Art: Sacrifice and Eternal Wait in Sadeqauin’s paintings

Sadequain

Sadequain (1930 – 1987) is Pakistan’s foremost painter. Besides being a skilled calligrapher and a poet, his mastery lay in transforming famous Urdu poems and couplets into all-revealing paintings.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the great poet, says about Sadequain’s work, “With the commencement of his phantasmagorical exploration of form and substance, there emerges a series of abstract visual statements, strong and subtle, stripping, anatomising and recreating the skeletal forms beneath the visual flesh — skeletons of streets and cities, weeds and plants, men and women.”

Below are six of his paintings which have become synonymous with his name.

The Passion

Eternal Wait

The Competition

Hangings

Faiz chained

“Speak, for your lips are free” – Faiz

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Movie: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

(Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos); Country: Argentina; Language: Spanish)

The story revolves around a legal counselor (Ricardo Darín as Benjamin Esposito) and his aide who try to catch the culprit after the rape and murder of a beautiful Buenos Aires girl.

The murderer turns out to be on the payroll of the state agencies as an informer and therefore protected from the criminal proceedings. This does not sit well with Counselor Esposito who disregards official orders and goes after the murderer. His friend and colleague is killed as hired assassins are sent to get rid of him. He leaves the city and lives his life in another town for the next twenty five years.

The film starts with Counselor Esposito trying to write a novel about the said case now that he is retired, divorced and lonely, and has nothing important to do. His boss (Soledad Villamil as Irene Hastings) for whom he nurtured tender feelings during the time they spent together on the case helps him with tips and insights to write the novel.

It is exactly during the writing of the novel that the Counselor Esposito actually finds out what happened with the murderer, after twenty five years of the closing of the case.

An engaging script with good dialogues and occasional humour, the film is worth watching but don’t expect too much. My rating 3/5. Here is the IMDb Link.

Travel Photography: Denmark: Hamlet’s Castle and Øresund Coast

Kronborg Castle, the residence of Shakespeare’s fictitious Prince Hamlet.

Leaving Helsingør, Denmark, on ferry and going to Helsinborg, Sweden.

I am looking into the gleaming blue waters of the Øresund

Sun shining on the waters of Øresund as a small boat sails past our ferry

Twilight on the docks in Helsinborg, Sweden.

Art: Sadequain’s Nudes (1 of 2)

Sadequain’s self portrait

Sadequain (1930 – 1987) is Pakistan’s foremost painter. Besides being a skilled calligrapher and a poet, his mastery lay in depicting in paintings the great poems and famous couplets of Urdu poets, including that of Ghalib and Faiz, in the poetry-celebrating culture of Pakistan.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the great poet, says about Sadequain’s work, “With the commencement of his phantasmagorical exploration of form and substance, there emerges a series of abstract visual statements, strong and subtle, stripping, anatomising and recreating the skeletal forms beneath the visual flesh — skeletons of streets and cities, weeds and plants, men and women.”

Famous for his poetry-influenced paintings, he occasionally sketched and painted nudes. Here is a small selection of Sadequain’s nudes that not many people know about unless they research and make themselves thoroughly acquainted with his oeuvre.

Art: Controversial Paintings of M.F. Hussain

M. F. Hussain

Indian painter M. F. Hussain (1915 – 2011) during his lifetime created controversy by painting the revered figures of Hinduism in nude. The faithful took offence and protested in the length and breadth of the country. Legal action on the grounds of obscenity was taken in some cases and an apology was sought in others.

M.F. Hussain in his turn argued that ancient Indian art itself depicts sacred figures in semi-nude or nude form and that he had not done anything new and unheard of. Things did not calm down and Hussain had to leave the country due to death threats.

I was discussing this with a friend and later decided to post those pictures on my blog. Here are some, but not all, of the offending paintings.

 

 

Goddess Durga in sexual position with a tiger

Goddess Lakhsmi sitting naked on Ganesh’s head

Muslim Sultan is clothed while the Brahman is naked

Naked Saraswati

Naked Parvati

Naked Mother India that infuriated the nationalists

Goddess Sita sitting nude on Ravana’s thigh as Hanuman comes to her rescue

Naked Hitler beheads Mahatma Gandhi

Essay: Mind the Generation Gap by Zulfikar Ghose

Zulfikar Ghose

A very interesting essay I came across in Dawn newspaper on 28th April 2013. Was the past better than the present? Zulfikar Ghose tries to answer the question in his peculiar way.

