Blog of the week: Sardaaraan

Mano Javed pens the real-life story of a Manto-esque figure called Sardaaraan

sardaaraan

Sardaaran was a tall and scrawny old woman with an exceptionally brisk walk who used to roam in the streets of Old Muslim Town, Lahore in the nineteen-nineties. Those days, we had a house in that vicinity so bumping into Sardaaran was a regular occurrence. Clad in tattered rags, her hair spread around her head in matted ropes, she would emerge from the end of the street and walk towards you at an alarming speed… as if she had a score to settle. But she would walk past and vanish down the street, oblivious to the tell-tale signs of fear she had spawned.

Totally indifferent to people and vehicles on the road, she would sit on the roadside green, scratching her head, whispering to herself.  Sometimes she would indulge in socially unacceptable actions like gathering her shalwar high up on her thighs to reveal most of her long bony legs; sometimes even taking off an indispensable piece of clothing. It was years later that I learned that she hadn’t started this game. Civilization had wronged her first. More so through its continuing indifference to her plight.

One chilly winter evening as I was enjoying a snuggle on my favourite seat beside the fireplace, the doorbell rang. Wearily, I went to answer it. I was shocked to see Sardaaran at the gate.

“Give me coals. Give me coals!” she said abruptly.

“Coals?” I asked, not quite getting what she meant.”Coals are good. Coals keep me warm. I will go; first give me coals,” she muttered feverishly.

My three-year old son who had followed me to the gate, tugged at my sleeve, warning me to stay away in his own sweet way. Passing him a reassuring smile and asking Sardaaran to wait for my return, I strode back into the house, my boy’s hand gripped firmly in mine. When I returned, I was holding a small bag with a used sweater and shawl inside. With a smile, I offered her the garments.

“I want coals. Coals are good,” she said, not even glancing at the woollies that I had pulled out of the bag for for her.

“I don’t have coals, Sardaaran. No one uses coals any more. We have gas stoves now.”

“I want coals to keep me warm,” she said as if she hadn’t heard me and walked off muttering, “Where will I get coals to keep me warm?”

I was rather angry at her for being so ungrateful.

Sardaaran died that winter. One morning she was found frozen to death outside a tea stall on  the nearby Wahdat Road.

She was soon forgotten.

Years later, Sardaaran’s story was revealed to me by a household help named Gaami.

Sardaaran died that winter. One morning she was found frozen to death outside a tea stall on  the nearby Wahdat Road.

Sardaaran was one of the numerous daughters of a local Sikh merchandiser who migrated to India when sectarian riots broke loose in Lahore in 1947. Apparently, round then, Sardaaran was in love with a young boy of a well-to-do Muslim family, also her father’s acquaintance. The boy had vowed that he would have no problem talking his parents into allowing them to marry. Young, naive and deeply in love, Sardaaran had  promised him that she would stay back in Lahore if and when the exodus of Sikhs would become inevitable. Everyone knew it was coming; that their destiny had been decided by some strangers with high-sounding family names in far-off hotel conference rooms.

The day came sooner than they had expected

With incidents of looting and killing Hindu and Sikh families becoming more common and intense, Sardaaran’s family had to make an emergency exit from Lahore. At the last hour, Sardaran broke the news of her intentions to her shocked parents. The boy was there too to give them his word that Sardaaran would be well looked after and safe. Reluctantly, they left without Sardaaran. The boy took her to his widowed uncle who had already agreed on giving her a temporary lodging in his house in Model Town.

In the beginning things looked good. They would plan the upcoming wedding and he would often take her to meet his parents. They were happy to have her for lunch or dinner. But sunny days ended soon. The boy lost interest in her and got engaged to his cousin. Sardaaran had no option left but to serve as a house-maid in the old uncle’s house, the only place under the sun upon which she had any claim, however fragile.

With incidents of looting and killing Hindu and Sikh families becoming more common and intense, Sardaaran’s family had to make an emergency exit from Lahore

It was rumored that the old uncle’s fatherly feelings towards Sardaaran were later thwarted by his ‘basic instincts’ and he made her his sex partner; under duress or by her consent, nobody could ever tell. Eventually, people began to notice that Sardaaran was going a little fuzzy in the head. As her illness progressed, she became more disoriented and forgetful. She would go grocery shopping and forget her way back. For hours she would roam on the roads of Model Town, asking people to escort her back. First there was one lustful man who took advantage of weak mental faculties. Then there were more. And more. Her custodians, now took her as a source of disgrace for the ‘respectable’ family. The doors of the house were finally closed on her.

Begum Shaheen Mirza, a kind-hearted woman of the neighbourhood who had helped reunite numerous displaced persons with their families tried to dig out the whereabouts of Sardaaran’s family. But there was no sign of them on the face of the earth. So, like many homeless people who live on the roads and become hidden in plain sight, Sardaaran also became a part of the milieu of Lahore. Unimportant, insignificant but permanently there.

Occasionally, a kind-hearted person would make an attempt to rehabilitate Sardaaran. But it was too late. Sardaaran was beyond help. Life on the road was her only truth. It was the only life she now knew.

The cleaning lady who told me Sardaaran’s story, stated an interesting fact about her. She said Sardaaran was very fond of having tea. Roaming on the roads, she would stop at teashops and stare at people consuming the hot drink. Teastall owners would take pity on her and give her a cupful –  with an occasional bun or biscuit –  and she would slurp it down with unshakable fervour; with ultimate focus; as if all bounties of the universe had shrunk and become a cup of tea; as if time had shrunk and become a moment; as if humanity had shrunk and become a demented old woman and was devouring its last food supply.

