C H A P T E R O N E
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
Bi Amma, what are you saying! You'll live to see your grandson's wedding
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!"
in Lucknow, they play drums in every procession!"
them play. The Lucknow people have no power to change the Shariat!"
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.
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.
Jan, are we going?" Since Bi Amma's passing, he now asked Ammi everything.
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?"
Are we going to Vyaspur?"
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."
is Vyaspur very far?"
it's far enough. From here we'll go to Bulandshahr in a lorry. From there
we'll get on a train."
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.
stood watching. All his happiness had vanished. Gathering his courage,
he slowly approached her. "Sabbo."
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 --
my son! What's going on?" Abba Jan again came into his room.
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
happened. There's so much noise, and I think I heard a gun fired. There
was a kind of sound."
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
what are they celebrating?"
to create confusion in the rally."
come over everybody?"
Jan, don't worry. This is the usual thing in rallies nowadays. Go to sleep
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.
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.
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 --
that a dead body burning?"
this is a burning-ground. And listen, that dead body there, it's alive!"
on, you silly girl, you're a liar!"
swear by Ram! It's alive. It rose and stood up. Oh Ram! Oh Ma, I nearly
right, and then?"
it lay down, and I got up and ran off!"
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.
tell you, a witch grabbed me!"
go on, don't talk nonsense."
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
fangs sticking out of her mouth snapped at me just the way a kite would
babble, go and do your work."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
brother the late Khan Bahadur had a silver leg."
silver leg?" Najib Bhai asked in astonishment.
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."
were all absorbed in wonder. Then Najib Bhai asked, "Then it was Uncle
who captured Sultanah the Brigand?"
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?"
Silk Handkerchief band? Who were they?"
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.'"
ask this nephew of yours whether he too plans to make something of himself
like Uncle, or whether he'll live an idle life."
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."
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
you know where this lorry is going?" Surendar asked him.
is it going?"
This lorry is going to Meerut? Have you seen Meerut? What is Meerut like?"
In a single breath he asked so many questions.
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.
here" -- Surendar stopped during their walk -- "the movement of '57 started."
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.
As they walked on, he suddenly asked, "How will Hitler get to London? There's
an ocean in between."
friend, Hitler has a powder that you sprinkle on the ocean, and then it
settles down and becomes like stone."
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
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.
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
you see?" Surendar asked, emerging in a great hurry from Pattharvali Lane.
yar, I didn't see anybody."
was standing on the balcony, didn't you see?"
who was standing?"
I call her Rimjhim. Wait till you see her, you bastard, you'll die!"
took one turn along the lane, then another turn, then a third turn, but
she wasn't to be seen. "She's disappeared."
had not given up hope. Seeing a monkey-man, he suddenly grinned. "Listen,
yar, we'll go along with him."
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.
on, you bastard, look!"
the balcony, she's standing there."
looked. A darkish complexion, a very slender, very soft body.
if it isn't a little Muslim brat!" She instantly drew back into the room,
didn't appear again. So what. Surendar had taught him how to look at a
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
does your College library have Rashid ul-Khairi's
Evening of Life?"
my God! Zakir, when you next come you absolutely must bring Evening
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."
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.
he gathered his courage: "Sabirah, have you read Paradise on Earth?"
is it a good novel?"
at once began to tell her the plot of Paradise on Earth. He told
her the whole story.
will you bring Paradise on Earth for me?"
I'll bring it when I come."
will you come next?"
the Christmas vacation."
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.
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.
man, so you're back? You said you'd spend a week there, and now you've
stayed such a time!"
response to Surendar's remark he at first made some evasive reply, but
how long could he keep the secret hidden?
did you do then?"
did I do? What could I have done? Nothing."
the truth, beyond that nothing more happened."
really an oaf!" Surendar reproached him, and then fell silent.
he spoke as if to himself: "Yar, her hands were very soft."
disgust vanished. "Really?"
He fell silent, immersed in thought, then very slowly said, "And her lips
Surendar's eyes opened wide with astonishment.
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.
right, now when are you going?"
the Christmas vacation."
still far off."
yar! It's still far off."
her a letter or something."
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.
what should I write?"
you ought to write."
yar! If someone else should read the letter, what 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."
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.
you're not going to Rupnagar?"
shouldn't I go? I'm going. Tomorrow, as soon as the College closes, I'll
paused, then said, "Yar, don't go."
it's a long trip, and there are reports of trouble in the trains."
fell into thought. "Yar, there's trouble here too."
there's some trouble here too. Something can happen at any moment."
thought, then said, "We'll go to Vyaspur, both of us together."
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!"
we'll go on foot. After all, everyone else is going on foot."
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.
we made a mistake," Surendar said slowly. "We shouldn't have come."
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
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 --
my son! Did you hear it? They're shooting outside."
Jan?" Coming back with difficulty from the thicket, he looked at Ammi Jan.
She seemed about to faint; her voice was full of panic.
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."
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?'"
must have fired. It's nothing, really. This kind of thing happens in rallies
my son! If bullets start flying like this, then what will happen?"
will happen. You go back to sleep, and don't worry."
won't believe it, I'm all shaken up inside."
it's nothing, please go to sleep."
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
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.
A way of ascertaining the prospects for the future by counting prayer-beads
and reciting prayers according to a formula.
For its cooling and astringent effect on the shaved skin.