Thursday, October 11, 2012

THE PICKWICK FESTIVAL - Celebrating Dickens and Manto


(Celebrating Dickens and Manto)

A few days ago, a literary erudite young friend of mine, Saumya Kulshreshtha, told me about PickFest (The Pickwick Festival) – a literary festival the English Literary Association Department of English of Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi is organizing for three days from the 15th to 17th of October 2012 on their campus.

This 3 day literary festival is being held to celebrate the Bi-centenary of Charles Dickens and the centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto and it looks like this event is going to be a very interesting affair, with plenty of informative, creative and interactive activities, and quizzes, films, contests and competitions, especially for young Students of literature and Teams from Colleges and Universities. I wish I lived in Delhi, or nearby, and I would have surely attended The Pickwick Fest, but sadly I live quite far away in Pune, and cannot attend due to prior commitments. But I am sure those who can attend will not miss the opportunity to participate in this literary festival.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is a familiar name for English speaking readers and most of you would have read many of his acclaimed works of fiction like A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, The Pickwick Papers and, my personal favourite, Oliver Twist.

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55) wrote in Urdu and most of his works have been translated into English. He wrote various genres of literature, including essays, plays, screenwriting and a novel, but his true métier was in the short story and he can be called the Anton Chekhov of South East Asia.

Of all his short stories, my personal favourites are:


TOBA TEK SINGH is satire on partition and DOG OF TITHWAL brings out the absurdity of war.

Both these stories are freely available on the internet for you to read. I am giving below the url links to these stories and, for your convenience, I am also posting the stories below from these links, for you to enjoy right here.

I am sure you will enjoy reading these classic stories and discuss them at The Pickwick Literary Festival.

Saadat Hasan Manto

(Translated from the Urdu by Frances W. Pritchett)

Two or three years after Partition, it occurred to the governments of Pakistan and Hindustan that like criminal offenders, lunatics too ought to be exchanged: that is, those Muslim lunatics who were in Hindustan's insane asylums should be sent to Pakistan, and those Hindus and Sikhs who were in Pakistan's insane asylums should be confided to the care of Hindustan.

There's no telling whether this idea was wise or unwise; in any case, according to the decision of the learned, high-level conferences took place here and there, and finally a day was fixed for the exchange of lunatics. Thorough investigation was made. Those Muslim lunatics whose relatives were all in Hindustan were allowed to remain there. As for the rest, they were sent off to the border. Here in Pakistan, since almost all the Hindus and Sikhs had already left, the question of keeping anyone didn't even arise. As many Hindu and Sikh lunatics as there were, all of them were conveyed, under police protection, to the border.

No telling what was going on that side. But here in the Lahore insane asylum, when word of this exchange arrived, major discussions began to take place. One Muslim lunatic, who every day for twelve years had regularly read the "Zamindar," was asked by a friend, "Molbi Sa'b, what's this 'Pakistan'?"; after much thought and reflection he answered, "It's a kind of place in Hindustan where razors are made."

Having heard this answer, his friend was satisfied.

In the same way, a second Sikh lunatic asked another Sikh lunatic, "Sardarji, why are we being sent to Hindustan? --We don't know the language of that place."

The other smiled: "I know the language of those Hindustaggers-- those Hindustanis go strutting around like the devil!"

One day, while bathing, a Muslim lunatic raised the cry of "Long live Pakistan!" with such force that he slipped on the floor and fell, and knocked himself out.

There were also a number of lunatics who were not lunatics. The majority of them were murderers whose relatives had bribed the officers to get them sent to the lunatic asylum, to save them from the coils of the hangman's noose. These understood something of why Hindustan had been partitioned and what Pakistan was. But they too were ignorant of the actual events. Nothing could be learned from the newspapers. The guards were illiterate and crude; nothing could be picked up from their conversation either. They knew only this much: that there's a man, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whom people call the "Qa'id-e Azam." He has made a separate country for the Muslims, the name of which is Pakistan. Where it is, what its location is-- about this they new nothing. This is the reason that in the insane asylum, all the lunatics whose minds were not completely gone were trapped in the dilemma of whether they were in Pakistan or Hindustan. If they were in Hindustan, then where was Pakistan? If they were in Pakistan, then how could this be, since a while ago, while staying right here, they had been in Hindustan?

