Thursday, November 15, 2018

Manto- Toba Tek Singh

Toba Tek Singh
Sa’adat Hasan Manto

translated by
Mustansir Dalvi

Around two or three years after partition, it dawned on the governments of Pakistan and India that, like other common prisoners, the madmen too should be exchanged. This meant that Muslim madmen, currently housed in asylums in India, had to be sent over to Pakistan, and Hindu and Sikh madmen from Pakistan’s asylums should be handed over to India.

Whether justified or not, based on the opinions of minds smarter than us, several high level conferences were convened in several places, and finally a date for the transfer of madmen was scheduled. 

Proper investigations were made. Those Muslims, who had near and dear ones in India, were allowed to remain in India. The rest were to be ferried to the border. Here in Pakistan, since almost all the Hindus and Sikhs had already left, there was no reason to hold anyone back. All the Hindu and Sikh madmen were, in the custody of the police, to be brought to the border in safety.

I’ve no idea about the other side, but here in the asylums of Lahore news of the impending transfer spread and generated a lot of interesting gossip and banter.

One Muslim madman, who had,  for the last twelve years, consistently subscribed to the daily Zamindaar, was asked by a friend: “Moulbisaab! What is this thing called Pakistan?” To which, he answered with great gravitas and concern: “A place in India that manufactures razors.” That shut his friend up.

In a similar vein, one Sikh madman asked another Sikh madman: “Sardaarji, why are they sending us to Hindustan? We don’t even speak their language.” The other man smiled: “I know the language of these Hindustanese… they are a devilish lot- they walk around with their noses in the air.”

One day, while taking a bath, a Muslim madman shouted “Pakistan Zindabad!” with such fervour that he slipped on the wet floor and was instantly rendered unconscious.

And then there were some madmen who were not mad at all. This lot were made up of cut-throats, whose relatives had bribed the higher-ups to grant them lunatic asylums instead of the noose. They had some understanding of why India was sub-divided and what this Pakistan meant, but even their knowledge of current affairs was hardly complete. 

They learnt nothing from newspapers and could derive no conclusions by talking to their guards who were, by and large, illiterate and ignorant. All they knew was that there is this man- Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who is also known as Quaid-e-Aazam. He had made a different homeland for Muslims called Pakistan… but where it was, where  its boundaries were, they had no clue at all. Which is why those inmates who had not completely surrendered to insanity were possessed by the thought of whether they were in India or Pakistan… if this was India, then, where was Pakistan? And if they were in Pakistan, how was it possible that just a while ago they were in India as well?

This business of what was India and what was Pakistan so perplexed one madman that as the level of his insanity rose, instead of carrying of his chores of sweeping floors, he clambered up a tree, made himself comfortable on a branch and for the next two hours gave a convoluted oration on the delicate matters between India and Pakistan. When his jailers asked him to come down, he climbed up a higher branch. When they threatened him with dire consequences, he said: “I do not wish to live in India or Pakistan… I will remain on this tree.” After a lot of effort, when he was made to cool off and brought down from the tree; he embraced his Hindu and Sikh friends and broke down completely. His heart was overwhelmed with the thought that they would leave him and go to India.

A Muslim radio engineer with an M.Sc. normally kept himself aloof from the other inmates, and each day walked a lonely path in the asylum garden in silence. On hearing news of the transfer he divested himself of all his clothes which he handed over to the warden, and continued his lonely walks in the garden in the buff.

A stout Muslim madman from Chiniot, once an active clerk with the Muslim League, who bathed fifteen or sixteen times a day, suddenly stopped. His name was Muhammad Ali. Consequently, one day he announced to all in his ward that he was the Quaid-e-Aazam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Following his lead, another madman now started calling himself Master Tara Singh. There was speculation that their proximity in that ward might lead to bloodshed, so both were declared dangerous and locked up separately.

Failure in love had driven a young Hindu lawyer from Lahore insane. When he heard that Amritsar had been given to India, he was immensely saddened. He was once in love with a girl from that city. She had rejected him, but even in his madness he had never forgotten her. As a result he would, in the vilest terms, abuse all the Muslim and Hindu leaders who had conspired together to break India into two, making his beloved Hindustani and himself Pakistani. When talk of transferring inmates began, the madmen consoled the lawyer not to take it to heart, for he would be sent to India. The India of his beloved. But he did not wish to leave Lahore, as it was his considered opinion that his practice would not flourish as well in Amritsar.

In the European ward, there were two Anglo-Indian madmen. They were traumatised by the news that India had become free and the Englishmen had gone back. For hours they would murmur amongst themselves, wondering what their status in the asylum, now in an independent country, would be. Would the European ward remain, or would it be dissolved? Would breakfast be served, or not? Would there be bread, or would they have to swallow both their pride as well as bloody Indian chapattis?

Then there was a Sikh, an inmate for the last fifteen years. He would always be heard spouting the same nonsense: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of the laaltain.” The guards would always say that he never slept a wink during his time there. Never even lay down. But he would lean against a wall from time to time.