Ghose is a poet, novelist and literary critic. Apart from criticism and poetry, he has also written many novels, including the trilogy, The Incredible Brazilian. He is Professor Emeritus in the English department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mind the Generation Gap

“I was visiting Christopher Middleton, the English poet now in his 86th year, and he remarked that he’d recently had a telephone conversation with a contemporary writer friend in France who had said that our generation of old writers comprised the last witnesses — meaning that in this, the second decade of the 21st century, we are the sole surviving witnesses of the end of a form of western civilization which for at least two millennia has generated progressive political institutions and produced an advanced culture in which art of a very high aesthetic quality has flourished.

As inheritors of that culture, we did our utmost to preserve it by attempting to create new work that drew its inspiration from the best that tradition had passed down to us. But now that it’s our turn to pass on the baton, the next generation is not even present on the track in front of us, and we’re left witnessing an abrupt end to our race in an empty stadium. It’s sad to be the only surviving witnesses of the end. When our ageing generation is no more, there will be no one to observe the corruption of values because the generation following us has become disconnected from our ideals, and consequently future generations, raised to think of mediocrity as high art, will not even have an awareness of the precious treasure they have lost.

Decadence has done its job — so the argument goes with us old writers: people today would rather see a third-rate movie than read a book. Or, if they read a book, it is more likely to be some gossipy memoir than a work of some literary significance. Besides, who reads books? Everywhere nowadays you see young people walking with their heads bowed, or sitting in a café, eyes glued to the screen of their iPhone or iPod, their fingers busily dancing on the tiny keyboard to text some frivolous message to a person who, for all they know, so absorbed are they in their social networking, might be walking or sitting right next to them and very possibly texting them. And so the sad truth is repeated when we old men get together and tragically shake our heads that the youth of today does not have the serious intellectual interest and love of art that we had when young.

But wait a minute, I say. Have I not heard this sort of mournful lamentation before? Yes, of course! Chekhov pointed this out over a hundred years ago when he commented on Tolstoy’s writing on art: “Old men have always been inclined to envisage the end of the world and say that morality had fallen to its lowest level, that art had degenerated, had played out, that people had become feeble, and so on, and so on. In his book, Tolstoy wants to convince us that art has now entered its final phase and is in a blind alley.” (Letter to A. I. Ertel, April 17, 1897).

Chekhov gets it exactly right. Surely, old men — excuse my political incorrectness, but as an old man I cannot presume to represent the views of old women — express their deep pessimism about the world’s future because very soon the world will literally have no space for them; and psychologically it must be more gratifying to see the world as a rotten place not worth living in any more instead of seeing it as an earthly paradise in which wonderful new inventions are making life so interesting that it will be sad to be excluded from an exciting extension of life.

Faced with the imminence of that eternal exclusion, it is a consolation to believe that the people who will have the misfortune to live after us will have to endure a wretched existence in an increasingly violent and morally degenerate world empty of anything beautiful, a world which mercifully we will not have to witness. Images in stories and movies representing apocalyptic reality show it to be ugly, filthy, smelly and unimaginably vile, and we old men are comforted by the conviction that this is what the future has in store for the unfortunates who will survive us.

Oh, yes, let’s face it: there’s no denying the contemporary decadence, for as another old writer states, “we have sold our souls for profit at any price, slaves that we all are to our greed,” and adds: “what wastes the talents of the present generation is the idleness in which all but a few of us pass our lives”. Now, as they say in Texas, isn’t that right on the money? The rest of this author’s book is extraordinarily enlightening, too; he couldn’t be more correct about art and what his pathetic contemporaries are doing to it.

But hold on, wait another minute! Who is this writer moaning about the present generation, accusing it of suffering from heavy-duty greed and laziness? He’s old, no doubt about it, he’s really old. The quotation is from a book titled On the Sublime, and its author is known simply as Longinus (one of two: Dionysius or Cassius), and were he alive today he would be about 1,700 years old.

The French have a phrase for the temporal illusions that confound the human mind: Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same, and, as Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is ever “the propensity of mankind to exalt the past, and to depreciate the present,” for each succeeding generation thinks the past it has been privileged to experience has been incomparably superior to the abject present to which the next generation has been condemned.

What the elderly do not appreciate, however, is that what gives the next generation its intellectual vigour is the belief nature instills in the minds of the young that they are supremely gifted to effect radical change, that it is their destiny to shape a glitteringly beautiful new reality.

From their point of view, the old have had their turn and have failed, which is the opposite of what the old believe, that they were the creators of beauty while the young are too lazy and untalented to follow the brilliant example they’ve been set by their elders.

