Tirlochen was looking at the sky for the first time in four years, and only because he was upset and had gone up to the terrace at Adwani Chambers so that he could think rationally in the open air.
The sky, clear and cloudless, stretched like a taut grey tent over all of Bombay. Scattered lights extended to the horizon. It seemed that the stars had fallen from the sky, alighted on the tops of buildings—which in the darkness of the night looked like large tree trunks—and glimmered on them like glow worms.
Being under the open sky was a new experience for Tirlochen, a new feeling. He realized that in the four years he had spent in his flat, he had been deprived of one of nature's great blessings. It was nearly three o'clock. The air was light and buoyant. Tirlochen was used to the fan's mechanical breeze, which weighed him down. When he awoke in the mornings, he felt as if he had been beaten all night. But now, in the morning air, every pore of his body seemed to be joyously absorbing the freshness. When he came up to the terrace, his mind was burdened with disturbing thoughts, but in half an hour the fever in his brain had abated and he found himself thinking rationally.
Kirpal Kaur and her entire family were in a neighbourhood dominated by staunch Muslims. Several houses had already been burnt down, and a great many lives had been lost. Tirlochen might have taken Kirpal Kaur and her family out of there, but a twenty-four-hour curfew had been imposed, there were Muslims everywhere, and surrounded by these dangerous people, Tirlochen felt helpless. In addition to that, there was news pouring in from Punjab of the widespread killing of Muslims by Sikhs. Any hand, any Muslim hand, could reach out at any time, seize Kirpal Kaur's delicate wrist, and push her towards the well of death.
Kirpal's mother was blind, her father was a cripple, and her only brother was in Devlali overseeing a new contract.
Tirlochen was vexed with Kirpal's brother, Niranjan. Tirlochen read the newspaper every day and had warned Niranjan a week ago about the rapidly spreading disturbances. "Forget about these contracts for the time being," he had told Niranjan, adding candidly, "We're going through a very delicate phase, and although you must stay with your family, it would [End Page 111] [Begin Page 113] be even better if you brought them over to my house. It's true there isn't much space, but in times of trouble one can manage." Niranjan ignored the warning. And when Tirlochen finished lecturing him, he smiled under his thick moustache and said, "Yar, you worry needlessly. I've seen many such disturbances here. This is not Amritsar or Lahore; this is Bombay…Bombay. You've been here for four years; I've lived here for twelve years…twelve years."
What did Niranjan think Bombay was? He probably figured this was a city where disturbances, if they did develop, would disappear of their own accord, as if by magic. Or he might have thought this was a storybook castle impervious to catastrophe. But Tirlochen could see very clearly that the mohalla was not safe at all. As a matter of fact, he would not be surprised if he read in the next morning's paper that Kirpal and her parents had been murdered.
He was not concerned about Kirpal's blind mother or her handicapped father. It would be fine, as far as he was concerned, if they died and Kirpal was spared. Better too if her brother also got killed, because then the way would be clear for him. Niranjan was not a stone in Tirlochen's path, but more of a khangar. And thus when Tirlochen talked to him, he called him Khangar Singh instead of Niranjan Singh.
The morning air blew lazily. Without a turban, Tirlochen's head felt pleasantly cooled. But inside his head, innumerable thoughts ran about haphazardly…Kirpal Kaur was a newcomer in his life. Although she was the sister of Khangar Singh, who was a strong, well-built man, she herself was small and delicate. She had been raised in the village, but she did not have any of the hardness, the coarseness and masculinity that characterize most rural Sikh women who engage in a great deal of physical labour.
Her features were diminutive, as if still in an early stage of development; her breasts were small and needed many more layers of fat. She was fairer than most Sikh women: her complexion was like raw cotton, and her skin had the texture of mercerized fabric. She was also extremely shy.
Tirlochen and she were from the same village, but he had not lived there long. After completing his primary education, he had moved to the city to continue his schooling, and eventually he became a city person. He visited his village often, but he had never had the occasion to hear of someone called Kirpal Kaur in all that time. Perhaps that was because he was always in a hurry to get back to the city.
College days were in the past now. There was a distance of ten years between the college building and the terrace of Adwani Chambers, and this distance was filled with the unusual happenings that constituted Tirlochen's life. Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong…and then Bombay again, where he had been living for the last four years.
