C H A P T E R   O N E  (second half)

        But Bi Amma no longer had her former energy. She supervised everybody just as before, she scolded everybody, but her voice was no longer so lively. She had withered like a raisin; it was as if she was slowly collapsing inwards. "Enough; before I turn into an invalid I pray that God will call me away."
        "Ai, Bi Amma, what are you saying! You'll live to see your grandson's wedding day."
        "Ai Auntie Sharifan! I'm so dried up and thin that my stomach is sticking to my back. What do you think -- that I'll live to carry God's bags for him on Doomsday?"
        Bi Amma had undoubtedly lived a long time. She always told how in her childhood only one torch, in the Small Bazaar, was lighted at night. Everywhere else, in the streets, in the lanes, was darkness. Before her very eyes the torch vanished, and lanterns appeared in the streets and lanes; and now in their places poles were standing, and here and there on the streets electric light could be seen.
        Electricity had now begun to be installed in the mosque as well, but Abba Jan had thrown a spanner into the works. "This is 'innovation.'" And equipping himself with a cudgel, he stood on guard in the doorway of the mosque. The electricians came, received a reprimand, and went away. Hakim Bande Ali and Musayyab Husain tried very hard to convince him, but he gave only one answer: "This is 'innovation.'"
        On the third day of his guard-duty, Bi Amma fell ill; her breathing became fast and shallow. Abba Jan, giving up the guard-duty, hurried home; but Bi Amma did not wait for his arrival.
        The next day when Abba Jan went to the mosque for the dawn prayer, he saw that the electricity had already been installed. When he saw this he came right back, and for the first time in his life offered the dawn prayer at home. From then on he never entered the mosque, and never offered his prayers except at home. Though for many days he did go, morning and evening, to Bi Amma's grave, and recited verses from the Quran there.
        How hard Abba Jan tried to halt the spreading 'innovations' in Rupnagar! During Muharram, when big drums began to sound, he seized them and ripped out the drumheads. "Playing drums is forbidden by the Shariat. I won't permit them to be played in any majlis or procession!"
        "But in Lucknow, they play drums in every procession!"
        "Let them play. The Lucknow people have no power to change the Shariat!"
        That year drums were in fact not played in any majlis or procession, but by the next year, Abba Jan's power had been broken. Every procession was accompanied by drums except the one that left from the Khirkivala Imambarah, for that was Abba Jan's family imambarah and he had power over it. And also because that procession, which was in honor of Hazrat Hur, was recognized as the quietest of Rupnagar's Muharram processions. No small drums, no big drums, no singing of elegies -- for Abba Jan declared elegy-singing too to be contrary to religious law. Abba Jan had taken a firm stand against elegy-singing, but the results were the same as in the case of his other firm stands.
        Abba Jan's grip on Rupnagar was loosening. Bi Amma had been called home by God, and electricity had come to the town. Abba Jan couldn't prevent electricity from being installed in the mosque, just as he couldn't prevent drums from finding a place in the Muharram processions. His firm stand against electricity was the last of his firm stands against the 'innovations' of the time. After that, he retired to his room. He offered his prayers in his house, he passed the ten days of Muharram in his house. Then one day, sitting on his prayer-carpet, he inquired through istikharah,/2/ and found favorable prospects for a journey. The indications were there; preparations for the journey began to be made.
        "Ammi Jan, are we going?" Since Bi Amma's passing, he now asked Ammi everything.
        "Yes, son," Ammi said sadly. She fell silent, then began to murmur to herself, "What's left for us here any longer? The lands have already passed out of our hands. We still have a broken-down old house, but can we eat it when we're hungry?"
        "Ammi! Are we going to Vyaspur?"
        "Yes, son, we're going to Vyaspur. Your uncles and everyone, they're all in Vyaspur. Bi Amma refused to budge, otherwise we'd already have left."
        "Ammi, is Vyaspur very far?"
        "Yes, it's far enough. From here we'll go to Bulandshahr in a lorry. From there we'll get on a train."
