In my childhood, I used to stare at it for hours with bewildered eyes and surprised looks. For me, in those days, its presence was baffling and confusing. I would gaze at it for a long time amidst the void of the universe, my curious and searching eyes steadfastly trying to explore its mystifying existence.

Then one day, when I was walking on the street of my mohalla – which goes straight from the west to the east, and ends up near a pathway close to the park used by the locals for strolling and pleasure in the evening – my yearning reached its peak. I knew that walking straight up the pathway, and on the other side of the park, I would be so close that with a little sprint I could catch up with it.

On the eastern side of this straight path, a triangular shape was formed in such a way that in between the park and the pathway, or opposite to it, another road – as far as the eye could see – ran from the north to the south. The park had beautiful iron railings on all sides, which, after every five or seven feet, were fastened to two-square-feet broad pillars built upon two-and-a-half or three-feet-tall and quarter-feet-broad walls.

The walls were strong, cemented, and the light green paint on the railings could still be seen. As far as the eye could see, the park was covered with green turf, the arrangements of lights within undertaken with care. It was probably done for the sake of creating a space for the public to walk. Amid the park was an island-like structure meant for rest and respite. The stairs and the sitting spaces were cast in cement, the insides of which were moulded in iron. The park was considerably large and spacious. It was three-quarter furlongs long (from the south to the north) and half a furlong wide (from the west to the east). There was a main gate flanked by two smaller ones on both sides and joined together with iron railings.

Where the width of the park ended, the straight path again went on its way, and at the eastern end (that is, at the far end) it merged into the pavement which was the starting point of another mohalla. A narrow lane from the edge of the pavement led to a desolate masjid, its minaret visible from a far distance. My target was to walk on this street and reach there, for according to my estimate, it was possible for me to arrive at it from this point.

The wider end of the park was in fact its last point. The street acted as its subway and merged with the park to form another starting point. Two streets ran parallel to each other from the south, intersecting each other till they reached the northern side. (It was on these that cars whizzed past). In between there was also a pavement that divided them into two, though intermittently leaving gaps of 10 to 15 feet that acted like subways to let the fast cars pass through and catch up with other lanes. This straight street ran through one of the gaps.

I do not know why I had come this way (possibly to fetch rations for daily use) for at one end was a ration shop. The shop catered to the needs of the public, supplying the nearby areas with weekly rations. If the government, with the introduction of the system of ration cards, had eased some lives by supplying items of daily use, it created unrest for the deprived and lesser-income groups which failed to understand the complicated ration-card system. This system proved to be a boon for men with a nose for business. They knew how to earn money by selling ration items in the black market. Thus, the fake ration cards far outweighed the original card holders (most of them made by the ration shop owners themselves for their personal benefits).

From the street and the park, on the other end of the pavement, I could see it from close quarters. It seemed stuck to the masjid’s minaret. In my heart of hearts, I was exhilarated. I was capable of reaching it somehow. It was possible to get a hold of it. (It could not move away from there, or that is what I thought.) But in the meantime, I forgot what items I had come to purchase. The thoughts of home eluded me, even the fear of my father. (In my childhood, I was scared of my father who would beat me to his heart’s content for the smallest of my faults). In those days, I would neglect my studies, being more interested in sports and games. It was possible that this pursuit could be psychologically related to my interest in fooling around.

For so long this object had struck me with awe and surprise. In my heart, I had always wanted to be close to it. Whenever I had the chance to climb the rooftop of any house, my eyes would gawk at it. I remember once visiting the house of my friend, Sagar, for the purpose of flying kites on the terrace of his four-storeyed building. Extending half my body from the cornice of the terrace, and like a swan protruding my neck, I gazed intently at it for a long time. But as before, it remained out of my reach.

I even tried to look at it from the roof of our house, perched perilously on the highest point of the water tank, with extreme caution (to avoid tumbling down) so that it may come within my grasp. But I got scared and the distance between us became even greater.

Today, walking on this path, an inexpressible feeling was overpowering me. My unfulfilled wish was going to be realised. With these thoughts, I entered the park through one of the smaller entrances. With confident steps, I reached the eastern end of the park and its eastern gate. Crossing the park, I arrived at the pathway that led to the pavement. It seemed the pathway had helplessly moved to the north-south direction since it had no other option.

To cut the story short, I reached the last pavement without losing sight of it. Then with a panting heart and soft steps, I entered the lane. I was scared that it may give me the slip as on previous occasions and take refuge somewhere else. I regret to say, that arriving there, I understood I had made NIYO a wrong assessment. That one can make a wrong assessment of anything from afar had never occurred to me before. As it is, childhood days are bereft of such ideas. Still, just to satisfy myself, I thought it prudent to inch forward and went even beyond the masjid. My curious eyes were constantly in its pursuit. At one point it seemed close, almost merging into the ground. But when I stared at the tall building on my right side, my heart gave in. It was far and even beyond the tall building. (The existence of the building made me conscious of it; otherwise, it seemed as if it was still stuck to the terrace.)

Then with a broken heart I smothered my wish to stare, touch or grasp it. This yearning of mine was another name of something that remains unfulfilled forever.

Excerpted with permission from “Arrival” by Mahmoud Yasien from Contemporary Urdu Short Stories from Kolkata, translated by Afif Shams Siddiqi, edited by Afif Shams Siddiqi and Fuzail Asar Siddiqi, Thornbird/Niyogi Books.