A Pathan Soldier
LITERATURE, 9 Feb 2015
A Short Story
This story is set in 1971 when the tragic events unfolded in the region known as East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The barbarous rape seemed unbelievable but it is a fact. Within a few months three million Bengalees were killed and ten million escaped to the neighboring country of India. Out of the atrocities there emerged a new country, called Bangladesh.
The infant raised his tiny soft hands, giving the sweetness of a smile, as Daud Khan took his machine-gun to fire at close range. Perhaps the infant thought the man was offering him a toy. Close by, the parents of the infant were lying besmeared with blood. The hands of Daud Khan began to tremble and the room began to spin. He was about to turn away when he heard Captain Ayub shouting, “You, coward!” Like lightening the Captain rushed forward and finished the job with his Chinese revolver. Daud Khan wished to snatch the Captain’s weapon to kill him instead. Instantly he realized that in the army such actions were unacceptable.
When evening approached, Daud Khan returned to the Dacca camp with other soldiers. At supper, all of them shared the stories of their kills, but Daud Khan was uncomfortable in that setting. The infant reminded him of his own son whom he had left in his village. At the same time, the action and the words of the Captain were torturing him. It was disgraceful for Daud’s tribesmen to attack an unarmed person, particularly treacherously. He remembered his tall grand father who once gave a night’s rest to a stranger, whom he recognized in the oil-lamp’s dim glow as his old enemy. That night his enemy was his guest and therefore his grand father treated him in the tradition of a Pathan’s hospitality. In the morning, he bade him farewell with due respect.
Daud Khan was the only one from his tribe to join the army. His conscience often pricked him for deserting his centuries-old traditions; one of those traditions was the love for the nomadic life. Before Daud Khan was sent to Bangladesh he was told by a non-Pathan officer that the Bengalees had joined kafirs to contaminate their religion and integrity of their nation. He was being sent to that territory on a mission.
While musing, Daud Khan saw again Captain Ayub, who opened their conversation, “I know about Pathans. I know the incident of a friend, who happened to be among Pathans as a guest. While chatting over coffee, they saw two or three Pathans across a stream. The host of my friend got worried. He began to push their guest down, asking him to hide behind the nearby rock.
“What are you doing,” the guest asked being nervous about this weird gesture of his host.
“Those Pathans across the stream may shoot you.”
The guest was prompt to say, “I am not their enemy. It is you who must be hiding, not me.”
“A couple of years ago, we shot their guest dead. “
“They would like to take revenge on you for killing their guest.” He responded without thinking.
“It does not work this way among we Pathans.”
“How does it work then, the guest asked, hiding himself.
“We killed their guest. For revenge they are going to kill our guest.”
Captain Ayub began to twist his mustache, and said, “You are my brother in my religion.”
Daud Khan was prompt, “Yes in religion for the last one thousand years. Do not forget that we have been Pathans for the last three thousand years or more. Our traditions are dear to us. ”
Captain Ayub twisted his long mustache again before saying, “I know it and also some of Pathan’s folklore.”
“Which one,” Daud asked with his eyes wide open.
“I like Sohrab and Rustam. But here is the one that is meaningful.” The Captain replied.
“What is this?”
Twisting his moustache the Captain looked around as if in a massive fear and tension. He paused looking at Daud and said, “the moral in this tale is that luck without wisdom does not work. This fable is about a young man who asked his elder brother the way to be lucky like him. The elder brother advised him to go into the depth of the forest, where he would find a vessel of precious stones under an old tree. He should sit under that tree for seven days concentrating on his inner self with that vessel.
“The next morning, the younger brother left for the jungle. He faced wild animals, unusual caves and puzzling valleys. Nothing could distract him. He became tired and hungry in his long and hazardous quest in which the singleness of purpose provided his energy. He met a lion, who complained of his feeble body and asked him how to gain strength. Ignoring the lion, he kept going. Then he met a horse that told him that he was so weak that he was not even able to stand. Instead of helping the horse even with any advice, he kept going. He met a leafless tree that told him that at his roots lie pearls and diamonds, requesting him to dig them out. The younger brother ignored the tree also.
“Eventually he arrived at the depth of the forest, where he found the shining vessel of rare stones. He picked up the vessel and began his journey back home without sitting under the tree to concentrate for seven days on the inner self. He was happy that from then on he would not need anyone for help, not even his elder brother. He met the leafless tree that had asked the youth to dig his roots where the pearls and diamonds were stored. The youth would get the treasure and the tree would blossom with leaves. The youth had no time for that. Why should he waste his time to let the tree blossom, he thought and continued on his journey. Then he met the same horse that was feeble. The horse requested the youth to be his rider. This way, the horse would regain his strength. The youth ignored the request of the horse also. Then he met the same feeble lion, who asked him how to be strong. The youth told him to eat a fool. The lion replied that he would not be able to meet a fool better than he was. So, he jumped over the younger brother and ate him.”
At this time, Captain Ayub and Daud Khan heard two gun shots coming from the city. Ignoring the sound, the Captain asked, “Tell me why you people are called Pathans. I heard another word pakhtun also.”
”Both mean the same. In India, we are called Pathan and also mostly in Pakistan. It is said that Rajput rajas of India around Mughal period and even before had Pathans in their armies. They were looked after well because of their loyalty and bravery.
As they were talking more soldiers gathered to listen to them. Before they could go further, the city of Dacca was plunged into darkness. “Guerrillas again to terrorize the army to show their increasing strength.” The Captain said. The army had their generators that were turned on though the light was not bright. The Captain rushed to his barrack to give orders to be ready to face any eventuality, though he knew that guerrillas would not dare enter the camp of the army that was fully equipped with sophisticated weapons.