        A horse-cart was standing outside. In his imagination he saw a lorry and a train, those unknown vehicles in which he was to travel for the first time in his life. He was as happy as Ammi was sad. The desire to travel and see new towns had suddenly awakened in him. At some point Sabirah appeared and stood at a distance, watching the bedrolls being strapped up and the trunks being locked. She stood staring, then suddenly buried her head in Khalah Jan's skirts and began to sob. Khalah Jan stroked her head and said, "What's there to cry about? They'll soon be coming back." As she said this, tears came to her own eyes as well. Ammi, locking a trunk, said, "Sabirah!" She paused, then said, "Sweetheart, when I get there I'll send for you soon. I'll send for you and keep you there with me." Abba Jan, strapping up a bedroll, cast a single glance at the weeping Sabirah, and then immersed himself in his work.
        He stood watching. All his happiness had vanished. Gathering his courage, he slowly approached her. "Sabbo."
        Sabirah turned her wet face (from crying so hard her whole face was soaked in tears) and gave him one look, then instantly hid her face again in Khalah Jan's skirts and began sobbing even more passionately than before --

        "Zakir, my son! What's going on?" Abba Jan again came into his room.
        "It's nothing." He spoke as though he'd been caught in a theft. And at once he opened a book and placed it before him, as if to suggest that he was really studying.
        "Something's happened. There's so much noise, and I think I heard a gun fired. There was a kind of sound."
        Zakir rose and opened the window, and looked out at the rally-ground. Some people had stood up and were shouting slogans. Some young men who looked like volunteers were trying to make some of the standing people sit down, and to push some others out of the gathering. Among the crowd two groups had begun to form. Then there was a loud bang. He disgustedly closed the window; turning back, he informed Abba Jan, "It wasn't shooting, they're setting off firecrackers."
        "Why, what are they celebrating?"
        "Just to create confusion in the rally."
        "What's come over everybody?"
        "Abba Jan, don't worry. This is the usual thing in rallies nowadays. Go to sleep now."
        "Son, you know that when my sleep is once driven away, it hardly ever comes back again." He fell silent, then muttered, "What's come over everybody?" Muttering, he left the room.
        Zakir rose and again opened the window slightly and took a look outside. The standing people had sat down, but there was still a great deal of noise. He closed the window, put out the light, and went and lay down on the bed.
        "What's come over everybody?" Abba Jan's question echoed in his mind. In fact, what had come over people, he wondered earnestly. In houses, in offices, in restaurants, in streets and bazaars -- everywhere the same situation. The discussion was first ideological, then personal, then insulting, then abusive, and then it came to blows. Passersby stood bewildered, stared at the combatants with fright, then asked each other, "What's happening? What's going to happen?" In everyone's eyes a single terror, as if something was indeed about to happen. Then they went their several ways, and forgot that anything had happened at all. As though nothing had happened, as though nothing would happen. So much anxiety, and so much indifference! Suddenly some rumor would spread, the way a hurricane overpowers people. On people's faces, waves of fear and panic. Again that anxious question, "What's going to happen?" Then going their several ways, and forgetting. As though nothing had happened, as though nothing would happen. But is something indeed going to happen? What's going to happen? When he could see nothing ahead of him, he set off backwards. Again the same long journey through the thicket of memories. When I was in Rupnagar -- the remote, mythic era of my life. And when I came to Vyaspur -- Vyaspur --

        "Is that a dead body burning?"
        "Sure, this is a burning-ground. And listen, that dead body there, it's alive!"
        "Go on, you silly girl, you're a liar!"
        "I swear by Ram! It's alive. It rose and stood up. Oh Ram! Oh Ma, I nearly died!"
        "All right, and then?"
        "Then it lay down, and I got up and ran off!"
        He wasn't ready to have faith in any such thing that Phullo told him. He wasn't at all a child any more! After Bi Amma's passing, and the departure from Rupnagar, it was as though he had all at once grown up, as though his childhood had been left behind in Rupnagar. So many things had been left behind in Rupnagar! The dirt tracks that led who knew where, that only seemed to get lost in the trees. The swaying, jolting horse-carts, the drowsing, plodding bullock-carts, some of which were drawn by strong bullocks with jingling bells on their yokes, bells that filled the dust-covered road with a sweet sound. The Black Temple, the big monkey-filled pipal tree that stood in the Black Temple grounds, the desolate and sad wall of Karbala, the Fort on the hillock, the Ravan Wood, the mysterious banyan tree that stood in the midst of the Ravan Wood -- a whole mythic era had stayed behind with Rupnagar. Here, although the burning-ground was nearby and dense pipal trees stood in the burning-ground, he never felt a mysterious atmosphere around any of the trees, even though Phullo had seen so much there.
