Was he a human or a donkey?

Published: April 9, 2014

I still wonder how they allowed his body to be buried in the graveyard of men since he had never lived the life of men. PHOTO: AFP

I still wonder how they allowed his body to be buried in the graveyard of men since he had never lived the life of men. PHOTO: AFP Hussani Poweley's mother died when he was only ten-years-old and nobody knew about his father. The other Poweleys drove him out of his home because he was a prostitute’s son.

For the past few days now, every night on my way home from work, I’ve been seeing an injured donkey lying in the corner of a dirty street near my house. One of its front legs is broken and I am sure it cannot move. Every night I plan to do something to help it but in the morning, it completely slips my mind.

I feel the helplessness of the donkey – if, God forbid, one of my own legs were injured or broken, I wouldn’t be able to survive keeping in mind the ample amount of work I have to do.

My heart goes out to that donkey every time I see it.

However, there is something more to this donkey. I can’t help but notice that there is a remarkable resemblance between it and Hussani Poweley.

Now you must be wondering who Hussani Poweley is.

Well, let me tell you his story.

It was when I learnt the first ten digits of the number count that I came to know that Hussani was a human being.

My father decided to test my amateur mathematical knowledge by asking me how many animals were present in our courtyard.

I counted them and replied confidently,


“No, there aren’t nine, my son,” my father corrected me with the same confidence.

But according to my learning, there were nine animals and to prove the truth I started counting on my fingers,

“Two cows, three goats, one mare, one donkey, one dog and one Hussani – so that is nine.”

Father laughed and said,

“But Hussani is not an animal; he is a human being, like us.”

I did not agree with my father; how could Hussani be a human being when he remained with the animals all the time?

The dispute was not settled between father and son; therefore, the case was presented in the court of my grandfather. The entire family gathered, the case was debated upon and the final verdict was announced.

Hussani was announced as a human and I lost the case but one rupee was given to me for my strong argument.

That night I could not sleep because my young and inquisitive mind was not ready to accept Hussani as a human being.

How could he be human?

Questions stormed my head,

“If he is a man, then why doesn’t he live like us? Why does he always remain with animals? He even sleeps on the ground amongst them.”

After much contemplation and a lack of answers, I slept and in my dreams I saw him barking, eating grass and walking like a donkey.

Hussani was the only servant for our large family. His mother died when he was only 10-years-old and nobody knew about his father. His mother never revealed that secret. At the time of his mother’s death, the other Poweleys drove him out of his home because he was a prostitute’s son.

The Poweleys were the untouchable people of the village – the lowest of all the castes. They earned their livelihood by doing petty chores like fetching water and weaving shawls. So Hussani was not welcomed even in his own, low-caste community. When the Poweleys kicked him out, my grandfather, who was the chief of the village, brought him to our home.

Since then, Hussani has lived with us. Our village was at the foot of a hot and dry mountain. Due to very low water levels, our land was not fit for agriculture. There was only one well in the village for a huge population. Hussani had to get up early in the morning to fetch water after which he had to go to the far off fields to graze the animals.

I never saw him at home during daytime.

At sunset, he would appear in the village with his flock, riding the slow moving donkey. Due to his large front teeth, he always looked like he was smiling. The extreme weather of the region had made his skin resemble a burnt, black stone. While sitting on the donkey, he would look like a man from the Stone Age – the initial, less-developed human form from early times.

Passing through the streets, he had to face the mocking remarks of people. A few troublemakers had even spread an evil rumour that Hussani had an illegitimate relationship with the donkey.

One would shout,

“Hey Hussani, the donkey’s movement shows you have made good use of her today.”

While another one would poke his head out of the tea hut and yell,

“No, no friends! Don’t say that. This ass is the only sister Hussani has, how can he do it with his sister?”

Hussani would offer only laughter in reply.

There was a mare too but he never dared to ride it; I am sure he was not allowed to do so. He was a Poweley and was born to ride donkeys.

In the evening, I would stand and wait at the large, front door of our courtyard to see him. I would see him coming down from the Black Mountains with his slow moving animals, like a ragged line of retreating troops. In the darkening evening, the bells tied around the necks of these animals sounded like melancholic chimes, like the tragic music in an old film.

He never came empty-handed though; he always brought something for me – wild fruits, flowers and often mushrooms. Above all, he had lots of stories to tell me; stories of mysterious creatures and wolves.