This was the first time in that period that he had examined the sky at night. The vision was not altogether displeasing: a thousand lights glimmered, and the air was light and buoyant. [End Page 113]
As he thought about Kirpal, he suddenly remembered Mozel, the Jewish girl who lived in Adwani Chambers. Tirlochen had fallen deeply in love with her; he was in love up to his knees, as they say, and it was the kind of love he had never experienced in all of his thirty-five years.
He first saw Mozel when he moved into a flat at Adwani Chambers that he had rented with the help of a Christian friend. At first glance, Mozel looked like someone dangerously mad. Short brown hair covered her head; her querulous lips were covered with red lipstick, which was badly chapped and caked and reminded him of dried blood. She was wearing a long, loose white dress with a low neckline, the better part of her large, bluish breasts clearly visible. Her arms, which were bare, had a fine layer of down. She seemed to have just walked out of a hair salon after getting a haircut, tiny hairs covering her bare skin.
Her lips were not full, but the manner in which the dark lipstick had been applied gave them the appearance of being thick and fleshy.
Her flat was directly across from his. Between the two was a very narrow passage. Just as Tirlochen had approached the door of his flat, Mozel came out of hers. The sound of the wooden clogs she was wearing caught his attention, and he paused to look at her. Mozel stared at him through her unruly hair, which hung over her eyes, and laughed; Tirlochen was flus-tered. Quickly he got out his key and turned towards the door. At about the same time, Mozel's wooden clogs slipped on the cemented floor, and she fell over him.
When Tirlochen attempted to pull himself together, he realized that Mozel was sprawled over him in such a way that her dress was pulled up and her bare legs straddled his body. As he made an effort to extricate himself, he became entangled with her; he was all over her, like soap suds.
Mozel patted her dress in place with a smile when Tirlochen, quite out of breath, offered an apology.
"These clogs are no good," she said, and slipping her feet back into her shoes, she walked off, taking wide strides.
Tirlochen had thought it would be difficult befriending Mozel, but they soon became good friends. However, Mozel was extremely stubborn and caused Tirlochen much heartache. She ate with him, drank with him, went with him to the cinema, spent whole days with him on the beach at Juhu, but when he tried to go beyond kissing and hugging, she spurned him. She did it in a way that caused his fervor and his passion to become entangled in his moustache and beard.
Tirlochen had never been in love before. In Lahore, Burma, and Singapore, he had occasionally bought women for a price for a few hours. He had not, even in his wildest thoughts, imagined that in Bombay he would fall deeply, inextricably in love with a wild Jewish girl. Her thoughtlessness and lack of consideration were strange. At his request, she would immediately get ready to go to the cinema with him. But when they were seated in the theater, she would begin to look around, and as soon as she saw an old [End Page 114] acquaintance, she would wave frantically and then go off to sit with him without asking Tirlochen to excuse her first.
Sitting in a hotel, Tirlochen has ordered special food for Mozel, but she suddenly spots an old friend and, dropping everything, goes over to sit by his side. Tirlochen burns with anger.
Tirlochen lost his patience with her often because she frequently left him to be with other friends. Sometimes he did not see her for weeks. She might affect a headache or complain of indigestion, which Tirlochen knew was an impossibility because her stomach was hard as steel and could never be upset.
"You're a Sikh," she would say when they finally got together. "You're not going to understand these delicate matters."
"What delicate matters? Those concerning your old lovers?" Tirlochen would ask, angry and bitter.
With her hands on her broad hips, her strapping legs placed apart, she would retort, "Why are you always taunting me about my lovers? Yes, they're my lovers, and I like them. I don't care if you're jealous."
"How will we ever get along if this continues?" Tirlochen would ask rhetorically.
This made Mozel roar with laughter.
"You're a Sikh after all, you idiot!" she exclaimed. "Who asked you to try and get along with me? If you want to get along with someone, go get yourself a Sikhni from your village and marry her. With me, this is how it will always be."
Tirlochen immediately softened. Mozel was actually his greatest weakness; he wanted to hold on to her at any cost. It was true that he often suffered humiliation at her hands. He was belittled in the presence of ordinary Christian boys who were nothing. But he had decided to withstand anything for love.
Normally, humiliation and degradation produce feelings of vengeance, but this was not so in Tirlochen's case. He had stuffed cotton in his ears and shut his eyes to keep out a great many things. He liked Mozel—not only liked her, as he often told his friends, but was in love with her up to his knees. He felt there was nothing else to do except submerge the rest of his body in the mire and be done with the matter altogether.