        "I tell you, a witch grabbed me!"
        "Oh go on, don't talk nonsense."
        "I swear by Ram! It was right at noon. That tree you can see over there -- under it was a cup, in the cup a figure made of lime, and red vermilion powder, and a little sugar. And under the banyan, a birbani with fangs sticking out of her mouth snapped at me just the way a kite would snap!"
        "Don't babble, go and do your work."
        In Vyaspur he was seeing something quite different. Rubber-tired horse-carts ran along the smooth roads, with an occasional buggy, an occasional motor-car, among them. And beyond those roads, beyond the bazaars and neighborhoods, that dark, smooth, oiled-looking coal-tar road, on which the lorries ran all day. These vehicles made strange noises. Where were the sounds that had lived in the air of Rupnagar? Now his ear was becoming familiar with new sounds. The bells of the buggies and horse-carts, the horns of the lorries, the horns of the motor-cars, and, strangest of all, the train whistle, which had brought him far away from Rupnagar and now was taking him beyond Vyaspur. Toward unknown, unseen cities. When he heard the train whistle in the distance, he raced up to the roof of the house; from there the train tracks on the far side of the burning-ground were clearly visible. The train came along, blowing its whistle from afar and belching out smoke. First it ran along in the shade of the trees, so only its smoke could be seen in the air, then suddenly from the shelter of the trees the coal-black rushing engine came into view, spitting into the face of the sky clouds of smoke even blacker than itself, and behind it countless cars full of travelers. How swiftly these cars went on passing -- in the space of a breath they were lost to sight. He was amazed. Then when he remembered Abba Jan's telling him that this train was coming from Moradabad, and from Vyaspur was going on to Delhi, he was even more amazed.
        Since coming here he had stayed in Khan Bahadur Uncle's house, which was somewhat outside the city, set among fields and gardens, so that if you stood on its roof then right in front of you was the burning-ground, beyond the burning-ground the railroad tracks, beyond the railroad tracks rows of trees on the horizon. Then when he went to the bazaar, he marveled at every shop. Compared to Rupnagar's Small Bazaar, how big the Khirki Bazaar was! In one shop, nothing but bicycles and more bicycles. How could he ever before have seen so many bicycles! Beyond the shops for bicycles, shoes, and cloth was that huge market with tall heaps of wheat and cotton here and there, and near them a whole procession of wild pigeons. There were shops with no merchandise in them, only a clean white sheet spread on the floor, on the sheet a long bolster, and seated against the bolster a trader, with a telephone before him. Suddenly there would be a commotion, and every trader, every dealer would swiftly rotate the crank and then talk very loudly into the phone. He was astonished. Gradually he learned that the commotion happened when the price of some commodity changed.

        So much noise in the bazaar, and all around the house so much silence. Only when the train came was the silence broken. After the train passed, silence again, and the railroad tracks stretching far away -- which he, standing on the roof, stared at with wonder for a long time. His wonders too had traveled a long way, and had changed so much.
        Khan Bahadur Uncle had built this house with the thought of retiring to live here on his pension. After spending his life in Raisina, he couldn't tolerate the lanes of Vyaspur city itself. But even before it was time for his pension, he departed this world. This event had taken place long before Zakir came to Vyaspur. He had never seen Khan Bahadur Uncle, but after coming to Vyaspur he had seen the shadow of his greatness hovering over the whole family.
        "Then my brother the late Khan Bahadur devised a trick: he became a rebel, and mingled with the rebels. He became such an excellent rebel that he was made chairman of his committee. But the rebels too had secret agents. One agent found him out. In the presence of the whole committee, he let the cat out of the bag: `This man is an informer for the English!' Then at once the rebels whipped out pistols and aimed them at my brother." Chacha Jan, in the midst of speaking, paused. Ache Bhai, Najib Bhai, Sahib Miyan, all were listening very intently.
        "Then what happened?"