In a mood of indifference to his environment, Daud Khan left his colleagues. While roaming he heard painful sounds. He stepped towards that direction and stopped in front of a room locked from outside. A guard let him in. He saw women from 12 to thirty-five without their saris. It seemed that some had been crying for days and some had been under some shock and agony. Leaving Daud Khan with those women, the guard left assuring him that he would be back soon.
Daud Khan talked first with a woman of around twenty years. She said she was Famida Begum, a Muslim and nearly all the other women were Hindu. On asking further, she told him she had seen soldiers killing her husband. The soldiers then took her from the village to this place. She didn’t resist the soldiers because she was in a state of shock. Another woman told him that some girls attempted suicide, using their long hair or saris to strangle themselves. To prevent this, soldiers shaved their heads and stripped the women.
A third woman said that they brought her there on gunpoint. One after another, they raped her. When she was almost dying she pleaded not to kill her because she was a sweeper, and if she was killed there would be nobody to clean their toilets and drains. They replied she would be spared but she had to be always present and could not try to go out. While she cleaned the drain she saw many girls who were brought into the barrack. Many were taken upstairs; some were kept on the balcony. Some of them had books in their hands, some were with some ornaments and they were weeping.
Daud Khan became sick to his stomach. Unable to hear more, he came out, locked the room, and began to wander around the barracks again. He was thousands of miles from Mian Sha in Afghanistan, where he was born and raised. The situation of fear and strife in Bangladesh he realized was almost the same around Afghanistan that was bordered by the peoples who were culturally different. Pathans were constantly at war with their neighbours. Bengalees in this territory had their culture that was close to the culture of the neighboring nation in the matter of their art, language, food, music and several other ways. They shared their literary heroes also. The only factor that was common with West Pakistan was the religion and religion was a personal matter.
Their artificial division was further divided by a stretch of miles that belonged to India during that war of 1972. Flying across India to reach the other section of the same country was denied by India. Daud Khan began to realize that religion had never been a unifying force in the past and it would never be in the future.
While walking though tensely, he saw a green spot. He sat there under the starry sky. He imagined himself in Mian Sha, a village in Afghanistan that was situated on a hill along the border of Pakistan. Despite the might which the British Government had, the citizens of Mian Sha and of the surrounding villages, forming parts of Waziristan, could not be sujugated. All the Pathans defied British control, though they were segmented into many tribes; some of which were blood- thirsty with regard to one another. It was not uncommon for a father on his death-bed to urge his children to be cautious of particular tribes or to take revenge on a person for the death of a member in their family. Sometimes, two or more Pathan tribes would engage in regular warfare, taking positions on rocky mountains with guns which were manufactured locally and sold openly. Within a few hours, scores of dead bodies would litter the landscape. The British authorities used to fly helicopters and aeroplanes very low to drop bombs, mainly to threaten and sometimes to scatter the belligerents.
During his childhood, Daud Khan used to hear about the love of fighting that was in the veins of Pathans, yet they did not want to enlist in the army. He heard about their softness, yet they had a saying that advised them not to be very sweet to be swallowed by everyone and nor very bitter to be spit out. They went to any length to be hospitable without considering the barriers of religion, language or race.
He used to hear that they were the descendents of the Jews who represented one of the lost tribes of Israel. He heard that this theory was supported by Pathan as well as by some non-Pathan historians. One base of this theory was their facial resemblances as well as resemblances in some of their customs. One of the common customs was to smear the doors of their houses with the blood of sacrificial animals. Also many of them had biblical names. Daud Khan itself was a name from the Hebrew Bible. Daud is David in English.
Mian Sha had a fort, where life was relatively orderly. The fort had the office and the residence of the political agent, the highest representative authority of the British Government. Also, it had a few helicopters, a jail, the police headquarters, the office of the treasurer and houses of the prominent government officials who needed protection. Occasionally, law breakers and suspects were jailed. Once a woman was arrested, along with some men. This action brought many armed Pathans to the fort. They asked the political agent to free the woman by the next morning or be ready to face the consequences. They further added that if police wished, they could put more men behind bars. The Pathans would not tolerate the imprisonment of a woman, because she was a symbol of honor for them. When the political agent realized the seriousness of the situation, he ordered her immediate release.
As soon as the woman joined her tribesmen waiting outside the fort, bullets coming from different directions ended her life. To keep their tribe’s honor they had preferred to have the woman released, but once she was out of jail many doubts assailed them. They began to think that she had stayed with strangers. So she could have been dishonored. They would have her dead rather than hear back biting of other tribesmen concerning her.
All of a sudden, Daud Khan began to long for hills, orchards of apples, almonds and grapes, and for the freedom to roam over rocks and through valleys. He was distracted when he heard screams and entreaties. He saw two young women, not very far from him, being forcefully led to the camp by two soldiers. He took his revolver and felled the men.
He was delighted to free the women. They ran frantically towards the main street, away from the military camp. As he watched them, a bullet hit his left shoulder. A fountain gushed from the wound. Slowly he moved his head to one side, while lying on the ground. He saw Captain Ayub attending to the fallen soldiers. Using all his remaining strength, Daud Khan weakly crawled towards them. As he neared them, Captain Ayub looked at his body covered with blood in surprise. He faltered, “You are still alive.” Before he could reach his gun, Daud lifted his revolver and aimed at the Captain. With that, darkness clouded his vision. He opened his eyes for a second to glance at the dying Captain. A gleam of pride swept over his face and then he closed his eyes.
Multiple awards winning Stephen Gill has authored more than twenty books, including novels, literary criticism, collections of poems and a book titled Discovery of Bangladesh. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Twelve books have been released by scholars and more are to be released on his works. (Websites: www.stephengill.ca ; www.stephengillcriticism.info; Managing Ed. www.writerslifeline.ca.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Feb 2015.
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