How would you compare the life of the poor Egyptian boy in ‘The Conjurer Made off with the Dish’ with that of a poor boy living in a metropolitan city like Karachi? “The day was passing and soon mysterious darkness would descend”. This is how Naguib Mahfouz’s story ends. A short story filled with a lifetime of experiences that perhaps every poor boy in an urban city faces. Experiences of violence, sex, power struggle, poverty, failure, love, hard choices are what make this story of a young boy in Egypt easily comparable to a young boy anywhere, example in my city, Karachi.
The story starts showing how the weaker is oppressed by the stronger; the concept of power struggle is seen throughout the story. Mother, bean-seller, conjurer all take on aggressive roles towards the boy, threatening him in various ways, “Scram, or I will make you into food for snakes”, turning him into a weak afraid creature. This aggressiveness is widely experienced by poor boys in Karachi in the same manner. Reports of violence on street children are very common and yet a blind eye is turned towards them.
Like all young children, this boy too gets lost and distracted in the magical world and for a moment forgets all his troubles. “However I gave no thought to the loss…forgot the fear of what threatened me back home”. He is suddenly made to grow up from this innocent world when he accidently comes across a man beating a woman profusely. He is made to let go off his childhood in that one instant and protect himself from the harsh and cruel world that awaits him.
Something that young boys experience in various ways in Karachi, having to work when they should be playing or studying is one way of losing their childhood. Finding themselves attracted to girls and indulging in activities and feelings they should not be is another way. What the boy in the story also experiences is how the darkness inside him grows. Tired of being abused and pushed around he hurls his dish at the bean-seller. This shows as a society we manage to push these innocent children towards a life or perhaps crime and regret.