His feet were swollen from all that standing. His calves puffed up, and despite this discomfort to this body he never rested. But he would listen intently whenever there was talk of India, Pakistan or the transfer of madmen in the asylum. If someone asked him for his opinion, he would gravely reply: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of the Pakistan Government.” 

But after a while, the phrase “of the Pakistan Government” was replaced by “of the Toba Tek Singh Government”. Now he would ask the other madmen about the location of Toba Tek Singh, of which he was a resident. But no one knew whether it was in India or in Pakistan. Those who tried to explain soon fell into a quandary themselves- Sialkot was earlier in India, but we now hear it is in Pakistan; who knows if Lahore, today in Pakistan, could tomorrow become part of India? Or the whole of India become Pakistan? And who could put his hand on his heart and confidently assert that both India and Pakistan would not, one day, vanish off the face of this earth?

The man’s hair had thinned, and because he would bathe only infrequently, his beard was matted, which made him appear quite terrifying. But he was a harmless soul. In fifteen years, he never had occasion to fight with anyone. The old bearers of the asylum knew about him, that he owned much land in Toba Tek Singh. He was once a well-off zamindar whose head suddenly turned. His relatives had brought him chained in some very heavy manacles and had him admitted in the asylum. 

Once a month, they would put in an appearance, ask about his general well-being and leave. This went on for a while. But after the troubles of India and Pakistan began, they stopped coming altogether.

His name was Bishan Singh, but everyone called him Toba Tek Singh. He had absolutely no idea what day it was, what month it was or how many years had passed. But once every month, he would come to know all by himself if his relatives were due. He would then inform his warden of the impending visit. On such days, he would bathe well, rubbing his whole body with soap; he would oil and comb his hair, don such clothes he would normally not wear and come to meet his visitors well turned out. If they asked him anything, he would normally remain silent or occasionally blurt out: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of the laaltain.”

He had a daughter who grew the width of a finger with each visit, and had in fifteen years become a young woman. Bishan Singh did not recognise her. Every since her childhood she would look at her father and weep. Even when she was older, her eyes would fill with tears of hope.

When the India-Pakistan episode started, Bishan Singh began to ask the other madmen about Toba Tek Singh. The itch to find out became all the more severe when he did not get a clear response. 

And now, he no longer had visitors. Earlier he would know inside of himself when they were due to arrive but now the voice in his heart had fallen silent. He longed for them to come, to be with him, to show him sympathy, and to bring him fruit, sweetmeats and clothes. Could he not ask them where Toba Tek Singh was?  He was sure they would tell him if it was in Pakistan or in India, for in his mind they all came from Toba Tek Singh, where he was a landowner.

In the asylum, there was also one madman who called himself God. One day, when Bishan Singh asked him if Toba Tek Singh was in India or Pakistan, God burst out laughing, as was his wont, and replied: “Neither in India, nor in Pakistan. For we have not yet decreed it so.”

Bishan  Signh  entreated this God several times to make his decree so that the matter could be settled once and for all, but he was always preoccupied for he had so many  pending decrees to be made. One day, in frustration, Bishan Singh vented out all his anger on him: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of Vaahe Guruji da khalsa and Vaahe Guruji ki fateh... jo bole so nihaal, Sat Sri Akaal!” Maybe this is what he meant: You are the god of the Mussalmans. If you were the god of the Sikhs, you would not have been so uncaring.

A few days before the scheduled exchange of madmen, Bishan Singh had a visitor, a Muslim friend. He had never come to the asylum before. When Bishan Singh saw him, he turned away to return, but the guards stopped him: “This is your friend Fazal Deen… he has come to meet you.”

Bishan Singh looked at Fazal Deen once again and began to mutter to himself. Fazal Deen reached out and put a hand on his shoulder: “I had been thinking a long time to come to meet you but I could not make it… all your relatives have safely migrated to India… whatever help I could give them, I did… but your daughter Roop Kaur…”

Fazal Deen fell silent. Bishan Singh tried to remember: “Daughter? ... Roop Kaur?”

Fazal Deen spoke hesitatingly: “Yes… she… she’s all right too… she went with them.”

Bishan Singh said nothing. Fazal Deen began again: “They asked me to find out if you are well… now I hear that you are going  to India too… please give my salaams to Bhai Balbir Singh and Bhai  Vaghava Singh… and to Bahen Amrit Kaur as well… tell Bhai Balbir, Fazal Deen is fine…  the two brown buffaloes he left behind are fine too, one had a calf, the other did too but did not last beyond six  days… and… tell me should you need anything, I am always at your service… and here are some plums for you.”

Bishan Singh took the bag of plums and passed it on to the guard standing beside them. Then he asked Fazal Deen: “Where is Toba Tek Singh?”

Fazal Deen, bewildered, replied: “Where is… it is where it has always been.”

Bishan Singh persisted: “In India or in Pakistan?”

“In India… no, no, in Pakistan.” Now Fazal Deen was confused.

Bishan Singh walked away muttering to himself: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of Pakistan and Hindustan of the door phittay mooh.”