Thursdays and Fridays were the best days for Hussani since the villagers would cook special sweet dishes on these days to put under the thick trees of barren fields. They believed that ghosts lived in the trees and the only way to placate them was by offering sweet delicacies.

Hussani would secretly eat as much as he could and hence, affirm the belief of the staunch believers.

Years passed and we became young adults, our grandparents died, elder brothers became fathers but there was no change in Hussani’s life. His responsibilities increased and he had to lift more water on his feeble shoulders.

By now, my elder uncle was the head of the family; he was very strict and would often beat Hussani for his growing lethargy.

But one day, I began to notice a strange change that had occurred in his personality. He started wearing neat clothes. Previously, he only had one dress that he used to wash once a month. But he started wearing more clothes and washing them every week; his fastidiousness did not go unnoticed.

He was in love with one of the beggars’ daughters.

They lived outside the village and were considered even more detestable than the Poweleys. Hussani had a better reputation, being the servant of the chief of the village.

Soon the news of the ‘disgusting’ love affair reached my uncle. He could have scolded him alone but it was to become an event of great entertainment for the nobles of the village. The issue was to be decided in the presence of all.

At night, all the nobles gathered in our huge sitting room with my uncle. Hussani was sitting on the ground in the centre of the crowd. In a heavy voice, my uncle asked,

“Well, Hussani, is it true that you are in love with the daughter of a beggar?”

Hussani did not reply and sat silently with his head bowed.

“His mother was also a great lover,” said one of the nobles, and there was great laughter.

After that, a session of humiliation began and they exchanged dirty jokes about his mother. An old man said,

“We owe much to Hussani’s mother – she was the teacher of our youth; she shared the violent burden of our youth’s energetic passions.”

Hussani’s love wilted and died under the stifling laughter. When he rose from the meeting, he felt himself free of the burden of love. He lifted the pitcher and started doing his work as if nothing had happened.

After that nobody saw him near the huts of the beggars.

Later on, life dragged me into its vicious circle and Hussani was left far behind. I had to leave the village in search of a job and settled in a different town. After many years, when I returned to the village to attend the marriage ceremony of my cousin, I did not find Hussani anywhere.

On inquiring, I found out that he was counting his last days in a hut outside the village.

He suffered from tuberculosis and the disease had almost finished him. I knew that he had not been taken to any doctor because nobody would be ready to go with that donkey-like man. They would consider it humiliating.

On hearing this, I ran at once to that hut.

He was lying there in the dark. For a few minutes he did not recognise me but soon his eyes addressed me; they sparkled and he started to weep. He tried to speak but a terrible cough clenched his throat and denied him permission to utter a single word.

It was obvious that even breathing caused him terrible pain.

I could not tolerate that stinking atmosphere and came out saying,

“Hussani, don’t worry. Tomorrow I will take you to the doctor. You will soon be alright.”

However, before I left the hut, I looked back at him through the door and saw the shadow of death hovering over his withered face.

He died that very night and was buried the next morning.

There was no religious ceremony because nobody knew what his religion was. I still wonder how they allowed his body to be buried in the graveyard of men since he had never lived the life of men.

Now, after so many years, this dying donkey brought back that forgotten image of Hussani Poweley for me.

Nasrullah Khan

Nasrullah Khan

Hailing from Bahawalpur, he is currently working in Taif University, KSA, as a supervisor of Intensive English Program.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.jaaliangrez.wordpress.com Saira Z.

    Oh my my. This is the most beautiful piece I have read in days. Beautifully written as it is, it is heart aching.Recommend

  • maula jutt

    If you had so much pain your heart for him why didnt you or your family stand up for him when he was constantly humiliated. Why didnt your family ever help him when he was suffering from the disease. It would have been better for your family to help him than for you to write a heart wrenching account of his suffering.Recommend

  • Nadeem Akram

    Great read, thanks for sharing!Recommend

  • Unknown

    Why this is a part of a blog? This should be published as a stand alone piece of a literature. Very nice. Loved it.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Sir with all due respect Muslims don’t have caste system………….and I am confused a little bit what is this aboutRecommend

  • UzairH

    Excellent narration Nasrullah. It shows the quality of your heart, and also the guts to speak about your own family’s bad treatment of a human being.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    This could well be the best piece on these pages so far! I await more from this talented writer.Recommend

  • Jamal

    OMG! Extremely tragicRecommend

  • Uzair Ahmed Siddiqui

    Sir, this is a marvel!!
    You should have written a novel instead of writing this story in a blog!
    you narrated just like Khalid Hosseini !! Kudos Sir!!Recommend

