what can only defined as deeply intrinsic reasons.
Buttsab claimed to have flown next to the legendary M.M. Alam during the ’65 attack on Lahore and while he did not have a road named after him, he was rewarded with the precious plot of land. Meanwhile, Hajisab’s residence was owed to the unfortunate death of his brother, Lance Naik Naveed-ul-Haq, martyred during (but not as a result of) a later war. Naveed had the misfortune of standing outside the Qaddafi Stadium waiting for his bus, while the explosive batsman Rashid Anwar was on strike during a match that pitted the Lahore Lions against the Karachi Dolphins. Rashid, playing for the Dolphins, had swung his bat wildly in the last 10 matches only to be clean-bowled on the first ball each time and it was really a mystery as to why he was afforded an eleventh opportunity.
However, on this occasion the ball kissed the willow so cleanly that it was resigned to sail above the roaring crowd (who at first thought they had a chance of catching it), above the massive canopy of the stadium and onto the street where Haji sahab’s brother stood, wondering what all the fuss was about. The ball hit him on the head before his curiosity could be entertained any further and the Lance Naik died on the spot. Although the standards of pronouncing a martyr rarely include being hit by various sporting equipment, definitions for shuhuda are graciously inclusive in Pakistan. To help his (surviving heirs) case, several other low level soldiers had been ‘martyred’ and together they numbered enough for a military dictator to sign off on their families being given cantonment land.
The other neighbors belonged to class of people that had very little experience out on the roads of Lahore. They knew Buttsab and Hajisab simply as those two crazy old men that refused to sell their land and would speculate the reason for such, ranging from property disputes in the family to inhabitation by Jinn. A majority of these neighbors had never ventured beyond their air conditioned bubbles and had little business out on the street on which Hajisab and Buttsab so vehemently hurled their respective insults. These neighbors did however, command an army of servants and chauffeurs that would rather enjoy the verbal sparring that ensued.
This staff would eagerly line up in the evening to see Buttsab’s poodle take a dump in front of Hajisab’s house, which a particularly inquisitive exercise it was considering Hajisab’s religious avoidance of anything related to the canine species. As he went back into his home to (re)perform his wudu, he would remark that a supply of dog feces was the only thing his neighbor was good for; and that it was only fitting that his name was Butt.
In response, Buttsab would mumble something equally offensive but the inaudibility of his response would spell the end of the matter. Similarly, when one of Hajisab’s many children would be playing cricket or football, the ball would inevitably find its way to Buttsab’s ‘orchard’. Buttsab would take offence to this very intrusion of his property, considering the threat that the various basketballs, footballs, tennis balls and shuttlecocks posed to his fruit trees and particularly his precious ’92 Corolla (now several decades old). This invasion did gradually diminish as Hajisab’s children became older, and the factor that now protected Buttsab’s tomato trees compelled Hajisab to the purchase of a second motorcycle to fulfill the mobility-based needs of the family. This was however, done reluctantly, considering the dent it would create in the savings of the family.
As the remnants of summer were depositing themselves on one afternoon in august, a rickshaw pulled up outside Buttsab’s gate and out came a fresh-faced youth. He was dressed well and clearly employed the intrigue of the passing Hajisab, who was on his way back from the market. Hajisab parked his vehicle in his tiny driveway and proceeded to deliver the groceries to his kitchen when he saw that he was not the only one in the house intrigued by their newest neighbor. Outside the kitchen door, next to the outdoor basin, his eldest daughter stood upon a small stool, spying upon the good-looking young man over the rather short boundary wall that Hajisab now dearly wished he had raised. The sudden appearance of her father was clearly one that startled her and the small wooden stool that she was perched upon gave way, sending her crashing to the floor. As she collected herself from the floor, her face was one filled with dread and shame, as if she knew that the fall was soon to be dwarfed by the fate that was shortly to be dealt to her.
“She’s seventeen already, and did you see the way she was looking at Buttsab’s nephew? You were right.” Hajisab told his wife.
“We should have gotten her married to your brother’s son last year.”
“Can we even afford to get her married?” came the mother’s sorry reply.
“We will have to miss next year’s Umrah.”
The daughter sat there listening to the conversation with her head bowed down apologetically.
It turned out that the fresh-faced youth was indeed Buttsab’s nephew, here from Pindi to practice law at the Lahore high court. He had not seen Hajiisab’s daughter at his arrival so the implications of his presence seemed to evade him. His concerns were rather directed at the question of whether or not he was on the verge of being mauled by Buttsab’s poodle. Regardless, the wedding took place and while Buttsab could do little to stem the subsequent flow of Hajisab’s relatives near his gate, the noise did make him wish to make the walls a little higher.
The end of the wedding was as much a relief to Hajisab’s wallet as it was for Buttsab’s eardrums. So it was not surprising when they met each other the next day, Buttsab was found clearing his ears and Hajisab performing a similar survey of his petrol tank. The invasive search only confirmed the initial report that resigned Hajisab to a fuel-less vehicle (and Buttsab to temporary hearing loss). His attempts were valiant and determined and as Buttsab restrained his poodle from his neighbor, he felt a great deal of pity for the man.
“My nephew will drop you off on his way to work” he declared.
The utterance was one perhaps neither of the two expected to ever hear and so, Buttsab marched off before Hajisab could furnish a response, who instead offered a blank expression that complemented his shortness of breath from pushing his bike.
The nephew did not keep a very confused Hajisab waiting for too long and did well to hide his displeasure at the creation of a detour. Hence, Buttsab’s declaration was validated and Hajisab found himself in the passenger seat of a car that he had often dreamt of burning down. Still engrossed in his delusions, Hajisab then noticed a pack of Gold Leaf next to the gearbox and considering his own love for tobacco with unnecessarily high amounts of tar and nicotine (what is the use otherwise?), found his feelings further mixed. This was not lost on Buttsab’s nephew, who picked up the pack, took one himself and offered another to Hajisab who gulped down his disbelief before obliging.
Hajisab felt his pocket for his own packet of cigarettes, empty as his fuel tank and reveled in the circumstances that had granted him a ride to work and a light buzz. It was not long after Hajisab’s cigarette was extinguished that they arrived at his shop, and he thanked the youth for his service before pulling the shutter up from his establishment.
He still bore the confused expression that had so recently become a mainstay before his facial muscles relaxed slightly.
“Nice lad” he said quietly.
As he came back from work that day, Hajisab greeted his wife with an inquiry upon their second daughter’s age.
“Why huzoor, are you now not in enough debt to guarantee a penniless retirement?” came the reply.
“It’s not about the money; I saw how happy you were yesterday.”
“It is a mother’s dream to have her daughter settled in a good home.”
While Hajisab’s wife’s admission was largely sincere, both husband and wife slightly winced as she uttered the last two words, spelling an abrupt end to the conversation.
Over at the Butt household, the impressive nephew was busy packing his bags. He had for some time now resented Buttsab’s reluctance to install an AC in the guest room and had finally found a suitable apartment near the court. This displeasure was not taken well by Buttsab who insisted that water coolers worked just as well; and things reached a turning point when this nephew asked him to switch rooms in that case.
The nephew’s stay was cut short by this as he left the next morning, to Hajisab’s intrigue. Before he left however, he too, like everyone else in the world, looked at the two modest cottages amongst a garrison of palaces and wondered why.
Shuhuda – Martyres
Jinn – Ghosts
Wudu – Ablution (necessary for prayer)
Pindi – Rawalpindi, a place in Pakistan
Umrah – Islamic pilgrimage
Huzoor – Sir