Every time I visit this village there is this old chap Mahda Khan there who is always sitting under a tree holding on to the reins of a horse. The only thing is that there is no horse, just the reins tied to a nail stuck in the tree under which Mahda Khan sits. A few days back I again visited this village and there he was firmly grasping the reins of a non-existent horse. The only difference was that he looked quite agitated this time around. In fact when my friend tried to get closer to the old chap he started muttering menacingly and then even picked up stones to throw at him. Alarmed my friend withdrew hastily.
“What is bugging the old man?” I asked the villager who was accompanying us.
“There are rumours that they might take away those reins that he is holding on to,” he said.
“Who’s ‘they’? And anyway what is it about the reins that makes him hold on to them so tight.” I asked him.
“Well I don’t exactly know the whole story. Just get to hear some bits of it every now and then. Maybe later on we will go to my cousin’s house. You see his grandfather is the oldest living person in this village and he is bound to know the tale behind this guy.”
Later in the evening I reminded this fellow and we went to meet his cousin’s grandfather. After exchanging the usual pleasantries we managed to introduce the topic of old man Mahda Khan and his horseless reins.
“Ah! There is a long story behind it,” the old man said with a sigh, “That old chap Mahda Khan was not always like this. He had a house where he lived with his other siblings. They were just average folks, not too prosperous but not too poor as well. They had this uncle who was supposed to be their caretaker and in whom they reposed their whole trust. This uncle of theirs was always coming up with schemes for their welfare. One day he convinced them that it would be in their interest to hand over all their possessions to this powerful landlord in their vicinity. ‘In return he will take care of all your needs. And in any case it is just a temporary arrangement.’ The poor souls trusted him blindly so they gave their assent.
“Some days later this uncle came along riding a horse-cart. The children were excited to see the horse as children anywhere would be. ‘What is the cart for, uncle?’ they asked him. ‘To carry away your possessions to the landlord my dears,’ he lovingly explained to them. The children couldn’t comprehend what all was happening though once the cart was loaded with their belongings they broke into tears but their uncle assured them that it was for their own good. ‘Besides,’ he explained, ‘you get to keep the horse-cart!’ This cheered them up. All their possessions were carted away. Now of course the house could not be carted away physically but the papers were duly signed over to the landlord. ‘Of course this is just a formality, it remains your house’, he assured them. So they were left with this empty house that too no longer belonged to them and a horse-cart that after the initial enthusiasm wore off they didn’t know what to do with.
“The uncle again came after some years and took away the cart, ‘The landlord needs it and anyway you have no use for it,’ he told them. He came back after a year or two and took away the saddle of the horse. ‘You are not riding this horse and even if you do it is not really required.’ After some time he appeared again and took away the stirrups. ‘Real horse men always ride without stirrups,’ he convinced them.
“Then one day he came and sat for a long time smoking the hookah. He appeared to be rather perturbed. ‘What is the matter, uncle?’ they asked him. ‘The landlord is asking for the horse,’ he informed them hastening to add, ‘But then it does not matter. This beast is just a burden on you anyway. And besides it creates quite a lot of mess which I can see all around you.’ That day he took away the horse but left the reins. ‘You must hold on tight to the reins’ he warned them, ‘Never ever let go of these!’
“The siblings held on to the reins. Then as the years went by some left for other places and some of them died until only old man Mahda Khan was left holding on to the reins and he continues to do so as if it were an article of faith,” the grandfather concluded.
My friend pursed his lips and screwed up his eyes as if trying to recall something.
“What’s it?” I asked him.
“Nothing! I just thought I had heard this story before…” he said.
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