Mushtaque B Barq

Five days

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Translated version of Saadat Hasan Manto’s Panch Din

On the way to Kashmir through Jammu Tawi, subsequent to Kud is a small hilly village Batwota.  The place is fighting fit and flourished.  Here is a modest sanatorium for chronic fever patients.  By chance some eight years ago I had been in Batwota for three months and a green romantic anecdote of my formative years is associated with this place, but from this narrative, nothing like Achilles’ heel pertained to my life is coupled with it.

Now that I have been in Batwota from six to seven months to see the wife of my friend who is in the sanatorium fighting the battle for her existence. On my arrival, a patient gave up his ghost and that poor Padma who was previously in bad shape turns out to be uncertain. I had no reason to get across the grounds, but it was just a happenstance that in this small sanatorium three patients died within four days and whenever any bed would be vacant or that an attendant would feel worn out of verve and a painful utterance would swathe the entire sanatorium with an unusual sense of wreckage and the patient who had waxed these feeble threads with hope would locate himself in the ravines of hopelessness.

The wife of my friend Padma would feel dumbstruck and on her lean lips the paleness of death would be evidently perceptible and in her thoughtful eyes, a carefree reference would come into view.  On the vanguard

“A terrified why?”

And after him so many weaklings.

“No”

After the death of the third patient, I reflected upon the death on the balcony……… Sanatorium appeared as a jar wherein these patients like onions are immersed in vinegar. A fork comes to play and locates a softened onion and carries it along. How ridiculous simile it was. But God knows why this comparison strikes mind again and again. Beyond that I failed to think that death is dreadfully ponderous fixation….. means one is doing well in life and from nowhere ail gets gummed and exterminates a man. In accord with fiction too the upshot of the saga of survival doesn’t seem well turned-out. From the balcony, I returned to the room.  Just after a dozen steps or so, a voice from behind echoed.

“So you have buried the number twenty-two!”

I turned my head and noticed. On the white couch, two densely black eyes were in high spirits. And later I came to know that it was a Bengali lady who unlike other patients was in the offing of her death in her own mode. When she uttered this:

“So you have buried the number twenty-two!”

I become conscious that we have not buried a man but a digit. To be honest, while concealing this dead man, no such reflection passed through my mind that his death has created a chasm in the world. When I approached that Bengali lady to carry the conversation onwards despite sickness her black eyes had all the freshness of the world well in place, she smiled in the same fashion.

“My number is Four.”

Then her skinny hands accurated the folds of her white sheet and in a carefree mood announced, “You search out a unique attention in burying and blazing the dead bodies.”

I casually responded, “Not at all”……. With this the conversation ended and returned to attend the friend.

Next morning as usual I went for a walk. It was drizzling by virtue of which the entire milieu was appeared graceful and guiltless as if it had no dealing with the patients who were inhaling in the germ packed ambiance. The sky kissing pine trees, the mount tops wrapped in the blue mist, the rolling stones on the roadside…. dwarf but robust buffaloes….. beauty was widespread from every side……the kind of self-assured beauty devoid of any apprehension of robbery.

After returning from the walk I walked into the sanatorium and felt the hanging faces of the patients and guessed that one more has passed away…..No eleven, I mean Padma.

I could see in her thrusting eyes which were unbolted many terrified.

“Whys”

And behind them uncountable timid.

“No’s”

Iced up there……How poor of her!

It was raining and that made it difficult to amass the dry wood. By ever means the corpse of this poor woman was put to flames. My friend was there where she was being cremated and returned to Sanatorium to mend his baggage…… As I entered into the Sanatorium the same Bengali woman asked.

“It took you too much time.”

“Yes, due to rains the dry wood was hard to find and that is why it took much time”

“Most of the places have wood stores, but I heard that you needed to collect wood here in this place on your own.”

“Yes, that is true.”

“Let you sit for a moment.”

I stationed myself on the stool and she asked a weird and wonderful question.

“It must be a pleasing moment for you to find a piece of dry wood after lot of rummaging around.”

Without coming up my respond to her unblemished eyes gazed at me and asked.

“What is your opinion about death?”