        "Oh, my late brother was never a man to lose his head in a tight spot! He made such a speech that the rebels' pistols turned toward the very rebel who had declared him an English agent." Chacha Jan paused, then spoke again. "These rebels were so dangerous that if my brother the late Khan Bahadur hadn't captured them, they would have brought the English to the same pass they were in during '57! They were terrorists. They created turmoil all over India."
        In the family when a wedding took place and all the family members got together, Chacha Jan started telling stories like this about Khan Bahadur Uncle, and sons and nephews gathered round and listened as though they were hearing legends about some mythic hero.
        "My brother the late Khan Bahadur had a silver leg."
        "A silver leg?" Najib Bhai asked in astonishment.
        "Yes indeed! It happened like this: while he was pursuing Sultanah the Brigand, he leaped from a moving train. He broke the bone in his leg. Then in Raisina the Viceroy's surgeon treated him, and removed his whole leg and attached a silver leg."
        They were all absorbed in wonder. Then Najib Bhai asked, "Then it was Uncle who captured Sultanah the Brigand?"
        "Who else? Young Sahib, or even Young Sahib's venerable father, could never have managed to catch him. Only my brother the Khan Bahadur had the courage to capture him! And who captured the Silk Handkerchief band?"
        "The Silk Handkerchief band? Who were they?"
        "Who were the Silk Handkerchief band?" Chacha Jan laughed: "My sons, what do you know about anything? The Silk Handkerchief band had made a complete plan for overthrowing English rule. In the nick of time my brother the late Khan Bahadur figured out their scheme, and snatched the silk handkerchief with their plans written on it." He paused, then said, "My brother the late Khan Bahadur did great favors for the English. That's why when he died, the Viceroy said, 'Khan Bahadur's death has broken my back.'"
        "Brother, ask this nephew of yours whether he too plans to make something of himself like Uncle, or whether he'll live an idle life."
        "Zakir, my son! You hear what your mother is asking -- give her an answer. One thing I'll tell you for sure: my brother the Khan Bahadur didn't become the Khan Bahadur easily. How hard he worked! Can anyone today study as painstakingly as he studied? I'll tell you what happened one time, his lantern ran out of oil. When he looked in the oil bottle, that was empty too. Do you know what he did? He caught fireflies and tied them in the end of Bi Amma's dupattah, and by their light he studied until it was time for the morning prayer. Will anyone today believe this? But then, he received the fruit of his labor. When the results of the Matriculation exam were announced, he came in first for the whole of the United Provinces."

        He too was studying hard. The Matriculation exam was upon him. Night after night he sat up studying with a lantern lit, and day after day he settled himself under a mango tree in the school grounds. The school was closed to prepare for the exam. The classrooms were locked up, the verandahs empty, the playing fields silent. What a favorable atmosphere it was for studying! In the shade of the school's single mango tree, he and Surendar both studied with concentration. When they grew tired, they would stare at the coal-tar road before them: sometimes a lorry passed by, and then again the road would be empty.
        "Do you know where this lorry is going?" Surendar asked him.
        "Where is it going?"
        "Meerut? This lorry is going to Meerut? Have you seen Meerut? What is Meerut like?" In a single breath he asked so many questions.
        He saw Meerut first through Surendar's eyes. Now he was seeing it through his own. After their classes at the College were over, he and Surendar both used to set off toward the Company Gardens. The Cantonment, the world of the English, long silent oiled-looking streets between two rows of dense trees, going on and on until they were lost in the distance. Sometimes a white Englishman in white canvas shoes and white shirt and shorts, carrying a tennis racket, would hurry past them, quite close, and turn in at the Company Gardens gate. Sometimes a golden-haired, white-faced Memsahib passed by them, and they both watched her naked white calves until she vanished from sight. Then a dark-skinned maidservant would come by, with a child the color of milk seated in a carriage that she slowly pushed along.
        "From here" -- Surendar stopped during their walk -- "the movement of '57 started."
        "From here?" He looked at the place with amazement, and wondered what was special about it. As he kept on looking at it, and thinking about it, the awesomeness of the place gradually made itself felt.
        "Surendar!" As they walked on, he suddenly asked, "How will Hitler get to London? There's an ocean in between."
        "My friend, Hitler has a powder that you sprinkle on the ocean, and then it settles down and becomes like stone."