  • umm Sarah

    Do something about the donkey,you can’t leave someone to die like that even if its a donkey. As for Hussaini ,we all should try to make sure that no one should have to go through such humiliation and injustice just because of our indifference.Mistakes made by elders should not continue down the generations.Recommend

  • http://bushranaz.blogspot.com Bushra Naz

    Wow, stunned with the way you have narrated the story. It’s absolutely heart-wrecking and ironic, with the artistic expression at it’s best. i don’t think I’ll be able to get this off my mind for years :(Recommend

  • Momin

    Do you live in Pakistan mate?Recommend

  • momin

    Do you live in Pakistan mate?Recommend

  • momin

    You just denied a cruel but real system that exists in Pakistan based on your religion doesn’t allow it… What are you trying to say here?Recommend

  • ahmed

    if these three words had been followed in a chain ,his life could have been better but unfortunately you stopped on the second word which most of the people do.Recommend

  • Parvez

    A good piece of creative writing. The way I looked at it was that I felt sorry for Hussani Poweley and the donkey but I felt even more sorry for the person telling the story because he showed himself to be incapable of helping either man or animal.Recommend

  • unknown


  • Abdulrahman

    Very nice story.. I feel sad but interest.. thank you and waiting the new..Recommend

  • Marriam

    Oh its fantastic… all human beings r equal nd must be given proper place in society… it would be better if th writer had done sumthing for him . Recommend

  • Shahzeb Imran

    This truly is mesmerizing stuff. Makes you stop and think for a while; the dark shadows of our society which still persist. AGONY!Recommend

  • bilal

    Excellent choreography of words and emotions alike. Recommend

  • Talha

    I remember reading this so many years ago when you first published it. I don’t think I was mature enough at that time to truly understand the beauty of its prose and I’m not sure I am now. Suffice it to say that it makes me proud to have been your student. Recommend

  • Ashar Jamil

    Thank you for sharing this heart touching story with us. Please share your more stories. Let people see your talented work.Recommend

  • Syeda Kazmi

    excellent.. what a piece.. so heart touching..Recommend

  • Syeda Kazmi

    excellent.. what a piece.. so heart touching..Recommend

  • kulwant singh

    Who says there is no caste system in Muslims, there is caste system in Muslims there is caste system in Sikhs there is caste system in Christians there is caste system in Hindus,you can watch a programme by Amir Khan satyamev Jayate regarding caste system in our society/Recommend

  • Uzair.R

    its worth reading …. excellent way of making out the evils of our societyRecommend

  • Uzair.R

    worth reading ….. impressive way to putout evils of our societyRecommend

  • Rps Hundal

    The best story I ever read in my whole life.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Kulwant Bhai there is no caste system in Muslims, even Christians. There could be social inequality prevailing in the society due to education and wealth but not religion. please check meaning of Caste in dictionary……….sat sri akaalRecommend

  • Ali jaman

    One thing that makes a piece of literature a masterpiece is that it is able to stand the test of time. It should have a theme that is universal, not dependent,I am convinced this story has universal theme,Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, SairaRecommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Your comments are highly appreciated.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Uzair,Your feedback serves are energizing!Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Maula Jut, your comments and suggestions are welcome.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Uzair, Read it as a piece of fiction. Thanks a lot for your words.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Dear Nadeem Akram.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Shakir, your comments are inspirational, thank you very much.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Bushra, Thank you for your encouraging note about my story.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Umm Sarah, I appreciate the conciseness of your advice.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Agreed, Dear Kulwant Singh.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Sure, Dear Ashar.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Yes, but currently working in KSA, Dear MominRecommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    You are right, Dear Pervez.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Writer depicts social attitude; so our society does not take the third step you mentioned.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Jamal.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Dear Ali Jaman.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    You have made my day, Dear Rps Hundal.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Uzair.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear Syeda, Thank you for your encouraging feedback.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you and stay blessed, Dear TalhaRecommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Dear Bilal.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Truely treasure your comments, Dear Shazeb,Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Writer is the most helpless creature, Dear Marrim. Thank you for your feedbackRecommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Dear Abdul Rehman.Recommend

  • Sami

    Excellent piece of literature. I’m enthralled by the idea and the overall story written by Mr. Nasrullah Khan. Hoping to see much more awesomeness :DRecommend