“I have tried many a time but failed to figure out”

She laughed sensibly and innocently disclosed.

“To some extent, I have comprehended for the reason I am a bystander to such a number of deaths that you may conceivably not be able to see in a thousand years. I am a resident of Bengal, the famine of which is the talk of the town. You may beknow that. People in lakhs died there. Many stories were published; columns in thousands are already in print. Still, it has come to my knowledge that documentation of such occurrence cannot be drawn accurately. In the souk of death, I contemplated it.”

I asked.

“What?”

She responded in the same tone.

“I thought that the death of man meant his end. The death of one lakh people is not a joke. You are true to your account the intimidation of the death that used to the canon my heart is over now. When one monitors in every marketplace the corpses in plenty it is reasonably feasible to think that death loses its authentic connotation. I only think that to mourn on such substantial casualties is futile and futility. First of all such far-reaching fatality is recklessness.”

I immediately asked.

“Whose”

“Whom so ever, folly is a folly. On a big city, you just drop a bomb. People will die. Poison the wells, who so consumes their water, will no more stay alive. It is famine, dearth, hostilities and sickness the whole lot is gibberish. To die due to them is like a roof that falls over. But then the kind of death one wishes is convincing. To terminate a man is nothing but to kill his understanding is colossal cruelty.”

After revealing all this she switched to the mute mode for some time. But she responded after a stir.

“I had a different philosophy. To be honest I was devoid of judgment. But this famine has pushed me into a new world.”

After a pause once again I became her center of attention. I was for my own records marking a few points in my notebook.

“What are you writing?”

I crystal clearly responded.

“I am a fiction writer. I record whatever makes somebody’s day.”

“Oh! Then I shall narrate to you my entire tale.”

For three hours in her feeble voice she narrated me her tale. I am going to recount it in my own words. It is futile to be over illustrative.  When famine puffed up in Bengal and people died in good number Sakina was sold to a vagabond by her uncle against five hundred rupees who carried her to Lahore. And in a hotel, she was made her earn. The first customer she received was a handsome and sturdy young man.  Before famine broke out in Bengal when earning was not an issue, she used to dream about such a man who would be her life partner. But here she was put on sale. She was made to earn from such a trade which would otherwise bring a shiver down her spine. When she was being transported from Calcutta to Lahore, she knew the consequences. She was a levelheaded girl. She was well aware of the fact that she would soon be put in trade fair wider and way off but she was akin to such a detainee who despite being bleak was still optimistic, she was anticipating an unlikely encounter. All this did not occur but her fortitude aided with the plainness of the young man she broke out from the hotel during the night. Now that it was the highways of Lahore and up-to-the-minute challenges. It appeared to her that the glare of the men would engulf her. Her façade was insignificant to the people but her glaring youth which was hard to hide was being perused like a boring driver to pierce her persona. Had it been any golden or silver costume jewelry, she would have perhaps put out of evil sight of the people, but she was on the move to safeguard a precious entity which would have been easily seized? For three days and nights she strayed here and there. She was down with hunger, but she did not expose her needs fearing that it might land her into the deadliest hide wherein, her chastity would be compromised. Sweet shops were luring her; at food inn people were lavishly enjoying their plates. From every side, the food was being served ruthlessly before her eyes as if there was the scarcity of food for her alone in the world. For the first time in her life she became conscious of the unavoidability of food.