I find it ironical that she died outside the tea stall. Like a fated lover dying outside the home of his lost love. Tea, perhaps, was Sardaaran’s last link with the tangible world; the only remnant of the person Sardaaran once was.

In the politically glorious attempt at designing a new homeland for humans of a specific description, millions died, millions were humiliated and millions lost any connection whatsoever with the lives they knew

Saradaran isn’t the only person destroyed by politicians’ whims. Just in that particular incident, the politically glorious attempt at designing a new homeland for humans of a specific description, millions died, millions were humiliated and millions lost any connection whatsoever with the lives they knew. It’s as if they slept one night and woke up to an alien world. The tragic aftermath of the exodus had left the world pondering: Was what happened a necessary muddle the people had to pass through to reach a state of social balance? Or Was what happened so ugly that no social height could ever justify the horrors of the climb? Deep down in their hearts, everyone knows the answer. No amount of glorification can cover up the volley of terror that was set loose on both sides of the border when the ill-imagined exchange of populations took place.

Comments
19 Responses to “Blog of the week: Sardaaraan”
  1. Mano Javed says:

    The Friday Time publishes my blog at a crucial time when India and Pakistan are once again looking daggers at each other. Some readers might consider it untimely but in my opinion its just the right time to read Sardaraan and remind ourselves that the outcome war and national egotism is usually horrific; both on individual and community levels.

  2. Sana says:

    yes, its important to realize that the country was born in violence; both physical and mental and it has continued ever since. Pakistan was made for minorities. It was made for Muslim minority and today minorities in Pakistan suffer the most. We have so many internal issues that war with India or hating India is just an insane thought. Sardaaraan was born in Lahore, she lived in Lahore. Its tragic that partition took everything away from her. Her own city became a ruthless jungle for her. Let there be no more Sardaaraan in Pakistan.

  3. mani says:

    i hope the uncle and the boy who promised to marry her suffer in eternity..they r not muslims or human

  4. Ruksana Rafi says:

    Civilization is the most dangerous jungle where wild beasts roam in garbs of friends…Sardaraan and all women whose trust on love was shattered…here’s to your pure and immortal souls

  5. Saadia Ahmed says:

    The Indo-Pak partition was a merciless massacre of the greatest scale. While everyone sings odes of nationalism the question is ‘Does this mania qualify for nationalism?’ Sardaraan is just one being portrayed by Mano. Many Sardaaraans and many Balvinders bled this pain.

  6. Ruksana Rafi says:

    Bring tears to my eyes every time I read this post. I have read it before on Mano’s blog so I’m very pleased that more people especially locals are reading her and could benefit from her acumen. Thanks Friday Times

  7. Mano Javed says:

    Thank you readers for your precious comments.

  8. I happened to visit the website for the first time.Yes, I remember there were scores of new houses and very expensive buildings, including 3 grand 2 storey buildings, with a covered area of at least 2 marlas each, next to our church. They just had to flee to save their lives.It was just a wave of merciless killings and bloodshed in the name of religion..Now, similar sentiments are being promoted in Balochistan, in the name of nationalism.. We can only pray to God that He may protect the innocent people.

    • Mano Javed says:

      Dear Samual Suleman; may we all come to a point of realization of the actual truth. Egotism of any kind is a sign of weakness not strength. Religious egotism raises questions to the credibility of the perpetrators faith and not the victims faith. We and millions like us are with you in spirit.

  9. Farhan says:

    Overwhelmed. Excellent choice of article for Independence Day of Pakistan. Thank you Mano and Friday times for sharing a story that is meaningful and so relevant. Loved it!

  10. Mano Javed says:

    Thank you Samuel and Farhan for your precious feedback. your comments give us hope that tomorrow we will rise beyond caste creed and religion and prioritize humanity over egocentric nationalism.

  11. raeesa j says:

    Besides celebrating the day for the freedom that we got, we should pay homage to the citizens who went through horrific calamities . Freed from the British rule, people were forced to suffer separation from their homes.. freedom from the colonial rule should have taught us that all men are equal, instead even now the racial discrimination in Pakistan against minorities is appalling.. great article really makes you think

  12. Naheed says:

    Very well written

  13. Tahseen Tariq says:

    Hauntingly Beautiful……….Profoundly Sad

  14. Shonali says:

    Sighs!!!!!!

  15. Raheel says:

    Very well written and expressive article. I felt like I was standing beside you when that Sardaran asked you for coals… i could feel her fidgetiness and your rather strange expressions on her choice of leaving warm cloths behind.

    I found it sad and enlightening too – as it leaves us speechless on Sardaran’s periled fate and reminds us too of the pain and struggle that the people of sub-continent had to go through – it is the cost that they paid for the freedom we are enjoying now. It is because of their sacrifices that we have those three unspeakably precious thing: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either

  16. Shonali says:

    What a story! What a peek in the mirror it is! And the image, so utterly demonic. At the same time, the voice of the writer rings in the ears, so full of hope.

  17. Mano Javed says:

    Thank you for your prized views and remarks, Rahil, Shonaali, Nahid and Tahseen. They are much appreciated.

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