Horror

This story is published as "Khol Do" in a new translation by Aatish Taseer of Saadat Hasan Manto's Selected Stories (Random House India).

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Her body beyond pain

The special train left Amritsar at two in the afternoon and reached Mughalpura eight hours later. Many people were killed en route, many injured; some went astray.

10 am. Old Sirajuddin opened his eyes on the cold floor of the camp; seeing the swelling sea of men, women and children, he became still more confused. He stared vacantly at the murky sky. There was chaos all round him, but he heard nothing, as if his ears were blocked. Anyone who saw him would think he was consumed by deep worry. But that was not so: his nerves were frayed; he felt as if he were floating in a void.

His eyes struck the sun, and he awoke with a start as its sharp blaze entered him. Images assailed from all sides. Loot. Fire. Stampede. Station. Bullets. Night. And Sakina. Sirajuddin stood up immediately, and like a madman, began surveying the sea of people all round him.

For three full hours he scoured the camp, crying, "Sakina, Sakina." But he learned nothing of the whereabouts of his only daughter. All round him, there was mayhem. Someone looked for his son, another for his mother; someone for his wife, another for his daughter. Sirajuddin, tired and defeated, sat down on one side and tried to recall where and when he had been separated from Sakina. But as he racked his brains, his mind fixed on Sakina's mother's body, her intestines spilled out, then he could think no further.

Sakina's mother was dead. She had taken her last breath before Sirajuddin's eyes. But where was Sakina? Her mother had said as she was dying, "Let me be. Take Sakina and run."

Sakina had been at his side. They had both run barefoot. Sakina's dupatta had fallen down. He had stopped to pick it up, but Sakina screamed, "Abbaji, leave it!" But he had picked it up anyway. His eyes fell on his coat as he remembered this. He put his hand in the bulging pocket and took out a cloth: Sakina's dupatta! But where was Sakina?

Sirajuddin tried hard to remember, but to no avail. Had he brought Sakina as far as the station? Had she boarded the train with him? Had he become unconscious when the train was stopped, and the rioters came aboard? Was that how they were able to make off with Sakina?

Sirajuddin's mind was full of questions, but not a single answer. He was in need of comfort, but then so were all the people scattered round him. Sirajuddin wanted to cry, but his eyes would not co-operate. Who knew where all the tears had gone?

Six days later, once his nerves had settled, Sirajuddin met eight young men. They had a lorry and guns and said they would help him. Sirajuddin blessed them over and over again and gave them a description of Sakina. "She's fair and very beautiful; she's taken after her mother, not me. She's about seventeen. Large eyes, black hair, there's a big beauty spot on her right cheek. She's my only daughter. Please find her. Your God will reward you."

The young volunteers assured old Sirajuddin, with great feeling, that if his daughter was alive, she would be by his side within a few days.

The men made every effort, even putting their lives on the line. They went to Amritsar and rescued men, women and children, and brought them to safety. Ten days passed, but Sakina was not to be found.

One day, the men were driving to Amritsar in their lorry, engaged in their work when, near Cherat, they saw a girl on the side of the road. She gave a start at the sound of the lorry and began to run. The volunteers turned off the engine and ran after her, managing to catch her in a field. She was very beautiful, with a large beauty spot on her right cheek. One of the men asked, "Are you Sakina?"

The girl's face became pale. She didn't reply. It was only after the men had reassured her that her terror left her, and she confessed she was Sirajuddin's daughter, Sakina.

The eight young volunteers comforted her, sat her in their lorry and gave her food and milk. She was distressed to be without a dupatta, and tried vainly to cover her breasts with her arms until one of the men took off his coat and gave it to her.

Many days passed. Sirajuddin still had no news of Sakina. He would spend the whole day doing rounds of the different camps and offices, but received no word about Sakina's whereabouts. At night he would pray for the success of the young men. They had assured him that if Sakina was alive, they would find her within a few days.

One day Sirajuddin saw the young volunteers at the camp. They were sitting in the lorry. Sirajuddin ran up to them. The lorry was about to head out when A town in the North West Frontier Province. Sirajuddin asked, "Boys, have you heard anything about my Sakina?"

They all said in one voice, "We will, we will." And the lorry drove away. Sirajuddin prayed once again for their success and his heart was a little lighter.

Towards evening, there was a disturbance in the camp near where Sirajuddin sat. Four men were bringing something in. He made enquiries and discovered that a girl had been found unconscious near the rail tracks; she was being brought in now. Sirajuddin set off behind them. The people handed her over to the hospital and left.

Sirajuddin stood still outside the hospital beside a wooden pole. Then slowly, he went in. There was no one in the dark room, just a stretcher with a body on it. Sirajuddin approached, taking small steps. Suddenly, the room lit up. Sirajuddin saw a mole on the pale face of the body, and cried, "Sakina!"

The doctor who had turned on the lights said to Sirajuddin, "What is it?"

Sirajuddin managed only to say, "Sir, I'm... sir, I'm... I'm her father."

The doctor looked at the body on the stretcher. He checked its pulse and said to Sirajuddin, "The window, open it!"

At the sound of the words, Sakina's corpse moved. Her dead hands undid her salwar and lowered it. Old Sirajuddin cried with happiness, "She's alive, my daughter's alive!"

The doctor was drenched from head to toe in sweat.

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