One lunatic became so caught up in the circle of Pakistan and Hindustan, and Hindustan and Pakistan, that he became even more lunatic. One day he had been sweeping-- and then climbed a tree, seated himself on a branch, and gave an unbroken two-hour speech about the subtle problem of Pakistan and Hindustan. When the guards told him to come down, he climbed even higher. When he was warned and threatened, he said, "I don't want to live in either Hindustan or Pakistan. I'll live right here in this tree."

When after great difficulty his ardor was cooled, he came down and began to embrace his Hindu and Sikh friends and weep. His heart overflowed at the thought that they would leave him and go off to Hindustan.

In an M.Sc. qualified radio engineer, who was Muslim, who used to stroll all day in silence on a special path in the garden entirely apart from the other lunatics, the change that manifested itself was that he removed all his clothing, confided it to the care of a warden, and began to wander all around the garden entirely naked.

A stout Muslim lunatic from Chiniot who had been an enthusiastic worker for the Muslim League, and who bathed fifteen or sixteen times a day, suddenly abandoned this habit. His name was Muhammad Ali. Accordingly, one day in his madness he announced that he was the Qa'id-e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In imitation of him, a Sikh lunatic became Master Tara Singh. In this madness it almost came to bloodshed, but both were declared 'dangerous lunatics' and shut up in separate rooms.

There was a young Hindu lawyer from Lahore who had been rejected in love and had turned lunatic. When he heard that Amritsar had gone away into India, then he was very sad. He had fallen in love with a Hindu girl from that very city. Although she had rejected the lawyer, even in his madness he hadn't forgotten her. Thus he abused all those Hindu and Muslim leaders who had connived together and made Hindustan into two fragments-- his beloved had become Hindustani, and he Pakistani.

When talk of the exchange began, then some of the lunatics comforted the lawyer, saying that he shouldn't mind about it, that he would be sent to Hindustan-- the Hindustan where his beloved lived. But he didn't want to leave Lahore, because he thought that in Amritsar his practice wouldn't flourish.

In the European ward there were two Anglo-Indian lunatics. When they learned that the English had freed Hindustan and gone away, they were very much shocked. And for hours they privately conferred about the important question of what their status in the lunatic asylum would be now. Would the European Ward remain, or be abolished? Would breakfast be available, or not? Instead of proper bread, would they have to choke down those bloody Indian chapattis?

There was one Sikh who had been in the insane asylum for fifteen years. Strange and remarkable words were always be heard on his lips: "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di daal of the lantern." He slept neither by day nor by night. The guards said that in the long duration of fifteen years he hadn't slept even for a moment. He didn't even lie down. Although indeed, he sometimes leaned against a wall.

Because he constantly remained standing, his feet swelled up. His ankles were swollen too. But despite this bodily discomfort, he didn't lie down and rest. When in the insane asylum there was talk about Hindustan-Pakistan and the exchange of lunatics, he listened attentively. If someone asked him what his opinion was, he answered with great seriousness, "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di daal of the Pakistan Government."

But later, "of the Pakistan Government" was replaced by "of the Toba Tek Singh Government," and he began to ask the other lunatics where Toba Tek Singh was, where he had his home. But no one at all knew whether it was in Pakistan or Hindustan. If they tried to tell him, they themselves were caught up in the perplexity that Sialkot used to be in Hindustan, but now it was said to be in Pakistan. Who knew whether Lahore, which now is in Pakistan, tomorrow might go off to Hindustan? Or all of Hindustan itself might become Pakistan? And who could place his hand on his breast and say whether Hindustan and Pakistan might not both someday vanish entirely?

This Sikh lunatic's hair had grown very thin and sparse. Because he rarely bathed, the hair of his beard and head had clumped together, which gave him a very frightening appearance. But the man was harmless. In fifteen years he'd never quarreled with anybody. The longtime custodians in the insane asylum knew only this much about him: that he had some lands in Toba Tek Singh. He was a prosperous landlord, when suddenly his mind gave way. His relatives bound him in heavy iron chains, brought him to the insane asylum, got him admitted, and left.

