Open Them

By Saadat Hasan Manto - Translated from Urdu by Asna Nusrat - Art by Aamna Waseem

 

A special train left Amritsar at two in the afternoon and arrived in Mughalpura eight hours later. On the way, many were killed, many more injured and some went adrift here and there.

 

At 10 in the morning, when Sirajuddin opened his eyes on the cold floor of the camp and looked around to see a raging ocean of men, women and children around him, his mind aged, senses numbed. He stayed there, staring unblinking at the soiled sky for a long time. The camp was in an uproar but it was as if old Sirajuddin had gone deaf. He couldn’t hear anything. If someone saw him, they would think he was deep in thought but he wasn’t. He was barely aware, of anything. His entire being suspended in space.

He stared at the soiled sky, the sun piercing his gaze. The light bled into his veins and roused him. Many images, spilling one after another, bolted through his mind.

 

Loot…fire…chaos…station…bullets…the night and Sakina…Sirajuddin stood up at once and, like a madman, started rummaging through the sea of people around him.

 

For three hours straight, he kept calling out “Sakina! Sakina!” scouring every inch of the camp. But he found nothing of his only daughter.

 

There was bedlam everywhere. Some were looking for their child, some their mother, their wife, and some their daughter. Fatigued and having failed, Sirajuddin found a corner, sat down, and tried hard to remember exactly when and where Sakina got lost. But every time, his mind would freeze on the sight of her mother’s lifeless form, her intestines spilling out of her body. Beyond that, he couldn’t think much else.

 

Sakina’s mother was dead. She had taken her last few breaths before Sirajuddin’s eyes. Her last words: “Leave me. Take Sakina, and run.”

 

But where was Sakina? She had been with him then. They had both been running barefoot. Her dupatta had fallen. He had wanted to stop and pick it up when she had called out “Daddy, leave it!” But he had picked it up…

 

Pensive and consumed, he looked at the bulge in his coat pocket and put a hand inside to pull out a piece of cloth…that same dupatta…but where was Sakina?

 

Sirajuddin dug deep into his weary mind for something but nothing came. Had he brought Sakina with him to the station…? Was she with him on the train…? Did he lose Sakina when the train was stopped by the mobsters and he had fainted?

 

Sirajuddin’s mind brimmed with questions upon questions but no answers. He needed kindness but so did all those scattered around him. Sirajuddin wanted to cry but his eyes denied him. The tears had gotten lost somewhere. After six days, when the fog somewhat lifted and his brain awoke, he found some people who were willing to help. They were eight young men, who had a lorry and some guns. Sirajuddin gave them many, many blessings and described what Sakina looked like. “She is fair-skinned and very beautiful. Not like me, she is her mother’s image. Nearly seventeen years old. Big wide eyes, dark hair, a big mole on her right cheek. She’s my only daughter. Find her, please, may god be with you.”

 

The young volunteers reassured old Sirajuddin that if his daughter was alive, she would be with him in just a few days.

 

All eight of them tried. They risked their lives to go to Amritsar. They rescued many women, men and countless children, and delivered them to safe locations. Ten days went by but they couldn’t find Sakina.

 

One day while driving to Amritsar to find her, they saw a girl on the road near Chheharta. Upon hearing the lorry, she got terrified and started running. The volunteers stopped the motorcar and all eight ran after her. They caught her in a field. When they looked at her, she was beautiful. There was a mole on her right cheek. One of them said to her, “Don’t worry. Is your name Sakina?” The girl went pale. She didn’t say anything. But when all the boys reassured her, her fear unclenched and she admitted that she was Sirajuddin’s daughter, Sakina. All eight of them tried to calm her down. They fed her. Then gave her some milk and got her in the lorry. One of them took off his coat and gave it to her because she was uncomfortable without a dupatta. She kept trying and failing to cover her chest with her arms.

 

Many days went by, Sirajuddin got no news of Sakina. He spent all his time going from camp to camp, office to office. But his daughter was nowhere to be found. At night, he stayed up praying for the young volunteers to succeed. The ones who had promised to find her if she was still alive.

 

One day Sirajuddin spotted them in the camp. They were sitting in their lorry. Sirajuddin ran over to them just as they were about to drive off and asked, “Son, did you find my Sakina?”

 

All of them said, “We will, we will,” and drove away. Sirajuddin prayed for them to succeed once again and his heart felt a little less heavy.

 

Later in the evening, there was some ruckus in the camp where Sirajuddin was sitting. Four men were carrying something inside. Upon asking, he was told that a girl had been found unconscious near the railway line. Some people had brought her here. Sirajuddin followed them. Those people dropped the girl off at the hospital and left.

 

For a while, he stood outside the hospital leaning against a wooden pole buried in the ground. Then he slowly walked inside. The room was empty. There was only a stretcher on which laid a dead body. Sirajuddin took tiny steps, inching closer. The room instantly lit up. Sirajuddin saw a glowing mole on the corpse’s face and screamed.

“Sakina!”

 

The doctor who had turned on the lights asked Sirajuddin, “What is it?”

 

The only words that escaped his throat were, “Sir I…sir I…am her father.”

 

The doctor glanced at the dead body. He checked her pulse, looked to the windows, and said to Sirajuddin, “Open them.”

 

Sakina’s lifeless body stirred. She brought her limp hands to her cummerbund and pushed her shalwar down.

 

Old Sirajuddin screamed in joy, “She’s alive! My daughter is alive!”

 

The doctor stood there, soaking in sweat from the head down.

Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was an author, playwright, translator, and thinker born during British Raj in the subcontinent. He was known for being at the center of political scandal for offending nationalist sensibilities and tried in court for allegations of obscenity. Stories that earned him the title of an offender under the Indian, and later, Pakistan Penal Code, included “Dhuan”, “Kaali Shalwar”, “Boo”, and “Khol Do” among many others. His writing held a mirror to the milieu in which it was born, freed creative thinking from conformist ideology, and opened dialogue about sex, violence, politics and nationalism. His literature holds unequaled prestige and literary acclaim.

1 Asna Nusrat-Fiction

Asna Nusrat (she/her) is a bilingual writer from Karachi, Pakistan. She mostly writes fiction, nonfiction, and translations. Her work circles themes of family, disability, debts, womanhood and objectophilia. As an immigrant writer, still new to America and everything American, she sees all her days as living specimens of translations and continues to study the craft of translations in Urdu and English as it unfolds in each language. Her translations have been published on the Thousand Languages website.

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