The First Morning


Yesterday and today were the 70th Independence days of Pakistan and India. This is another story of that time. Intizaar Hussain, translated from the Urdu by Basharat Peer, in Words Without Borders:

The train chugged on, indifferent to the ruined towns. Before we had crossed Saharanpur, the train stopped at the routine stops. The stationmaster would blow the whistle, the guard would wave the green flag, the train would slowly begin to move, and the passengers on the platform would take a few steps back. Then, something changed. The train would not make any more stops; it sped past every station on the way.

A little later, it suddenly stopped. Armed guards patrolled the platform, forbidding the people walking on the platform from coming near the train. Sikhs with scimitars hanging by their sides stared at us from a distance and kept on walking. Refugees from the other side of the border hung about the platform in groups. Their tired eyes would meet ours and then turn away. A train full of refugees from Pakistan stopped on a parallel track. My heart seemed to stop beating. My eyes met many terrorized, angry eyes. The train felt claustrophobic. Many others were sitting on the roof. How did they hold on to the speeding train? Maybe desperate flights for life teach you how. Our train does not move. I want to get away from the angry, burning eyes staring at me. The train does not move.

Somehow night fell—a very dark night. The lights on the train engine were switched off. It was running like a blind man, past the stations dotting our path. The passengers in my coach seemed to have turned into ghosts. Heartbeats competed with the sound of the train and anxiety invaded the mind. Then the train stopped again. Nobody spoke.

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