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  • The City of Sorrow
  • Intizar Husain
    Translated by Alok Bhall (bio) and Vishwamitter Adil (bio)

The First Man declared, “I can tell you nothing about that. I am dead.” Startled, the Third Man turned and looked at him in surprise and fear. The Second Man, however, didn’t react at all. In a disinterested voice, he asked, “How did you die?”

The First Man replied dispassionately, “She was a dark girl with long hair that reached down to her waist. She wore a red bindi. A dark young man stood beside her. I asked him, ‘Is she related to you?’ ‘She is my sister,’ he replied. I commanded, ‘Strip her naked.’ When the girl heard that, she turned pale and began to tremble like leaves of a willow tree. The young man pleaded with me, ‘Please don’t ask me to do that.’ I was insistent. I pulled my sword out of its scabbard and yelled, ‘Strip her naked!’ He shuddered when he saw the unsheathed sword in my hand. Slowly, with shaking hands, he reached for his sister’s saree. She screamed and covered her face. Before my very eyes, his hands—“

“Before your eyes? Really?!” the Third Man exclaimed.

The Second Man was still unmoved. Without a tremor in his voice, he asked, “Was it then that you died?”

“No, I continued to live,” the First Man replied blandly.

“Continued to live? Really?!”

“Yes, that’s what I said. I saw all that and continued to live. I lived to see that young man order someone else to do the same thing. He caught a woman in a burqa as she was running away in fear. The old man who was with her pleaded, ‘O young man, have pity on us. Do not ruin us.’ The young man’s eyes burned red with rage as he shouted, ‘Is she related to you?’ The old man begged, ‘Son, she is my wife.’ Grinding his teeth, the young man ordered, ‘Strip her.’ Pale with fear, the old man merely stared at the young man. Intoxicated with rage, the young man grabbed the old man by the neck and screamed, ‘Strip her!’ When he said that, I—“

“Died?” the Third Man asked eagerly.



“Yes. I heard and saw all that and still remained alive. Afraid that the young man might recognise me, I covered my face and ran away. But I was, finally, trapped by a crowd. Just as I was about to throw away my sword, a man forced his way through and stood before me. He looked into my eyes and said, ‘Don’t lay down your sword. That’s against the laws of valour.’ I hesitated. He continued to stare at me. Utterly defeated, I lowered my eyes [End Page 49] and said, ‘There is no other solution. I must live.’ The moment I said that, his eyes began to smoulder with rage. He spat on my face and turned away. Suddenly, a sword flashed above his head. He spun around and fell. His body was drenched in blood. I washed my face in his hot blood and—”

“Died,” the Third Man said, anxious to complete the sentence once again.

“No. I still lived. I put my sword away and continued to live. Suddenly, that young man reappeared out of nowhere. He stopped when he saw me. Glaring at me, he snarled, ‘Aren’t you the same man?’ After some hesitation, I admitted, ‘Yes, I am.’ The minute I said that, he turned around and disappeared into the crowd. Puzzled, I remained standing there. A few moments later, he came back, dragging a young girl with him. He pushed her in front of me. When I finally recognised her grime- and dust-covered face, veiled by her wild hair, I was stunned. She looked at me and wept bitterly. I was utterly shattered. The young man asked venomously, ‘Is she related to you?’ I hesitated before replying, ‘She is my daughter.’ With a firm voice, he ordered, ‘Strip her.’ That innocent and helpless girl began to tremble. I fainted and—”

“Died!” the Third Man added with anxiety in his voice.

“No.” The First Man paused. After...


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pp. 49-58
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