Open It!

A grim, heart-break­ing tale, skil­fully told, Khol Do was trans­lated by M ASADUD­DIN

Tehelka - - EXCLUSIVE -

THE SPE­CIAL train, which left Amritsar at two in the af­ter­noon, reached Mughalpura af­ter eight hours. Sev­eral peo­ple were killed along the way, a good many in­jured, and some fled in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. At ten in the morn­ing, when Si­ra­jud­din opened his eyes in the camp and saw the tu­mul­tuous crowds of men and boys around him, he al­most lost his wits. For a long time he kept star­ing at the sky. The noise filled the camp but old Si­ra­jud­din’s ears were as if sealed. He couldn’t hear any­thing. Any­one see­ing him would have as­sumed that he was deep in thought. But he had be­come sense­less. It was as though he was sus­pended in space.

As he kept star­ing va­cantly at the sky, his eyes sud­denly caught the sun. Its rays coursed through ev­ery pore of his body and he got up. A col­lage of images flit­ted across his mind — plun­der, fire, es­cape, gun­shots, night… and Sak­ina.

Si­ra­jud­din stood up in­stantly and be­gan to comb the sea of hu­man­ity around him like one pos­sessed. He des­per­ately searched for Sak­ina in the camp for full three hours, shout­ing her name all the time. But there was no trace of his only daugh­ter. Chaos reigned all around. While some were look­ing for their miss­ing chil­dren, oth­ers looked for their miss­ing moth­ers, wives and daugh­ters.

Tired and ex­hausted, Si­ra­jud­din found a spot to sit down and tried to re­call where and when Sak­ina got sep­a­rated from him. How­ever, all he could re­mem­ber at that mo­ment was the sight of his wife’s corpse with all her en­trails spilled out. He had no mem­ory of any­thing af­ter that.

He and Sak­ina were run­ning bare feet. Her du­patta had slipped. When he stopped to pick it up Sak­ina had shouted, “Ab­baji, leave it.” But he had picked it up. At this thought his hand in­vol­un­tar­ily went to the bulge in his pocket. It was in­deed Sak­ina’s du­patta. But where was she?

Si­ra­jud­din tried hard to re­mem­ber. Did he and

Sak­ina reach the sta­tion? Did she get on the train with him? When the train had stopped along the way and the ri­ot­ers had come aboard, was it then that he had lost his senses and they had taken her away? He could not de­cide.

Si­ra­jud­din’s mind was bristling with ques­tions, which had no an­swers. He needed sym­pa­thy. So did the mass of hu­man­ity around him. He tried to weep but couldn’t. All his tears had dried up.

Af­ter six days, when Si­ra­jud­din had re­cov­ered a lit­tle from his shock, he met some young men ready to help. Eight in num­ber, they were equipped with a lorry and guns. He blessed them.

Si­ra­jud­din gave them a de­scrip­tion of his daugh­ter, “She’s fair and very beau­ti­ful like her mother, not me. She’s about four­teen, has dark hair, and a big mole on her right cheek. She’s my only daugh­ter. Please try to find her, god will bless you.”

Those young vol­un­teers re­as­sured Si­ra­jud­din. If his daugh­ter was alive she would be with him in a few days.

They had tried. At great risk to their lives they went to Amritsar. They res­cued many men, women and chil­dren and took them to safety. But even af­ter ten days they could not find Sak­ina.

How­ever, one day when they were go­ing to Amritsar on the same mis­sion, they saw the girl by the road­side near Chuhrat. The sound of the lorry star­tled the girl and she be­gan to run away. The vol­un­teers stopped the lorry, ran af­ter her and caught her in the field. She was beau­ti­ful and had a big mole on her right cheek.

One of the young men said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Is your name Sak­ina?”

The girl went pale. She didn’t an­swer. When the youths re­as­sured her, her fear less­ened. She told them that she was in­deed Sak­ina, Si­ra­jud­din’s daugh­ter.

They were kind to her. They fed her, gave her milk to drink and helped her up on to the lorry. Feel­ing awk­ward with­out her du­patta, she vainly tried to cover her breasts with her hands. One of the young men handed his jacket to her.

Sev­eral days passed. Si­ra­jud­din didn’t re­ceive any news of Sak­ina. He would make the rounds of camps and of­fices through­out the day but could not find any clue of his daugh­ter’s where­abouts. At night he would pray for the suc­cess of the vol­un­teer youths.

One day Si­ra­jud­din spot­ted young men in the camp. They were sit­ting on the lorry. He went run­ning up to them. The lorry was about to start. He asked one of them, “Beta, did you find my Sak­ina?”

“We will, we will,” all said in one voice. The lorry started. Once again he prayed to god for their suc­cess. It made him feel good.

That evening, Si­ra­jud­din was sit­ting in the camp when he no­ticed some com­mo­tion. Four men were car­ry­ing a girl on a stretcher. When he en­quired he was told that the girl was found un­con­scious near the rail­way lines. He fol­lowed them.

The men brought her to the hospi­tal and went away. He stood out­side for some time, lean­ing against a wooden pole. Then slowly he went in. In a soli­tary room he saw a stretcher with a life­less body ly­ing on it. Tak­ing small steps, he ad­vanced to­wards it. Some­body switched on the light. He saw a mole glint­ing on the pale face of the corpse and screamed, “Sak­ina!” The doc­tor who had switched on the light asked him, “What is it?”

“I… I’m her fa­ther,” he man­aged to blurt out from his parched throat.

The doc­tor looked at the body ly­ing on the stretcher and felt its pulse. Then pointed to the win­dow and said to him, “Open it.”

The body stirred slightly on the stretcher.

The life­less hands un­tied the waist­band. And low­ered the shal­war. “She’s alive! My daugh­ter’s alive!” Old Si­ra­jud­din shouted with joy. The doc­tor broke into a cold sweat.

M Asadud­din is a pro­fes­sor with the Depart­ment of English, Jamia Mil­lia Is­lamia

Feel­ing awk­ward with­out her du­patta, she vainly tried to cover her breasts with her hands

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