The Dawn: May 18, 2016

Punjab Notes: Of courage and cowardice — Part I

Mushtaq Soofi 

Here is another incredibly moving story by Mian Kamal Din, the greatest storyteller of the 20th century Punjab, titled Jakthiar Haral. We find use of the past tense as well as that of present in the story that has been maintained in the translation.

During the rule of Sials of Jhang, their territory extended from Bhakhar and Mankera to Shekhupura. Nawab (a title of Muslim ruler) Wali Dad Khan was the ruler. People of Rajoa town did not pay him the annual tribute. The Nawab mustered his forces. Khizar, son of Ali Khan Bhatti, was the right hand man of the Nawab. The Nawab, accompanied by Khizar, orders his troops to march against Rajoa. Elephants swagger and are ready to charge. The riders zip past the people informing about the impending attack. Tribes start gathering. A man went to Jakke kian village to announce that Rajoa was under attack. The drum-beater spread the news. Jakthiar rushed to his house to pick his arm. He was a newly- wedded man. As he entered the room, his young wife locked the door from outside with the intention of stopping him from going to join the battle. The drum continues to beat and people start leaving.

Jakthiar’s mother came running and asked his daughter-in-law: “My tribesmen are rushing to Rajoa. where is my son?” “Be quiet. I locked him in”, replied the daughter-in-law. The old lady got hold of a pestle, struck the padlock so hard that it broke down. She enters the room and pushes her son out shouting: “Rajoa is under attack. I gave you birth so that you could sacrifice your life defending the town. Damn you, Syeds (religious leaders) are being dragged and you are hiding here in a corner. Go now. Remember if your back shows any mark, I will never forgive you”. Jakthiar mounted his horse. When he reached Rajoa, he heard that people were ready to pay the taxes and make peace with the Nawab in the presence of the Holy Quran. “My mother won’t let me enter home. I am here to fight. How come you have decided to allow the town to be humbled?” One of the men said: “Damn you, can’t you see the army?” “They are apple and oranges. They are mercenaries. How can they stand their ground when we act as a seamlessly unified force”, replies Jakthiar.

It so happened that things turned out the way Jakthiar had predicted. Nawab Sial’s troops start retreating. Nawab stands outside his camp. Along with him is Khizar, son of Ali Khan, from the town of Bhurani Wala. Both think that they are going to be killed as soon as their opponents will come to them after putting their troops to rout. Lo and behold. Jakthiar leading a posse turns towards them with a sword in his hand. Roaja’s fighters are backing him. Jakthiar challenges: “Well, Nawab Wali Dad, here I am”. Khizar thought: “Both of us are as good as dead. But loyalty demands that the enemies should touch the Nawab after they cut my head.” He pushes the Nawab into the tent and stands at its entrance holding his sword. “Listen folks, you can only touch him after mauling me”, says Khizar. In response Jakthiar brandishes his sword. A guy from the crowd shouts: “Strike him right in the head. He is Khizar, son of Ali Khan Bhatti, the right hand man of Nawab Sial”. Jakthiar who was about to strike, asks in wonder: “Is he really Khizar, son of Ali Khan, from the town of Bhurani Wala?” He puts his ready to strike sword back in its sheath. He says: “Khizar, I should have beheaded you because you have come here with our enemy. But if you are killed today, the image of the generous goes under in the waters of river Chenab. One can kill so many but not the one who supports so many. We can’t afford to kill you as it will taint our region forever”. Imagine how generous Khizar would be. Jakthiar acknowledged his opponent’s humaneness though he in no way was recipient of his largesse. “If you want to spare me, you will have to spare Nawab Sial’s life as well. My head will fall where his head falls,” replies Khizar. At the end of the day they had reconciliation. People paid the taxes. Such was the man called Jakthiar Haral.

Jakthiar quarrelled with his tribe. Besides, he developed an enmity with Latif Fatiana, who was from the river Ravi region. He was away from home. Latif raided and took away his herd of buffaloes lock, stock, and barrel. Harals (his tribesmen) did not put up any resistance as he was not on good terms with them. He comes back and watches his wife in wee hours wailing with churn in her hands. She cries over the loss of her buffaloes. “You won’t let me live in peace. There is no one to support me. What is way out for me except death”, he says to his wife. He gets up and rides away. He goes to one of his friends, Asalatt Glotar, in Jhande ki Burj village. Asalatt pined: “My enemy has murdered my men and I cannot avenge their deaths. Rustlers have stolen my animals and I cannot retrieve them”. Jakthiar said: “Well. I am leaving. I came here to seek your help but the things are worse for you. I have no complaint”. “No Jakthiar, you are a friend”, replies Asalatt. “I have been ready to sacrifice my head for my friends since the day I started donning turban. I am with you whether I am able to settle my matters or not. Get up. Let’s go”. When they were riding past the town of Rajoa Asalatt said: “There is a guy called Ganga, son of Thakur Kirad. He is friend of mine. He has been celebrated by the bards in their ballads. I invite him if you allow”. “Please do”. They took Ganga along. Now they were three men. There is a village called Thathi Aasian in the vicinity of Rajoa. When they were passing through it, Ganga said: “We are three. Three is an inauspicious number. If you agree I call Hamid Aasi, a friend who lives here”. They invited Hamid who joined them. Now they are four. Just four men! And they are resolved to conduct a raid at a distance on the banks of river Ravi… —

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