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Manoa 19.1 (2007) 193-206

How Many Pakistans?
Translation from Hindi by Vishwamitter Adil and Alok Bhalla

What a long journey! I don't understand why I keep thinking about Pakistan again and again—why it troubles me so much.

Salima, have I ever been unkind to you, hurt you? Why are you then so unfair to me and so unjust towards yourself? You laugh. I am sure that your laughter is full of poisoned arrows. It is certainly not touched with the fragrance of the mehndi flowers that suffuse the night as the wind blows over them. The wind! The very thought of it amuses me. You used to tell me that I was "touched" by the winds that had swept across our days! Do you remember, Salima?

I am sure that you remember those days. Women never forget anything. They only pretend to forget. Otherwise it would be difficult for them to go on living. It is strange to think of you as either Salima or merely another woman. I would like to think of you only as Bano. The same Bano who used to bring me mehndi flowers. Your breath seemed to mingle with their fragrance. You would blow on the flowers as if to say, "Only when the wind blows over them do you know how fragrant they are!" To tell you the truth, Bano, I was "touched" by that wind—intoxicated by it. But now I hesitate to call you Bano. I wonder if you would ever again care to be reminded of that name. What does that name mean to you now anyway?

That night, I really did want to climb those stairs to your room once again and ask you a question, remind you of something. But then I said to myself, How could you have forgotten it? It was impossible for you to have forgotten anything.

O God! You don't know how many Pakistans were created along with that one Pakistan. In how many hearts, in how many places! The creation of that one Pakistan solved nothing. It merely confused everything. Now nothing is what it seems to be.

That night too everything was confused. I don't know if it was the voice of the peepal tree in the backyard or of Badru Miyan that had cried out, "Kadir Miyan!…Sala Pakistan has been created…O sister, Pakistan has been created!…"

How terrifying was that moonlit night! You were lying naked in the courtyard downstairs, Bano. Bathed in moonlight! The leaves of the peepal [End Page 193] tree in the backyard were rustling in the wind when Badru Miyan's voice seemed to rise from the very depths of Hell. "Kadir Miyan!…Sala Pakistan has been created…O sister, Pakistan has been created!…"

Let me tell you about the three stages of my life's journey. During the first stage, I was intoxicated by the fragrance of Bano's mehndi flowers. The second stage was completed when I saw Bano lying naked in the moonlight. The third stage began when she stood before me at the door, holding the frame with both her hands, and asked, "Is there someone else?…"

Yes, Bano, there was someone else…

Bano, after that single, terrifying moment of bewildering silence, why did you laugh? What had I done to you? Were you seeking revenge? On me? On Muneer? Or was it on Pakistan? Whom were you trying to humiliate? Me? Yourself? Muneer? Or…

Oh, why does Pakistan come between us again and again? How does that nation concern us? Alas, Pakistan is the name of the reality that separates the two of us. It's the truth that falls between us like an abysmal silence. It's the void between our families, our friends, and our communities that makes us insensitive to each other. Pakistan is a dark, blind space—a space without feeling, a space where the sufferings of others are no longer sufferings, and the joys of others are not joys. Perhaps Pakistan is that barren...


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pp. 193-206
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