All the arrangements for the exchange were complete. The list of madmen was finalised and the day fixed.

It was bitterly cold, when lorries carrying Hindu and Sikh madmen from the Lahore asylum, along with a police escort took off. The relevant officers accompanied them as well. At Wagah, Border Superintendents from both sides met and got into official formalities. Then the exchange began, which went on through the night.

Getting the madmen out of the lorries and handing them safely to the opposite side was no easy task. Many simply refused to come out. Many who consented to emerge were difficult to control because they went wandering off all over the place. Many who wore nothing were forcibly clothed, but before long they tore the clothes away from their bodies. Some were abusive. Others sang songs. Some fought with each other. Some cried, or keened in agony. They would not listen to instructions. And then there was the wailing of the madwomen. It was so cold that even the noise of chattering teeth could be heard above the general hubbub.

Most of the lunatics were not in favour of the exchange, as they could not understand why they were being uprooted from their own place. Those who could comprehend a bit started to raise slogans of “Pakistan zindabad!” and “Pakistan murdabad!” Some Muslims and Sikhs took offence and rioting had to be prevented two or three times.

When it was Bishan Singh’s turn, as the relevant official tried to write his name in his register, he asked: “Where is Toba Tek Singh? In Pakistan, or in India?”

The relevant official sniggered: “In Pakistan.”

Hearing this, Bishan Singh jumped away and ran to join his earlier companions. The Pakistani guards caught him and tried to take him to the other side, but he refused to budge: “Toba Tek Singh  is here…” He began to scream: “Ooper the gugud, the annexe, the bay-dhyaana, the moong the daal of Toba Tek Singh and Pakistan!”

They tried to convince him that Toba Tek Singh was now in India… or if not it would soon be, but Bishan Singh did not relent. 

When they tried to physically shift him he stood up on his two swollen feet and planted himself in a manner as if no power on earth would be able to shift him. But because he was harmless, force was not used upon him. They just let him stand there as the rest of the exchange went on.

Just before sunrise, a shriek pierced the sky. This came from the otherwise silent and steadfast Bishan Singh… officers from both sides came running to find the man, who had once stood on his own feet without resting for fifteen years, now fallen on his face. 

On one side, behind barbed-wire lay Hindustan. On the other, behind similar wire, Pakistan stretched out into the distance.

Between them, on a piece of land that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.

© Mustansir Dalvi, 2018. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Manto - Thanda Gosht

Cold Flesh
(Thanda Gosht)

Sa’adat Hasan Manto

translated by
Mustansir Dalvi

Kulwant Kaur got off the bed, as Ishhar Singh entered the hotel-room. 

With razor eyes, she glared at him and closed the latch on the door. It was after twelve that night. Outside, the city spread her skirts, hushing all into a strange, mystifying silence.

Kulwant Kaur sat back on the bed and crossed her legs. Distracted perhaps, in trying to unravel his tangled thoughts, Ishhar Singh stayed in a corner, twirling a kirpan idly in his hands. In this silence, moments passed. After a while, Kulwant Kaur, irritated with her seat, stretched out and started to swing her legs from the edge of the bed. Ishhar Singh remained silent.

Kulwant Kaur was a full-bodied woman with wide, inviting, fleshed-out hips, and breasts, higher than they should be. She had a penetrating gaze, with grey, downy fuzz clouding her upper lip. The way she comported herself gave an impression that she was a woman of authority and resolve.  

By his physique and by the way he carried himself it was obvious to anyone that Ishhar Singh was the right male for Kulwant Kaur. For now, he hung his head, in his corner, not making a sound. On his brow, an otherwise tightly wound turban was slowly unravelling. The hand that once held fast onto the kirpan now began to tremble. 

A few more minutes like this and Kulwant Kaur could take no more. Still, she lowered her angry eyes and cried: “Ishhar, my love!” Ishhar Singh lifted his head and turned towards her. But instead of meeting her bullet-gaze full frontally, he could only turn away.

Kulwant Kaur cried out again: “Ishhar, my love!” Then, holding her anxieties inside herself, she got off the bed and moved towards him: “Where have you been for all these days?”

Ishhar Singh ran a tongue over dried lips: “… I don’t know.” 

Kulwant Kaur was livid: “Is this any fucking answer?”

Ishhar Singh tossed his kirpan to one side and stretched himself out on the bed. It felt as if he had been unwell for several days. Kulwant Kaur looked at the bed, now brimful with Ishhar Singh. A wave of sympathy washed over her. She put a loving hand on his forehead and asked: “What’s wrong, dear?”

Ishhar Singh’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling. Slowly, he turned his gaze away, fidgety eyes fixating on her familiar face: “Kulwant!” His voice was stricken. Kulwant Kaur shrank into herself, said: “Yes, dear,” and began to bite her upper lip.

Ishhar Singh unburdened himself of his turban. He turned to Kulwant Kaur, with entreating eyes. He then slapped her fleshy rump, hard, shook his head and muttered to himself: “This girl’s crazy.” 

