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  • The Souls of Shah Alam Camp
  • Asghar Wajahat (bio)
    Translation from Hindi by Alok Bhalla


The days somehow pass in Shah Alam Camp, but the nights are real hell. The Camp is full of so many fearful sighs, shrieks, screams, shouts, yells, groans, and weeping that only Allah can save us. Sometimes the sounds are so loud that it is impossible to hear your own voice.

The souls of the dead come to the Camp at night in search of their children. They caress the heads of their orphaned sons and daughters, gaze into their forlorn eyes with their own forlorn eyes and whisper something. They embrace their children. Their blood-curdling screams from when they were burnt alive still echo through the entire earth.

At night, when everyone else in the Camp is asleep, the children are awake. They wait to see the souls of their dead mothers . . . eat a meal with their fathers.

"How are you, Siraj?" The soul of a mother asks her son as she ruffles his hair.

"How are you, Ammi?"

The soul of his mother seemed to be happy. She replied, "Siraj . . . I am . . . now a soul . . . No one can set me on fire again."

"Ammi . . . can I be like you?"


After midnight, the bewildered and lost soul of a woman came to the Camp in search of her son. She had not found him either in heaven or in the Camp. Her heart was pounding with fear. The souls of other women helped her look for him. They searched through the entire Camp . . . They followed her to the poor neighborhood where the family had lived . . . The houses were still burning. Because they were souls and could not burn, they passed through the flames and entered the ruined homes . . . looked in every nook and corner for the child. Finally, the souls went to meet the arsonists and the rioters. The men were busy cleaning their guns, polishing their swords, and preparing petrol bombs for the next day. [End Page 153]

When the child's mother inquired about her son, they burst into laughter and said, "Hey, are you crazy? Do you think we count when we set ten or twenty people on fire at the same time or give a damn about one child? Go look for him on some heap of ash."

The mother screamed and said, "No, no! I have looked everywhere, in every place, and have not found him."

One of the arsonists said, "Maybe she is the mother of the boy we left impaled on a trishul."


The souls of the dead visit Shah Alam Camp after midnight. They bring food, water, and medicines for their children from heaven. That is why no child is hungry, naked, or sick in the Shah Alam Camp. That is also why the fame of the Shah Alam Camp has spread far and wide.

When an important politician went to inspect Shah Alam Camp, he exclaimed with joy, "This is a wonderful place. We should send all the Muslim children of the country here!"


The souls of the dead visit Shah Alam Camp after midnight. They stay with their children from midnight till sunrise. They gaze at them; console them; ponder their future; talk to them.

"Siraj, you should now go back home," the soul of Siraj's mother said.

"Home?" Siraj asked. Alarmed, he saw the shadow of death pass over his face.

"Yes, how long will you stay here? I'll be with you every night."

"No. I'll not go back home . . . No. . . Never, ever. . . Never." Smoke, fire, screams, slogans! "Amma, I'll stay with you and Abbu."

"Sukku, how can you stay with us…"

"Why, Bhaijan and Appa live with you."

"They were also burnt to death with us."

"Then . . . then I shall . . . I shall return home."


The soul of a small child visits Shah Alam Camp every night . . . He wanders through the Camp like a glowworm . . . flies here and there . . . jumps from one place to the next . . . mischievously. . . doesn't stutter. . . speaks clearly. . . hides in the folds of his mother's clothes . . . doesn't let go of his father's finger.

Unlike the other...


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pp. 153-157
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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