For two years, he continued in this wretched manner, remaining loyal to her. And one day, when he found Mozel in a good mood, he drew her into his arms and asked, "Mozel, don't you love me at all?"
Mozel extricated herself from his embrace, sat down on a chair, and stared absently at the hem of her dress. Then she raised her heavy-lidded Jewish eyes, batted her thick eyelashes, and said, "I cannot love a Sikh."
Tirlochen felt as if someone had placed live coals on his kesh, under his turban. His whole body was on fire.
"Mozel!" he shouted. "You are always making fun of me. In fact, you know that you're not just making fun of me, but also attacking my love." [End Page 115]
Mozel rose and shook her short brown hair in an appealing way. "If you shave off your beard and let your hair down, you'll have young boys running after you, I promise; you're beautiful."
More live coals seemed to have descended on Tirlochen's kesh. He moved forward, pulled Mozel against himself, and fastened his thickly moustached lips on her dark, pink mouth.
She detached herself from his embrace. "I brushed my teeth this morning. You don't have to bother," she said calmly.
"Mozel!" Tirlochen shouted again.
She withdrew a small mirror from her vanity bag and examined her mouth. The thick layer of lipstick had cracked.
"By God, you don't make proper use of your moustache. I could clean my navy-blue skirt with it; with some petrol, we'll be all set."
His anger, after having reached a climax, was now deflated. He quietly sat down on the sofa. Mozel sat beside him and began unravelling his beard, taking out the pins one by one and holding them between her teeth.
Tirlochen was beautiful. Before he had had any facial hair, he had often been mistaken for a girl when he was seen with his kesh down. But now the heavy bulk of hair concealed his features. He was well aware of this fact. But he was a dutiful young man, there was in his heart a reverence for religion, and he did not want to separate himself from the things that were part of religious observance.
When his hair was completely unravelled and hung loose over his chest, he asked Mozel, "What are you doing?"
The pins still held between her teeth, she smiled. "Your hair is so soft. I was wrong to say you could clean my navy-blue skirt with it. Tirlochen, give it to me. I'll braid it and have a first-class handbag made for myself."
Sparks flew in Tirlochen's beard.
He addressed Mozel seriously. "I've never made fun of your religion. Why do you ridicule mine? Look, it's not nice to make fun of anybody's religious beliefs. I would never have tolerated it, and the only reason I do is because I love you very much. Don't you know that?"
Mozel let go of Tirlochen's beard. "I know that," she said.
"Well, then?" Tirlochen began braiding the hair on his beard and retrieved the pins from Mozel's mouth. "You know very well that my love is not frivolous. I want to marry you."
"I know," she said, shaking her head in her characteristic way, and got up to examine a picture on the wall. "I too have made up my mind to marry you."
"Really?!" Tirlochen jumped up excitedly.
Mozel's pink lips opened in a broad smile, and her healthy white teeth shone for a moment. "Yes."
His beard half-done, Tirlochen clasped her to his breast. "When? When?" he asked her.
Mozel moved away from him. "When you have this hair cut short." [End Page 116]
Tirlochen, who could have agreed to do anything at that moment, said, "I'll have it cut tomorrow." He gave little thought to what he was saying.
Mozel tapped her feet on the floor.
"You're talking nonsense, Tirloch—you don't have the courage!"
She succeeded in casting out from Tirlochen's mind and heart any ideas about religion that might have remained. "You'll see," he declared.
"I'll see." She ran to him quickly, kissed him on his moustache, and said, "Phoo…phoo." Then she left.
It is useless to mention what troubled thoughts raided Tirlochen's mind and what agony he underwent that night. The next morning he went to the Fort and had his kesh cut and his beard shaved, keeping his eyes shut through it all. Shorn finally, he opened his eyes and studied his face in the mirror for a long time; it was a face that the prettiest girls in Bombay would be compelled to look at appreciatively.
Tirlochen began to feel the same chill that had engulfed him the moment he left the salon. He hastened his step on the terrace, which was overlaid by a network of pipes and water tanks. He did not want to remember the rest of the story, but escape seemed impossible.
He stayed home for a whole day after he had his hair cut. The following day he sent his servant with a note to Mozel, saying he was sick and wanted to see her. Mozel came. Seeing him without his hair, she froze for a second. Then, with a loud "My darling!" she ran to him and plastered his face with kisses.