Initially, the food would come to her but now she wants to get hold of it. The starvation had already raised her status within her own self as a martyr but her body was severely nowhere to be found in shape. The spiritual verve at one point of time seemed to lessen. On the fourth night, she was passing from a street. God knows why she entered into a nearby house but soon felt self-doubting that anyone’s access can blot her.  She was exhausted to the extent but managed to get to the courtyard. In the dim light, she could see two clear pitchers on pitcher case, besides two vessels full of fruits like apples, pears, pomegranates. She thought the pomegranate would be of no use but apples and pears are alright. On the pitcher was a cup full of cream, she removed the lid and before she could think anything pounced on it. What a moment of relief it would have been for her. She for a moment forgot that she was in a house that doesn’t belong to her and took an apple and pear. There was something more beneath the pitcher holder. The broth was icy, but she consumed all. In a moment something came about, from the depths of her belly a blast of air surfaced and her head started to spin.  She stood up. From somewhere she heard someone’s coughing. She made an attempt to flee but felt down for the count.  After regaining her senses, she found herself lying on a tidy bed. Her apprehensions jolted her mind but after a while found everything up to standards of virginity, she relaxed.  Before she would think of something a faint coughing voice brought a skinny frame into the room.  Sakina had seen a lot of men in famine hit Calcutta, but this man was different from the rest.  His eyes were copious with forlornity but he had no urge for food. He had seen the starved one’s whose eyes had a stripped and deformed lust but in his obliging eyes had put in a unique veil, a faint drape behind which he was fearfully looking at her. Sakina should have been scared, but instead he was.  Little by little somewhat modestly he sensed an astonishing veil revealing.

When you were eating I was standing at a distance. Oh! I only know how trickily I hold my coughing not to disturb you and to monitor this stunning sight for a longer time.  Hunger is such an attractive obligation.  And I am the one who is deprived of it.  No, I must not say dispossessed but I have myself slaughtered it.  It was beyond Sakina’s perception.  It was a riddle. A mystery that would turn more severe when unfolded. Instead of this, Sakina seemed fond for his words for being full of love and kindness.  Since she narrated him, her entire tale and he listened calmly as if it had not moved him.  But when Sakina thanked him for kindness, all of a sudden his eyes which seemed deprived of tears became wet and in a cheerless voice said.

“Stay here Sakina. I am suffering from chronic fever. I don’t like any food or fruit. You may eat and I would like to observe you.”

But after a little while, he smiled.

“What a stupidity! It may be a joke for someone to know that you let someone to eat and you be a spectator. No, Sakina I crave to see here staying with me.”

Sakina reflected upon for some time.

Not at all, I mean you are all alone here and me. No, no I mean……’

These words traumatized him as he lost himself for a while. When he responded, his voice seemed all vacant.

“For ten years I taught the girls at a school. I always treated them like my own daughters. You….You add up my list”

Sakina had no other option but to stay with the teacher. He survived for a year and a half.  During this time despite being sick, he remained engrossed to provide every facility to Sakina as the post was about to head off and he was hurriedly putting whatever was in his mind on the letter. Owing to this care and concern Sakina flourished within a few months. Now the professor started to remain detached without being ignorant towards Sakina. During his last days of life, he was severely beaten by sickness. One night when he was sleeping beside Sakina he got up and hesitantly cried.

“Sakina, Sakina”

The cries worried Sakina. The eyes of the professor that used to be like the lattice were no more there. Sakina could observe a profound gloom in them. The professor held her hand and explained.

“I am dying, but I am not panicky because myriad deaths within me have already occurred. Do you like to listen to my woes?  Do you want to know about me? Listen. I am a deception.  A colossal falsehood. I have throughout my life tried to falsify myself and it took me lifetime to alter it into truthfulness. Oh! How hurting it is to perform unnaturally and inhumanely.  I had slaughtered a longing, but I was unaware of the fact that it would lead me to more assassinations.  Sakina! Whatever I am revealing to you is a tedious philosophy; the reality is I was on the mission to raise my character and in doing so I used to thrust myself in the gorges of subordination.  I shall die but this character; this will pass over my dust. All those girls whom I taught may remember me as an angel among the masses. You too must not forget my conduct. But the fact is that when you came into this home. There was hardly a moment which I expend without casting my bashful eye on your youthful figure. In my imaginations I have many a time kissed your lips. Time and again I laid my head on your shoulders, but every time I had to constrict these feelings, then I blaze them to ash not to leave even a trace. I shall die. I wish I had such guts to place my elevated character on a tall bamboo pole like an ape and beat the juggler’s drum to amass the people to make appraise admonition”

After this, the Professor survived for five minutes. According to Sakina he had been cheerful before he gave up his ghost. When he was dying, he informed Sakina.

“Sakina I am not greedy. These last five days of my life are as much as necessary. I am grateful to you.”

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