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