This sudden action made his locks fall loose. Kaulwant Kaur ran her fingers through his tresses like a comb, and asked in a voice full of affection: “Ishhar, my love, where were you all these days?”

“In the motherfucker’s house!” He stared at her and suddenly, reached out to her uplifted breasts and began to knead them. “Kasam Vaaheguru ki, you are one lively woman!”

Kulwant Kaur brushed his hands aside and insisted: “Swear on my head, and tell me, where were you, … did you travel to the city?”

Ishhar Singh gathered his hair back in a bun and answered: “No.”

Kulwant Kaur was enraged: “No, no, you did go to the city… where you looted a lot of money, and now you are hiding this from me.”

“Let me not be the fruit of my father’s loins, if I lie to you.”

Kulwant Kaur was taken aback for a bit, but soon she started again: “But what I do not understand is … what happened to you that night? You were right as rain, lying next to me. You had adorned me with all the jewellery that you stole from the city. You were kissing me all over, but, what happened then? You got up, dressed and left.”

Ishhar Singh’s skin paled to a sickly yellow. Seeing this, Kulwant Kaur said: “Look, how your colour has changed, Ishhar sainyya! Kasam Vaaheguru ki, there is surely something you are not telling me.”

“Nothing. I swear on your life.”

Ishhar Singh’s voice was nearly lifeless. This raised Kulwant Kaur’s suspicions even more. Pursing her lips she spoke, stressing each word: “Ishhar, my love, what is it? You are not the same person you were eight days ago.”

All of a sudden, Ishhar Singh sat up, as if someone had attacked him. He pulled Kulwant Kaur into his broad arms, and shook her with all his strength: “I am the very same, darling. Hold me tight in your embrace; let me feel the warmth of your very being.”

Kulwant Kaur did not resist, but continued complaining: “What happened to you that night?”

“Motherfuckingness happened!”

“Won’t you tell me?”

“I would, if there was something to tell.”

“Set me alight with your own two hands, should you lie.”

Ishhar Singh wrapped his arms around her neck and buried his lips in hers. The hair from his moustache tickled Kulwant Kaur’s nostrils, and she sneezed. Both started to laugh.

Ishhar Singh pulled off his sadri and looked at Kulwant Kaur with naked lust. “Come to me; let’s have a hand of cards.”

Little beads of sweat formed on Kulwant Kaur’s lips. She blinked her eyelashes, and in a sly, shy voice said: “Fuck off!”

Ishhar Singh pinched the flesh on her bottom with vengeance. In pain, Kulwant Kaur jumped to one side: “Don’t do that, Ishhar sainyya! It hurts!”

Ishhar Singh reached out, bit Kulwant Kaur’s lips and began to chew on them. Kulwant Kaur let herself go completely. Ishhar Singh tossed his kurta off and said: “All right, let’s play trumps.”

Kulwant Kaur’s lips started to quiver. Ishhar Sigh grabbed both ends of Kulwant Kaur’s chemise and, like a butcher who sloughs of the skin of a goat, pulled it off her body in a single motion and threw it aside. He gazed at her nakedness longingly and stated to pummel her all over: “Kulwant, kasam Vaaheguru ki, you are a woman worth waiting for!”

Kulwant Kaur looked at the welts all over herself: “And you, my love, are a tormentor!”

Ishhar Singh smiled, under his lush, dark moustache. “Shall the torment commence?” And so saying he started to have his way with her with increased vigour. He bit into Kulwant Kaur’s lips, her earlobes, played with her upraised breasts, spanked her full bottom with loud slaps, kissed her cheeks passionately, suckled at her nipples, slathering them with his saliva. Kulwant Kaur too bubbled over in throes of passion. But despite all his overtures, Ishhar Singh could not get an erection. Every skill, every strategy, every throw of cards he could remember, he put to use like a failing wrestler. Nothing worked. 

Kulwant Kaur’s body was thrumming like a well-tuned instrument. Rejecting Ishhar Singh’s unnecessary movements she said: “Ishhar sainyya, that’s enough of shuffling, show your hand now!”

Hearing this, Ishhar Singh felt as if he had dropped an entire deck of cards. Taking a deep breath, he put his head on Kulwant Kaur’s lap and broke into a cold sweat. Kulwant Kaur did everything to warm him, but failed. So far everything took place without a word being exchanged, but when Kulwant Kaur realized that the rising ardour in her intimate parts was fated to remain unfulfilled, she got off the bed in a huff. There was a sheet hanging from a peg, which she quickly wrapped around herself, puffed her nostrils and struggled to speak: “Ishhar Sainyya, who is that bitch with whom you have been getting it off? She has wrung you dry!”

Ishhar Singh remained on the bed, taking torturous breaths, but did not say a word.

Kulwant Kaur’s anger grew: “I’m asking you! Who’s that bitch? Who’s your lover? Who is this card up your sleeve?”

Ishhar Singh answered, tiredly: “No one, Kulwant, no one.”

Kulwant Kaur put her hands on her hips and said with determination: “Ishhar, my love, I will get to the bottom of this today … swear to me in the name of Vaaheguru … that there’s no woman behind all of this?”

