This is a translation of the work of an Urdu writer Mohammad Hussain Azaad. I read this Urdu short story (Afsana) back in school. I felt really impacted by this piece and wanted to write a translation for a long time in order for this to become available to a wider audience. None of the ideas present within this translated piece are my own and I have tried to be as accurate with the translation as possible. Some phrases and sentences have been replaced with their English equivalents as there are terms that exist exclusively in Urdu. However, the meaning (to the best of my abilities) has been kept the same. I am open to suggestions and feedback as my translation skills are a work in progress. You can access the original story here.
A Person is Never Happy
Socrates once joked that if all the people of the world collected their problems in one single place and distributed them equally to everyone, then whoever thought they were unfortunate would look at their new distributed problem and think that they were fortunate before.
Another wise man once elaborated the theme of this joke to a greater extent. He said that even if we could distribute our problems, we would think of our previous problem as a blessing.
I was thinking about both of these ideas, and I was sitting against my pillow, deep in thoughts, when I fell asleep. In my dream, I saw that the King of Heavens had released an advertisement. In summary, the advertisement called for all the people of the world to bring their sorrows, pressing issues and problems to His court and pile them up over there. An incomprehensibly huge ground was allocated for this affair and people started coming in. I stood among them, and saw all this circus unfold. One person would come after another, and on their backs they would carry the huge burden of their problems. They would throw their problems in the pile and the pile would increase in size. The pile, with time, became a mountain. A mountain so high that it went above and beyond the clouds in the sky.
One frightened feeble man navigated himself through the crowd swiftly and cunningly. In his hand, he carried a mirror. The mirror would magnify, disproportionately, the face of anyone who looked at it. The man wore a loose outfit. The lower part of his shirt had images of demons and djinns stitched on it. Whenever the wind would blow, this part of the shirt would wave in the air, and a thousand terrifying strange faces would become apparent. His beastly eyes carried hints of sadness and his name was “Wahem” (Superstition). He would help everyone unload their problems onto the pile, and would make sure that every problem was right where it was supposed to be. When I saw my fellow people struggle under the burdens of their problems, and thought about this mountain of suffering, I became agitated and felt pitiful like never before in my life.
In this place, I saw such people that I became amused at their situation. I saw a man wearing an embroidered muslin dress carrying a weighty bundle on his back. When he threw this bundle on the pile, I found out that his problem was extreme poverty. Another man quickly lined up behind him, his body was full of sweat and he seemed to wail under his immense load. His problem was his bad wife. However, he had finally gotten rid of her.
After that, a huge uncountable crowd came to the spot. They were the hopeless romantics. The bundles they carried on their heads were bundles of pain, sorrow and rejection. Eventhough these people, under the immense weight of their bundles, cried and groaned as if their hearts would explode, the surprising thing was they could not bring themselves to throw their bundles onto the pile. They would reluctantly shake their heads, turn back and leave the way they came.
A lot of old wrinkly women threw their wrinkles onto the pile. Some young men threw their undesired facial features and complexions onto the pile. Others threw their crooked and colored teeth which brought feelings of embarassment. What I found most surprising was that this mountain had an abundant amount of undesired features and defects of the body.
I saw this man with an extremely heavy and gigantic bundle on his back but he carries it happily towards the pile. When he came close, I found out that he was a hunchback. In the pile of all the problems of mankind, he threw away his hunchback-ness. For him, this was his greatest problem. In this pile, I saw all unique sorts of problems and diseases. Some were real while others were fabricated by the superstitious minds of their beholders. I could see a collection of diseases that had afflicted all of humanity in the pile. Young men would keep bringing ailments of their youth. I was just amazed to see one thing, that being that I could not see stupidity or evil thrown in the pile anywhere. I saw this madness unfold and thought to myself that this opportunity was ripe to throw away carnal desires, weaknesses of the body and mental illnesses. I wished that I would see someone come and throw these problems away. In the meantime, I saw an extravagant man carrying a bundle of his sins towards the pile. He threw away the bundle yet it carried not his sins and wrongdoings but his fear for the Day of Judgement. Following him came street-ruffians, who I thought would throw away their callous nature and careless behavior, yet they threw away their conscience and modesty.
When every human being had finally gotten rid of the burden of their problems, then Wahem (Superstition), despite being busy with all of them, saw me standing on side. He thought that I was clean and free. With that thought, he started moving towards me. As he came close to me, I panicked. He showed me the mirror he carried and I looked at my reflection. My face looked so disproportionately small in the mirror that I stood shocked. My body and height seemed to be so out of place and proportion that I felt absolutely disgusted. I felt so worried that I threw away my face as if I had been wearing a mask. I saw another person throw away away their face and take mine because he thought it was way too big for the body. In reality his face was huge such that his nose could have been the size of my whole face.