She stroked his soft cheeks with her hand and ran her fingers through his hair, which had been trimmed to an English cut, and muttered loud exclamations in Arabic. She shouted so much that her nose began to run, and when she realized what was happening, she lifted the hem of her dress and wiped her nose with it. Tirlochen blushed. He lowered her skirt hastily and admonished her, "You should wear something under this."
Mozel appeared not to care. "I feel comfortable this way," she responded, a smile appearing on her lips. The lipstick had caked and cracked in several places.
Suddenly Tirlochen remembered their meeting: when he had bumped into her in the hall and they had become oddly entangled. He hugged her.
"We'll be married tomorrow."
"Sure." Mozel rubbed the back of her hand against the softness of his chin.
They decided the wedding would take place in Poona. Because it was to be a civil marriage, a ten-day notice was required, and since it would be a court proceeding, Poona was the most logical choice. It was not far away, and many of Tirlochen's friends lived there. The plan was to leave for Poona the following day.
Mozel worked as a salesgirl in one of the shops at the Fort. Not far from there was a taxi stand where she had instructed Tirlochen to wait for her. He arrived at the appointed time and waited two and a half hours. But she [End Page 117] did not show up. A day later, he found out that she had left for Devlali with an old friend who had just bought a car and that she would be away for an indeterminate period.
What agony did Tirlochen suffer? That is a long story. To put it briefly, he hardened himself and forgot Mozel. Not too long afterwards he met and fell in love with Kirpal Kaur and came to the conclusion that Mozel was a contemptible woman who had a heart of stone and who, like a bird, flitted from one place to another.
However, once in a while, the memory of Mozel returned, gripping his heart fiercely, then flying off, disappearing. She was shameless, she was callous, she was inconsiderate, and yet he liked her. And for this reason he was forced to think of her sometimes, forced to speculate about her whereabouts and wonder what she was doing in Devlali, if she was still with the man who had bought a car or with someone else. Although he was well acquainted with her character, he was deeply hurt by the thought that she was not with him.
He had spent not hundreds but thousands of rupees, but he had done so voluntarily. Mozel did not have expensive tastes. She was attracted to things that were cheap. Once when Tirlochen wanted to buy her a pair of gold earrings he liked very much, she saw a pair of gaudy and inexpensive earrings, fell in love with them instantly, and begged him to buy them for her.
Tirlochen could not figure out what kind of girl she truly was or what the fabric of her being was. She lay by his side for hours and allowed him to kiss her; like soap he blanketed her entire body, but she never permitted him to go a step further than that, saying in a teasing tone, "You're a Sikh—I hate you."
Tirlochen was certain that she did not hate him. If she had hated him, she would not associate with him at all. She lacked self-control and would never have spent two years with him. She would have told him frankly and openly how she felt. She disliked underwear. It made her feel uncomfortable, and although Tirlochen had, on several occasions, warned her of the necessity of wearing it and had attempted to arouse her sense of modesty and propriety, she had refused to comply.
She became irritated when he talked of modesty.
"Modesty—what nonsense is that? If you're so conscious of it, why don't you close your eyes? Is there any kind of dress in which one may not become immodest, or through which your gaze can't travel? Don't talk nonsense with me. You're a Sikh. I know you wear silly underwear resembling shorts under your pants; this too is part of your religion, like your beard and your hair. You should be ashamed—you're an adult and you still believe that your religion is in your underwear!"
In the beginning, Tirlochen was greatly angered by what she said. But later, after some serious thought, he often gave in and began to see a fragment of truth in her arguments. When he had his beard shaved and got a [End Page 118] haircut, he felt, with certainty, that he had been carrying a burden that really had no meaning.
Tirlochen came to a halt when he reached the water tank. He cursed Mozel vehemently and put her out of his mind. Kirpal Kaur, a chaste girl with whom he was in love, was in danger. She was in a neighbourhood populated by staunch Muslim families, and several incidents had already occurred. Who cared about the curfew, though? If the Muslims in the chawl so desired, they could very easily get rid of Kirpal Kaur and her parents.
Lost in thought, Tirlochen walked over to the water pipe and sat down on it. His hair had grown considerably. He was sure that within a year he would have his kesh back again. His beard had grown too, but he did not plan to wear it long. There was a barber at the Fort who trimmed it so well that it was hard to tell it had been trimmed at all.
