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  • The Train Has Reached Amritsar
  • Bhisham Sahni (bio)
    Translated by Alok Bhalla (bio)

There were very few passengers in the compartment. The Sardarji, sitting opposite me, had been telling me stories about the war. He had fought on the Burmese front, and every time he talked about the white soldiers, he laughed at them derisively. There were also three Pathan traders in the compartment. One of them, dressed in green, lay stretched out on the upper berth. He was a jovial man who had joked throughout the journey with a frail-looking Babu. That Babu seemed to be from Peshawar, because at times they talked to each other in Pushto. On the berth opposite me and to my right sat an old woman whose head and shoulders were covered. She had been telling the beads of her rosary for quite some time. There may have been other passengers in the compartment, but I can't remember them anymore.

The train moved slowly, the passengers gossiped with each other, the wheat fields outside swayed gently in the breeze, and I was happy because I was going to Delhi to watch the Independence Day celebrations.

When I think back on those days, they seem to be shrouded in mist. Perhaps the past always seems hazy. And as the future opens up before us, the past becomes even more indistinct.

The decision to create Pakistan had just been announced, and people speculated about the shape of things to come. But no one could foresee the future clearly. The Sardarji, sitting opposite me, asked me repeatedly whether I thought Jinnah Sahib would continue to live in Bombay or move to Pakistan. My answer was always the same: "Why should he leave Bombay? What would be the point? He can always go to Pakistan and come back." There was speculation about which side of the border Lahore and Gurdaspur would find themselves. Nothing had changed in the way people talked to each other or joked together. A few people had abandoned their homes and run away, while those who had chosen to stay back had merely laughed at them. No one knew what to do, what steps to take. Some people rejoiced at the creation of Pakistan; others rejoiced at India's independence. In a few places there had been riots, but in other places preparations were being made for the celebration of freedom. Given the country's history, everyone felt that after Independence the riots would automatically stop. However, the golden glow of freedom was surrounded by uncertainty [End Page 1] and darkness. Only occasionally did one catch a glimpse of the future through the surrounding haze.

Soon after we crossed the Jhelum, the Pathan sitting on the upper berth untied a bundle, took out chunks of boiled meat and nan, and offered them to the passengers. In his jovial way, he invited the Babu sitting next to me to share them with him. "Here, Babu, eat. You will become strong like us. Your wife will be pleased. Eat it, dalkhor. You are weak because you only eat dal."

Everyone in the compartment laughed. The Babu smiled, shook his head, and said something in Pushto.

The other Pathan joined in the teasing and said, "Oh, zalim, if you don't want it from our hands, pick it up yourself. I swear it's only goat's meat and nothing else."

The Pathan sitting on the upper berth chuckled and added, "Oh, son of a swine, no one will know. We won't tell your wife. If you share meat with us, we'll drink dal with you."

Everyone laughed. The Babu smiled, shook his head, and said something in Pushto again.

"How can we let you sit there and stare at us while we eat? It's not courteous." The Pathans were in a good mood.

"He doesn't want to take food from you because you haven't washed your hands," the fat Sardarji said and tittered at his own joke. He was reclining on the berth, and half his belly had spilled over. "The Babu doesn't want to accept meat from your hands because you have just woken up and have...


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