I have a full house these days filled with grandchildren. The other day my eldest granddaughter walked up to me and with a disarming smile that could have melted the polar icecaps, asked me to tell her a story. This simple request sent me hurtling through time into the early 50s and I found myself on the back terrace of our house in Lahore, sitting on a cot draped with mosquito netting and listening open-mouthed to the doyen of storytellers. His name was Islamuddin, but everyone called him Baray Mian. He was of indeterminable age, as ancient as the pipal tree that grew in our front yard. He came to the family as a stable boy in the times of my great grandfather and had not left thereafter. He was tall and wiry with a voice that could cover leagues, but it was his eyes that caught ones attention - they were of a colour that was off any palette and they twinkled impishly at everything around them. As the summer day turned into night, our rear terrace would be sprinkled with water and cots for the entire family would be laid out in neat rows. Mosquito nets would then be draped on these cots turning them into willowy rectangular structures that offered multiple possibilities for mischief. It was around this time that Islamuddin made his entry and occupied his customary place, cross-legged, on a wooden chauki. For the next one hour, Baray Mian would transport his enthralled listeners into a world of heroic princes, beautiful damsels and horrible beasts embellished with unparalleled audio effects and animated gestures. All these tales began with a preamble that went something like this, Aik dafa ka zikar hai ke eik tha badshah. Hamara tumhara Khuda Badshah, Khuda ne banaya Rasul Badshah, ankhon ki dekhi kehte nahin kanun ki suni kehte hain. Soay sansar, jaage Pak Parwar Digaar, naheen uski qudrat ka koi shumar. There was one particular tale that was an all-time favourite and involved a villain called Tabal Shaitan or 'the Devil of the Drum. According to the story, this monster had mirak (mirach) jaisi ankhen, cheetay ki si kamar, matkay jaisa pait, naaryal jaisa sar, tinka jaise haat paaon (eyes like chillies, waist like a cheetah, paunch like a pitcher, head like a coconut and limbs like twigs). This character was a cannibal, who devoured heroes after boiling them in a huge cauldron, until he met his match and was vanquished by a handsome prince. Islamuddin had a great penchant for singing and this was something that the family always avoided as his out of tune voice was a torture to ones ears. There was one time of the year however, when this ordeal could not be avoided and this was the onset of the monsoon season. With towering black clouds over Lahore, our pipal tree would become the centre of hectic activity. The last years rope swing, with its cushion covered wooden seat would be taken out of the store and set up on a thick horizontal limb under the watchful eye of Baray Mian, who would immediately assume the role of its official operator. Standing behind the swing and keeping it in motion, would have been happily welcomed by the family, had this not been accompanied by the old Islamuddins raucous ditties from monsoons of old. Baray Mian was hard of hearing and attributed this discrepancy to an accident, when my great grandfather had accidentally fired a tamancha close to his ears. There were times when the old man would remember his former master and his days as a very young boy and it was then that his eyes would lose their twinkle and brim with tears for times that would never return. As I grew up and joined a career away from home and hearth, I got the news that Islamuddin, now nearing a hundred, was not well and showing signs of disorientation. On a trip home, I walked into his room to find that his eyes had lost their twinkle and he appeared to be living in the shadowy world of yore. I sat on the edge of his bed and talked to him and somehow knew that I was witnessing the passing away of history. And then I got the news that Baray Mian had simply walked out of the house and disappeared and that no end of searching by the family and the police could find him. The writer is a freelance columnist.