He brushed his fingers through his long, soft hair, sighed, and was about to rise from the water pipe when he suddenly heard the harsh sound of clogs. Who could it be? There were several Jewish women in the building, and they all wore wooden clogs when they were at home. The sound was closer now. Then he saw Mozel standing beside the other tank, wearing the long, loose dress typically worn by Jewish women. She was stretching lazily and lustily, so lustily that Tirlochen thought the air around them might explode.
He got up from the water pipe and wondered where she had suddenly come from. And what was she doing on the terrace at night?
Mozel stretched again. This time Tirlochen felt his bones rattle.
Her robust breasts heaved within her loose dress. Flat and circular bruises floated before Tirlochen's eyes. He coughed. Mozel turned around and saw him. Her reaction was mild. Dragging her feet noisily, she walked up to him and stared at his diminutive beard.
"You've become a Sikh again, Tirloch?"
The hair on his face began to prickle.
Mozel stepped nearer and rubbed the back of her hand on his chin. "This brush is now ready to clean my navy-blue skirt," she remarked with a smile. "But I left the skirt in Devlali."
Tirlochen remained silent.
Mozel pinched his arm. "Why don't you speak, Sardar Sahib?"
Tirlochen did not wish to repeat his past mistakes, but he gazed at Mozel's face in the foggy, early-morning light. There was no particular change in her, except that she seemed to have lost some weight.
"Have you been sick?" Tirlochen asked her.
"No," Mozel answered, fluffing her hair.
"You look thinner."
"I'm dieting." She sat on the water pipe and tapped her clogs on the ground. "So you—that is, you're becoming a Sikh again?"
"Yes," Tirlochen retorted. [End Page 119]
"Congratulations!" Mozel took off one of her clogs and began tapping it on the pipe. "Have you fallen in love with another girl?"
"Yes," Tirlochen admitted quietly.
"Congratulations! Is she someone from this building?"
"That isn't very nice." Mozel was now twirling her shoe around her fin-ger. "One should always think of one's neighbours."
Tirlochen said nothing. Mozel stood up and, coming closer, touched his beard with her fingers.
"Did the girl ask you to grow your hair?"
Tirlochen was uncomfortable; he felt as if his beard was becoming tangled as it did while being combed.
"No," he said rigidly.
The lipstick on Mozel's mouth reminded him of stale meat. When she smiled, Tirlochen had a vision of the butcher's shop where jhatka meat was sold, and he imagined watching the butcher slice a massive artery in two with his knife.
She smiled again, then laughed. "If you shave this beard now, I swear by anyone that if you ask me to, I'll marry you."
Tirlochen wanted to say that he loved a decent, chaste, and pure-hearted virgin and was going to marry her—that compared to her, Mozel was a harlot, an ugly, stupid, inconsiderate woman. But he was not a mean or petty man. All he said was, "Mozel, I've made up my mind to marry this simple, religious girl from my village. For her, I decided to grow my hair again."
Mozel was not accustomed to prolonged thought, but she did reflect for a few moments. She turned toward Tirlochen and said, "If she's religious, how will she accept you? Doesn't she know you cut your hair once?"
"She doesn't know yet. I started growing my beard soon after you left for Devlali—merely to get even—but then I met Kirpal Kaur, and now I tie my turban in such a way that only one person in a hundred can tell that my kesh has been cut; I'll grow it back soon." Tirlochen began running his fin-gers through his long, soft hair.
Mozel raised her long, loose dress up to her thighs and scratched a fair, fleshy thigh. "That's great…These bloody mosquitoes, they're here too—just look how they bite!"
Tirlochen looked away. Mozel wet a finger with saliva and rubbed it over the spot where she had been bitten. Then she lowered her dress and stood up.
"When are you getting married?"
"Nothing is certain yet," Tirlochen replied, becoming pensive.
They were silent for the next few minutes. Then, sensing his anxiety, Mozel started laughing.
Tirlochen needed a sympathetic ear even if it were Mozel's. He told her the whole story. Mozel started laughing again. [End Page 120]
"You're an idiot of the first order! Go and get her—what is the problem?"
"Problem? Mozel, you'll never understand the intricacies of this matter, of any matter. You're a careless sort of girl—that is why you and I haven't been able to keep our relationship going, and for this I'll be sorry for the rest of my life."
