First Reads: Interpreter of Winds
Often an unnoticed caress on our faces, winds are voiceless and formless. How do we interpret them? What mysteries can we find in the whispers of winds? This is an excerpt from Interpreter of Winds, the debut collection of short stories by Fairoz Ahmad.
That afternoon, under the light, a spider that had just hatched scurried up the table. It stood on tiptoe and waited. Moments later, it stretched its abdomen, producing fine threads of silk. The spider allowed the column of rising air to warm its threads, caressing and delicately undressing them. I watched all of this silently, but did nothing. The spiderling then flew from the table, its threads propelled by the soft updraft. The wind brought it places. Sometimes to the top of the world. In 1924, a British expedition team discovered a spider on the crown of the Himalayas. That was what he liked to tell me.
“The histories of our world,” he once told me, “are shaped by winds. The history of Egypt was altered by it. Let me tell you the history. It begins with a king who lived in a Palace of Glass.”
It was a story told many, many days ago, before he entered his deep sleep, hence carrying with him the fragmented histories of the world into his dreams. Sometimes, I wish he would tell me less of his histories but more of the role that faith plays in them.
Since then, I had roamed the edges of the marketplace every morning, finding items to bring back to moisten his lips, so that even in dreams, he would remain nourished to complete his histories. But ever since he had remained still while time moved on, my memories of him had begun to diminish. As his beard began to overrun the uneven landscape of his face, I started to forget how he looked like, save for those pink lips which I moistened every morning, and whose slight quiver at the wetness of my touch told me he still lived.
Seventy-seven days after he fell asleep, I met a camel at the market place who told me, “All of us have ruminated long and hard about the fate of your master. The cat from the northern quarter since came to the conclusion that it must be because of the wind that swooped past us that October. If you remember, he fell asleep soon after. This has to be the reason, for do you not remember that a French philosopher had once studied many philosophers and many cats, and concluded that the wisdom of cats is infinitely superior?”
The camel also shared that the cat wanted the last point to be conveyed twice. I knew this cat. He took his texts literally and his French sparingly. Nevertheless, a wind did swoop past us that October and never returned. And my master had slept ever since.
“Was it the khamsin wind that blows from Egypt or the bad-i-sad-o-bist-roz from Iran?” I asked.
“It is neither. It did not blow for fifty days, like the khamsin, nor did it live for a hundred and twenty days, like the Iranian. It came directly from the desert,” the camel answered.
I shuffled my paws against the dust and told him, “I hope you are right. I had feared it was because of my ambition that my master paid the price. The day he first slept was also the day the thought first came to my mind that perhaps I should be a Muslim, just like him. I am worried that my improper thoughts caused him to be punished.”
The camel gave a camelish sort of laugh and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Most animals, like us, will go to heaven. Thus, your worries are irrational and hopes, redundant. However, we must accept that some animals, like the pig, are less equal than others and that they will need to go to hell.” “But does religion not articulate a vision of heaven? Heaven to me has no meaning without faith.”
“I have not heard of this vision being articulated for us.”
“And why is that so? For I believe in one God, his Prophet and the Quran.”
“True. But could you perform the duties that are required? Could you perform, for instance, the prayers or circle the Kaaba seven times? You have dangerous thoughts. Even the cat, the most loved of creatures in Islam, does not answer such questions, even when there is precedence of love.”
I asked him to explain further.
“The cat was the pet of the Prophet. Our cat from the northern quarter hinted at close historical ties with this cat. We ignored him. But to return to my point, once, the Prophet’s cat fell asleep on his sleeve when he was about to leave for prayers. Rather than disturb the cat, the Prophet cut his sleeve and let it sleep. I have, however, heard that your kind has a rather unsavory past. That some would consider you… impure.”
“That’s false, camel!” I countered, getting jumpy. “There was a night, many nights ago, when I heard someone reading from the Quran its Surah Al Kahf—The Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Six men ran away from a pagan king and hid in a cave, where they fell asleep for a hundred years. The seventh sleeper was their dog, who stayed with them to the end.”
“The Surah is to be interpreted not for the loyalty of the dog to its masters but for the loyalty of Man to god. The presence of the dog is probably incidental to the story. You interpret what they consider to be loyalty as faith.”
“They are, to me, dimensions of the same problem.”
“Perhaps. But your master is still sleeping while we debate this. Do you want to help your master?”
About the author
Fairoz Ahmad is the co-founder of the award-winning social enterprise, Chapter W (W referring to women). The organization, based in Jogjakarta, works at the intersection of Women.Tech.Social Impact. In addition to leading Chapter W, Fairoz also lectures on research methods, community development and sociology at Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore. Fairoz is an alumni of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP), the premier exchange programme for emerging leaders in the social sector.
For his contributions to the community, Fairoz was awarded the National University of Singapore's Outstanding Young Alumni award in 2017. In 2018, Fairoz graduated from the University of Oxford with a Master of Public Policy degree (Distinction), under a Chevening-Oxford scholarship.
Take a look at his book here!