These people came once a month to see him; after checking on his welfare, they left. For a long time these visits took place regularly. But when the confusion over Pakistan-Hindustan began, the visits stopped.

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 every month when his near and dear ones came to visit him, then he himself used to be aware of it. Thus he used to tell the custodian that his visitors were coming. That day he bathed very well, scrubbed his body thoroughly with soap, and put oil on his hair and combed it. He had them bring out clothes that he never wore, and put them on, and in such a state of adornment he went to meet his visitors. If they asked him anything, then he remained silent, or from time to time said, "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di dal of the lantern."

He had one daughter who, growing a finger-width taller every month, in fifteen years had become a young girl. Bishan Singh didn't even recognize her. When she was a child, she wept when she saw her father; when she'd grown up, tears still flowed from her eyes.

When the story of Pakistan and Hindustan began, he started asking the other lunatics where Toba Tek Singh was. When no reassuring answer was forthcoming, day by day his agitation increased. Now even his visitors didn't come. Formerly, he himself used to be aware that his visitors were coming. But now it was as if even the voice of his heart, which used to tell him of their arrival, had fallen silent.

His great desire was that those people would come who showed sympathy toward him, and brought him fruit, sweets, and clothing. If he asked them where Toba Tek Singh was, they would certainly tell him whether it was in Pakistan or Hindustan. Because his idea was that they came from Toba Tek Singh itself, where his lands were.

In the insane asylum there was also a lunatic who called himself God. When one day Bisham Singh asked him whether Toba Tek Singh was in Pakistan or Hindustan, he burst out laughing, as was his habit, and said, "It's neither in Pakistan nor in Hindustan-- because we haven't given the order yet."

A number of times Bishan Singh asked this God, with much pleading and cajoling, to give the order, so that the perplexity would be ended; but he was very busy, because he had countless orders to give. One day, growing irritated, Bishan Singh burst out at him, "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di dal of hail to the Guruji and the Khalsa, and victory to the Guruji! Who says this will thrive-- the true God is ever alive!"

Perhaps the meaning of this was, "You're the God of the Muslims! If you were the God of the Sikhs, you'd surely have listened to me!"

Some days before the exchange, a Muslim from Toba Tek Singh who was his friend came to visit him. He had never come before. When Bishan Singh saw him, he moved off to one side and turned to go back, but the guards stopped him.

"He's come to visit you. He's your friend Fazal Din."

Bishan Singh took one look at Fazal Din, and began to mutter something. Fazal Din came forward and put a hand on his shoulder. "I've been thinking for a long time that I'd come see you, but I just didn't get a chance.... All your family are well; they've gone off to Hindustan.... I helped as much as I could.... Your daughter Rup Kaur..."

He stopped in the midst of what he was saying. Bishan Singh began to remember something. "Daughter Rup Kaur."

Fazl Din said haltingly, "Yes... she... she too is fine.... She too went off with them."

Bishan Singh remained silent. Fazal Din began saying, "They told me to check on your welfare from time to time.... Now I've heard that you're going to Hindustan.... Give my greetings to brother Balbesar Singh and brother Vadhava Singh.... And sister Amrit Kaur too.... Tell brother Balbesar that those brown water buffaloes that he left behind, one of them had a male calf.... The other had a female calf, but when it was six days old it died.... And... and if there's anything I can do for you, tell me; I'm at your service.... And I've brought you a little puffed-rice candy."

Bishan Singh confided the bundle of puffed-rice candy to the guard standing nearby, and asked Fazal Din, "Where is Toba Tek Singh?"

Fazal Din said with some astonishment, "Where is it? Right there where it was!"

Bishan Singh asked, "In Pakistan, or in Hindustan?"

"In Hindustan -- no, no, in Pakistan." Fazal Din was thrown into confusion.

Bishan Singh went off muttering, "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di dal of the Pakistan and Hindustan of the get out, loudmouth!"

