Every time I visit this village there is this old chap MahdaKhan there who is always sitting under atree holding on to the reins of a horse. The only thing is that there is nohorse, just the reins tied to a nail stuck in the tree under which Mahda Khan sits. A few days back I again visited thisvillage and there he was firmly grasping the reins of a non-existent horse. Theonly difference was that he looked quite agitated this time around. In factwhen my friend tried to get closer to the old chap he started mutteringmenacingly and then even picked up stones to throw at him. Alarmed my friendwithdrew hastily.
"What is bugging the old man?" I asked the villager who wasaccompanying us.
"There are rumours that they might take away those reinsthat he is holding on to," he said.
"Who's 'they'? And anyway what is it about the reins thatmakes him hold on to them so tight." I asked him.
"Well I don't exactly know the whole story. Just get to hearsome bits of it every now and then. Maybe later on we will go to my cousin'shouse. You see his grandfather is the oldest living person in this village andhe is bound to know the tale behind this guy."
Later in the evening I reminded this fellow and we went tomeet his cousin's grandfather. After exchanging the usual pleasantries wemanaged 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 witha sigh, "That old chap Mahda Khan was not always like this. He had a housewhere he lived with his other siblings. They were just average folks, not tooprosperous but not too poor as well. They had this uncle who was supposed to betheir caretaker and in whom they reposed their whole trust. This uncle of theirs was always coming upwith schemes for their welfare. One day he convinced them that it would be intheir interest to hand over all their possessions to this powerful landlord intheir vicinity. 'In return he will take care of all your needs. And in any caseit is just a temporary arrangement.' The poor souls trusted him blindly so theygave 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. 'Whatis the cart for, uncle?' they asked him. 'To carry away your possessions to thelandlord my dears,' he lovingly explained to them. The children couldn'tcomprehend what all was happening though once the cart was loaded with theirbelongings they broke into tears but their uncle assured them that it was fortheir own good. 'Besides,' he explained, 'you get to keep the horse-cart!' Thischeered them up. All their possessions were carted away. Now of course thehouse could not be carted away physically but the papers were duly signed overto 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 longerbelonged to them and a horse-cart that after the initial enthusiasm wore offthey didn't know what to do with.
"The uncle again came after some years and took away thecart, '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. 'Youare not riding this horse and even if you do it is not really required.' Aftersome time he appeared again and took away the stirrups. 'Real horse men alwaysride without stirrups,' he convinced them.
"Then one day he came and sat for a long time smoking thehookah. He appeared to be rather perturbed. 'What is the matter, uncle?' theyasked him. 'The landlord is asking for the horse,' he informed them hasteningto add, 'But then it does not matter. This beast is just a burden on youanyway. And besides it creates quite a lot of mess which I can see all aroundyou.' That day he took away the horse but left the reins. 'You must hold ontight to the reins' he warned them, 'Never ever let go of these!'
"The siblings held on to the reins. Then as the years wentby some left for other places and some of them died until only old man MahdaKhan was left holding on to the reins and he continues to do so as if it werean article of faith," the grandfather concluded.
My friend pursed his lips and screwed up his eyes as iftrying to recall something.
"What's it?" I asked him.
"Nothing! I just thought I had heard this story before…" hesaid.
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