I stood watching this wicked pile of problems grow and observed with detail this strange odd world. Meanwhile, an order from His Court was issued that everybody was free to pick and choose their new problems from the pile and go back home with their choice. After hearing this, Wahem rushed to the pile and started helping people choose their problems and load them on their backs. Everybody started choosing their own problems and the crowd at the pile became disorderly and violent as if they were haggling in a market place. The incidents that I observed, I shall narrate to you.
An old man, who appeared to be a very pleasant person, seemed to be gravely affected by colic pain. He was childless and therefore wanted a heir for his wealth and family heirlooms. Accordingly, he threw away his pain in exchange for an heir from the pile. The young man, he chose, had been previously thrown away because he was an extremely rebellious and disobedient son to his father. After being chosen, the young heir quickly seized the old man by his beard. He was ready to split the poor man’s head open when he saw his real father returning with the colic pain which had belonged to the old man. The old man looked at the father, and said, “For the Love of God, give me back my colic pain and take back your son as my colic pain was a thousand times better”. However, such an exchange was impossible now. These deals were now of a permanent and irrevocable nature.
I saw a poor enslaved sailor who had finally gotten rid of the chains that had bound him, and a hard laborious life on a ship. He, instead, had chosen the disease of palsy. He had only walked two steps before sitting down with hands behind his head with frustration.
There were a lot of people who, convicted by their new predicaments, regretted their decisions. For example, some diseased person had chosen poverty and was now unhappy with their decision. Someone who had struggled with anorexia, had now chosen bulimia and I saw him holding his stomach with exasperation. Another one, who had gotten rid of anxiety, winced with his newly chosen pain of the liver. Every time I saw someone, the feeling of admonition and repentance rose within me.
The women bore the torment of this exchange as well. Someone had gotten rid of her grey hair in exchange for an extremely painful abscess on the foot. This impeded her ability to walk and as a result she limped and gasped in pain. While another lady had a weak back which she exchanged for an overweight frame. Now she returned with a pot-belly and heavy round arms. At some other point, a girl had chosen a beautiful face for herself which carried a history of notorious and dishonorable deeds. Therefore, none of them felt that their chosen defects were any better than the ones they had before.
Watching all of this unfold before my eyes led me to a conclusion. Whatever problems that befall us, in reality, are bearable only by us. The fact is that by bearing our problems on a daily basis, we grow used to them.
I pitied an old man who chose to throw away his age and chose a younger beautiful body. Yet, now he couldn’t walk without wincing in pain on account of his kidney stones. I felt even worse for the young person who had chosen the old man’s age as his problem and now could not walk without the support of a cane. His back was bent and neck crooked. The women who had previously admired his beauty and handsomeness were around him. He saw them with lust but any reciprocation was absent.
Now that I have mentioned the consequences of all these exchanges, I should not shy away from mentioning the one that I partook in. The one man, who had taken my small face for his own huge body, looked abhorrent and ugly. I uncontrollably laughed when I looked at him so much so that my face looked red and different. The poor guy was so ashamed of himself but I then realized my own situation was nothing for me to take pride in. When I wanted to wipe sweat off my forehead, I found out that my hands could not reach it on account of how huge it was. I would touch my face with my hand and feel my hand somewhere else. My senses were not accustomed to these new dimensions. My nose was now so big and misshapen that whenever I ran my hand across my face, it would bump into my nose. There were two men right next to me who were also now subject to ridicule. One gave up his obese legs, that hindered his pace, to the other while the other one gave away his slim, long and bony legs, which appeared to miss calves altogether, to the first one. Whoever looked at this pair, would laugh. The tall one’s head would hang high up in the air while the obese’s legs appeared as if two wide cylinders had been made side by side. So unnatural were they. Upon seeing the poor situation of these two strange deformed men, I jested that whoever was able to walk ten steps would be treated with rayurhi (a kind of a sweet) worth one and a quarter paisa (hundredth of a rupee).
Anyways, the whole pile was now finally distributed among all the men and women. The state of the people was now quite pitiful. They were already sick of their lives. They wandered around carrying their new burdens even more poorly. The whole place fumed with unheard pleas, complaints, and regrets.
Finally, the King of Heavens felt merciful for the wretched and sorry state all the people of the world were entrenched in. He ordered that everyone was free to get rid of their chosen problems and take back the ones that previously belonged to them. Everyone happily threw away the problems of their own choosing and took back their old ones. Meanwhile, a second order called for Wahem (superstition), the useless devil, to leave the place and never come back. In his stead, an angel of divine blessing descended from the sky. The angel carried itself in a dignified and graceful manner. His face was cheerful and comforting. This angel would look up in the sky, putting his trust in the mercy of Allah. His name was Patience. He had only taken a seat right beside the mountain of problems when it already started shrinking. The mountain reduced to one-third of its original size. The angel began to distribute every person their original burdens while also suggesting them to not worry and face their problems with maturity and endurance. Everyone would collect their burden and return back home satisfied after thanking the angel, that because of him, they were able to take back their original burden from this endless pile of problems.