Translations of short stories from the subcontinent

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A nose for George V (जार्ज पंचम की नाक by Kamleshwar)

This goes back to when the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, was due to visit
Hindustan for the first time. The London newspapers were busy reporting the
preparations being made for the Royal Visit. The Queen's Tailor was worried about
what Her Highness would wear during the tour. Her Personal Secretary would be
conducting a lightning tour of the subcontinent beforehand to give the ground a
thorough sniffing. An army of photographers was being assembled to substitute
for a military escort.

Snippets of news from English newspapers appeared in the Delhi newspapers
on the next day, featuring the Queen's new sky blue dress, made of silk imported
from India and which had cost four hundred pounds, the Queen's horoscope and
Prince Philip's adventures. Her servants, valets, chefs, bodyguards, all had their
biographies appear in the papers. Even the dogs of Buckingham Palace had their
photographs taken.

The horn that was being blown in England could be heard throughout Hindustan.
All of Delhi was in disarray. Delhi had taken a good look at itself and had found itself
unworthy of a Queen with a five-thousand-rupee dress and her brave chefs who had
proven their valour in the Second World War. No one had had to instruct anyone.
No resolutions had had to be passed. Overnight the city of Delhi began to transform.
The dust of old age was blown away from its roads and its buildings put on their
best make-up.

But there was a problem: George V's nose!

New Delhi had everything. Everything that could happen was happening and
everything that remained was expected to happen but George V's nose presented
a problem. New Delhi had everything but a nose.

This nose had had a long and eventful past. Much fuss had been made over it before.
Campaigns had been conducted. Political parties had passed resolutions. Donations
had been raised. It had been mentioned in heated arguments and political speeches.
Whole pages had been filled in newspapers. The question was whether the nose
of George V was to be removed or left alone. And as happens in every political
issue, some people were for it, some were against it and the majority was silent.
The silent majority lent its support to both sides.

Meanwhile armed guards had been posted around all such noses throughout
the land. Some statues could not be saved in time. These were removed and
relegated to museums.

It was then that tragedy befell the statue of George V installed at India Gate.
One night its nose disappeared. The armed guards and patrols were left behind
and the nose was gone.

This came as a shock to everyone. What would the Queen think? The administrative
machinery swung into gear and a meeting of the nation's guardians was called
to decide what should be done next. In the meeting all who were present agreed
that if the figure's nose could not be restored, their own noses were as good as gone.

Brains were scratched and intense deliberations went on. Finally it was decided that
the nose must be restored at all costs. A well-known sculptor was asked to appear
in Delhi.

The sculptor was a true artist who happened to be in need of money. When he
witnessed the long faces of the administrators, doleful, troubled and bewildered,
tears welled into his own eyes. He heard a voice command him, "O sculptor!
A nose must be fitted to George V!"

The sculptor said, "Consider it done. But first I must know where and how long ago
the statue was made. Where did the stone for this statue come from?"

The members of the Committee exchanged looks, each one silently accusing another
as if to say that the other was expected to have known all this. The matter was resolved
by telephoning a clerk and passing on the investigation to him. The files of the
Archaeological Archives had their bellies ripped open but nothing useful could be
extracted. The clerk returned to the Committee and in a quivering voice and, begging
their pardon, stated that the files had long since digested everything.

The members' faces fell again. A Special Committee was appointed and was given
the responsibility of fulfilling the task by any means.

The sculptor was summoned again and this time he brought a proposal. He said,
"Please don't lose heart if the stone could not be identified. I will travel to every
mountain-range in the land and find us the precise stone." The members of the
Special Committee were very relieved. The Chairman said with pride, "Is there
anything that cannot be found in our wonderful Hindustan? Everything is hidden
in the womb of this great country. One needs only seek. The seeker must strive
and the search will bear fruit; prosperity will come to us!"

This little speech immediately appeared in the newspapers.

The sculptor left at once on a tour of the country's mountains and mines. He returned
in a few days much disheartened and reported with bowed head, "I have searched
every nook and cranny but I have not found a stone of this type. This stone is foreign."

The Chairman was very irritated. He said, "You fool! We have adopted every foreign
custom and article; when ball-dancing can be found here, how could you not find
a simple stone?"

The sculptor stood silently for a while. Then a gleam appeared in his eye. He said,
"I have something to say, but on the condition that it should not reach the press."

The same gleam could then be seen in the Chairman's eye. A peon was instructed
to lock the doors. The sculptor continued, "There are other statues in our country.
I refer to those of our national leaders. If you will... that is to say... permit it, a nose
to fit this statue can be obtained from another one."

All noise was hushed. All eyes were on the sculptor. After a few moments, the tension
eased. At last the Chairman spoke, "But do it quietly."