Preparations for the exchange had been completed. Lists of the lunatics coming from here to there, and from there to here, had arrived, and the day of the exchange had also been fixed.

It was extremely cold when the lorries full of Hindu and Sikh lunatics from the Lahore insane asylum set out, with a police guard. The escorting wardens were with them as well. At the Wagah border the two parties' superintendents met each other; and after the initial procedures had been completed, the exchange began, and went on all night.

To extricate the lunatics from the lorries, and confide them to the care of the other wardens, was a very difficult task. Some refused to emerge at all. Those who were willing to come out became difficult to manage, because they suddenly ran here and there. If clothes were put on the naked ones, they tore them off their bodies and flung them away. Someone was babbling abuse, someone was singing. They were fighting among themselves, weeping, muttering. People couldn't make themselves heard at all-- and the female lunatics' noise and clamour was something else. And the cold was so fierce that everybody's teeth were chattering.

The majority of the lunatics were not in favour of this exchange. Because they couldn't understand why they were being uprooted from their place and thrown away like this. Those few who were capable of a glimmer of understanding were raising the cries, "Long live Pakistan!" and "Death to Pakistan!" Two or three times a fight was narrowly averted, because a number of Muslims and Sikhs, hearing these slogans, flew into a passion.

When Bishan Singh's turn came, and on that side of the Wagah border the accompanying officer began to enter his name in the register, he asked, "Where is Toba Tek Singh? In Pakistan, or in Hindustan?"

The accompanying officer laughed: "In Pakistan."

On hearing this Bishan Singh leaped up, dodged to one side, and ran to rejoin his remaining companions. The Pakistani guards seized him and began to pull him in the other direction, but he refused to move. "Toba Tek Singh is here!" -- and he began to shriek with great force, "Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di dal of Toba Tek Singh and Pakistan!"

They tried hard to persuade him: "Look, now Toba Tek Singh has gone off to Hindustan! And if it hasn't gone, then it will be sent there at once." But he didn't believe them. When they tried to drag him to the other side by force, he stopped in the middle and stood there on his swollen legs as if now no power could move him from that place.

Since the man was harmless, no further force was used on him. He was allowed to remain standing there, and the rest of the work of the exchange went on.

In the pre-dawn peace and quiet, from Bishan Singh's throat there came a shriek that pierced the sky.... From here and there a number of officers came running, and they saw that the man who for fifteen years, day and night, had constantly stayed on his feet, lay prostrate. There, behind barbed wire, was Hindustan. Here, behind the same kind of wire, was Pakistan. In between, on that piece of ground that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.

Dog of Tithwal
Saadaat Hasan Manto

The soldiers had been entrenched in their positions for several weeks, but there was little, if any, fighting, except for the dozen rounds they ritually exchanged every day. The weather was extremely pleasant. The air was heavy with the scent of wild flowers and nature seemed to be following its course, quite unmindful of the soldiers hiding behind rocks and camouflaged by mountain shrubbery. The birds sang as they always had and the flowers were in bloom. Bees buzzed about lazily.

Only when a shot rang out, the birds got startled and took Right, as if a musician had struck a jarring note on his instrument. It was almost the end of September, neither hot nor cold. It seemed as if summer and winter had made their peace. In the blue skies, cotton clouds floated all day like barges on a lake.

The soldiers seemed to be getting tired of this indecisive war where nothing much ever happened. Their positions were quite impregnable. The two hills on which they were placed faced each other and were about the same height, so no one side had an advantage. Down below in the valley, a stream zigzagged furiously on its stony bed like a snake.

The air force was not involved in the combat and neither of the adversaries had heavy guns or mortars. At night, they would light huge fires and hear each others' voices echoing through the hills.

