Land of Five Rivers

Free Land of Five Rivers by Khushwant Singh

Book: Land of Five Rivers by Khushwant Singh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Khushwant Singh
Tags: Fiction, Literary
the Martyrs’ domain, afraid of their curse on his unbelief.
    ‘Yes, I remember,’ father said bitterly.
    ‘Those who were initiated have been killed, haven’t they?’
    ‘So what?’ whispered my father still puzzled.
    ‘Those who did not agree to initiation are saved, you know that.’
    ‘I don’t understand,’ father said, frowning perplexedly. ‘Well, if you don’t, I can’t help it,’ snapped
Babaji,
a little irritated by my father’s denseness.
    ‘Listen,’ he tried again, whispering very low to prevent the Martyrs overhearing. ‘Those who remained Muslims were saved, were they not? Well, who knows if tomorrow the
Pirs
don’t turn out to be more powerful than our Martyrs?’
    Suddenly enlightened, I ran and offered
parsad
at the
Pirs’
tombs. Father did not stop me.
    Perhaps the insinuation in
Babaji’s
remarks still escaped him?

t he death of shaikh burhanuddin

    Khwaja Ahmed Abbas
            M y name is Shaikh Burhanuddin.
    When violence and murder became the order of the day in Delhi and the blood of Muslims flowed in the streets, I cursed my fate for having a Sikh for a neighbour. Far from expecting him to come to my rescue in times of trouble, as a good neighbour should, I could not tell when he would thrust his
kirpan
into my belly. The truth is that till then I used to find the Sikhs somewhat laughable. But I also disliked them and was somewhat scared of them.
    My hatred for the Sikhs began on the day when I first set my eyes on one. I could not have been more than six years old when I saw a Sikh sitting out in the sun combing his long hair. ‘Look!’ I yelled with revulsion, ‘a woman with a long beard!’ As I got older this dislike developed into hatred for the entire race.
    It was a custom amongst old women of our household to heap all afflictions on our enemies. Thus, for example, if a child got pneumonia or broke its leg, they would say ‘a long time ago a Sikh, (or an Englishman), got pneumonia: or a long time ago a Sikh, (or an Englishman), broke his leg’. When I was older I discovered that this referred to the year 1857 when the Sikh princes helped the
ferringee
foreigner — to defeat the Hindus and Muslims in the War of Independence. I do not wish to propound a historical thesis but to explain the obsession, the suspicion and hatred which I bore towards the English and the Sikhs. I was more frightened of the English than of the Sikhs.
    When I was ten years old, I happened to be travelling from Delhi to Aligarh. I used to travel third class, or at the most in the intermediate class. That day I said to myself, ‘Let me for once travel second class and see what it feels like.’ I bought my ticket and I found an empty second class compartment. I jumped on the well-sprung seats; I went into the bathroom and leapt up to see my face in the mirror; I switched on all the fans. I played with the light switches. There were only a couple of minutes for the train to leave when four red-faced ‘tommies’ burst into the compartment, mouthing obscenities: everything was either ‘bloody’ or ‘damn.’ I had one look at them and my desire to travel second class vanished.
    I picked up my suitcase and ran out. I only stopped for breath when I got into a third class compartment crammed with natives. But as luck would have it it was full of Sikhs — their beards hanging down to their navels and dressed in nothing more than their underpants. I could not escape from them: but I kept my distance.
    Although I feared the white man more than the Sikhs, I felt that he was more civilised: he wore the same kind of clothes as I. I also wanted to be able to say ‘damn’, ‘bloody fool’ — the way he did. And like him I wanted to belong to the ruling class. The Englishman ate his food with forks and knives, I also wanted to learn to eat with forks and knives so that natives would look upon me as advanced and as civilised as the whiteman.
    My Sikh-phobia was of different kind. I had

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