The Dog of Tetwal
The two sides had not budged from their positions for several days now. Occasional bursts of fire—about ten or twelve rounds in a day—were to be heard, but never the sound of human shrieks.
The weather was pleasant; the wind wafted across, spreading the scent of wildflowers. Oblivious to the battle on the peaks and slopes, nature was immersed in its necessary work—the birds chirped as before, the flowers continued to bloom, and lazy honey-bearing bees sleepily sipped nectar in the old, time-honoured way.
Each time a shot echoed in the hills, the chirping birds would cry out in alarm and fly up, as though someone had struck a wrong note on an instrument and shocked their hearing.
September-end was meeting the beginning of October in roseate hue. It seemed that winter and summer were negotiating peace with one another. Thin, light clouds like fluffed-up cotton sailed in the blue sky, as if out on an excursion in their white shikaras.
For several days now, the soldiers on both sides of the mountain had been restless, as no decisive action was taking place. Lying in their positions, they would get bored and then attempt to recite sh'ers to one another. If no one listened, they would hum to themselves. They remained lying on their stomachs or backs on the rocky ground, and when the order came, let off a round or two.
The two sides were entrenched in rather safe positions. The high-velocity bullets crashed against the shields of stone and fell to the ground. The two mountains on which the forces were ranged were of about the same height. Between them was a green valley—a rivulet wriggling like a fat snake on its chest.
There was no danger of air raids. Neither side possessed artillery. Therefore, fires would be lit without fear or danger, and smoke from fires on each side would rise and mingle in the air. At night, it was absolutely quiet. The soldiers on each side could hear bursts of laughter from the other. Once in a while, entering into this spirit, a soldier would begin to sing, and his voice would awaken the silence of the night. The echoes would then [End Page 80] reverberate, and it would seem that the mountains were repeating what they had just heard.
One round of tea had just been taken. The pine coals in the stone chulhas had grown cold. The sky was clear. There was a chill in the air. The wind had ceased to carry the scent of flowers, as though they had shut up their vial of perfume for the night. However, the sweat of the pines, their resin, left an odour in the air that was not wholly unpleasant.
The soldiers slept wrapped in their blankets, but in such a way that in a single movement they could arise, ready for battle.
Jamadar Harnam Singh was on guard. When his Rascope watch showed that it was two o'clock, he woke Ganda Singh and told him to take station. He wanted to sleep, but when he lay down, he found sleep a distant proposition, as distant as the stars in the sky. Jamadar Harnam Singh lay on his back and, gazing up at the stars, began to hum:
Bring me a pair of shoes, studded with stars Studded with stars O Harnam Singh O Yaara Even if you have to sell your buffalo.
Harnam Singh saw star-studded shoes scattered all over the sky, all a-twinkle.
I will bring you shoes, studded with stars Studded with stars O Harnam Kaur O Lady, even if I have to sell my buffalo.
He smiled as the song came to an end, and realizing that he would not be able to sleep, he rose and woke up everybody else. The thought of his beloved had made him restless. He wished for some nonsensical chatter that would recreate the mood of the beloved in the song.
The soldiers did begin to talk, but in a desultory fashion. Banta Singh, the youngest and the one with the best voice, went and sat on one side. The rest, though yawning all the while, kept gossiping about trivial but entertaining matters. After a while, Banta Singh suddenly began singing "Heer" in a melancholic voice.
Heer said, The jogi lied; no one placates a hurt lover. I have found no one—grown weary, looking for the one who calls back the departed lover. A falcon has lost the crane to the crow—see, does it remain silent or weep? Happy talk and stories to entertain the world are not for the suffering one. [End Page 81]
After a pause, he began singing Ranjha's reply to Heer's words:
The falcon that lost the crane to the crow has, thank God, been annihilated. His condition is like the fakir who gave away his all, and was left with nothing. Be contented, feel the pain less and God will be your witness. Renouncing the world and donning the garb of sorrow, Saiyed Waris has become Waris Shah.
Just as abruptly as Banta Singh had begun to sing, he fell silent. It appeared as if the soil-tinted mountains also had taken on the mantle of grief.