The last round of tea had just been taken. The fire had gone cold. The sky was clear and there was a chill in the air and a sharp, though not unpleasant, smell of pine cones. Most of the soldiers were already asleep, except Jamadar Harnam Singh, who was on night watch. At two o'clock, he woke up Ganda Singh to take over. Then he lay down, but sleep was as far away from his eyes as the stars in the sky. He began to hum a Punjabi folk song:

Buy me a pair of shoes, my lover A pair of shoes with stars on them Sell your buffalo, if you have to But buy me a pair of shoes With stars on them

It made him feel good and a bit sentimental. He woke up the others one by one. Banta Singh, the youngest of the soldiers, who had a sweet voice, began to sing a lovelorn verse from Heer Ranjha, that timeless Punjabi epic of love and tragedy. A deep sadness fell over them. Even the grey hills seemed to have been affected by the melancholy of the song.

This mood was shattered by the barking of a dog. Jamadar Harnam Singh said, 'Where has this son of a bitch materialized from?'

The dog barked again. He sounded closer. There was a rustle in the bushes. Banta Singh got up to investigate and came back with an ordinary mongrel in tow. He was wagging his tail. 'I found him behind the bushes and he told me his name was Jhun Jhun,' Banta Singh announced. Everybody burst out laughing.

The dog went to Harnam Singh who produced a cracker from his kitbag and threw it on the ground. The dog sniffed at it and was about to eat it, when Harnam Singh snatched it away. '. . . Wait, you could be a Pakistani dog.'

They laughed. Banta Singh patted the animal and said to Harnam Singh, 'Jamadar sahib,JhunJhun is an Indian dog.' 'Prove your identity,' Harnam Singh ordered the dog, who began to wag his tail.

'This is no proof of identity. All dogs can wag their tails,' Harnam Singh said.

'He is only a poor refugee,' Banta Singh said, playing with his tail.

Harnam Singh threw the dog a cracker which he caught in midair. 'Even dogs will now have to decide if they are Indian or Pakistani,' one of the soldiers observed.

Harnam Singh produced another cracker from his kitbag. 'And all Pakistanis, including dogs, will be shot.'

A soldier shouted, 'India Zindabad ! '

The dog, who was about to munch his cracker, stopped dead in his tracks, put his tail between his legs and looked scared. Harnam Singh laughed. 'Why are you afraid of your own country? Here, Jhun Jhun, have another cracker.'

The morning broke very suddenly, as if someone had switched on a light in a dark room. It spread across the hills and valleys of Titwal, which is what the area was called.

The war had been going on for months, but nobody could be quite sure who was winning it.

Jamadar Harnam Singh surveyed the area with his binoculars. He could see smoke rising from the opposite hill, which meant that, like them, the enemy was busy preparing breakfast.

Subedar Himmat Khan of the Pakistan army gave his huge moustache a twirl and began to study the map of the Titwal sector. Next to him sat his wireless operator who was trying to establish contact with the platoon commander to obtain instructions. A few feet away, the soldier Bashir sat on the ground, his back against a rock and his rifle in front of him.

He was humming:

Where did you spend the night, my love, my moon?

Where did you spend the night?

Enjoying himself, he began to sing more loudly, savouring the words. Suddenly, he heard Subedar Himmat Khan scream,

'Where did you spend the night?'

But this was not addressed to Bashir. It was a dog he was shouting at. He had come to them from nowhere a few days ago, stayed in the camp quite happily and then suddenly disappeared last night. However, he had now returned like a bad coin.

Bashir smiled and began to sing to the dog. 'Where did you spend the night, where did you spend the night?' But he only wagged his tail. Subedar Himmat Khan threw a pebble at him. 'All he can do is wag his tail, the idiot.'

'What has he got around his neck?' Bashir asked. One of the soldiers grabbed the dog and undid his makeshift rope collar. There was a small piece of cardboard tied to it. 'What does it say?' the soldier, who could not read, asked.

Bashir stepped forward and with some difficulty was able to decipher the writing. 'It says JhunJhun.'

Subedar Himmat Khan gave his famous moustache another mighty twirl and said, 'Perhaps it is a code. Does it say anything else, Bashirey?'

'Yes sir, it says it is an Indian dog.'

'What does that mean?' Subedar Himmat Khan asked.

'Perhaps it is a secret,' Bashir answered seriously.

'If there is a secret, it is in that word Jhun Jhun,' another soldier ventured in a wise guess.