In 1960, when I was 25, I remember saying to another poet my age, “This is going to be our decade!” And so it was. While the older generation in London, from T. S. Eliot and Stephen Spender to Harold Pinter, were still producing new work, we were the ones receiving a good deal of attention. A new work by Eliot — he was writing plays then — was an event; but a new work by a writer from the rising generation (e.g., the poems in Lupercal by Ted Hughes, 1960; the strikingly original forms of B. S. Johnson’s novels Travelling People, 1963, and Albert Angelo, 1964; the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, 1966) were occasions for celebration, as attested by the superlative praise received by these works from the most respected reviewers of the time.

Midway through the decade, we, the younger writers, had become prominent in London’s literary scene. Several of us, each with three or four well-received books behind us, were invited to review books in important newspapers and journals — The TLS, The Guardian, The Spectator, New Statesman. It being a human instinct to protect and glorify one’s particular tribe, our taste naturally favoured the new generation and belittled the older.

There is a silent killer in all of us writers who review books that wears various masks, now presenting itself as learned and scholarly, now as a disinterested arbiter of the true value of things; its real name is envy. A writer reviewing an older contemporary composes his criticism with the ink of envy, unconscious that the sub-text of his cutting review is to transmit the idea of his own work’s superiority. When, a decade later, younger emerging writers took over as book reviewers, it was inevitable that they should reserve their worst criticism for those of us who preceded them and appeared the most successful, and by doing so, establish themselves. They became the present, we the past. It is a natural progression.

Present time is a problematical concept. There is a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost that I often quote, “We know no time when we were not as now,” which, I believe, cannot be refuted. But within that now we have a consciousness of a time that is not-now, without which the complex we identify as the self would have no substance. It is the dilemma that Borges addresses in his A New Refutation of Time, which is an essay of timeless beauty, where he states, “All language is of a successive nature; it does not lend itself to reasoning on eternal, in temporal matters.”

There is perhaps some absolute reality out there in which faceless clocks keep the hours of warped time and where space is an eruption of fractals out of a black hole continually releasing a chaos of quarks, but we mortals are trapped between the square bracket of birth and death where we crawl in the persistent now, like Pim and Bom, through a sea of mud in Beckett’s novel, How It Is. Our poor successive language, with its subject-verb-object simplicity, expressed in a sequence of minutes, can never define that reality. We can only construct hypothetical pictures and theories about it in our arts and sciences. And in that shifting time zone with its perpetual now, where we are both the first and last witnesses bent on converting the transitoriness of perception into some eternal truth, Longinus and Chekhov are our contemporaries, our true witnesses.

Longinus defines the rottenness of the present which for each succeeding age seems to be a period of insecurity, turmoil, and an anarchic disregard for traditional values. Such a view results from seeing only the immediate daily drama in which, for example, there is feverish excitement over a new writer accorded stellar status, whose sudden rise inevitably diminishes popular interest in the work of one who had only recently been raised to that shining level. Yesterday’s star is abandoned for tomorrow’s meteor.

Learning from Hollywood’s promotional techniques based on the assumption that it is not talent alone but clever public relations that persuades the popular audience it is looking at a supreme artist, publishers will sometimes launch a work by spreading some unsubstantiated news about the writer that prompts general curiosity. The proliferation of literary prizes and festivals, the creation of lists, book tours and book signings are all part of the promotional hype to create stars that glitter, not in the eternal firmament of canonical literature but as gold in the publisher’s pocket.

That creation of instant celebrities generates a need that there be newer ones, a continuing parade of the famous for whose signature we line up at book signings. Where literary prizes used to announce a short list, now they announce a long list first; where newspapers used to print one weekly best-seller list of 10 books, now they list 20 in each of several categories, including such bizarre ones as the best-selling books aimed at young adults — and perhaps there will soon be another for middle-aged adults. The parade gets longer and longer. Most of the literature produced at any one time is of the throwaway variety, however much light is forced to flash at us from the celebrities of the day. This has always been the case.

Guy de Maupassant wrote in his introduction to Prévost’s Manon Lescaut: “What a number of other novels of the same epoch have disappeared! All that the ingenious writers invented to amuse their contemporaries have been consigned to oblivion. We scarcely know the titles of the most celebrated, and we cannot recall their subjects.”

Chekhov, who witnessed a similar parade towards oblivion in his own time, would have agreed. It’s just that the throwaway literature of one’s own time seems to get taken seriously and, driven by publishers’ promotional tactics and their own pushiness, some mediocre writers receive high honours. Another contemporary in this eternal present, Shakespeare, would have agreed too, for he makes Hamlet, in his famous speech, refer to “the spurns / That patient merit of th’unworthy takes”. It’s enough to make one think we’re witnessing the end.”

