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  • The Prisoner(s)
  • Intizar Husain
    Translated by C. M. Naim (bio)

Now you tell me what happened here.”

“Here? What can I tell you?”

The fact was Anwar was caught off guard. If not consciously, certainly subconsciously, he had convinced himself that whatever had happened, had happened only over there. Consequently, all this time he had been showering Javed with questions. Now, with Javed wanting to know what had happened here at home, he was caught unprepared.

“So, what did happen here?” Javed persisted.

“Here?” Anwar had to think for a moment. “Nothing happened here.”


“Really. Nothing at all. Compared to what you saw over there, nothing whatsoever happened here.”

“I see. Over there, we thought a whole lot was going on over here too!”

“No, my friend, nothing at all.” Anwar sounded slightly crestfallen.

“But the war was here too, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Anwar replied, “the war was also here.”

Their conversation dragged to a halt. The passion that Anwar had shown earlier, when asking questions, was gone. Neither did Javed show any further curiosity, as if he had just asked in passing about the matter.

After a while, Anwar continued on his own. “Actually, nothing happened here from the outside. Whatever occurred had its origins within.”

“Nothing ever happens from outside,” Javed remarked quietly. “It always happens from within.”

“That’s not true,” Anwar retorted. “Certainly over there most of it was done from outside. Here, though, more was done from within. That’s why very little happened here during the war, but much more occurred afterward.”



“Like what?”

“Strikes, lockouts, demonstrations, student unrest, riots, arrests . . . ”

Javed had picked up an illustrated magazine from the table and was flipping the pages. He had seen it lying on the table all day long but had neither found a moment of leisure to look through it nor felt a strong urge to do so. Right now, however, it had drawn his attention. He seemed to find its pictures fascinating. [End Page 73]

“There was nearly a civil war at the university,” Anwar continued. “Barricades were put up. Sten guns were brought in. There was an exchange of fire all day long.”

“This is quite good,” Javed remarked with a smile.

“What is?”

“This cartoon.” Javed passed the magazine to Anwar.

Anwar glanced at the cartoon, not quite seeing it. “Yeah, it’s all right,” he said half-heartedly, then fell silent.

“Why don’t we go out for a while?” Javed suggested.

“Yes, let’s.”

“You know, if we stayed at home, this would just go on. They’ll just keep coming, these well-wishers. The same questions, the same talk. This is another prison—let’s leave.” He quickly walked to the door that led to the interior and said loudly, “I’m going out with Anwar for a while.”

The two walked out of the room and left the house.

“Over there, did you hear about the riots in Sind?” It had suddenly occurred to Anwar that the riots had been a tragic and terrible event and that Javed should be informed about it.

“Yes, we heard the news on the radio.”

“You couldn’t have learnt much from radio bulletins. Some real horrible things happened then. Quite a few people got killed. Many more made homeless. You saw the Liaquat Market before you went away—remember how big it was? Well, the whole complex was burnt down. No one was spared—“

Javed suddenly stopped, staring at something. “Hey, what are those checker marks on her belly?”

Anwar left his sentence unfinished and turned to see what Javed was staring at. It was a huge poster outside a movie house, showing a half-nude woman in a reclining pose. Squares had been drawn across her plump thighs and undulating belly. Anwar used to pass that way daily, always ogling the picture, but today it displeased him very much.

“Yech—never mind,” Javed said, and moved on.

“Want some ice cream?” Anwar asked, stopping in front of a booth.

“All right.”

As they were eating the ice cream, Javed’s eyes pursued a girl in flappers and oversized sunglasses till she disappeared into a store...


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pp. 73-79
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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