'You may have something there,' Subedar Himmat Khan observed.

Dutifully, Bashir read the whole thing again. 'JhunJhun. This is an Indian dog.'

Subedar Himmat Khan picked up the wireless set and spoke to his platoon commander, providing him with a detailed account of the dog's sudden appearance in their position, his equally sudden disappearance the night before and his return that rnorning. 'What are you talking about?' the platoon commander asked.

Subedar Himmat Khan studied the map again. Then he tore up a packet of cigarettes, cut a small piece from it and gave it to Bashir. 'Now write on it in Gurmukhi, the language of those Sikhs . . .'

'What should I write?'

'Well . . .'

Bashir had an inspiration. 'Shun Shun, yes, that's right. We counter JhunJhun with Shun Shun.'

'Good,' Subedar Himmat Khan said approvingly. 'And add:

This is a Pakistani dog.'

Subedar Himmat Khan personally threaded the piece of paper through the dog's collar and said, 'Now go join your family.'

He gave him something to eat and then said, 'Look here, my friend, no treachery. The punishment for treachery is death.'

The dog kept eating his food and wagging his tail. Then Subedar Himmat Khan turned him round to face the Indian position and said, 'Go and take this message to the enemy, but come back. These are the orders of your commander.'

The dog wagged his tail and moved down the winding hilly track that led into the valley dividing the two hills. Subedar Himmat Khan picked up his rifle and fired in the air.

The Indians were a bit puzzled, as it was somewhat early in the day for that sort of thing. Jamadar Harnam Singh, who in any case was feeling bored, shouted, 'Let's give it to them.'

The two sides exchanged fire for half an hour, which, of course, was a complete waste of time. Finally, Jamadar Harnam Singh ordered that enough was enough. He combed his long hair, looked at himself in the mirror and asked Banta Singh, 'Where has that dog Jhun Jhun gone?'

'Dogs can never digest butter, goes the famous saying,' Banta Singh observed philosophically.

Suddenly, the soldier on lookout duty shouted, 'There he comes.'

'Who?' Jamadar Harnam Singh asked.

'What was his name?JhunJhun,' the soldier answered.

'What is he doing?' Harnam Singh asked.

'Just coming our way,' the soldier replied, peering through his binoculars.

Subedar Harnam Singh snatched them from him. 'That's him all right and there's something round his neck. But, wait, that's the Pakistani hill he's coming from, the motherfucker.'

He picked up his rifle, aimed and fired. The bullet hit some rocks close to where the dog was. He stopped.

Subedar Himmat Khan heard the report and looked through his binoculars. The dog had turned round and was running back. 'The brave never run away from battle. Go forward and complete your mission,' he shouted at the dog. To scare him, he fired in his general direction. Harnam Singh fired at the same time. The bullet passed within inches of the dog, who leapt in the air, flapping his ears. Subedar Himmat Khan fired again, hitting some stones.

It soon became a game between the two soldiers, with the dog running round in circles in a state of great terror. Both Himmat Khan and Harnam Singh were laughing boisterously. The dog began to run towards Harnam Singh, who abused him loudly and fired. The bullet caught him in the leg. He yelped, turned around and began to run towards Himmat Khan, only to meet more fire, which was only meant to scare him. 'Be a brave boy. If you are injured, don't let that stand between you and your duty. Go, go, go,' the Pakistani shouted.

The dog turned. One of his legs was now quite useless. He began to drag himself towards Harnam Singh, who picked up his rifle, aimed carefully and shot him dead.

Subedar Himmat Khan sighed, 'The poor bugger has been martyred.'

Jamadar Himmat Singh ran his hand over the still-hot barrel of his rifle and muttered, 'He died a dog's death.'

Did you like these stories?

Maybe you can discuss the finer aspects at the “pickfest”.

For any Query regarding anything related to The Pickwick Fest you may contact the Student Representatives Saumya Kulshreshtha (9910501935) and Lubna Ansari (9899246446)

Do enjoy The Pickwick Festival and tell us all about it.

Happy Reading.

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