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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Couple in the Tonga by Ronny Noor

The Couple in the Tonga by Ronny Noor


Ronny in his story The Couple in the Tonga tries to recreate what is known as the most spectacular dogfight between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets in the skies over Lahore during the 1965 war. He lived there for a couple of years as a child.

The Couple in the Tonga
I was famished. I hadn’t tasted a morsel of food for a day and a half, surviving solely on water. The money order my parents had sent from Dhaka hadn’t yet arrived. “The postal service is irregular,” the fleshy clerk said apologetically whenever I went to the post office to inquire, “due to the war with India.” But I had run out of funds and didn’t know anybody so closely in Lahore to ask for a loan, having arrived in the city about four months ago, a young college student for whom there wasn’t  even a job available to buy a square meal.

Sitting at the reading table in my one-bedroom apartment, I cursed myself for deciding to fly over a thousand miles across India for an adventurous college life in the festive milieu of the renowned city of gardens. But it was the nineteen-sixties and the whole world was transforming with young people everywhere, not just in Pakistan, looking for new adventures in whatever way possible. Hippies, maharishis, pot abounded. How would I have known I would get caught up in a war, with air raid sirens bellowing night and day, making me sack out on a thin mattress under the bed lest I had to jump up from sleep and scurry for shelter? I was expecting the air raid siren to scream just before noon when all of a sudden, to my surprise, music came drifting in from the street. I walked up to the window and looked out. A tonga was steering down the street, decorated with papier-mâché flowers and varicolored balloons, drawn by a robust bay horse. A popular Nahid Niazi tune was wafting in the air. It was a wedding procession with crowds of people following the tonga, some dancing to the jingling tune and picking up the coins the couple was tossing out generously. They were flying up in fistfuls and showering down like the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Europe.

Immediately I dashed down the two short flights of stairs and joined the jubilant crowd, picking up coins of all denominations from the dusty street. Once I had a pocketful of them, I went to the dingy eatery across from my apartment and ordered three fresh tandoori bread and some chum chum, when the air raid siren sounded. “Shut the door,” the manager told the fleet-footed waiter. So I grabbed my food from the waiter’s hand and ran across the street and up the stairs back into my apartment. Then taking my seat at the small rickety kitchen table, I began to dig into the bread and the sweets alternately. God! Food hadn’t tasted so good in my life.

Suddenly I heard the deafening roar of jets above. I looked out the kitchen window at the two Sabres tearing through the air like giant birds, pursuing a pair of Hunters to chase them off. They were crisscrossing the sky, shooting up, swooping down, careening and pirouetting, with volleys of shots erupting as if hell had broken loose in the heavens. All at once a Hunter burst into flames and began tumbling down spewing smoke, followed by a Sabre on fire, while the others were still striving to hit their marks; but I did not scurry for shelter. My stomach full, I relished the aftertaste, passing my tongue around in my mouth, reaching out to every nook and cranny, and praying for the safety of the blessed couple that had unknowingly delivered me from starvation, providing me with the most delectable meal of my life.


Ronny Noor is a professor of English and world literature at the University of Texas-Brownsville. His essays, stories, and poems have appeared in numerous journals around the world. He is also the author of a novel titled "Snake Dance in Berlin" (Orient Blackswan, New Delhi).




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