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The Blind Man's Garden

Nadeem Aslam

-excerpt-


The Blind Man - Albert Bloch, 1942


Rohan stands up. The light is so strong everything disintegrates in it – it is like being in a field of pure energy. Rohan sweeps at his head to remove the white cloth that has come to rest over his eyes but realises there is no cloth. The world moves away and everything becomes smaller but then the vision returns for a few moments and he sees the fire eddying along the ground. He is tired, tired of living without Sofia, and as he stumbles against something and falls, feeling a patch of meagre grass under his hands, he knows he is blind.
 

*

The doctor is studying Rohan’s files when they enter the office. He is a young man and has recently returned from studying in the West. He looks up, and in utter silence stares at Rohan’s face.

Removing Rohan’s bandages he lifts the cotton pads from the eyelids, parting them gently with his fingers.

‘Can you see me?’ he asks.

‘No.’

The doctor guides Rohan into the examination room adjoining the office, Naheed catching a glimpse of the heavy-seeming machinery in dull grey steel and shining chrome as the green curtain is released behind them.

She sits alone in the office, looking into the book she has brought. This specialist is the final hope. One of the others said they should stitch shut the eyelids permanently. Last week Tara had visited the cleric at the mosque, to see if any specific verses of the Koran could be read for the restoration of vision. ‘Why could you not have come to me sooner?’ the cleric had said, unable to conceal his wounded feelings. But he was not saddened or aggrieved on his own behalf. ‘You thought you were modern people, wanted to visit as many doctors as you could before turning to Allah. It seems to me to be a case of “We might as well give Him a try too.”’

Twenty minutes go by and the green curtain is lifted and the doctor leads Rohan out.

Rohan gropes for Naheed’s hand as he settles in his chair.

‘So. As I have just explained to your father-in-law,’ the doctor says to her, ‘we need to carry out a number of procedures over the next six to eight months to restore the vision.’

‘He will be able to see again?’

Before the doctor can respond, Rohan says, ‘We can’t afford the operations, Naheed.’

Naheed tries to swallow but can’t.

The doctor looks at the files. ‘I am sure we can correct his original condition too. With the new medical advances in the West there is no reason why he should ever be blind.’ Naheed cannot help but express an elated astonishment at this but again Rohan says,

‘We can’t afford the operations, Naheed.’

‘Could you not sell something?’ the doctor asks. ‘Do you still live in that building with the garden that used to be the school?’

Rohan looks towards him. ‘I wasn’t aware that we knew each other.’

‘I was a pupil of yours. You expelled me because my mother was a sinner.’

Rohan is still.

Naheed knows the story of the prostitute’s son. The boy who tried to steal a spade from the school garden. He wanted to go to the cemetery and dig up what his mother had always said was his father’s grave.

The doctor, his face utterly serious, has his eyes locked on Rohan.

‘I recognised the name the moment I saw the report, and I recognised you as you walked in.’

‘I have had occasion to think of you not a few times over the years.’

‘And I about you.’

‘You are a doctor now.’

‘The clinic is named after my late mother.’

Naheed sees how this has shaken Rohan. ‘So these operations you have suggested …’

The man swings his black chair towards her. ‘We will have to act fast. You will need to get the funds together soon. Unfortunately in a case like this almost every day counts.’

‘And the original cause is reversible too?’

‘Yes. You seem to have been given outdated advice. There has been much scientific progress.’

Is he trying to destroy Rohan? Are these operations beneficial or necessary? Will he just waste the money on unneeded procedures and then claim he did his best? But, no. It is said that something in people’s souls will not let them take advantage of the blind or deceive them. The Koran admonishes a personage – some believe it to be Muhammad himself – for ignoring a blind man in a gathering of influential tribal chiefs.

‘My reasons to expel you from Ardent Spirit seemed persuasive at the time,’ Rohan says suddenly.

The doctor ignores the comment. ‘When should I schedule the next appointment?’ He holds out the reports. Rohan extends his arm towards the sound and takes them, the hand groping in the air before grabbing, like a bird trying to alight on a branch in a strong wind.

‘When did your mother die, may I ask?’

‘The year I graduated from medical school.’

‘The name didn’t bring her to mind,’ Rohan says. ‘I am sorry to hear of her death. May Allah have compassion on her soul.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I just meant … Allah is all-forgiving …’

‘She was the most decent human being I knew.’

Naheed watches him concentrating on the man’s words. She knows from Mikal the power the voice has to reveal someone. Sometimes when he sang she would close her eyes and realise that every emotion that had been present in his facial expressions was also present in his voice.

‘I am sorry to hear of her death,’ Rohan says again. ‘There are many ways to live a good life, and Allah is all-forgiving.’

The doctor looks at him and then in a calm controlled gesture rings the bell for the next patient to be shown in.

‘Thank you,’ Naheed says, getting up. ‘We’ll contact you about the next appointment.’

‘I look forward to hearing from you,’ the doctor says without looking up.
 

*

Night, and he walks in his garden, hands outstretched, touching the skin of the world in the darkness. He moves beside the night scent of flowers [...] He turns his face upwards, where the visible planets must be burning in the eastern sky. He reaches the overgrown thor bush and slowly raises his hands towards the spike-filled branches, wondering how he will know which of these limbs must be amputated next year to restore symmetry.

The End

 

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Resultado de imagem para blind man's garden Nadeem Aslam
 
Nadeem Aslam is a prize-winning British Pakistani novelist. His debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds, won the Betty Trask and the Author's Club First Novel Award. His critically acclaimed second novel Maps for Lost Lovers won Encore Award and Kiriyama Prize; it was shortlisted for IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, among others. Colm Toibin described him as "one of the most exciting and serious British novelists writing now'.
Aslam's fourth novel is The Blind Man's Garden (2013). It is set in Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan and looks at the War on Terror through the eyes of local, Islamist characters. It contains also a love story loosely based on the traditional Punjabi romance of Heer Ranjha.The Blind Man's Garden was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize 2014, which is given by the Royal Society of Literature.

 



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14.Jun.2018
Maria José Alegre