After a while, Jamadar Harnam Singh let out a mighty oath at an imaginary object, then lay down. Suddenly, in the melancholy stillness of the last quarter of the night, the barking of a dog began to resound. Everyone was startled. The sound did not come from too far off. Jamadar Harnam Singh sat up and said, "From where has this barking one come?"
The dog barked again. Now the sound was much closer. After a few moments, there was a rustling in the bushes.
Banta Singh rose and moved towards the bushes. When he returned, he had with him a stray dog, its tail wagging.
He smiled. "Jamadar sahab, when I asked him, he said, I am Chapad Jhunjhun."
Everyone laughed. Jamadar Harnam Singh addressed the dog affectionately. "Come here, Chapad Jhunjhun."
The dog approached Harnam Singh, wagging its tail. It began sniffing the stones on the ground in the belief that some food had been thrown there.
Jamadar Harnam Singh reached into his bag, took out a biscuit, and threw it in the dog's direction. The dog sniffed at the biscuit and opened its mouth. But Harnam Singh leapt at it and picked it up. "Wait…He could be a Pakistani."
Everybody laughed at this. Banta Singh came forward, stroked the dog on its back, and said to Jamadar Harnam Singh, "No, Jamadar sahab, Chapad Jhunjhun is a Hindustani."
Jamadar Harnam Singh laughed and, looking at the dog, said, "Oye, show me the identification!"
The dog wagged its tail.
Harnam Singh laughed heartily. "This is no identification…All dogs wag their tails."
Banta Singh caught the dog by its trembling tail. "The poor thing is a refugee!"
Jamadar Harnam Singh threw down the biscuit, and the dog immediately pounced on it. [End Page 82]
Digging up the ground with the heel of his boot, one of the soldiers said, "Now, even dogs will have to be either Hindustani or Pakistani!"
The Jamadar took out another biscuit from his bag and threw it towards the dog. "Like the Pakistanis, Pakistani dogs will be shot."
"Hindustan Zindabad!" Another soldier loudly raised the slogan.
The dog, which had just begun to move forward to pick up the biscuit, suddenly grew frightened and backed off with its tail between its legs.
Harnam Singh laughed. "Why do you fear our slogan, Chapad Jhunjhun?…Eat…Here, take another biscuit!" And so saying, he took another biscuit out and threw it.
The soldiers talked on, and soon it was morning.
In the blink of an eye, just as when one presses a button and the electricity generates light, the sun's rays flooded the mountainous region of Tetwal.
The battle had been raging in that area for some time. Dozens of lives of soldiers would be lost for each mountain, and even then the hold of either side was tenuous. If they held the area today, tomorrow their enemies did; the following day, they recaptured it, and the day after that, their enemies did so.
Jamadar Harnam Singh picked up his binoculars and surveyed the surrounding area. Smoke was rising from the mountain in front. This meant that a fire was being stoked there too, tea was being readied, and the thought of breakfast was on the mind; undoubtedly, the other side could see smoke rising from Jamadar Harnam Singh's camp.
At breakfast, each soldier gave a little to the dog, which ate it with gusto. Everyone was taking a keen interest in the dog, as if all wanted to make it a friend. Its arrival had brought with it an element of cheerfulness. From time to time, each one would affectionately address it as Chapad Jhunjhun and cuddle it.
On the other side, in the Pakistani camp, Subedar Himmat Khan was twirling his impressive moustache—which had many a story in its past—and was carefully studying the map of Tetwal. With him sat the wireless operator, who was taking orders from the Platoon Commander for Subedar Himmat Khan. At some distance, Bashir, leaning against a rock, was holding his gun and softly humming:
Where did you spend the night, my love. Where did you spend…
As Bashir swung into the mood and raised his pitch, he heard Subedar Himmat Khan's stern admonition. "Oye, where were you last night?"
When Bashir's inquiring gaze shifted towards Himmat Khan, he saw him looking elsewhere.
"Tell me, oye!…" [End Page 83]
Bashir turned to see what Himmat was looking at.
The same stray dog, which, a few days earlier, had come to their camp like an uninvited guest and stayed on, was back, sitting a little distance away.
Bashir smiled and, turning to the dog, began:
Where did you spend the night, my love. Where did you…
The dog began wagging its tail vigorously, sweeping the rocky ground around him.