        Then back to the College where there was a crowd, there was turmoil, if Surendar hadn't been there he would have been lost in the crush of boys. But then the whole crowd of boys was lost, along with Surendar. Passing along the verandah, one boy shouted a slogan: "Quit India!" The boys going to classes, the boys coming from classes, paused. Then in an instant a storm of slogans arose: "Quit India!" "Long live the revolution!" "Victory to Mahatma Gandhi!" Then the classroom windows began to break. Then someone shouted, "They're coming!" Pell-mell flight, the emptying verandah, silence, in the silence the distant sound of galloping horses. The mounted police were coming to the College.
        The verandahs, the rooms, the lawns stayed silent for weeks, for months. Here and there guards with truncheons, sometimes dozing, sometimes standing alertly at attention. A handful of Muslim boys, five or six in one class and two or three in another. But Professor Mukherji still gave his lectures just as loudly, and with just as much enthusiasm, as if nothing had happened.

        As the exams drew near, the boys came back, but the liveliness and activity didn't. Then the vacation came. Back in Vyaspur again. How the weather changed! It gradually changed so much that hot western winds began to blow. By noon the doors of the houses were closed, the woven grass screens shielding the verandahs were drenched again and again with water. But the small lanes never saw the sun. In those lanes were so many houses that had no need for woven grass screens. In the doorways women could be seen, spinning and talking.
        "Did you see?" Surendar asked, emerging in a great hurry from Pattharvali Lane.
        "No, yar, I didn't see anybody."
        "She was standing on the balcony, didn't you see?"
        "No, who was standing?"
        "Rimjhim, who else?"
        "Yes, I call her Rimjhim. Wait till you see her, you bastard, you'll die!"
        They took one turn along the lane, then another turn, then a third turn, but she wasn't to be seen. "She's disappeared."
        Surendar had not given up hope. Seeing a monkey-man, he suddenly grinned. "Listen, yar, we'll go along with him."
        The monkey-man, in the full heat of the afternoon, went playing his hourglass-shaped drum from one lane to a second, from the second lane to a third. Finally in Pattharvali Lane he began his show. When the female monkey didn't behave, the male monkey beat her with a stick, until she grew angry and went home to her mother's house.
Surendar's gaze was fixed on the balcony. He believed she'd surely come to see the monkeys perform.
        "Come on, you bastard, look!"
        "On the balcony, she's standing there."
        He looked. A darkish complexion, a very slender, very soft body.
        "Well if it isn't a little Muslim brat!" She instantly drew back into the room, and vanished.
        She didn't appear again. So what. Surendar had taught him how to look at a girl.

        Then he went off to Rupnagar. He had to go to Rupnagar too during that vacation, to see Khalah Jan. After so many years he saw Rupnagar again. The potholed road still layered with dust, with heaps of stone-chips still lying here and there on either side, horse-carts still bouncing up and down, ox-carts still crawling along the unpaved tracks. All this was just the same. With a contented wonder he looked at it all. But not everything was just the same. All his playmates had grown so tall. Their complexions had darkened and ripened, their voices had deepened. Habib had passed the Matriculation exam and gone off to Aligarh, and now had come back for the vacation, looking quite fashionable. His trousers were of a new cut. While once his head used to be shaved, then rubbed with a mango-stone,/3/ now he had long English-style hair. Auntie Sharifan had sent Bundu too to Aligarh, to learn locksmithing.
        And Sabirah! How tall Sabirah had grown, and how her bosom had swelled out, so that she always kept it covered with her dupattah. Nevertheless, two round swellings made themselves apparent. Now she didn't even meet his eyes, as though he was a stranger.
        He wandered through lane after lane, bazaar after bazaar. He was like a thirsty man whose thirst was being assuaged, after so long, by these familiar sights. How impatiently he looked at things, impatiently and desirously -- as though he wanted to suck everything in through his eyes. Things were sometimes the same as before, sometimes changed. How numerous the electric poles had become. Except for the Small Bazaar, their wires now spread everywhere. The monkeys, avoiding the wires, were leaping from roof to roof. Rupnagar's monkeys had learned to live in the age of electricity.