Poem: My Countrymen – Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran

Here is a famous philippic of a poem by Lebanese-American poet, painter, novelist and philosopher Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) who is usually known among the Western readers for his philosophical work of fiction “The Prophet”.

Khalil Gibran wrote the scathing damnation to shake his people out of the conformist slumber and to exhort them to rise to the occasion and play their part in changing the fate of their nation. This is a complain of a bitter heart who is extremely sad at having to see his people in the clutches of tyranny and oppression.

Translated from the Arabic by Anthony Riscallah Ferris.

My Countrymen

What do you seek, my countrymen?
Do you desire that I build for you gorgeous palaces,
Decorated with words of empty meaning or temples roofed with dreams? Or
Do you command me to destroy what the liars and tyrants have built?

Speak your insane wish!
What is it you would have me do my countrymen?
I have sung for you, but you did not dance;
I have wept before you, but you did not cry.
Shall I sing and weep at the same time?

I have called you in the silence of the night to
Point out the glory of the moon and the dignity of the stars,
But you startled from your slumber and
Clutched your swords in fear,
Crying “Where is the enemy? We must kill Him first!”
At morning-tide when the enemy came, I called to you again,
But now you did not wake from your slumber,
For you were locked in fear, wrestling with
The processions of spectres in your dreams.

I have loved you, my countrymen, but
My love for you is painful to me and useless to you;
And today I hate you.
I have cried over your humiliation and submission, and
My tears streamed like crystalline,
But could not sear away your stagnant weakness;
Yet they removed the veil from my eyes.

My tears have never reached your petrified hearts, but they
Cleansed the darkness from my inner self.
Today I am mocking at your suffering…

What do you desire, my countrymen?
Do you wish for me to show you the ghost of your
Countenance on the face of still water?
Come, now, and see how ugly you are!

What is it that you seek, my countrymen?
What ask you from life, who does not any longer count you
Among her children?

Knowledge is a light, enriching the warmth of life,
And all may partake who seek it out;
But you, my countrymen, seek out darkness and flee the light

These are the sections of the poem I like the most.  To read the full poem in original format click HERE.

Poem: An Ode to the Beloved – Baba Tahir

A sketch of Baba Tahir

Baba Tahir is one of the earliest poets of medieval Persia. A Sufi and a dervish, he lived and died in the 11th century, and composed poems in the then new ruba`i form (quatrain) which became famous a generation later among the intellectuals and mystics notably Omar Khayyam.

Here is a ruba`i like long poem of Baha Tahir expressing the intoxication of love, longing and the beauty of the Beloved in the image of the mundane.

Translated from Pahlavi Persian by A. J. Arberry

Like hyacinths on roses
Thy tangled locks are strung;
Shake out those gleaming tresses,
And lo, a lover youg
On every hair is hung.

The breeze that fans thy tresses
Surpasseth fragrant posies.
In sleep I press thine image,
And as mine eye uncloses
I breathe the scent of roses.

Give me thy two soft tresses,
Therewith my lute I’ll string;
Since thou wilt never love me,
Why dost thou nightly bring
Soft dreams, my heart to wring?

Two eyes with surmeh languid,
Two curls that idly stray,
A body slim, seductive –
And dost thou truly say
“Why art thou troubled, pray?”

Thou hast me, soul and body
My darling, sweet and pure;
I cannot tell what ails me,
But this I know for sure,
Thou only art my cure.

Selected Couplets: Abdul Qadir Bedil Dehlavi

A short introduction of the poet:

Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil (1642-1720) popularly known as Bedil Dehlavi was a poet of the Indian school of Persian poetry. Ethnically an Uzbek (some say Hazara), his ancestors lived in what is now Afghanistan. Bedil was either born in India or migrated soon with his family and lived all his life under the tutelage of the Mughal dynasty.

A portrait of Bedil

Bedil wrote in typical Indian style of the day, a style that was characterized by complex thoughts expressed in the most innovative metaphor and intricate imagery, many a time employing double entendres, as opposed to the simplicity and crispness of Irani school of Persian poetry.

He is the most important Persian language poet of the Indian school till Sir Muhammad Iqbal who himself has lauded Bedil as “perhaps the best poet-philosopher India has produced since the times of Shanker Acharya”.

Bedil is known to have been the greatest inspiration behind Mirza Ghalib so much so that Ghalib’s own poetry from the early stage was heavily influenced by Bedil’s style.

Here is the English translation of a selection of Bedil’s couplets chosen from his ghazals.

Selected Couplets

1) World’s beauty and coarseness was never sketched
But the dark always subdued the bright hues

2) A heart’s disquiet stirred the desert’s sands into wine’s swelling wave
Thus did your alluring eye seductively sacrifice love’s blood

3) From my ashes the world’s goblet is astir
What ardent eye with such rupture burned me?