Ishhar Singh tried to speak, but Kulwant Kaur would not allow him to get a word in: “Before you swear, know this – I am the daughter of Sardar Nihal … I will hack you to pieces if you lie to me … all right, now invoke Vaaheguru and tell me there’s no woman behind all of this?”

Ishhar Singh with great sadness bent his head and acquiesced. 

Kulwant Kaur lost it completely. She leapt to the corner, picked up the kirpan, removed the sheath like a banana peel, threw it on one side and attacked Ishhar Singh.

Fountains of blood sprayed everywhere. Unsatisfied even with this, Kulwant Kaur scratched and pulled at his hair like an army of demented cats, abusing her unknown rival in love with the foulest of curses. 

After a while Ishhar Singh begged weakly: “Let it go, now, Kulwant! Let it go.”

His voice had all the pain of the woebegone. Kulwant Kaur stepped back. Blood was spouting from Ishhar Singh’s neck and drenching his moustache; he opened his trembling lips and looked at Kulwant Kaur with a combination of reproach and gratitude: “My love, you acted in haste … but then, it was all for the best.”

Kulwant Kaur’s envy surfaced again: “But who was she? Your mother?

The blood had reached Ishhar Singh’s lips. As he tasted its acridity, his skin crawled: “And I… and I… killed five or six men… with this very kirpan.”

Kulwant Kaur’s mind was only filled with the thoughts of the other woman: “Just tell me, who is that bitch?”

Ishhar Singh’s eyes were clouding, but he managed to bring a faint glimmer in them and said this to Kulwant Kaur: “She’s no bitch.”

Kulwant screamed: “I am asking you, who is she!”

Ishhar Singh’s voice choked: “Let me speak.” He ran his hand over his neck, gazed at his living, pulsing blood and smiled: “People are such motherfuckers, I tell you.”

Kulwant Kaur was impatient: “Ishhar sainyya, come to the point.”

Ishhar Singh’s smile spread under his blood soaked moustache: “I will … now that you have cut my fucking throat … I will, by and by, tell you everything.”

And as he spoke sweat broke out on his brow. “Kulwant, my dear … I could not bring myself to tell you what happened. People are strange … there was rampant looting in the city, so, like everyone else, I too took part in it. Whatever ornaments or money I could lay my hands on, I brought home to you … but there is one thing I did not tell you.”

Ishhar Singh’s wounds had begun to throb and he stated keening in pain. Kulwant Kaur turned a blind eye to his state, and asked him spitefully: “What is it you did not tell me?”

Ishhar Singh tried to blow blood off his moustache and attempted to speak: “In the house … I targeted to loot … there were seven … seven inhabitants. I killed … six … with this very kirpan that you used to … let it go … listen! There was a girl … really pretty. I picked her up and brought her with me.”

Kulwant Kaur heard him out in silence. “Kulwant, my dear, I cannot begin to tell you how lovely she was … I would have killed her too, but then I thought, no, Ishhar sainyya, you enjoy your Kulwant Kaur every day in any case, why not have a taste of this sweetmeat?”

Kulwant Kaur merely responded: “Humph!”

“So I lifted her on one shoulder and set off … on the way … what was I saying? Yes, on the way … by the edge of the canal among the bushes and shrubbery, I lay her down … my first instinct was to play my cards, but then I thought, no …” Ishhar Singh’s tongue went dry.

Kulwant Kaur swallowed, wet her lips and spoke: “What happened then?”

With great difficulty, words emerged from Ishhar Singh’s mouth: “I did … I did play my cards, but then … but then  …”

His voice sank.

Kulwant Kaur shook him awake: “What happened then?”

Ishhar Singh opened eyes that were now failing him. He looked at Kulwant Kaur’s body. Every sinew was throbbing.

“She … she was dead … a corpse … just cold flesh … my love, my love, give me your hand.”

Kulwant Kaur placed her hand on Ishhar Singh’s, which had gone cold, colder than ice.

Year of Publication: 1950

© Mustansir Dalvi, 2018. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Manto - Ten Stories

M  A  N  T  O

translated by
Mustansir Dalvi



The knife
slices the belly open,

down, down beyond the navel. 
The pajama-string
is severed. 

All of a sudden,
the knife-wielder
invokes Kalma-e-ta'assuf:
"Che che che che...



With great effort,
the rioters dragged

the homeowner out of his house. 

He got to his feet,
brushed dust off his clothes

and turned towards them:

"Kill me if you want,
but beware!
If you even dare touch a rupee...!"

All Your Needs


When the fires were lit,
the whole mohalla
was reduced to ashes... 

only one shop survived,
on whose proud forehead
a hoarding proclaimed:

'One Stop Shop for All Your Building Needs'.

The Advantage of Ignorance

(Bekhabri ka faayda)

A trigger was pressed –
a bullet raged from the pistol.
An inquisitive soul,
poking his head out of a window,
laid low right where he stood.

After a while, the trigger
squeezed once again –
a second bullet screamed
into the night.
The water-carrier's mashk
burst, he fell on his face,
blood diluted water,
both flowed out.