Mozel struck the pipe angrily with her foot.
"Sorry be damned…You silly idiot—you have to think about how you are going to save your, what's her name, from being killed…You're sitting here, shedding tears of regret about relationships…We could never have had a permanent relationship because you're a silly man, a coward. I want someone courageous…but let's not talk about that now. Come, let's go and get that Kaur of yours."
She grasped Tirlochen's arm.
"Get her from where?" Tirlochen was confused.
"From where she lives. I know the neighborhood well—come with me."
"But wait, they have a curfew."
"Not for Mozel—come."
She dragged him by the arm to the door, which opened on to the stairs leading down. She was about to open the door when she stopped and looked at his beard.
"What is it?" Tirlochen asked.
"Your beard," Mozel said. "Well…it's OK, it's not too big…If you walk bareheaded, no one will know you're a Sikh."
"Bareheaded? I'm not going there bareheaded," Tirlochen declared in bewilderment.
"Why?" Mozel asked.
Tirlochen pushed back a lock of hair from his forehead.
"You don't understand—she has never seen me without a turban before…She thinks I have a kesh, and I don't want to reveal my secret."
Mozel stamped her feet angrily on the threshold. "You really are an idiot! You stupid ass, it's a question of her life, what's her name, that Kaur of yours with whom you're in love."
Tirlochen tried to explain, "Mozel, she's a very religious girl. If she sees me without a turban, she'll begin to hate me."
Mozel became infuriated. "Oh, your love be damned! I ask you: are all Sikhs stupid like you? It's a question of her life, and you insist on wearing your turban—perhaps that underwear too which looks like a pair of shorts."
"That I wear all the time," Tirlochen confessed.
"That's just great! But think: the problem now is that the mohalla is full of Miyan bhais who are mean and ruthless. If you go there wearing your turban, you will be slaughtered."
"I don't care," Tirlochen declared. "If I go there with you, I'll go with my turban on; I don't want to jeopardize my love." [End Page 121] [Begin Page 123]
Mozel was exasperated, and as she seethed with anger, her breasts pressed against each other. "You ass, where will your love be when you're not there—your, what's the name of that fool—when she's not there, her family is not there? You're a Sikh, by God. You're a Sikh and an idiot at that!"
"Shut up!" Tirlochen lost his temper.
Mozel burst out laughing. Then she raised her arms, which were covered with a fine layer of down, and circled them around Tirlochen's neck. Swinging a little, she said, "Darling, let's go—whatever you say. Go and put on your turban, and I'll wait for you downstairs." She turned to go.
"But wait a minute," Tirlochen said, stopping her. "Aren't you going to change your clothes?"
"This is all right," she replied, her hair bobbing vigorously. And with the khat, khat, khat of her shoes, she left. Tirlochen could hear the sound even when she was down on the first floor. He swept back his hair with his hand and went to his flat. He changed quickly, set on his head the turban, which was already furled, then locked the door of his flat and left the building.
Standing on the footpath with her sturdy legs wide apart was Mozel, smoking a cigarette. She stood there like a man. When Tirlochen ap-proached her, she blew a whiff of smoke in his face teasingly.
"You're disgusting!" he said irritatedly.
Mozel smiled. "This is not new. Other people have called me disgusting." Then she glanced at Tirlochen's turban. "You've done a good job with the turban—it does appear that you have a kesh."
The bazaar was completely deserted. A breeze blew timidly, as if fearful of the curfew. Streetlamps cast a feeble light. About this time, the trams usually started running and people began to appear in the streets; there would be quite a bit of hustle and bustle soon. But right now, it seemed as if no man had ever come this way and none was likely to.
Mozel walked ahead of him. Her clogs resounded on the flagstones. The sound shattered the stillness, and Tirlochen cursed her silently for not having changed into something else before she left. He was tempted to tell her to take off the clogs and walk barefoot. But sure that she would refuse to do his bidding, he remained silent.
Tirlochen was terrified. The stirring of a single leaf made his heart beat violently. But Mozel walked on, unafraid and exhaling cigarette smoke casually, as if she were out on a leisurely stroll.
At the crossing a policeman roared, "Ai, where are you going?!"
Tirlochzen recoiled in fear. Mozel approached the policeman boldly, shook her hair, and said, "Oh, you didn't recognize me—Mozel," adding, with a finger pointed towards a gully, "there, my sister lives there—she's sick—I'm taking the doctor to her."