So the sculptor left on another extensive tour. He had the measurements of the lost nose
of George V with him. From Delhi he went to Bombay. Dadabhai Naoroji, Gokhle,
Tilak, Shivaji, Cowasji Jahangir: he groped and measured their noses and then he
ran off to Gujarat. Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Vitthalbhai Patel, Mahadev Desai's statues
were examined and then off to Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose
and Raja Ram Mohan Roy were looked at and then to Bihar. From Bihar he went
to Uttar Pradesh, where he found the statues of Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad
Bismil, Motilal Nehru and Madan Mohan Malviya. In desperation he went to Madras,
looked over Satyamurti and from there via Mysore, Kerala etc. he landed in Punjab;
there he came face-to-face with the statues of Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhagat Singh.
Eventually he returned to Delhi and shared the bad news with the Committee. He said,
"I have circumambulated the country and examined every statue closely. Every nose
has been measured. They are all bigger than this one."

The members were at their wits' end. Continuing his report, the sculptor said, "I had
been informed that outside the Bihar Secretariat were the statues of the young students
who had been martyred in 1942, trying to raise the flag in the Quit India Movement.
When I went there, it turned out that their noses were also larger than the nose
we need. Now tell me what else I could have done."

Meanwhile, preparations for the Queen's visit were well under way in the capital.
The statue had been washed thoroughly with soap and water and rubbed down
with oil. Everything was ready except for its nose.

The Special Committee reported the situation back to the administration. The
administration was in a fix; what was the point of welcoming the Queen if George V
was to be noseless?  It would be a complete loss of face for them.

By now the sculptor was desperate to be paid. Or it may be said that he was not
the kind of artist to give up easily. An extraordinary idea occurred to him. The
Special Committee sat again, the sculptor appeared before them and repeated his
request for discretion. The doors were shut again and the sculptor proposed the
new plan, "We all agree that a nose must now be found at any price. In my opinion
our only option is to chop off a living nose from the 400 million citizens of
our nation."

A stunned silence descended on the room. After a few minutes, the Chairman
raised his head and looked at the members but nobody looked likely to speak a word.
The sculptor was embarrassed by now but quietly added, "No one will know a thing.
Leave it to me. I will select the nose. I just need your permission."

After a moment's whispering, the sculptor was given his permission.

All that ever appeared in the newspapers was that the fiasco was over and the
George V near India Gate was finally getting a new nose.

Armed guards were deployed once again. The small pond around the statue was
drained and the scum from the bottom removed. It was then filled with fresh water
so that the living nose would not shrivel before the Queen's arrival. The public
was not informed formally. The sculptor had to struggle to meet his deadline.
He asked for assistance which was provided.

And the big day arrived. George V was given a nose.

The newspapers reported that George V had been given a living nose, a nose that
did not appear to be made of any kind of stone.

But there was something curious about the newspapers on that day. No inaugurations
were reported on that day. No ribbons were cut, no communal meetings took place,
no prizes was distributed. No celebrities or state guests were received at any airport
or railway station. No fresh photographs of anyone were taken or printed.

Every newspaper was blank on that day.
No one knows why.
After all only one nose had been needed and for just a statue.



(Many thanks to Sarah Moser for feedback and corrections)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A miracle (करामात by Saadat Hasan Manto)


Many shops and homes had been looted and burned in the riots. 
Police had begun to conduct raids to recover looted goods and arrest looters.
People were abandoning contraband and hiding away even their legitimate property under the cover of darkness.

One man was worried about two large sacks of sugar grabbed in haste.
One night he dragged the sacks to the neighbourhood well and somehow managed to heave the first one inside.
Tired and struggling with the second sack, he lost his footing and was carried away with it into the well.

The loud splash roused his neighbours. Ropes were lowered into the well.
Able-bodied young men descended and the man was soon pulled out onto dry ground.
But it was too late. He was dead in a few hours.

The next morning when water was drawn from the well, it was found to be as sweet as honey.
That same night the man's grave was covered with lamps.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The benefit of the doubt (बेख़बरी का फ़ायदा by Saadat Hasan Manto)

The trigger shifted; the first bullet shook itself awake as it was propelled out of the revolver.
The man in the window bent over instantly.


The trigger was pulled again; the second bullet buzzed out of the barrel like an angry wasp.
A waterskin of sheep's bladder burst open, the bearer fell forward and his blood began to mix with the water from the waterskin. 


The trigger was pulled a third time. But it was a careless shot and the bullet buried itself in a mud wall.
The fourth bullet struck an old woman in the back. She was dead before she could make a sound.


The last two bullets were completely wasted. No one was killed or even wounded.
This annoyed the man who had fired the gun.


A child then appeared on the road, running in panic towards the man and his companion.
The man turned the revolver in the child's direction.


The other man said, "What are you doing?"
"Why?"


"But we're out of bullets!"
"Be quiet! The kid doesn't know that!"

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These translations are original and are shared in a completely non-commercial context.
Please find me at karanvasudeva@gmail.com if you own copyright on source material.