4) If Bedil’s heart is not frenzy’s pupil
What dressed him in the habit of tatters?

5) The silence of those lips bore with virtue a demand
I relinquished my heart and never said, I acquiesce

6) For too long the heart’s inclination tied me
With a drop of blood I was painted whole

7) I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint

8) A delicate act is learning the secrets of love
The pen slips in scribing the word of error

9) Do not regard with disdain the afflicted Bedil
Whose wet eyes guard love’s virtue

10) Bide the judge’s stone of tyranny O cup
Of this enemy of pleasure God will break the neck

11) But for her coquettish gaze wrapped in its veiling
Of all needs of concealment my Laila was free

12) From the happy designation draw solicitude yet
Not every mirror held up deserved the vision

13) In the world cast into stormy intoxication by your eyes
My self abandonment but a ripple in the wine

14) Alas for the heart which in the moment of submission
The indifference of the one it sought redress from, crushed

15) In parting I draw breath still, don’t place the mirror before me
A violation this self presence is in separation from the beloved

16) The tumultuous spring of oblivion that is the world
Two flowers full unvaried has seldom created

17) It is the time to mourn the vulnerability of love
The flame that in my soul no kindling found and was extinguished

18) Who will beseech those beautiful and delicate hands to shed my blood
I knocked on the door of patience till a spring of henna’s color arrived

19) The flickering outline of my being behind the veil
The mirror of your thought made manifest

20) Upon need at a stranger’s door prostrate
But raise not your solicitous gaze to a familiar face

21) Such a wretchedness is this land, where the one forlorn
Even when a martyr, cannot be so termed

22) Bedil in disclosing the lowly and the fair
The forehead’s tablet no mirror can best

23) Hand-wringing may only cleanse the pollution of two worlds
Freedom is to rid one of even a purity akin to the pearl’s

24) If the enchantment of your promise such flavor has
We shall find a leisure unbounded by a tomorrow

25) In my oblivion I traversed many a house of beauty
Even a false step in your desire became the masterstroke of Behzad

26) Alas that in the assembly of marvelous examples
Before none her vision was disrobed

27) Lust may together crush a thousand rose and tulip
Your palms yet show the taint of henna never applied

28) I said, of my connection with existence what to make
The free of spirit answered, break!

29) A thousand blessings that from the grace of fidelity’s work
My bloodstained tears painted your feet like henna

30) In this desolation of frenzy, the caravan, the camel, the Beloved’s litter
All of it the dust of a peal of departure bells I well know

31) For ages my beloved came into my embrace veiled
Yet another one of her coquetries that I, Bedil, well know

32) Your footprint gives out the redolence of spring
Return that i may gather flowers with my forehead prostrated

33) The beautiful dream of existence upon me, oblivious I lie, but know
Anyone speaking your name my quiescence breaks

34) Whither false step, to save fidelity unimpeached
I lift the burden of both worlds and on my shoulders place

35) Bedil do not ask of me the enchantment of hope’s plenitude
I stretched the promise of today onto tomorrow’s shore

36) That my blood for a hundred doomsdays does not call out
In the shade of your eyelashes was I martyred

37) Me and my lover together painting an embrace
I desire from the great artist one such work

38) In the desert of fancy there are no fixed points
To find our bearings no need have we

39) I give myself to her memory until she may disremember
In a tribute to indifference I have composed a line

40) From indifference to my fancy, at myself I marvel
Did the page refuse the script, or I not write

41) Refrain from all greed Bedil, if it is dignity you seek
These two images no mirror together reflects

42) Only the word heard through the veil, no audience with the heart had I
How to disclose what I did not see, the mirror-maker you should ask

43) The taint of henna is vulnerable to your hand-wringing
Spilling a lover’s blood is no crime, innocence you bear no guilt

Translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi from the Urdu prose rendition of Afzal Ahmed Syed.

Credits: Selected She’rs: Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil, The Annual of Urdu Studies , No.27

Short Story: Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hassan Manto

Below is the full text of Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story “Toba Tek Singh” variously titled as “The Exchange of Lunatics” and “The Insane Asylum”. Manto wrote this short story in the wake of the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent at the time of Independence from the British Raj. It is considered one of the most important works that set the tone for future sub-genre that came to be known as the Partition Literature.

Toba Tek Singh
by Saadat Hassan Manto
Translated from 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, “Molvi 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!”

Saadat Hassan Manto

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 knew 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 clamor was something else. And the cold was so fierce that everybody’s teeth were chattering.

The majority of the lunatics were not in favor 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.