Subedar Himmat Khan picked up a pebble and threw it at the dog. "Saala knows nothing except how to wag his tail."
All of a sudden Bashir looked carefully at the dog. "What's this around his neck?" He started walking towards the dog, but even before he reached it, another soldier took off the rope tied around its neck. A piece of cardboard with something written on it was strung to it. Subedar Himmat Khan took the piece of cardboard and asked the soldiers, "Does any one of you know how to read this?"
Bashir came forward, picked up the cardboard piece, and said, "Yes, I can read a bit." With great difficulty he spelled out "Cha-p-Chapad-Jhun-Jhun…Chapad Jhunjhun…What's this?"
Subedar Himmat Khan twirled his legendary long moustache vigorously. "It must be some word, some…" Then he asked, "Bashir, is there anything else written there?…"
Bashir, immersed in deciphering the writing, replied, "Yes, there is. This is a Hindustani dog."
Subedar Himmat Khan began thinking aloud. "What does this mean? What was it you read?…Chapad?…"
Bashir then answered, "Chapad Jhunjhun!"
One soldier said as if with great knowledge, "Whatever the matter is, it lies here."
Subedar Himmat Khan thought this appropriate. "Yes, it does seem so!"
Bashir read the text inscribed on the cardboard once more. "Chapad Jhunjhun. This is a Hindustani dog."
Subedar Himmat Khan took up the wireless set and, placing the headphones firmly over his ears, personally spoke to the Platoon Commander about the dog—that it had first come to them and stayed for several days, and then one night, it disappeared from their midst. Now that it had returned, there was a rope tied around its neck with a cardboard piece strung on it, on which was written—and this message he repeated three or four times to the Platoon Commander—"Chapad Jhunjhun. This is a Hindustani dog." But they too could not come to any conclusion. [End Page 84]
Bashir sat on one side with the dog, speaking lovingly and harshly by turns, and asked it where it had disappeared for the night and who had tied the rope and the cardboard around its neck. But he did not get the answer he desired. When questioned, the dog would just wag its tail in response. Finally, in anger, Bashir caught it and gave it a violent shake. The dog whined in pain.
Having spoken on the wireless set, Subedar Himmat Khan contemplated the map of Tetwal for some time. He then rose in a decisive manner. Tearing off the top of a cigarette packet, he handed it to Bashir. "Here, Bashir, scribble on this in the same creepy-crawly Gurmukhi as they have."
Bashir took the piece of the cigarette packet and asked, "What should I write, Subedar sahab?"
Subedar Himmat Khan twirled his moustache and reflected. "Write…Just write." He took out a pencil from his pocket. Giving it to Bashir, he asked, "What should we write?"
Bashir passed the pencil tip between his lips and began thinking. Suddenly, in a contemplative, questioning tone he asked, "Sapar Sunsun?…" Then, satisfied, he said in a determined way, "OK, the answer to 'Chapad Jhunjhun' can only be 'Sapar Sunsun.' They will remember their mothers, these Sikhras!" Bashir put the pencil to the top of the cigarette pack. "Sapar Sunsun."
"One hundred percent…Write Sa-pa-r-Sunsun!" Subedar Khan laughed loudly. "And write further, 'This is a Pakistani dog!'"
Subedar Himmat Khan took the cardboard piece from Bashir's hand, made a hole in it with the pencil, and, after stringing the rope through it, moved towards the dog. "Take this to your offspring!"
All the soldiers laughed at this.
Subedar Himmat Khan tied the rope around the dog's neck. The dog kept wagging its tail all the while. The Subedar then gave it something to eat and, in a didactic manner, said, "Look, friend, don't commit treachery…Remember, the punishment for a traitor is death."
The dog kept wagging its tail…After it had eaten its fill, Subedar Himmat Khan picked up the rope, led it towards the sole trail on the hill, and said, "Go, deliver our letter to our enemies…But make sure you come back. This is the command of your officer, understand?"
The dog, still wagging its tail, began walking ever so slowly along the trail that took a winding route into the lap of the mountains.
Subedar Himmat Khan took up his gun and fired once into the air.
The shot and its echo were heard on the other side, at the Hindustani camp, but they could not fathom its meaning.
