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  • Dera Baba Nanak
  • Joginder Paul (bio)
    Translation from Urdu by Naghma Zafir

When an incident breaks through the confines of the body and takes hold of the soul, it remains with it for a lifetime. For this very reason for nearly half a century now, this dream creeps into my sleep time and again: right in front, a herd of cows; behind them grubby roly-poly, radiant children; and after them the aged, their beards snow white, aflutter. . . like birds. And at the very end . . . I.

But wouldn't it be better if I narrated the whole incident?

At the time of Partition, riots had flared up throughout the country. Whoever could manage a safe escape was considered a brave heart. Hordes of people moved from this side to that and from there to here. Finally we too arrived at Dera Baba Nanak from Sialkot. When we boarded the train, we had absolutely no idea where we were heading. Do the dead and the dumbstruck ever know which frontiers to cross and which to reach? But wherever the train stopped, we the dead would begin to breathe in fear of having reached the other world, where in seconds "they" would barge in shouting slogans and shred our souls to bits, along with our bodies.

But finally we did get across the border. . . here at Dera Baba Nanak . . . On arriving, what did we find? That long before we had reached here, we lay scattered in all four directions, chopped to pieces: a limb here, another there; there a lump of heart, a bunched woman's breast; here a shriveled penis, so shriveled that one wondered whether it belonged to a Hindu or to a Muslim.

Along with us had come a raving, mad . . . lunatic—a nameless crazy fellow. No one had any information about him. He had perhaps run away from someplace in Pakistan and had landed in our refugee camp.

This crazy fellow would start screaming, "Don't kill me! I am a Hindu, look!" He would lift up his shirt and start loosening his pyjama strings. "Look! Look!" At other times, he shouted, "Don't kill me! I am a Muslim, look . . . look!" Suddenly he spotted a penis lying on the ground. His hands groped anxiously in his pyjama, and finding nothing there, he picked up the severed organ.

With eyes dilated, he stared hard at the organ in his hand, apparently wondering if it belonged to him or someone else.

When there is every possible reason to cry, then subconsciously everyone tries to find an opportunity to laugh. Many of us gathered around him.

"No. . . it actually is mine." The madman assured himself. "How can it be yours, you madcap?! On this side, they had chopped off only the Muslims'". [End Page 129]

"Really. . . ?" He touched the organ once more. "Well . . ." It occurred to him that he was in fact a Muslim. Then something strange crossed his mind. Suddenly, he grasped his throat with both hands and began wringing it with such force that his eyes bulged . . . "Mussalle, I won't leave you alive! Mussalle, you killed my ageing parents before my own eyes. You raped my sister and . . . and . . ." If others had not rushed in and freed him from his own hold, he would have throttled himself!

Just then a rumor went rife in the crowd that a caravan of Muslim refugees was about to pass this way on its trip across the borders. Immediately there was a mad rush back to the camps to ready the swords and spears for plunder and looting. Everyone wanted to secure a position of advantage for himself.

Behind me, I heard a pandita's voice say in utter disgust, "Our qaum, our race can never progress. Is this auspicious occasion meant to be used to amass wealth or to exterminate the mlechcha, the . . . mussalle?"

"Oye pandita, why worry when we are here to perform that holy task?" someone in the crowd assured him.

But at that very moment, an announcement came from the loudspeaker of the refugee camp. "Pay attention, brothers. A small caravan of Muslim refugees is crossing the frontier here, and a large caravan of Hindus and Sikhs...


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pp. 129-131
Launched on MUSE
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