Tthe visitor, on that morning, was a middle-aged, shabby-looking fellow, in carelessly-ironed clothes, with a worn-out waistcoat of light grey colour. His small, neglected beard gave the impression that he had, perhaps, merely left shaving and it had grown in this manner.

He spoke coyly. “You gave an advertisement for the marriage of poor girls.” “Yes, of course” I replied. “I came here for that” He uttered the words one-by-one: as if he was not able to find appropriate ones. A mixed feeling of confusion and amazement enveloped me, for I could not understand him. No doubt, we had given an advertisement in a newspaper, but it was meant to raise funds. Though the advertisement did not bring sufficient response, it did not cause us any loss: the newspaper had printed it as a part of their charity services.

Our organization has recently taken up a poverty alleviation project which includes the marriage of poor girls as an important component .We have already conducted a seminar for the purpose and it was quite successful. In fact we succeeded in pricking the consciences of the participants and received a number of promises, and announcements of huge donations. The presence of news reporters on the occasion gave us an assurance that these promises would certainly materialize.

Oon the next morning, we received a cheque of two thousand dollars sent by Seth Sahib, a known industrialist, to keep his promise. Later on, a man from his group of companies told me that Seth Sahib ‘did not let any of his workers miss this opportunity of earning ‘sawab’ (God’s blessing). He simply gave orders to deduct one day’s salary from all his employees and thus contributed his share in our philanthropic mission.

I did not mind, as means are no more important when ends are achieved. Nawab Sahib gave us the same amount out of national grant for social development. He is a political figure who has nationalized all his belongings, his life, his property, his family etc., in the greater national interest. So, for him, there is no essential line of demarcation between national and personal assets. He thinks, and feels, for both in the same extravagant manner.

Realizing that the national grant for the uplifting of the poors is about to lapse as the fiscal year approaches its end, he decided to donate an amount out of it. He himself came to our office carrying the cheque and was accompanied by a senior reporter of a major newspaper. They did not forget to bring a photographer with them! The inevitability of all this, for his political career, was an obvious fact so it did not cause any confusion to me, but the visitor, standing in front of me at that moment, had perplexed me.

Iin spite of my repeated expressions of not understanding the purpose of his visit, he was completely silent: perhaps, feeling some hesitation in telling me something. It made me all the uneasier and rather anxious to know the reality. Finally, I broke the ice. “Gentleman, have a seat please and explain yourself.” He placed some big notes in front of me, adding. “I have some money. I have brought it for you”.

I was still going through the same uncertainty. “But for what purpose?” I asked. “You are raising funds for the dowry of poor girls. I have saved some amount and want to give it in that fund”. Now the situation was becoming clear though my uncertainty was natural, as I had never seen such a strange donor before. Filled with an air of curiosity, I asked: “But why did you do that?” “Is there any need to tell?” he asked. “Yes, please.”

He remained silent for a while, nodded his head in a negative way, then rose from his chair and spoke. “No, sir, I don’t think it necessary to tell. Let me go now!” I was astonished at his strange attitude and I spoke in a cold stubborn tone: “I am not accepting your amount if you will not tell me the truth.”

Hhe turned worried. ” Is it so?” “Yes! Please let me know why you want to donate it. I am afraid of saying that you yourself seem to be in need of it. Please tell me clearly.”

“Sir,” he started saying, ” I am an unfortunate father of a daughter. I had been saving some money for her marriage and decided not to spend it on anything else but God had some other plans, as I could not see her happiness. She died when she was just thirteen but her death multiplied the love I had for her, and I kept on saving money from my income in a frantic manner.

It was already a thirteen year-old habit, and was hard to give up instantly. Then, I considered it to be a token of my love for her. I continued and when I saw your advertisement in the newspaper, I decided to give it to you. In this way, perhaps, my sorrow for her may become easier to endure and I may get some peace.”

Wwhen he reached the last sentence he could not control himself, and liquid sorrow poured out of his eyes as the tempest within him became wild and unrestrained. Feeling a tear in my eyes, I rose up from my chair, placed my hand on his shoulder, and tried to soothe him. Nothing is more soothing then time itself and he was tranquil after a few moments. I asked his name and whereabouts merely to relieve the sadness in the atmosphere.

“No, perhaps, it is not required at all,” he replied “Please don’t ask me. I am a poor factory worker and I don’t want to be advertised for my love. Thank you very much. Just allow me to go, and thank you for all.”

Ssaying this, he rose and moved quickly towards the door. I placed my head against the back of my chair and closed my eyes and a cool, comforting light spread within me. I saw a strange world which I could never see with open eyes: Nawab and Seth Sahib had turned into Lilliputians in front of the poor factory worker’s Gulliver-like stature. I saw him holding an invisible chain that tied all those in the world who suffer. They were all so closely tied and connected to each other that no one else, except they themselves, come to help one another. A smile spread on my face with this enlightenment and I opened my eyes to see the world around me, with a revived interest in life.

The End

Shades of Life by Nadeem Akhtar

The author can be contacted at: “Nadeem Akhtar”

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