The caravan stopped at the Alif Laila Inn on the Street of the Storytellers. Camels and horses were off-loaded and tethered. The luggage was secured and every traveller got the space he could afford.

At night, beds were lined up against the walls and charcoal heaters were placed in the middle. As people nestled into their quilts, the storyteller began his story:

A king grew two horns, one on each side of his royal head. So he called his barber and said: “You cannot trim my hair without removing my turban, so I have to share this secret with you. But if anyone ever learns about this growth, I will cut you into two.”

The barber went home. His urge to share the story with someone was huge but the fear was bigger. At night, while tossing in his bed, the barber thought of a trick that would allow him to share the secret without losing his head.

The next morning, he went to a field, dug a hole under a bamboo tree, and whispered the secret into the hole.

As the story teller paused to pull his hookah, the story slipped out of his hand and entered the realm of virtual reality where it had to compete with other stories on Youtube.

There was this cabdriver from a poor nation, say Bangladesh, who went to an oil-rich kingdom, such as Saudi Arabia.

Now, you can leave your country but you cannot escape your fate. So one day, the cabbie met a man, more royal than the king. He went to the cabbie and said: “Why did you say the Saudi government is not good, you dog?”

He gave the poor driver no opportunity to defend himself and started grilling him. “Why did you say the Saudi government was not good, you dog, you animal?”

He hit him, again and again, and spat on his face. He made the driver admit that he was a dog and so was his father. Then he forced the driver to kiss his hand, again and again.

But the cursor is a tricky thing. It slips out and a slip in the virtual space can bring you back from Alif Laila’s Baghdad to today’s Quetta.

“A corpse remained unattended on the ground for ages. But in the sky the appetite of the circling vulture had died too.” This was Ahmed Shehryar, a poet from Quetta, mourning the death of humanity in his city.

“Words frozen on my lips, speech dead – My hearing stunned and the messenger breeze, dead –Mummified in my time capsule I slept for centuries – And when I woke up, my contemporaries were already dead,” wrote the poet.

Since Quetta’s dead have been buried, we need not worry about them, not until the next killing. So the cursor slipped to another unreal reality: a Pakistani in Toronto telling people back home how not to fight over religion.

“Close your eyes and see inside yourself. You might find that your belief is the best for you. It is your road to salvation,” wrote Asma Mahmud.

“Now take a deep breath and realise that a Hindu, a Christian, a Sikh or a Buddhist also come to the same conclusion through this process. Now, how do you justify condemning other religions?” she asked. “Don’t you see; it gives the same satisfaction to its followers that your faith does to you?”

Since nobody was yet ready to take a deep breath and think, the cursor moved back to the Street of the Storytellers.

A few days after the royal barber shared his secret with the bamboo, some travellers stopped near the tree to eat and rest. One of them cut a shoot, took it home and turned it into a flute.

During his next trip to the city, he put the flute to his lips and started blowing into it. Since he was a good player, a small crowd gathered around him.

As he began to play the flute, he realised that the instrument had a mind of its own. Instead of obeying him, the flute started repeating a single sentence: “Although bald-headed, the king has two horns. Although bald-headed, the king has two horns.”

Back in the kingdom, the cabbie was begging the Saudi faithful to forgive him. “My lord, please forgive me. I will do as you say. I will say, as you say. I am your slave because I have to feed my children, my parents back home,” he said.

“You animal, you dog, say your father is a dog,” said the Saudi.

“Yes, my father is a dog,” said the cabbie. “We are all dogs.”

“What is Saudi Arabia?” asked the Saudi.

“It is the greatest country in the world,” said the cabbie.

“Yes, it is,” said the Saudi and spat on the cabbie’s face.

At the inn, the storyteller was telling his sleepy audience:

When the king learned what the flute was saying, he had everybody arrested and decided to have them beheaded to protect his secret. But the flutist requested to see the king alone, insisting that he knew how to resolve this issue.

When others left, he told the king that killing so many will make this story even bigger and his secret will be out. But if the king accepted his advice, nobody will ever know he had horns.

“And how is that?” asked the king.

Meanwhile, in the real world, a group of American teenagers, all Muslims, watched the video of the Bangladeshi cab driver and the Saudi lord on a cell phone at a barbecue party.