While the policeman studied her face, she took out a packet of cigarettes from somewhere and offered one to him. "Here, smoke," she said. [End Page 123]
The policeman took the cigarette. Mozel removed from her mouth the cigarette she had been smoking and handed it to the policeman. "Here, light it."
The policeman drew on the cigarette. Mozel winked her left eye at him and her right eye at Tirlochen, and dragging her clogs noisily, she walked off towards the gully through which they had to pass in order to get to Kirpal's mohalla.
Tirlochen was quiet. But he could sense that Mozel was deriving some strange pleasure from her defiance of the curfew. She liked playing with danger. She had become a problem when she went with him to Juhu. Fighting the gigantic waves of the ocean, she would go far out while he watched her anxiously, afraid that she might drown. When she returned, her body would be blue and bruised, but she did not seem to care.
Mozel walked ahead of him. He looked about fearfully, half-expecting someone with a dagger to appear. She came to a halt. When he caught up to her, she made an attempt to reason with him.
"Listen, Tirloch dear—it's not wise to be so scared. If you're afraid, something is bound to happen. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
Tirlochen remained silent.
When they had crossed one gully and were at the gully beyond which Kirpal Kaur's mohalla lay, Mozel came to a standstill. Not far from them, a Marwari's shop was being systematically looted. She studied the situation for a moment. Then she said, "It's all right," and they resumed walking.
A man carrying a large tray over his head bumped into Tirlochen. It was apparent to him that Tirlochen was a Sikh. He reached inside his salwar belt swiftly, but Mozel came forward, swaying on her feet as if drunk, and pushed the man away.
"Ai, what are you doing?" she mumbled in a drunken tone. "Killing your own brother? I want to marry him." Then she turned to Tirlochen, "Karim, pick up the tray and put it back on his head."
The man withdrew his hand from his belt and gave Mozel a lewd stare. He then leaned forward and poked her in her breasts with his elbow.
"Have fun, sali, have fun," he said. He picked up his tray and was gone.
Mozel touched her breasts. "Not disgusting—everything goes—come on."
She started walking again, faster this time. Tirlochen followed, increasing his pace.
They crossed the gully and came to Kirpal Kaur's mohalla. "Which way now?" Mozel asked.
"The third gully. It's the corner building," Tirlochen answered nervously.
Mozel turned in that direction. It was very quiet. Although this was a well-populated area, not a sound could be heard, not even that of a child crying. [End Page 124]
When they came to the gully, they witnessed a riot in progress. A man ran out of one corner building and disappeared into the next building. Several moments later, three other men emerged from the same building, looked about briefly, and then dashed into the other building. Mozel stood still. She motioned Tirlochen to withdraw into the darkness. "Tirlochen dear," she whispered to him cautiously, "take off your turban."
"I can't take it off, no matter what happens," he replied quietly.
"As you wish, but don't you see what's going on out there?" She was annoyed with him.
Both of them could see what was happening. There was trouble, trouble of a very mysterious nature. When two men came out of the left building with sacks on their backs, Mozel shuddered, shaken to the core of her being. A dark-red liquid dripped from the sacks. She nervously chewed her lips, thinking about what to do next. After the two men disappeared beyond the far end of the gully, she turned to Tirlochen.
"Look, this is what you have to do. I'll run towards the corner building, you come running after me, fast, as if you're pursuing me—understand? But we must be quick."
As soon as Tirlochen indicated that he understood the plan, Mozel darted off in the direction of the corner building, her clogs echoing noisily on the flagstones. He ran after her. In a few minutes they were both inside the building, at the foot of the stairs. He was out of breath, but she seemed fine.
"Second," Tirlochen answered, anxiously wetting his lips. He followed behind her. There were large spots of dried blood on the stairs; he grew faint when he saw them.
When they arrived at the second floor, he went down the corridor and knocked gently on a door. Mozel stayed by the stairs.
He knocked again and, with his mouth close to the door, whispered urgently, "Mehnga Singh Ji, Mehnga Singh Ji."
"Who is it?" A small, thin voice was on the other side of the door.
The door opened slowly. Tirlochen beckoned to Mozel. She ran to him, and they both went in quickly. She saw a slim girl who looked terrified. Looking at her closely, Mozel saw that she had fine features and a beautiful nose, which was red from a cold. Mozel hugged her, and taking the hem of her own dress, she wiped the girl's nose with it.
