Excerpt
1.   History is the third parent.
  As Rohan makes his way through the garden, not long after
nightfall, a memory comes to him from his son Jeo's childhood, a
memory that slows him and eventually brings him to a standstill. Ahead of
him candles are burning in various places at the house because there is no
electricity. Wounds are said to emit light under certain conditions--touch
them and the brightness will stay on the hands--and as the candles burn
Rohan thinks of each flame as an injury somewhere in his house.  
One evening as he was being told a story by Rohan, a troubled expression
had appeared on Jeo's face. Rohan had stopped speaking and gone up
to him and lifted him into his arms, feeling the tremors in the small
body. From dusk onwards, the boy tried to reassure himself that he would
continue to exist after falling asleep, that he would emerge again into
light on the other side. But that evening it was something else. After a
few minutes, he revealed that his distress was caused by the appearance of
the villain in the story he was being told. Rohan had given a small laugh
to comfort him and asked,   "But have you ever heard a story in
which the evil person triumphs at the end?"   The boy thought
for a while before replying.   "No," he said, "but
before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid
of."   2.   Rohan looks out of the window, his glance
resting on the tree that was planted by his wife. It is now twenty years
since she died, four days after she gave birth to Jeo. The scent of the
tree's flowers can stop conversation. Rohan knows no purer source
of melancholy. A small section of it moves in the cold wind--a handful
of foliage on a small branch, something a soldier might snap off before
battle and attach to his helmet as camouflage.   He looks towards
the clock. In a few hours he and Jeo will depart on a long journey, taking
the overnight train to the city of Peshawar. It's October. The United
States was attacked last month, a day of fire visited on its cities. And
as a consequence Western armies have invaded Afghanistan. "The Battle
of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon" is what some people here
in Pakistan have named September's terrorist attacks. The logic is
that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation. And similarly, these
weeks later, it is the buildings, orchards and hills of Afghanistan that
are being torn apart by bombs and fire-shells. The wounded and injured are
being brought out to Peshawar--and Jeo wishes to go to the border city and
help tend to them. Father and son will be there early tomorrow morning,
after a ten-hour journey through the night.   The glass pane in the
window carries Rohan's reflection--the deep brown iris in each eye,
the colourless beard given a faint brilliance by the candle. The face
that is a record of time's weight on the soul.   He walks out
into the garden where the first few lines of moonlight are picking out
leaves and bowers. He takes a lantern from an alcove. Standing under the
silk-cotton tree he raises the lantern into the air, looking up into the
great crown. The tallest trees in the garden are ten times the height
of a man and even with his arm at full stretch Rohan cannot extend the
light beyond the nearest layer of foliage. He is unable to see any of
the bird snares--the network of thin steel wires hidden deep inside the
canopies, knots that will come alive and tighten just enough to hold a
wing or neck in delicate, harmless captivity.   Or so the stranger
had claimed. The man had appeared at the house late in the morning today
and asked to put up the snares. A large rectangular cage was attached to
the back of his rusting bicycle. He explained that he rode through town
with the cage full of birds and people paid him to release one or more
of them, the act of compassion gaining the customer forgiveness for some
of his sins.   "I am known as 'the bird pardoner,'
" he said. "The freed bird says a prayer on behalf of the
one who has bought its freedom. And God never ignores the prayers of
the weak."   Rohan had remarked to himself that the cage was
large enough to contain a man.   To him the stranger's idea
had seemed anything but simple, its reasoning flawed. If a bird will
say a prayer for the person who has bought its freedom, wouldn't
it call down retribution on the one who trapped and imprisoned it? And
on the one who facilitated the entrapment? He had wished to reflect on
the subject and had asked the man to return at a later time. But when
he woke from his afternoon nap he discovered that the bird pardoner had
taken their perfunctory exchange to be an agreement. While Rohan slept,
he visited the house again and set up countless snares, claiming to Jeo
that he had Rohan's consent.   "He told me he'll be
back early tomorrow morning to collect the birds," Jeo said.  
Rohan looks up into the wide-armed trees as he moves from place to place
within the garden, the thousands of sleeping leaves that surround his
house. The wind lifts now and then but otherwise there is silence and
stillness, a perfect hush in the night air. He is certain that many of
the snares have already been activated and he cannot help but imagine
the fright and suffering of the captured birds, who swerve and whistle
delicately in the branches throughout the day, looking as though their
outlines and markings are drawn with a finer nib than their surroundings,
more sharply focused. Now he almost senses the eyes extinguishing two by
two.   The bigger the sin, the rarer and more expensive the bird
that is needed to erase it. Is that how the bird pardoner conducts his
business? A sparrow for a small deception, but a paradise flycatcher
and a monal pheasant for allowing a doubt about His existence to
enter the mind.   He places his hand on a tree's bark, as
if transmitting forbearance and spirit up into the creatures. He was
the founder and headmaster of a school, and his affection for this tree
lies in its links with scholarship. Writing tablets have been made from
its wood since antiquity, a use reflected in its Latin name. Alstonia
scholaris.   Carrying his lantern he begins to walk back to the
house that stands at the very centre of the garden. Before building
it he had visited the cities of Mecca, Baghdad, Cordoba, Cairo, Delhi
and Istanbul, the six locations of Islam's earlier magnificence
and possibility. From each he brought back a handful of dust and
he scattered it in an arc in the air, watching as belief, virtue,
truth and judgement slipped from his hand and settled softly on the
ground. That purifying line, in the shape of a crescent or a scythe,
was where he had dug the foundations.   In the nineteenth century,
Rohan's great-grandfather had bred horses on this stretch of land,
his animals known for their wiriness and nimble strength, the ability
to go over the stoniest ground without shoes. During the Mutiny against
the British in July 1857 a band of men had visited the horse breeder,
the day of the eclipse, and in the seventeen minutes of half-darkness the
Mutineers spoke about cause and nation, aiming these words like arrows
against the Empire's armoured might. Britain was the planet's
supreme power at the time and nothing less than the fate of the world
hung in the balance. They needed his help but he told them there were
no horses for him to give. The Norfolk Trotter and the Arab stallions,
the Dhanni, Tallagang and Kathiawar mares--they had
(Continues...)