The trigger was pressed
a third time - this time
the target was missed,
the bullet drowned
inside a wet wall.

The forth bullet found
an old lady's back,
she was dead even before
she could scream.

The fifth bullet, and the sixth,
both wasted, no one died, 
no one was hurt, but left
the trigger-happy man bereft.

Suddenly, a child was seen
running down the street.
The man turned the barrel
of his pistol in its direction.

"What are you doing?" asked his friend.
"You've run out of bullets, haven't you?"
"Be quiet!
D'you think this tiny little thing would know?"



At six in the morning,
near the petrol pump,
an ice-seller was stabbed.

Until seven
his body lay stiffening
soaked, drop by drop,
by melting ice water.

At seven fifteen, the police
carried away the corpse.
All that remained
was blood and ice.

A tonga passed by.
A child gazed in wonder
at the fresh, congealing,
globules of blood. 

His mouth watered. He pulled
at his mother's sleeve, pointed
downwards with his little finger:
"Look Mommy, Jelly!"

The Need for Rest

(Aaraam ki zaroorat)

"He's not dead... look,
there's life in him yet."

"Let it go, yaar...
I'm too tired."

Halaal and Jhatkaa 

(Halaal aur jhatkaa)

“I put my knife to his jugular,
cut slowly, baaack and forth,
finished him, halaal fashion.”

“Why'd you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Why'd you grant him a halaal death?”
“It’s fun, this way.”

“Fun? Fun? Son of a bitch...
you should have killed him
with a jhatkaa... like this!”

And the halaal maker’s neck
was lopped off
with a single jhatkaa.

A Dud Investment

(Ghaate ka sauda)

Two friends
made their selections
from the ten or twenty girls

in front of them. 

Then they picked one
and bought her together,
pooling in forty-two rupees.

The morning after,
one friend asked the girl:

"What's your name?"

She told him.
He was left shaken:

"We were told that you...
were from the other religion!"
"He lied", said the girl.

On hearing this,
he ran back to his friend:
"That bastard fooled us,
stiffed us with a girl

of our own religion.
Come on,
let's give her back!"

A Miracle


The police commenced raids
to recover looted goods.
Scared, everyone tried
to dispose of  the loot
in the dark of night.

Then there were some, who,
finding the right moment,
secreted goods away far
from their homes, out of reach
of the long arm of the law.

One man faced a dilemma.
He had come into possession
of two sacks of sugar, looted
from the grocer’s shop. 

Taking advantage of the dark,
willy-nilly, he managed to dump
one sack into a nearby well.
But as he tried to throw the other in,
he fell in himself, sack and all.

Hearing his cries, many rushed
to the well. Ropes were dangled
into its dankness. Young worthies
lowered themselves in, managed
to extricate the man.

Despite their efforts,
after a few hours the man died.
The next day, when people
drew from the well to drink,
the water was sweet.

From that very night,
lamps were found lit
over the man’s grave.

Good Hosts


The moving bus was accosted.
Those from the other faith
were pulled out one by one
and finished off with sword and gun. 

Once the doing was done,
the other occupants of the bus
were plied with halwa, milk and fruits. 

Just as the bus resumed its journey,
the spokesman of the hosts
addressed the passengers:
“Brothers and sisters, 

we came to know
about the time of the bus's arrival
only just now. That is why
we were not able to attend to you
in the manner we wanted.”

© Mustansir Dalvi, 2018. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Kavi Neeraj - Kaarvaan guzar gaya

In Memoriam
Kavi Neeraj (Gopaldas Saxena)
(4 January 1925 – 18 July 2018)

Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe
Kavi Neeraj  (Gopaldas Saxena)

Swapna jhade phool se, meet chubhe shool se
mit gaye singaar sabhi baagh ke babool se
aur ham khade khade bahaar dekhte rahe
Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe

Neend khuli na thi ki haaye dhoop dhal gayi
paanv jab talaq uthe ke zindagi fisal gayi
paat-paat jhad gaye ke shaakh-shaakh jal gayi
chaah to nikal saki na par umar nikal gayi
geet ashk ban gaye, chand ho dafan gaye
saath ke sabhi diye, dhuaan pahan-pahan gaye
aur ham jhuke-jhuke, mod par ruke-ruke
umr ke chadhaav kaa utaar dekhte rahe
Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe

Kyaa shabaab tha ki phool-phool pyaar kar uthaa
kyaa suroop tha ke dekh aainaa machal uthaa
is taraf zameen aur aasmaan udhar uthaa
thaam kar jigar uthaa ki jo milaa nazar uthaa
ek din magar yahan, aisi kuch hawa chali
lut gayi kali-kali ki ghut gayi gali-gali
aur ham lute-lute, waqt se pite-pite
saans ki sharaab ka khumaar dekhte rahe
Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe

Haath they mile ki zulf chaand ki sanwaar doon
honth they khule ki har bahaar ko pukaar doon
dard thaa diyaa gayaa ki har dukhi ko pyaar doon
aur saans yun ki swarg bhoomi par utaar doon
ho sakaa na kuchh magar, shaam ban gayi sahar
wo uthi lehar ke deh gaye kile bikhar-bikhar
aur ham dare-dare, neer nain mein bhare
oadh kar kafan pade mazaar dekhte rahe
Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe

Maang bhar chali ki ek, jab nayi-nayi kiran
Dholakein dhumak uthi, thumak uthe charan-charan
shor mach gayaa ki lo chali dulhan, chali dulhan
gaon sab umad padaa, bahak uthe nayan-nayan
par tabhi zahar bhari gaaz ek woh giri
poonch gaya sindoor, taar-taar huyi chunri
aur ham ajaan se, door ke makaan se
paalki liye huye kahaar dekhte rahe
Kaarvaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe

The caravan has passed
translated by
Mustansir Dalvi

Dreams spill like wilted blooms, intimacies bled by thorns.
In the garden, the babool is bereft of its strings of pearls,
and here we stand, yearning for the coming spring
but the caravan has passed, leaving us to stare
at dust, rising in its wake.

Barely had we opened our eyes, woe! The sun began to sink.
By the time we rose to our feet, life silently slipped by.
Trees shed leaves, leaves. Branches, branches burned to ash.
A lifetime sped by before desires found expression.
Songwords turned into tears, verses were interred.
Lamps around us have taken to wearing veils of smoke
and here we are, bent and broken, stymied at every turn
bearing witness to the descent of our changing days
while the caravan has passed, leaving us to stare
at dust, rising in its wake.

O, the allure of youth, that every flower was smitten!
O, the enchanting image, that made the mirror lose control!
Here the earth rose, there the firmament flew,
every heart went a-flutter, every gaze turned upwards.
But then one day, an ill wind blew,
ravaging every bud, choking every street
while here we remain, despoiled, broken by fortune,
inebriated by the spirits of our own exhalations.
The caravan has passed, leaving us to stare
at dust, rising in its wake.

My hands came together to comb moonlight’s tresses,
my lips opened to call out to every sign of spring.
I was granted pain to ease every ailing soul with love
and breath, to guide the heavens to come to earth.
Nothing came to pass. Dusk turned to dawn,
the rising wave crushed bastions into rubble,
and here we are, floundering in our fears, eyes filled with tears;
we wrap shrouds around ourselves and gaze at the grave
while the caravan has passed, leaving us to stare
at dust, rising in its wake.

When a new ray of light rode like a vermillioned bride,
drums beat with abandon, each foot rose to dance.
A happy cry rose: Here comes the bride! Here she comes!
The whole town turned out, a twinkle in every eye,
but just then a blighted bolt befell us,
obliterated the sindoor, rent apart the bridal veil,
while there we were, oblivious, in a distant house
watching the palanquin with its bearers depart
and the caravan passed, leaving us to stare
at dust, rising in its wake.

Translation and Transliteration © Mustansir Dalvi, 2018, All rights reserved.

Click on link to see the song from the film
‘Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal’ (dir. R. Chandra, 1966)
Singer : Mohammad Rafi
Music Director : Roshan

कारवां गुज़र गया
- कवी 'नीरज'

स्वप्न झरे फूल से, मीत चुभे शूल से,
लुट गये सिंगार सभी बाग़ के बबूल से,
और हम खड़े-खड़े बहार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे!

नींद भी खुली न थी कि हाय धूप ढल गई,
पाँव जब तलक उठे कि ज़िन्दगी फिसल गई,
पात-पात झर गये कि शाख़-शाख़ जल गई,
चाह तो निकल सकी न, पर उमर निकल गई,
गीत अश्क़ बन गए, छंद हो दफ़न गए,
साथ के सभी दिऐ धुआँ-धुआँ पहन गये,
और हम झुके-झुके, मोड़ पर रुके-रुके
उम्र के चढ़ाव का उतार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

क्या शबाब था कि फूल-फूल प्यार कर उठा,
क्या सुरूप था कि देख आइना मचल उठा
इस तरफ जमीन और आसमां उधर उठा,
थाम कर जिगर उठा कि जो मिला नज़र उठा,
एक दिन मगर यहाँ, ऐसी कुछ हवा चली,
लुट गयी कली-कली कि घुट गयी गली-गली,
और हम लुटे-लुटे, वक्त से पिटे-पिटे,
साँस की शराब का खुमार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

हाथ थे मिले कि जुल्फ चाँद की सँवार दूँ,
होंठ थे खुले कि हर बहार को पुकार दूँ,
दर्द था दिया गया कि हर दुखी को प्यार दूँ,
और साँस यूँ कि स्वर्ग भूमी पर उतार दूँ,
हो सका न कुछ मगर, शाम बन गई सहर,
वह उठी लहर कि दह गये किले बिखर-बिखर,
और हम डरे-डरे, नीर नयन में भरे,
ओढ़कर कफ़न, पड़े मज़ार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे!

