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  • Where There Is No Frontier
  • Prafulla Roy (bio)
    Translated by John W. Hood (bio)

When, after fifty-one years, Abdur got down apprehensively from the second-class compartment of the train at Azimabad station, the winter sun was starting to decline in the western sky. The sunlight had lost its shine and was the colour of faded turmeric, and the north wind gusted like a mad, unbridled horse.

His full name was Abdur Hussein. He was sixty, of medium height and slender build. There were heavy shadows under his eyes, and he had prominent jawbones. His eyesight was no longer strong, and he wore heavy-framed glasses. His whole body bore the marks of age: his skin was rough and wrinkled, and his hair and beard mostly grey.

Abdur was wearing a very crumpled pajama and a sherwani, over which he had a long-sleeved woollen pullover. Even that was not enough to stop the indomitable cold of north India, so over the pullover he had a thick woollen shawl wrapped around himself. On his feet he wore heavy sandals. He carried a large leather suitcase in his right hand and, in the other, a holdall containing his pillow, a thin mattress, a pair of blankets, a bedcover, and sundry odds and ends.

Two years after Partition, when he was nine, Abdur and his family left Azimabad for West Pakistan and settled in Karachi, where they lived in the very crowded part of the old city, a locality that became a colony for Mohajirs, the Urdu-speaking Muslim refugees from India.

He had two reasons for coming back to India after fifty-one years. One was to go to Ajmer Sharif; the other was to come to Azimabad and visit his elder sister, Fatima, who had remained behind when the family went to Pakistan after Partition. Many people had told them that they would have no security in India and that their future would be bleak, so it did not make sense for them to risk staying. However, Fatima's father-in-law, Sheik Badruddin, was a dogged character who said simply that he and his family would not be leaving his country, the land of his birth, for anywhere. Let happen what may.

Before Partition and for some time after, there had been clashes be-tween Hindus and Muslims that had culminated in arson, bloodshed, and [End Page 151] murder. No person of either community would trust anyone of the other; there prevailed only mutual hatred, malice, and suspicion. Once the terror had reached a height for the Muslims and groups of them started leaving for West Pakistan, Badruddin still did not succumb to mistrust of others, believing that not all men had lost their humanity.

It was not possible for an ordinary man like Abdur to travel from Pakistan into India at the drop of a hat. After days of running around and experiencing all sorts of harassment, he had almost given up hope when he was given a fifteen-day visa. Having left Karachi by plane, he had to travel by train from Delhi to Ajmer Sharif. From there he had come to visit Fatima in Azimabad. Returning the same way he had come, he would have to go back to Delhi and take the plane to Karachi.

Abdur had arrived in India some seven days back. When he was leaving home, people had warned him again and again that Muslims, especially Pakistanis, were unsafe in India. In the seven days since arriving in India, he had done a lot of traveling by train, bus, and taxi, but so far he had had no reason to believe that there was any threat to him at all. India was a huge country with millions of people, and no one had even looked at him twice. However, for the few days that he would be there he would have to be careful. He would not neglect the warnings of his neighbours in Karachi.

Abdur got down from the train and waited, looking all around with immense wistfulness in his eyes. He was not alone, as many other passengers had got down from the train too, and a good many...


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pp. 151-176
Launched on MUSE
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