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  • from Basti
  • Intizar Husain (bio)
    Translated by Frances W. Pritchett (bio)

Yar Zakir!

I first send you the usual salutations. I'm fine, and I hope everything's well with you too.

You must be wondering at my foolishness: "What a time that wretch chose for writing a letter, what a time for him to send word that he's well and to ask how I am!" I too realize how many years it's been that I haven't written—nor have you. And now, in this unsuitable time, I've suddenly thought of you, and am writing to you. Considering how disorganized the mails are, I'm not even sure that this letter will reach you. But nevertheless I'm writing. And after all, why? I'm about to tell you. First, you should know that I've transferred myself once more into a new department. Now I'm with the Radio. One benefit of coming here is that I've pretty well escaped from the boring business of files. Here we deal with people, not with files. Compared to files, it's more difficult work, but never boring.

Yar, since coming here I've met a strange girl. The thought never en-tered my head that I might run into her. A wheat-coloured complexion, delicate features, slender figure, medium height, an honest and sincere manner; I always see her in a white cotton sari. She parts her hair in the middle and wears it in a plain braid, but sometimes a lock comes loose and falls on her forehead. Her behaviour is always reserved. She's quiet and melancholy. Yar, her simplicity and sadness together have ravished my heart. You don't have to pause when you read those words. First hear the whole story.

From time to time, I have to go to the newsroom. That's where I encountered her. Previously, I'd seen her in passing, around the office. I knew she was an announcer. I'd heard her name too. But I still wasn't especially curious about her. Simplicity at first says nothing to a man, then gradually sadness becomes a spell. She used to quietly go to the newsroom, find out the news from Dhaka, and go away. The news was usually disturbing, but not a trace of anxiety was permitted to show in her face. It was my guess that she was inwardly very worried by the news. One day I asked her, "Bibi, do you have some relatives in Dhaka?" [End Page 177] [Begin Page 179]

"Yes, my mother and sister are there."

"Are you getting letters?"

"The last letter came two weeks ago. Since then I've written two letters. I've sent a wire too, but no answer has come."

"But what will you learn from the news on the radio?"

"At least I can get an idea how things are in the city."

"Then please come to my office. All the Dhaka newspapers come to my desk."

After this, she began to come to my office. She came every day, looked through all the Dhaka newspapers, and went away.

"Where is the rest of your family?" I asked one day.

"Some in Karachi, some in Lahore, some in Islamabad."

"And here?"

"There's no one here any longer."

"You're the only one here?"

"Yes, I'm alone in India."

One Muslim girl who stayed alone in the whole of India—this seemed a strange thing to me. I know whole families left, and one person would stay behind. But this person was usually an old man. These old men who stayed on alone were not held back by the thought of their property, but by the thought of their graves. There was no problem about property: people could go to Pakistan and enter a claim, and by entering false claims they could even get a larger property in return for a smaller one. But no one can enter a claim for a grave. In Vyaspur, that Hakimji from the big house, you remember? His whole family went off to Pakistan. He stayed in the same place and continued to take sick people's pulses...


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pp. 177-183
Launched on MUSE
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