"Don't be afraid. Tirlochen has come to take you away from here," she told Kirpal Kaur lovingly.
"Tell Sardar Sahib to get ready quickly," Tirlochen said, "and Mataji too, but hurry up." [End Page 125]
Suddenly, they heard shouts from the floor above—shouts of triumph and screams of fear.
A small, stifled scream escaped from Kirpal Kaur's throat. "They have got them."
"Who?" Tirlochen asked.
"Never mind that now." Mozel grabbed Kirpal Kaur's arm before she could speak. "It's just as well. Now take off your clothes."
Before Kirpal Kaur had a chance to respond, Mozel went up to her and took off her shirt in one quick move. Dazed and shaken, Kirpal Kaur hugged her naked body with her arms. Tirlochen turned his face away. Then Mozel removed her own dress and slipped it over Kirpal Kaur's head. She herself was now completely naked. She loosened Kirpal Kaur's salwar belt and pulled the salwar down.
"Go, take her now," she ordered Tirlochen, adding, "but wait." With that she proceeded to undo Kirpal Kaur's plait. "Go, get out of here quickly."
"Come," Tirlochen said hastily. He was about to leave when he stopped suddenly and looked at Mozel. The soft down on her arms stood on end due to the cold.
"Why don't you go?" Mozel asked in exasperation.
"What about her parents?" Tirlochen said haltingly.
"To hell with them! Just take her and go."
"What about you?"
Just then they heard men's voices on the stairs. The sounds were soon followed by a loud banging on the door. It seemed the men were intent on breaking it down.
Kirpal Kaur's crippled father and blind mother were in the other room, moaning.
Mozel reflected for a moment, shook her hair, and said, "I can think of only one thing now. I'll open the door—"
Kirpal Kaur suppressed a scream in her dry throat. "The door—," she gasped.
"I'll open the door," continued Mozel. "You run after me, I'll go up the stairs…You follow me…These men at the door will forget everything and come after us…"
"And what then?" Tirlochen asked uneasily.
"Your, what's her name, will use the diversion to get away, and no one will bother her in that dress."
Tirlochen explained the whole situation to Kirpal Kaur as fast as he could. Mozel screamed loudly, opened the door, and fell over the men outside. Taken by surprise, they quickly moved aside as she ran up the stairs. Tirlochen went after her.
Mozel was climbing the stairs blindly, the clogs still on her feet, and the men, who seconds ago were attempting to break down the door, turned [End Page 126] and pursued her and Tirlochen. Suddenly Mozel's foot slipped; she came stumbling down the stairs, her body hitting every stone stair and the steel banister and landing on the cement floor.
Tirlochen descended the stairs in a hurry. Bending over her, he saw that her nose was bleeding and blood was trickling from her mouth and ears. The men were now gathered around them. Everyone was watching Mozel's naked and fair body, which was covered with bruises.
"Mozel, Mozel!" Tirlochen exclaimed, shaking her arm.
Mozel opened her large, Jewish eyes, which were now red and swollen, and smiled.
Tirlochen removed his turban from his head, unfurled it, and covered Mozel's body with it. Mozel smiled again, winked at him, and said as blood bubbled from her mouth, "Go and see…if my underwear is still there or not—I mean…"
Tirlochen left her and went inside Kirpal's flat. Mozel tried to look at the men standing around her.
"He is a Miyan bhai…but a really mean and ruthless one…I call him Sikh…"
Tirlochen returned. He indicated by a look that Kirpal Kaur was safe. Mozel breathed a sigh of relief. With that, blood gushed out of her mouth.
"Oh, damn it…," she whispered and wiped her lips with her down-covered wrist. Then she addressed Tirlochen. "All right, darling, bye-bye."
Tirlochen wanted to speak, but the words were caught in his throat.
Mozel pushed Tirlochen's turban away from her body. "Take away…this religion of yours." And then her arm fell lifelessly over her robust breasts.
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.
Tahira Naqvi was raised and educated in Lahore, Pakistan, and now lives in the United States. Her short-story collections are Attar of Roses and Other Stories of Pakistan and Dying in a Strange Country. She has also translated books by such prominent Urdu writers as Ismat Chughtai, Khadija Mastur, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Hajira Masroor.