My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaar – which is a criss-cross of narrow lanes that I am sure will amount to a hundred or more, though I have not counted them and I do not know of anyone who has – you will arrive at Arsalan Miyan’s house if you take the lane in front of the green Jama Masjid, by the huge transformer, past more lanes till you have forgotten where you started. Right there, where a lane seems to end, but actually doesn’t, because if you come up to the wooden door the colour of ash where the lane seems to end, you will see a small angular cut to the left, which will open up another lane between walls of houses to more lanes.
Anyway, right where the lane seems to end, when you come up to the huge wooden door that looks like it’s a hundred years old, you will know that you have reached Arsalan Miyan’s house. And if there is any confusion, just hang on there for two minutes, and an enormous shadow will growl at you from the first-floor balcony.
“Hey! Who stands there? What do you want? Where have you come from? Why do you stand there? Whom do you want to meet? What business brings you here?”
And you will stand there with your mouth open, ready to utter the first word once the old man stops. But he doesn’t. So, you stand there with your mouth open taking in the sight of a huge dark-skinned man with a mop of orange hair, obviously grey hair henna-dyed, in a faded white kurta leaning out of the little white balcony with green latticed railings.
Arsalan Miyan continues to volley questions at you, as your eyes shift from him to the buildings around which seem to have sprouted from the ground stuck to each other. Finally the old man stops for breath. And you quickly cut in, Is this Arsalan Miyan’s house?
He looks at you like a student does when the teacher has posed a question which he cannot, for the life of him, answer. “Who?” he says meekly this time.
“Arsalan Miyan!” you respond with more vigour.
He looks at you like you just ordered his punishment for not knowing the answer.
Just then you hear hurried footsteps. A young lad leans out of the balcony and says, “Yes, yes. Come right up. Push the door open, you will find a flight of stairs. Come right up.”
As you reach the first floor, Arsalan Miyan is already seated on a sturdy, rocking armchair that was brought over from the wooden furniture workshop downstairs that the family runs, his eyes fixed on the whitewashed wall ahead. The balcony is bare, except for two pots of money plants randomly placed – one near the small white sink with a plastic pipe dangling beneath and the other in a corner from where one can take a flight of stairs to the terrace. The young lad welcomes you inside through a small door.
“That’s my eldest uncle, Arsalan Miyan. He can’t remember things now, including his name.” And you nod. “But he sits there the whole day and his ears pick up any footstep that stops at our door. So we don’t need a calling bell,” he tries to joke. But you don’t think it is funny because you are here to meet Arsalan Miyan, and the man doesn’t remember a thing.
(Read the rest of the story at the Himal site, where one can also listen to the story, at http://himalmag.com/where-is-arsalan-miyan-short-story-juanita-kakoty/ This is special to me because this is for the first time Himal has tried a podcast, which happens to be with my short story. My first too! So excited!)