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Vignettes from the Holocaust/ Saadat Hassan Manto

Sharing the loot

[ Dominic Xavier's Illustration ] A group of lathi-wielding men headed towards a large house to loot and plunder.

Just then, a middle-aged person appeared through the melee. He turned around and exhorted the rioters: 'Friends, this house is full of wealth, priceless objects. Come, let us all take over and share the booty.'

Several lathis were raised. Fists clenched. And loud and excited cries rent the sky.

The group of forty-fifty lathi-wielding characters, led by a frail-looking middle-aged man, marched on towards the house which contained precious objects.

The slim man spoke at the entrance.

'Friends, everything here belongs to you. But make sure there are no clashes over who secures what. Come, this way. But avoid conflict and friction.'

'But the door is locked,' somebody announced.

'Let us break in,' said somebody else.

'Yes, yes, let's break in,' others declared in unison.

Several lathis were raised. Fists clenched. And loud and excited cries rent the sky.

The frail man did not allow the door to be broken down. 'Friends, please wait. Let me open the lock with a key,' he said smiling.

He selected a key from his key-bunch and let open the sheesham door. Pandemonium prevailed. The impatient crowd lost its cool and entered the house excitedly.

The frail man tried to soothe tempers. 'Patience please, patience. Whatever is in here belongs to you. So, why this noise and chaos?'

The crowd was pacified. One by one people began entering the house. But they became disorderly soon after. Without scruple they laid their hands on anything and everything.

The frail man witnessed this disorderly scene.

'This is a large house. Find something precious for yourself. Don't take offence if somebody finds something invaluable. Don't act like savages. Vandalism is not on. It will hurt you more than anybody else,' he said in an anguished tone.

The rioters paid heed to his advice. Order was restored once more. Slowly the house was denuded of its precious belongings.

From time to time the frail man kept on repeating directives.... 'See bhaiya, this is a radio. Handle it gently. Make sure it doesn't break. Take the cord along, too.'

'Fold it up, bhai, fold it up. It's a walnut table inlaid with ivory work. It's very delicate, very fragile. Oh! Well, it's all right now.'

'No, no don't have a swig here. You will get tipsy. Take the bottle home.'

'Wait, wait, let me turn off the main switch. I don't want you to be electrocuted.'

In the meanwhile there was a scuffle in one room. Four rioters were embroiled in a violent dispute over a rolled length of silk.

The frail man rushed towards them. He chided them. 'You are so stupid. This cloth will be torn to shreds if you continue like this. And it's so valuable. Find a tape-measure (gaz). Measure the cloth and share it equally.'

Just then, a dog barked-woof, woof. Like a flash of lightning the big Alsation made his way into the room and mercilessly pounced on three or four of the intruders.

'Tiger! Tiger!' the frail man cried out.

Tiger had the end of a rioter's shirt in his mouth. He wagged his tail, lowered his head and moved towards the frail man.

The intruders had vanished. Only one person -- the one who was attacked by Tiger -- remained. 'Who are you?' he turned to the frail man.

'The owner of the house. Beware! Please don't let the crystal vase slip out of you fingers.'

Fifty fifty

One of them fancied a large wooden box. It was heavy. He could not move it an inch.

The other extended a helping hand. 'May I help?'

'Yes,' came the answer.

The man who was unable to lay his hands on any worthwhile object removed the box with his strong hands and then placed it on his back with one mighty heave.

Both stepped out of the house.

The box was indeed very heavy. The man carrying it was weighed down. His legs caved in. But the prospect of reward kept him going. He ignored the physical strain.

The man who had spotted the box was, in comparison, weak. He placed his hand firmly on the box, assuring himself that it belonged to him.

When the two reached the safety of their destination, the man who bore the strain of carrying the box placed it on the floor. 'So, what is my share,' he asked.


'This is too little.'

'I don't think so. I think it is too much. Remember, I was the one who found the box.'

'Right. But then, who has carried this heavy load all the way.'

'Let's agree to fifty-fifty.'

'Very well. Let's open the box.'

The box was opened. Out came a man with a sword in his hand. He cut the two claimants into four.

Translated from the Urdu by Mushirul Hasan.

Illustration by Dominic Xavier.

Excerpted from India Partitioned: The other face of freedom, Part I, Lotus collection, Roli books, New Delhi, 1995, Rs 595, with the publisher's permission.

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