“We all hang our heads in shame every time we encounter such behaviour,” said Ali, a Syrian-American living in Woodbridge, Virginia, to his friends.

“This is an individual act, nothing to do with Islam,” said Mohammed, a Pakistani-American. “Islam is against racism.”

They all agreed. But this bonhomie ended quickly when South Asian kids start talking about other similar incidents their aunts and uncles had seen in the Arab world.

In the story of the two-horned helmets, the flutist told the king that recently he visited another country, where the king and all his knights and commanders wore two-horned helmets for protection against the sword.

He urged the king to tell his people that he also was raising a royal battalion of two-horned fighters and that the flutist was working on an anthem for them.

The flutist then advised the king to send his procurers to bring those helmets and allow him and his friends to stay at the royal palace while they worked on the anthem.

As the cursor slipped back to the real world, Ali said to his friends: “When you go on repeating stories of Arab racism, you are showing your own biases against the Arabs and that too is racism.”

Others disagreed and this led to a heated discussion on racism.

The story of the two-horned king came to a happy conclusion.

When the helmets arrived, the king ordered all his subjects to attend a grand parade outside the city where the king lead an entire battalion of two-horned soldiers, with his horns nicely hidden under the helmet.

The musicians played the anthem and the king was so pleased that he appointed the flutist his royal musician and also forgave the barber.

But in the real world, disputes are never settled.

As the kids argued, a Pakistani-American teenager brought a deodorant from his Arab friend’s car to prove that it’s not just the Pakistani, Indians and Bangladeshis who have a strong body odour.

The Arab-American kids insisted that they did and the party broke up.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments are closed.

Comments (30)