        From the Black Temple to Karbala, from Karbala to the Fort, from the Fort to the Ravan Wood, all was as before. For a long time he wandered there, he bathed himself in the scene, but he was not entirely satisfied. The mysteriousness that used to permeate everything seemed to have departed. Calling to mind his former fears, he looked from afar at the Black Temple, at its big pipal tree, and at the stout monkey sitting on the topmost branch, but no amazement arose in his eyes, no amazement and no fear. Everything was as before, but perhaps he had changed, or perhaps his former relationship with it all had changed -- his relationship with the Black Temple, with the big pipal tree, with the pipal's monkeys, with the silent enclosure of Karbala, with the Ravan Wood, with the banyan tree standing in the midst of it, perhaps with Sabirah too.
        Unsatisfied, restless, tired, he went back to the house. The heat was intense. He took up a towel; crossing the courtyard that simmered in the afternoon sun, he went toward the bathing-room. The bathing-room was still the same as before, and couldn't be fastened from either inside or outside. People knew by intuition whether anyone was in it or not. But now perhaps he had lost his intuition, for he opened the panels of the bathing-room door -- and then, before they were fully open, closed them. Lightning had struck in his eyes.
        For a long time he was lost in that lightning-like moment. He was astonished to think that his cousin Tahirah was a full-grown woman. That day he couldn't even meet her eyes. The next day, avoiding her eyes, he inspected her from head to foot. That white, rounded body rose up in his imagination. With all its details. His cheeks reddened with shame. How many reproaches he heaped on himself in his heart! But Tahirah hadn't the slightest idea of it. She talked freely with him, and asked him every detail about the College.
        "Zakir, does your College library have Rashid ul-Khairi's Evening of Life?"
        "Yes, it does."
        "Oh my God! Zakir, when you next come you absolutely must bring Evening of Life!"
        Seeing that the talk had turned to novels, Sabirah too hesitantly approached, and squeezed in next to Tahirah. How passionately she was listening to the talk of novels! From the kitchen Khalah Jan's voice came, "Oh Tahirah, check on the food, don't let it burn. I'm kneading the flour."
        When Tahirah went, Sabirah was left silent and ill at ease, but she wasn't even able to get up and go away. He too sat awkwardly, embarrassed.
        Gradually he gathered his courage: "Sabirah, have you read Paradise on Earth?"
        "No, is it a good novel?"
        He at once began to tell her the plot of Paradise on Earth. He told her the whole story.
        "Zakir, will you bring Paradise on Earth for me?"
        "Yes, I'll bring it when I come."
        "When will you come next?"
        "During the Christmas vacation."
        He gradually told her the plots of several of Sharar's other novels as well. Including those details that he was hesitant in mentioning, and she was shy about listening to, for Sabirah had now come close to him. She was somewhat bored now with the usual household tasks. While Khalah Jan and Tahirah did the housework, she sat listening to him and talking with him. Sometimes loud conversations, sometimes very soft ones. Sometimes so soft that the words became whispers, and Sabirah's face reddened. And when, on the pretext of admiring her earrings, he touched the lobe of her ear, suddenly his breath grew warm and began to come faster. How soft and warm that ear-lobe was, so that a soft warm wave started in his fingertips and surged throughout his body.

        The vacation was over so quickly. Rupnagar had caught hold of him, but after all he had to go back to the College, and before that he had to go and at least show his face to Ammi Jan at Vyaspur.
        "Well, man, so you're back? You said you'd spend a week there, and now you've stayed such a time!"
        In response to Surendar's remark he at first made some evasive reply, but how long could he keep the secret hidden?
        "What did you do then?"
        "What did I do? What could I have done? Nothing."
        "It's the truth, beyond that nothing more happened."
        "You're really an oaf!" Surendar reproached him, and then fell silent.
        Then he spoke as if to himself: "Yar, her hands were very soft."
        Surendar's disgust vanished. "Really?"
        "Yes." He fell silent, immersed in thought, then very slowly said, "And her lips too."
        "Lips?" Surendar's eyes opened wide with astonishment.
        Then he went on confiding. What he hadn't been able to tell there, he told when they were both back at the College, sitting comfortably together. When he had finished telling everything, he told everything again, and then told everything once more. Every time, he told it as if he were telling it for the first time.
        "All right, now when are you going?"
        "In the Christmas vacation."
        "That's still far off."
        "Yes, yar! It's still far off."
        "Write her a letter or something."
        "A letter, yes, I ought to write a letter." And a letter-writing madness seized him, for days and weeks. Every day he sat down with pen and paper, wrote something, then tore it up.