माँग भर चली कि एक, जब नई-नई किरन,
ढोलकें धुमुक उठीं, ठुमक उठे चरण-चरण,
शोर मच गया कि लो चली दुल्हन, चली दुल्हन,
गाँव सब उमड़ पड़ा, बहक उठे नयन-नयन,
पर तभी ज़हर भरी, ग़ाज एक वह गिरी,
पुंछ गया सिंदूर तार-तार हुई चूनरी,
और हम अजान से, दूर के मकान से,
पालकी लिये हुए कहार देखते रहे।
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ishrat-e-qatraa hai (Ghalib, translated by Mustansir Dalvi)

Ishrat-e-qatraa hai
a ghazal by
Mirza Ghalib

Ishrat-e-qatraa hai dariyaa mein fanaa ho jaana
Dard ka hadd se guzarnaa hai dawaa ho jaana

Tujhse qismat mein meri surat-e-qufl-e-abjad
Tha likhaa baat ke bante hi judaa ho jaana

Dil hua kashmakash-e-chaara-e-zehmat mein tamaam
Mit gaya ghisne mein is uqde ka vaa ho jaana

Ab jafaa se bhi hai marhoom hum, Allah Allah
Is qadar dushman-e-arbaab-e-wafaa ho jaana

Zo’af se giriyaa mubaddal ba-dam-e-sard hua
Bavar aaya hamein paani ka hawaa ho jaana

Dil se mitna teri angusht-e-hinaai ka khayaal
Ho gaya gosht se naakhun ka judaa ho jaana

Hai mujhe abr-e-bahaari ka baras kar khulna
Rote rote gham-e-furqat mein fanaa ho jaana

Gar nahin nikhat-e-gul ko tere kuche ki hawas
Kyun hai gard-e-raah-e-jaulaan-e-sabaa ho jaana

Bakshe hai jalwa-e-gul zouq-e-tamaashaa Ghaalib
Chasm ko chaahiye har rang mein vaa ho jaana

Taa ki tujh par khule aijaaz-e-hawaa-e-saiqal
Dekh barsaat mein sabz aaine ka ho jaana

Here is Ghalib's ghazal rendered by M S Subbulakshmi

The droplet’s desire
translated by
Mustansir Dalvi

the droplet desires but
to be subsumed in the river
when pain breaches all limits
it becomes its own cure

we were fated to be hasped
like a many-levered lock
it was decreed things would fall apart
the moment they came together

the heart was annihilated
in the struggle to resolve its woes
the rope was frayed
in the efforts to unravel the knot

O Allah, must we now be deprived
even from oppression?
how severe is this hostility
even to a constant friend?

my weakness replaced my grief
changed it into icy breath
only then did I realize
how water turns into air

the thought that your hennaed touch
will no longer soothe my aching breast
is like the agony of ripping the nails
from the flesh of my fingers

after a spring downpour
the sky clears
in the gloom of separation
I drown in my tears

if the fragrance of the blossom has no desire
to waft to the street where you live
why then does it swirl like dust
in the alleys downwind?

Ghalib, you have been granted the spectacle
of the passion of flowers in bloom
your eyes are required to plunge
into colors of every hue

so that the wonder of the bracing wind
will unfold upon you
see how the mirror turns green
in the season of rain

Translation and Transliteration © Mustansir Dalvi, 2018, All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Aah, ki meri jaan ko qaraar nahin hai (Ghalib, translated by Mustansir Dalvi)

Aah, ki meri jaan ko qaraar nahin hai

a Ghazal by
Mirza Ghalib

Aah, ki meri jaan ko qaraar nahin hai
Taaqat-e-bedaad-e-intezaar nahin hai

Dete hai jannat hayaat-e-dahr ke badle
Nashaa ba-andaazaa-e-khumaar nahin hai

Giryaa nikaale hai teri bazm se mujhko
Hai! Ki rone pe ikhtiyaar nahin hai

Hum se abas hai ghumaan-e-ranjish-e-khaatir
Khaak mein usshaak ki ghubaar nahin hai

Dil se uthaa lutf-e-jalwaa-haa-e-ma’aani
Ghair-e-gul aainaa-e-bahaar nahin hai

Qatl ka mere kiya hai ahd to baare
Vaae agar ahd ustuvaar nahin hai

Tune qasam mai-kashi ki khaaee hai Ghalib
Teri qasam ka kuch aitbaar nahin hai

The promise of paradise

a Ghazal translated by
Mustansir Dalvi

O, my soul that finds
no peace; nor patience,
for I am indifferent
to the tyranny of waiting.

I am promised paradise
in return for earthly life, and yet
this pledge is not equal
to the intoxication assured

Weeping, I am ejected
from your assembly
O, that I have no control
on my tears

How futile are these
estimations of my own grief
No clouds of love blow
on this parched earth

Every sense of passion
has been lifted from my heart
What is the mirror of spring
if not the flower itself?

You have found, at last
a time for my slaying
Woe, that you are 
not firm on that at all

Ghalib, you may
have sworn to get drunk
But no one really believes
you actually will


Translation and Transliteration © Mustansir Dalvi, 2016, All rights reserved.