Mohammad Ali
February 10, 2013 2:00 pm
Dear Anwar; I have lived in Minnesota for a long-time and travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2007 for Umrah. I was super excited as it was my first trip outside US since 6 years and although the Umrah was a great spritual experience, I was not at all prepared to handle their verbal assualt for being a Shia & Pakistani. Regardless of how much I tried to be nice to them telling them how nice I feel to meet fellow muslims from this beautiful country of Mecca & Medina; they only insulted me looking at the way I pray (arms open). I always pray to Allah to bless me with the chance to go for Hajj InshAllah; but deep in my heart I do feel nervous about their attitude towards me.
February 10, 2013 8:41 am
They also hate Pakistani and we try to appease them, why?
February 11, 2013 12:28 am
Do you know why the treat you like this, you are their KEEP. They can do what they want to you. They have the Kaaba. You will Bow down to it. Its time either Pakistanies demanded respect, else they should stop turning to place where they are insulted.
February 9, 2013 11:07 am
I lived ten years in Saudi Arabia. Even though I am an American of Pakistani descent, not a day went by that Saudis did not look down at me. They are the most racist people on this planet.
February 9, 2013 12:36 pm
Hello Anwar, I've had the opportunity to read some of your other pieces and I can only say that your style is uniquely convoluted and you sure know where the pressure points are. India with all her flaws has strangely and perhaps miraculously managed to cultivate a culture of inclusiveness. Not saying its even close to perfect but its surely incredible, considering the unparalleled diversity we live with. Indians can be half proud of that! I truly enjoy your writing and look forward to reading more from you. Enlightening indeed!
charles marx
February 9, 2013 1:59 pm
but they gave u islam ...
rajiv thomas
February 9, 2013 2:04 pm
How imaginative and creative. A delight to read in the morning as I start my day. Thank you
February 9, 2013 2:25 pm
Bigotry, religion, humour, condescension, hope, depair.... Only you can thread so many themes in one story, weaving them in a gripping narrative
Agha Ata (USA)
February 9, 2013 2:34 pm
Your thoughts are deep and your style is mysterious. There is something for everyone to read and enjoy . . . and also to wonder. You must have a fascinating view of life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
February 9, 2013 3:34 pm
This one is a good read.
February 9, 2013 3:51 pm
Hi Capricorn, I know some saudis at our mosque and they are just wonderful. The ladies especially are so sweet. They help us with our Arabic, and we help them with English. I should mention though that....they are all shias... and themselves badly discriminated against in Saudi Arabia.
Rizwan Ahmed
February 9, 2013 4:00 pm
thats totally false they dont look down on pakistanis rather the non saudis themselves feel inferior due to the fact that many cant speak arabic , nor do they have any knowledge. Generally speaking saudis respect the religious people irregardless of their nationality.
February 11, 2013 8:04 am
Mr. Rizwan, please read old and recent history Arabs separated themselves from khilafat Usmania (Turkey) on the basis of Arab nationalism. speaking Arabic is not a distinction the Arabs before arrival of Islam were proud of their Arabic and used to call all other nations Ajmi i.e. without any language and a number of non-muslims arabs also speak Arabic and it is totally false that saudis respect religious people regardless of their nationality. they only respect white skin i.e. Americans and Europeans
February 9, 2013 4:34 pm
A similar story that reflects on human nature of exscitement in revealing a secret when it concerns others. A king had donkey's ears which he hid under the crown for long A court drummer who somehow stumbled upon this secret.Fearing the wrath of the king if the secret was out which he could not contain any longer,the drummer went into the forest and uttered the secret at the bottom of a huge tree the wood of which was used for making drums,returned home satisfied having unburdened himself of a painful secret.The wood then was cut by many drum makers who sold the drums in the kingdom. Whenever the drums were beat,they started sounding loudly 'the king has donkey's ears' & the entire kingdom was afloat with the news that was no longer a secret.
February 9, 2013 4:46 pm
Wars come because of oil, racism is sustained because of oil. Once oil evaporates in Middle East kingdoms, wars will stop and racism will be buried. Middle Easters have not leant any life sustaining skills in the past 500 years other than selling oil and spending oil money. Their renaissance died when the likes of al-khwarizimi died. There's is an ancient proverb that says 'if you want to destroy someone p, give them what they want'. Arabs wanted riches and God gave them oil.
Shahid Latif
February 9, 2013 4:50 pm
I learnt the story of two horned king as a child. You intertwined it so beautifully to touch on different issues that I read it all the way through. Very unique style of story telling. We all are racist to varying degrees. However, the issue of racism in oil rich Gulf countries is little complex. It is primarily exploitation of needy non westerner millions by the uneducated sponsor employers who are part of tribal societies with no freedom of expression.
Moin khan
February 9, 2013 5:04 pm
I was stopped at first class lounge of Dubai airport because I am a Pakistani. Security folks did not stop any white man. Such a disgusting treatment given to co religionists. Arabs look down upon us.
February 10, 2013 10:46 pm
One of the most profound and beautiful comments I ever read on Dawn. Gautham, you are wise, intellectual and owns a real spirit. My salaam to you brother.
February 9, 2013 5:36 pm
I think this should open the eyes of most Pakistani's who are so tempted where they define their race as Middle Eastern .. Most of Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth identify themselves with the identity of middle eastern identity ... long live Saudi Arabia , long live Islam...
February 9, 2013 5:50 pm
I love the way it goes swirling round when you are reading it.I use to dream and think about things in a similar way,everything at the same time while not loosing the taste and feel of any.Loved all stories.
Faisal Roy
February 9, 2013 6:17 pm
i concur
February 9, 2013 6:23 pm
February 9, 2013 6:31 pm
well said dear
February 9, 2013 7:12 pm
When facts of racist acts are told, the facts remain facts. Racism has pervaded human evolution for economic reasons and refusal to compete on level playing fields. It has been the oldest affirmative action plan. Yes, Affirmative Action for us, but not for you, because we deserve it.
F. Zaman
February 11, 2013 7:25 am
Why pick-up on a bangladeshi ? Poor taste, tasteless. Farook
February 10, 2013 9:21 pm
brilliant post Anwar Sir :)
Vineet Bahl
February 9, 2013 9:58 pm
wait till you meet Japanese dude,
February 10, 2013 4:15 am
They Are Not Muslim,Just They Are Arab.
February 10, 2013 4:45 am
I am a Pakistani of Pakistani descent living in Saudi Arabia for the past 15 years. I strongly object to the language used in the article Please do not generalize the perceived behaviour of some over the entire population. May I remind our Proud Pakistanis that Saudi Arabia was the largest donor in 2005 earthquake and is host to the largest expatriate Pakistani community anywhere in the world, since decades.
February 10, 2013 5:45 pm
ha..ha..ha............are you for real or are you being sarcastic.
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