For some reason, Jamadar Harnam Singh had been grumpy that day, and the sound of the shot made him even more irritable. He gave the order to fire. Consequently, for the next half hour a futile rain of bullets poured [End Page 85] from each side. Eventually sated by the diversion, Jamadar Harnam Singh called a halt to the firing and began combing his beard with greater ferocity. Having done that, he methodically bundled his hair into a net and asked Banta Singh, "Oye, Banta Singh, tell me: where has Chapad Jhunjhun gone? The ghee didn't go down well with the dog."
Banta Singh missed the implication of the idiom and said, "But we didn't feed him any ghee."
Jamadar Harnam Singh laughed boisterously. "Oye, ill-read lout, there is no use talking to you."
Meanwhile, the soldier on watch, who was scanning the horizon with his binoculars, suddenly shouted, "There, he's coming!"
Everybody looked up.
Jamadar Harnam Singh asked, "What was the name again?"
The soldier on duty said, "Chapad Jhunjhun…Who else!"
"Chapad Jhunjhun?" Jamadar Harnam Singh got up. "What is he doing?"
The soldier answered, "He's coming."
Jamadar Harnam Singh took the binoculars from the soldier and began looking around. "He's coming our way. The rope is tied around his neck…but he's coming from there…the enemy camp…" He let out a great oath at the dog's mother, raised the gun, aimed, and fired.
The shot was off its mark. The bullet hit a short distance away from the dog, causing stones to fly up, and buried itself in the ground. The dog, fearful, stopped.
On the other side, Subedar Himmat Khan saw through the binoculars that the dog was standing on the path. Another shot, and the dog started running the opposite way. It ran with its tail between its legs towards Subedar Himmat Khan's camp.
Himmat Khan called out loudly, "The brave are never afraid…Go back!" And he fired a shot to scare the dog.
The dog stopped again.
From the other side, Jamadar Harnam Singh fired his gun. The bullet whizzed by, past the dog's ear.
The dog jumped and flapped its ears violently.
From his position, Subedar Himmat Khan fired his second shot, which buried itself near the front paws of the dog.
Frightened out of its wits, it ran about—sometimes in one direction, sometimes the other.
Its fear gave both Subedar Himmat Khan and Jamadar Harnam Singh a great deal of pleasure, and they began guffawing.
When the dog began running in his direction, Jamadar Harnam Singh, in a state of great fury, uttered a terrible oath, took careful aim, and fired.
The bullet struck the dog in the leg, and its cry pierced the sky. [End Page 86]
The dog changed its direction and, limping, began running towards Subedar Himmat Khan's camp.
Now the shot came from this side—just to scare it. While firing, Himmat Khan shouted, "The brave pay no attention to wounds! Put your life on the line…Go back!"
Terrified, the dog turned the other way. One of its legs had become useless. On three legs it had just about managed to drag itself a few steps in the other direction when Jamadar Harnam Singh aimed and fired. The dog fell dead on the spot.
Subedar Himmat Khan expressed regret. "Tch tch…the poor thing became a martyr!"
Jamadar Harnam Singh took the warm barrel of the gun in his hand and said, "He died a dog's death."
Saadat Hasan Manto was born in 1912 in Samrala, Punjab, and is regarded as the leading Urdu-language fiction writer of the twentieth century. Of Kashmiri ancestry, he published twenty-two collections of stories, three collections of essays, scores of plays, a novel, and scripts for more than a dozen films. He worked for All India Radio in Bombay before moving to Pakistan after Partition. Often at odds with literary censors in both India and Pakistan, he died at the age of forty-two.
Ravikant is a historian, writer, and translator working with the Sarai Programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. He has coedited (with Tarun K. Saint) Translating Partition (Katha, 2001) and (with Sanjay Sharma) Deewan-e-Sarai (vol. 1): Media Vimarsh /Hindi Janpad (Vani, 2002) and Deewane-Sarai (vol. 2): Shaharnama (Vani, 2005).
Tarun K. Saint teaches English literature at Hindu College, Delhi University. His area of research interest is the literature of Partition. He has edited Bruised Memories: Communal Violence and the Writer (Seagull, 2002) and coedited (with Ravikant) Translating Partition (Katha, 2001).