‘Open It’: A Translation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s Short Story, ‘Khol Do’
About ‘Khol Do’: Saadat Hasan Manto first published this story in 1948 in a collection of Urdu short stories titled Black Margins (Siyah Hashiye). Following the publication of ‘Khol Do,’ and two other stories from this collection, he was charged with obscenity purportedly because these stories comprised a breach of the public peace. This story commences with Sirajuddin, an elderly man, regaining his consciousness in a refugee camp in Lahore. As he comes to consciousness, he realizes that his daughter, Sakina, is not with him. He searches for her in vain after which he accepts the assistance of several young male camp volunteers who assure him that they can locate her. They do find her. However, after initially providing succor, it is obvious that they rape her. She succumbs to her resultant injuries. Later, Sirajuddinen ters a hospital where a corpse has been brought upon a stretcher whereupon he realizes it Sakina. The story concludes with a disquieting scene. The doctor enters the room, takes her pulse and orders the father, “Khidki khol do” (open the window), presumably because of the corpse’s fetor. Upon uttering “khol do” (open it), the corpse unties and lowers its salwar. We infer that Sakina had been so accustomed to following this order in the last days of her life, that even in death, her lifeless body complied with the command. Sara Grewal Hakeem (2019) argues that this element of the story suggests an abrupt shift towards magical realism. Even though scholars have not generally recognized Manto as a writer of magical realism, Salman Rushdie included it in his volume of fifty years of Indian writing, Mirrorwork. Grewal Hakeem concludes from this inclusion — the only story written in a vernacular language — that Rushdie recognized this as a rudiment of the genre for which he has long been acclaimed.
A special train from Amritsar left at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and after eight hours it reached Mughalpura. During the journey, several men were killed. Many were injured and some wandered off in various directions.
It was ten o’clock in the morning…When Sirajuddin, on the cold ground of the camp, opened his eyes and saw that he was surrounded by an agitated sea of men, women, and children. His ability to think and understand what was happening had become even more diminished. For some time, he was staring intently at the turbid sky. As it was, there was such tumult throughout the camp. But old Sirajuddin’s ears had shut it out. He couldn’t hear a thing. If someone were to look at him, they would think that he was lost in deep thought. But they would be wrong. His senses were numb. All of his being seemed suspended in a void.
His gaze was fixed on the gloomy sky when his eyes happened to stumble upon the sun. The intense sunlight penetrated every sinew of his being, and he regained his senses. Several images ran through his mind. Looting…Fire…Helter-Skelter…The station…Bullets…Night and Sakina.
Sirajuddin suddenly got up and, like a madman, began wading through the sea of humanity spread out around him.
For a full three hours, he sifted through the camp calling out “Sakina! Sakina!” But he didn’t find a trace of his young and only daughter. There was a sort of bedlam all around. Someone was looking for their son, another for their mother, someone else was searching for their wife, and another for their daughter. Sirajuddin, exhausted and defeated, sat to one side and he made himself remember when and where he and Sakina were separated. But even as he was thinking about Sakina, his attention became drawn to the disemboweled corpse of Sakina’s mother. He was unable to think about anything beyond that.
Sakina’s mother had already died. She took her last breath before Sirajuddin’s very eyes. But where is Sakina, about whom her mother said, even as she was dying, “Leave me! Take Sakina and run away from here. Now.”
Sakina was with him at that time. Both of them were fleeing barefoot. Sakina’s dupatta had fallen off. He wanted to stop and pick up the dupatta, but Sakina screamed at him, “Father…leave it…” But he picked up the dupatta…. He kept thinking about this. He looked towards his pocket which was swollen with something. He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a piece of cloth. It was that very dupatta that belonged to Sakina….But where was Sakina?
Sirajuddin wracked his exhausted brain to no avail. Had he brought Sakina with him to the station?… Did she board the train with him?… Had he been unconscious when the train had been stopped along the way, when rebels entered the train, snatched Sakina, then absconded?
So many questions were running around in Sirajuddin’s brain, but there were no answers. Sirajuddin needed someone with whom he could condole, but all of the other people who were scattered around him needed the same thing. He wanted to cry but his eyes did not cooperate. Where did his tears go?
Six days later, when Sirajuddin had recovered his senses in some measure, he met some people who were prepared to help him. They were eight young men. They had a truck and guns. He showered them with countless blessings and described Sakina’s appearance. “She’s fair-skinned and she is exceptionally beautiful…She doesn’t take after me, she takes after her mother…She’s about 17 years old…Her eyes are big…. Her hair is black. On her right cheek is a largish mole…She is my only daughter. Find her. May God bless you.
The young male volunteers, very enthusiastically, reassured the aged Sirajuddin that if his daughter is alive, she will be back with him in a few days.
The eight young men tried. Taking their lives into their own hands, they went to Amritsar. They rescued several women, men, and children in various places and delivered them to safe places. Ten days had passed, but Sakina was nowhere to be found.
One day, they were traveling by truck to Amritsar for the same volunteer work when, somewhere near Chehrata, they spotted a girl on the road. Upon hearing the sound of the truck, she became startled and began to flee. The volunteers stopped the truck and every single one of them began pursuing her. They hauled her off into a field. The girl was beautiful. There was a largish mole on her right cheek. One of the young men told the girl, “There’s no need to be alarmed…! Is your name Sakina…?”
The girl’s face became ever more pallid. She did not answer. When all of the young men consoled and cajoled her, her fright began to recede, and she admitted that she was Sirajuddin’s daughter.
The eight young men tried everything to pacify her: They fed her. They gave her milk to drink then they seated her in the truck. One of them took off his coat and gave it to her. Because she did not have a dupatta, she felt very uneasy. She tried to cover her chest with her arms repeatedly.
Several days passed…Sirajuddin heard nothing about Sakina. He spent his days going to various offices and camps. But no matter where he went, there was no word of his daughter, Sakina. Until quite late every evening, he would pray for the success of those young volunteers, who had assured him that if his daughter were alive, they would find her within a few days.
One day he saw those young men in a camp. They were sitting in the truck. Sirajuddin ran as fast as he could to meet them. The truck was about to leave when he asked them “Son!…Do you have any information about my daughter, Sakina….?”
Everyone said in union, “We’ll get it. We’ll get it…” Then they drove off. Sirajuddin, once again, prayed for the success of these young men and, in some measure, his heart felt lighter.
That evening, in the camp where Sirajuddin was sitting, some ruckus transpired. Four men were carrying something into the camp. Sirajuddin, upon investigating, learned that a girl had been found unconscious near the railway track. Some people were carrying her into the camp. Sirajuddin began to follow them. They remanded the girl over to the hospital staff and left.
For some time, he was standing outside the hospital, propped up against a wooden pillar. Then, slowly, he plodded his way inside. No one was in the room. There was only a stretcher on which a corpse was lying. Sirajuddin advanced towards it, taking very small steps. All of a sudden, the room became lit. Sirajuddin, upon seeing the shiny mole on the body’s wan face, shrieked.
The doctor, who had turned on the light, asked him, “What happened?” The only words that managed to escape his throat were “Sir, I …. Sir, I am her father….”
The doctor looked towards the cadaver lying on the stretcher. He checked the corpse for a pulse then told Sirajuddin, “Open the window.”
There was movement in Sakina’s dead body. With her lifeless hands, she untied her salwar and lowered it.
The old Sirajuddin screamed with joy, “She’s alive…My daughter is alive….”
The doctor was drenched in sweat from head to toe.