  • kulwant singh

    Dear Brother Salam, I know there is no caste system in Islam but there are many castes in Muslims such as Teli, weaver Julaha, Mirasi, Jat etc and same is with the Sikhs there is no castes in Sikhism but there are many castes in Sikhs,in my own village there are many Muslim families and they belongs to different castes and they always marry in their own caste.Recommend

  • Jawad Ul Hassan
  • Imtisal

    This was an exquisite piece of writing. Heart touching & realistic. This is whats happening everywhere in Pakistan. Dozens of Hussaini Poweley`s die everyday by there tyrant lords & this is extremely deplorable to see such things happening around you. Well written !!!Recommend


    SAOOD AKHTER, This is excellent piece of heart aching and suffering. It’s really emotional and impressive way to picturize the evils values and standard set by our of society. It is full of tragedy and everlasting pinching ending.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you, Dear Saood Akhter.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you Imtisal. Your comments are appreciated.Recommend

  • sheema siddiqui

    i am waiting your next piece of art in form of novel ….Recommend

  • Anushe Noor Faheem

    It is a beautiful story.Well, what really bothers me is the mentality that flourishes into our society. People start blaming the present for the deeds of the past :(Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Sure, Dear Sheema. Thanks a lot.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Encouraged by your comments, Dear Anushe.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you very much, Dear Sami.Recommend

  • Classy_Sage

    This is a great story, Nasar. It speaks with such honesty and simplicity. It’s professional, and I see you understand so much about the craft of storytelling. You have successfully avoided the use of overwriting in nearly every paragraph, though I would heavily suggest you look at “It was when I learnt the first ten digits of the number count that I came to know that Hussani was a human being.” You may have put too much thought into that sentence and you may need to think about rewriting it. Also, it would be beneficial not only for you, but for your audience if the cultural context of this story was clearer – this story is in English and most of your audience is from a western culture, so we’re a bit… very ignorant. Again, this story speaks with so much professionalism that can’t be found very much in this site, so bravo good sir.

    If you had time, I suggest you read a novel called ‘The Kite Runner,’ by Khaled Hosseini. It is a story about an affluent Afghan Pashtun in around the 60’s or 70’s before Russian invasion, and how his love for his friend is complicated by the fact his friend is a houseworker. It touches on the very same issue that this story faces, and is a very emotional read.Recommend

  • Anushe Noor Faheem

    Thank you Mr. Khan.Recommend

  • Master Mind

    Literally, i was feeling worth to read such a faboulas story.
    Actually, it revels the true facts and negative side of our society.
    Humanity should be first priority than all other things. Once again, Thanks a lot. Keep it up.Recommend

  • Master Mind

    Great Story. Keep it up.Recommend

  • ptr

    This is the an amazing piece of writing and have read something like this in months on ET blogs.Recommend

  • ptr

    Who said that…. there is a reasonably strong caste system..Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Apparently I have been the citizen of this country for past 23 years and I strongly say it again there is no caste system in Muslims, different cultures located in different places around the world could have some caste in it but Muslims don’t have any caste system and there is nothing like caste in Islam as wellRecommend

  • Necromancer

    Again dude No caste system in Muslims it could be cultural thing but not as a Muslim Society on whole.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Kulwant Bhai it is tribe not Caste please differentiate between caste and tribeRecommend

  • Kulwnt Singh

    My dear Brother I do understand the difference between caste and tribe,all Muslims in India and Pakistan converted from Hindus and there are many castes in Hindus though they changed there religion but their caste remained as it was,I request u very sincerely to spare a little time and watch a TV programme by Indian actir Amir Khan which was shown on Star Gold Satyamevjayte available on youtube.Salam be happy/Recommend

  • jT

    Janab is this a true story? and the names are also true? like Hussaini Poweley ?Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Thank you , Dear Master Mind. I’m encouraged by your feedback and writing my next story.Recommend

  • Nasrullah Khan

    Dear JT, A writer takes stories from the surrounding around him.Recommend

  • Samir tariq

    Its my loss that all this time i kept procrastinating and didnt read this until today. Its a beautiful piece of writing. The characterization and story development was done with awe-inspiring craft and tact. This also reminded me of one of the most beautiful pieces that Zia Mohiyeddin has recited in one of his famous “Ek Shaam Zia Mohiyeddin kay saath”..its called “Maii Dada”..Please listen to it if you find it on Youtube…Recommend

  • Jamal Abdul Nasir

    its awsomeRecommend