        "Yar, what should I write?"
        "What you ought to write."
        "But yar! If someone else should read the letter, what then?"
        "Then?" Surendar fell into thought. "She asked you for novels, didn't she? All right, write that you don't remember the names of the novels."
        "Just the thing."
        Then finally the Christmas vacation came, and he groped around in the library cupboards for novels by Rashid ul-Khairi and Sharar, and had them entered on his card.
        "Yar, you're not going to Rupnagar?"
        "Why shouldn't I go? I'm going. Tomorrow, as soon as the College closes, I'll leave."
        Surendar paused, then said, "Yar, don't go."
        "Yar, it's a long trip, and there are reports of trouble in the trains."
        He fell into thought. "Yar, there's trouble here too."
        "Yes, there's some trouble here too. Something can happen at any moment."
        Surendar thought, then said, "We'll go to Vyaspur, both of us together."
        The trip to Vyaspur had become an immensely long journey. Any traveler who moved around too much was now an object of suspicion. The platform at Vyaspur was so silent. And when they came out, they were dumbfounded: "Yar, there aren't any horse-carts here at all!"
        "Then we'll go on foot. After all, everyone else is going on foot."
        For a little while, the travelers who had gotten down from the train could be seen walking along ahead and behind. Then suddenly they realized that the street was empty. For a long way, the street was empty. The Jagat Talkies movie house, which was the noisiest place on the street, was closed and absolutely silent. The billboard-like affair on its front, which had been there for ages with the face of Kanan Bala smiling down from it, had fallen into the middle of the street. Kanan's face had been torn in half, and bricks lay scattered all around in the street.
        "Yar, we made a mistake," Surendar said slowly. "We shouldn't have come."
        Then they walked on in silence. The evening was deepening, and for a long way there was no one. Only bricks and more bricks. He looked with fear and wonder at the scattered bricks -- imagine there being so many bricks in Vyaspur!
        Walking on, they came to Meerut Gate. On the road straight ahead was Khirki Bazaar, which was shut and lightless. This was the road that came out in the Hindu neighborhoods. Nearby was a lane that went to the Muslim neighborhoods. At this fork both hesitated, looked at each other in silence, and set out on their different roads --

        "Zakir, my son! Did you hear it? They're shooting outside."
        "Ammi Jan?" Coming back with difficulty from the thicket, he looked at Ammi Jan. She seemed about to faint; her voice was full of panic.
        He rose and went to the window. He opened one shutter, and took a look outside. The rally-ground was in chaos. The tent-canopy had fallen to the ground; some of the canvas walls were still standing, while others were askew. Smoke was rising from one corner of the canopy. The crowd was in turmoil: some people were running away, others were fighting. He closed the window and came back. He muttered, "Nonsense."
        "Ai hai, I leaped up from my sleep. It's like Doomsday! Then there was the sound of a shot. My heart began to pound. It's still pounding. I called out to your father: `Well,' I said, 'Are you asleep, or awake?' He muttered, 'Do these wretches let anyone sleep?' I said, 'I thought I heard a gunshot.' He began muttering, 'From now on it'll be this kind of thing.' I said, 'Whatever happens, you just mutter about it! Shall I go tell Zakir?'"
        "Somebody must have fired. It's nothing, really. This kind of thing happens in rallies nowadays."
        "Ai, my son! If bullets start flying like this, then what will happen?"
        "Nothing will happen. You go back to sleep, and don't worry."
        "You won't believe it, I'm all shaken up inside."
        "Ammi, it's nothing, please go to sleep."
        Sending Ammi off somehow, he once more opened the window and took a look outside. The crowd had dispersed, the rally-ground with its collapsed canopy lay empty, and all the lights were burning just as before. Where smoke had been rising from one corner of the canopy, the smoke was now only a thin thread.
        In the lights, he watched the ruined, desolate, abandoned rally-ground for a long time. He had come back after a long journey, and was now breathing the air of his own time.


/2/ A way of ascertaining the prospects for the future by counting prayer-beads and reciting prayers according to a formula.

/3/ For its cooling and astringent effect on the shaved skin.



-- on to Chapter Two -- BASTI index page -- Glossary -- FWP's main page --